The crown jewel in any summer garden, the tomato boasts a flavor that is both instantly recognizable and mysteriously indefinable. Each heirloom variety boasts a signature proportion of sweet, acidic and earthy flavors, as well as its own color, size, shape, and texture.
Cultivated since 700 A.D. in the coastal highlands of Mexico and Central and South America, tomato seeds were carried back to Europe in the 1500s and quickly spread throughout the continent. The “heirloom” distinction refers to seeds that have been in existence at least 50 years.
Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and a good source of vitamin K and potassium. Heirloom tomatoes are particularly high in lycopene, a carotenoid that helps prevent cancer.
Heirloom tomatoes typically have a high juice content and a thin skin, making them delicious but also delicate. Avoid refrigeration; instead, store in a single layer at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, until ready to eat. Large varieties should be stored stem-down to minimize softening at the base; cherry tomatoes can be stored together in a basket.
A perfectly ripe summer tomato needs nothing more than a sprinkle of salt to bring out its amazing flavors. They are also natural pairings with fresh or cooked salads, sandwiches, and dips such as hummus or guacamole.
Fill a basic pie shell with a mix of your favorite roasted summer vegetables, then top with thick slices of heirloom tomato (or halved cherry tomatoes). Bake until crust is set and the edges of the tomatoes are charred. Serve room temperature or cold, with a sprinkle of fresh herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of flaky salt.
Since heirloom varieties tend to have a shorter shelf life, make sure to consume them within 5 days or less.