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The Green Life: You Say Tomato, I Say Heirloom

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August 12, 2008

You Say Tomato, I Say Heirloom

Tomatoesheirloom Green Zebras, Mortgage Lifters, White Wonders, and other heirloom tomato varieties are taking American palates by storm this week. At least 52 San Francisco restaurants will begin a 10-day celebration of the misshapen fruit on Thursday, offering heirloom-centric recipes to support local farmers affected by this summer's salmonella scare (and drum up some fresh business of their own, no doubt). Veggie gardeners in the Windy City can look forward to Slow Food Chicago's first Heirloom Tomato Fest (a potluck) later this week, and foodies everywhere can savor farmer-author Tim Stark's juicy essay "The Prodigal Tomato's Triumph" in today's Washington Post.

Why all the fuss? Writer Arthur Allen offers an explanation (and thorough history of tomato cultivation) in this month's Smithsonian:

Perhaps more than any other food, tomatoes inspire passion. Whether it's outrage over the "cardboard" supermarket tomato, pride in the recipe that great-grandma brought over from the old country, or the mystique of that homegrown tomato vine, the smell and feel and even the texture of tomatoes manage to get under almost everyone's skin.

But there's more to it than sentimental woo-woo stuff. Heirloom tomatoes--varieties that would have been around generations ago, before tomatoes with names like Heinz 2401 came into the world--require gentler care than many bred-to-travel commercial varieties. (Heirlooms wouldn't do well on the usual 1,500 mile journey between farm and fork.) That means you can support local, lower-impact agriculture by simply enjoying some of summer's juiciest, tastiest treats.

Share your tips: What secrets have you uncovered for growing tomatoes successfully? What is your favorite heirloom tomato dish?

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