Heirloom Tomatoes in a Wooden Basket

Summer is here. Let’s talk tomatoes.

Summer is synonymous with lots of things. But to foodies summer means heirloom tomatoes. What Exactly Is An Heirloom Tomato? Heirloom is defined as a valuable or special possession that has belonged to a family for many years. Hence the heirloom tomato is a variety that has been passed down from grower to grower, coming from seed, which conveniently makes them easier to share.

Heirloom tomatoes popularity can be explained in one word – flavor. There’s not one taste for all heirloom-tomatoes. But typically ALL heirlooms taste incredible, and are miles ahead of the status quo at the grocery store. They even leave the more popular modern hybrids that are specially grown to maximize taste in the dust.

In an effort to get on board the Heirloom popularity train, many marketers and growers have labeled their tomatoes “heirloom” when in fact they are not. So to clarify and make some distinctions, TomatoFest Garden Seeds, an expert tomato grower and advocate, recently adopted the definition used by tomato experts, Craig LeHoullier and Carolyn Male, who have classified down heirlooms into four 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.

(Note: All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirloom varieties.)

Heirloom tomato can be found in a wide variety of colors, shapes, flavors and sizes. The names of the heirloom are entertaining and evoke all sorts of ideas ranging from the homespun to the sublime. Some of the most famous examples include San Marzano, Brandywine, Green Zebra, Gardener’s Delight, Lollypop, Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter, Black Krim, Amish Paste, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Big Rainbow, Chocolate Cherry, Redcurrant, and Three Sisters.

Some scientists however, are not fans of the heirloom, suggesting that heirloom tomatoes are no more natural than commercial ones, and that many are simply “inbred” tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes do tend have a shorter shelf life and are less disease resistant than most commercial tomatoes. But again in the taste comparison…there’s just no arguing. Most of us don’t really care about the genetic mutations and claims by some experts that heirloom tomatoes are labeled “nothing special” and “inbred”. What we do care about however, is how incredibly wonderful they taste, and now that summer’s here, we are craving heirlooms anyway we can get them.

Come in and try one of our Alpine Menu Selections starring the lovely and tasteful Heirloom Tomato.

MOZZARELLA ALLA CAPRESE… served with torn basil, sea salt, cracked pepper, fresh burrata mozzarella and aged balsamic

CRAB AND AVOCADO STACK… fresh jumbo lump crabmeat, avocado and fresh diced tomato stacked and dressed with white balsamic vinaigrette

BRUSCHETTA… diced heirloom tomato, fresh mozzarella and wild mushroom

Enjoy summer and enjoy the heirlooms.