Heirloom is a term used to describe any tomato plant that's openly pollinated (by wind and bees) and has been cultivated for more than 50 years. They come in many shapes and sizes―from the two-pound beefsteak to cherry tomatoes as tiny as currants―and colors―red, orange, gold, yellow, purple, even green and nearly white.
Read on for our guide to 12 great heirloom varieties, with a recipe designed to highlight the unique flavor of each.
This tomato is an excellent multipurpose beefsteak variety. Although it's difficult to verify exact origin, some experts speculate that it was first cultivated by the Amish more than a century ago. This fruit is grown in yellow, red, pink, and purple-fleshed varieties. With a classic tomato taste, the classic red Brandywine is full-flavored with a pleasant acidity, a floral aroma similar to roses, and a supple buttery texture.
This pink-fleshed beefsteak was originally bred by a radiator repairman from West Virginia in the 1930s. Seedlings of the tomato were sold for $1 each, paying off his $6,000 mortgage in six years. This tomato can tip the scale at two pounds. It's also known for mild, sweet flavor.
A pale yellow tomato with pinkish-orange blush, and occasionally, green stripes, Mr. Stripey is a delicate beefsteak with low acid content that allows its sweetness to shine. The flavor boasts notes of melon, and the firm skin provides a nice contrast to the tender flesh when eaten raw.
As the name implies, this meaty beefsteak variety has a deep purple color that tends toward brown or black. The firm, juicy, sweet-tart flesh, along with its jammy hue, often leads people to find the flavor evocative of a spicy zinfandel wine. Indeed, it has similar vegetal undertones that are balanced with a natural sweetness.
At full maturity, this is a yellowish-green tomato with dark green striations. Although it's a beefsteak variety, the fruit is typically smaller than its kin, about the size of a baseball. The flavor is mildly spicy and slightly tart.
A mild-flavored yellow plum, this tomato earned its name because it is the size and shape of a chicken's egg. It's a creamy ivory color that turns yellow as it ripens. Enjoy the mild, sweet flavor of this variety either cooked or raw. It's a great garden selection, as it produces fruit up until frost.