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No, heirloom tomatoes are not a prized possession that are handed down from generation to generation in a family. That might get a bit messy. The name given to these types of tomatoes, however, was derived from that concept of handing something down through several generations, in this case, the seeds.

Through the years heirloom tomatoes have been divided into 4 categories:

  1. Commercial Heirlooms: Open-pollinated varieties introduced before 1940, or tomato varieties more than 50 years in circulation.
  2. Family Heirlooms: Seeds that have been passed down for several generations through a family.
  3. Created Heirlooms: Crossing two known parents (either two heirlooms or an heirloom and a hybrid) and dehybridizing the resulting seeds for however many years/generations it takes to eliminate the undesirable characteristics and stabilize the desired characteristics, perhaps as many as 8 years or more.
  4. Mystery Heirlooms: Varieties that are a product of natural cross-pollination of other heirloom varieties.

When it comes to picking, using, and storing heirloom tomatoes, they are treated the same as other tomatoes. Here are a few tips to help you pick the best ones and store them properly for longer life.

  • Select tomatoes that are deeply colored and firm with no wrinkles and with a little give. When sniffing tomatoes, look for a fresh, sweet, and woody smell.
  • Uncut tomatoes should be stored in a dry area that is cool, but not cold. The ideal temperature in which to store tomatoes is 55-60 degree F.
  • Tomatoes which have been cut should be stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. It is best to use them as soon as possible after refrigeration since they start losing flavor quickly.
  • To ripen unripe tomatoes, keep them away from the light and put them on the kitchen counter inside of a brown paper bag.
  • Tomatoes can be frozen whole, chopped or sliced. Remove the skin, leave whole or cut the tomatoes into the desired size. Place the tomatoes into a freezer bag, remove as much air from the bag as possible, seal and freeze.
  • When frozen tomatoes are thawed, they do not remain solid and are not suitable for sandwiches or salads. They are best suited for use as pasta sauces, chili, soups and ketchup.

What are you going to do with your heirlooms? Here are a five recipes ideas to get you started!

1. Steak Kabobs with Tomato Salad and Grilled Bread 

2. Sliced Heirloom Tomatoes and Mozzarella

3. Mozzarella and Tomato Tartines

4. Gazpacho Salad

5. Mozzarella-Pesto Panini


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