By Mark Mulcahy
July is a month of celebration, there’s the MLB All Star game, it’s National "Doghouse Repairs" Month, and National Ice Cream Month.
Vacations with family and friends are the norm and of course there is so much GREAT produce around. Melissa’s has a cornucopia of all your summer favorites this month but the pick of the crop has to be heirloom tomatoes. Yes, those beautiful round, flat, variegated, multi colored fruits that have been changing the way people think about tomatoes are in full swing and Melissa’s has a wonderful organic selection for you to choose from. Tomatoes with names like The French Carmello, Cherokee Purple, Costoluto Genovese, Ed's Fat Plum, Garden Peach, Great White, Green Zebra Tomato, and Japanese Black Trifle; the list goes on and on and they are as much fun to buy as they are to say.
While many of you have been seeing heirloom tomatoes and vegetables showing up in the produce department for more than a couple of decades now, many of us are not exactly sure what an heirloom variety is. Many plant experts describe them like this: “Heirloom vegetables are old, open-pollinated cultivars”. In addition, these varieties also have a reputation for being high quality and usually very tasty. That last part, high quality and very tasty, sounds like a description for Melissa’s organic program.
Other Heirloom characteristics are that they:
There is and probably always will be an ongoing discussion as to what should be considered an heirloom but I‘m sure we’ll all agree that they sure are tasty and are glad that someone had the foresight to look to the past to preserve a delicious future.
- Can be varieties of vegetables, fruit and grains (Everything from beans, cucumbers, corn, carrots, lettuce, melons, radishes, squash, apples and of course everyone’s favorite, tomatoes, can be included in these rich varieties.)
- Are unique and beautiful.
- Passed down through generations of gardeners and farmers who harvest and save seeds.
- Offer an amazing spectrum of biodiversity and flavor with their colors, shapes and sizes.
- Are those introduced before 1951, when modern plant breeders introduced the first hybrids developed from inbred lines.
- Can be 100 to 400 years old.
You may find this hard to believe but only a small fraction of the food plants that were grown commercially a hundred years ago are still grown commercially due to the industrialization of agriculture. Up until fairly recently, heirloom plants had been replaced with hybrids bred to be consistent in appearance and easy to ship.
Fortunately for us, this led many family farmers and organic growers to seek the genetic richness of heirlooms to offer their customers a new/old flavor experience. This has other benefits for the farmer besides the obvious economic ones, as many heirlooms can offer protection against blight and other diseases as well. Sounds like a win/win for all of us.
Now let’s get back to the eating of them, besides the usual ways of eating these delicious delights out of hand or sliced big and fat on a hunk of sourdough.
Heirlooms have as many uses as their colors and textures and that's a lot!
If you are spending the weekend on the coast, by the lake, or live in an area like I do that cools down in the evening during the summer, check out this Roasted Eggplant-Stuffed Tomatoes recipe I adapted from
Roasted Eggplant-Stuffed Tomatoes
3 medium Melissa’s organic eggplant or 6 small eggplant, stems trimmed
9 tablespoons organic olive oil, divided
1½ teaspoons Melissa’s Italian Herb Spice Grinder seasoning
Salt and freshly ground pepper
12 medium-size ripe heirloom tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped fresh organic parsley
½ cup Parmesan cheese
This recipe isn’t something you’ll have to slave over, this is a true summer recipe that only requires 30 minutes to make and is done cooking in 1 hour.
Here’s how to make it:
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise; turn halves flesh-side up.
Cut slashes in crosshatch pattern, about 1-inch apart.
Drizzle cut sides with 6 tablespoons olive oil; sprinkle with herb seasoning.
Place halves on foil-lined baking sheet, cut-sides up. Bake until soft, about 45 minutes.
When cool enough to handle, scrape flesh into bowl.
Stir to mash lightly; season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cut ½ inch slice from top of each tomato.
Spoon out seeds and loose flesh to hollow out shells, leaving ¼ inch borders all around.
Turn tomatoes upside down on paper towel to drain 5 minutes.
Fill tomato shells with roasted eggplant.
Place on baking sheet and drizzle with remaining oil.
Bake at 350°F for about 10 minutes
Then using a hot pad, remove them from the oven and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Bake 5 more minutes until tomatoes are tender and filling is heated.
Sprinkle with parsley before serving.
Mmm, now that is what summer flavors are all about and that's its own celebration!