FROM OUR FIRST BITE INTO A JUICY heirloom tomato at the farmer’s market, we were hooked—you might even say obsessed, when you consider how we attempt to duplicate the same bounty in our backyard. Luscious, vibrant tomatoes in all different colors, sizes, and flavors stud our garden all season long.
In our current garden space, we’re maxed out with about twenty heirloom tomato plants. Every spring it’s difficult to select which new varieties we want to try and which ones we must repeat from the previous seasons. It’s almost impossible, like making a mother choose her favorite child. All of our tomato plants are our babies, each with its individual character and personality.
Southern California weather is kind to our tomato garden, and we’re spoiled by warm springs and summers in which to nurture the vines and fruit. But growing tomatoes in a coastal climate isn’t without its challenges. Pests, bugs, and mildew have ruined many of our growing seasons. Patience, research on our growing zone, and careful attention to the plants have finally taught us how to grow tomatoes successfully. Rotating crops and taking care of the soil have been key. Neem oil has been a godsend in our battles with mildew.
Our list of favorite heirloom tomato varieties is long, plentiful, and always changing: Black Cherokees, Kentucky Beefsteaks, Sungolds, Sweet Millions, all the different Zebra varieties, and Anna Russians are just a few on our current tomato-love-affair list. The cherry tomato varieties in particular are a regular indulgence in the summer, like perfectly sweet garden candy. When they are warmed by the morning sun, we find ourselves wandering the garden and picking them by the handful to snack on.
Salads, sauces, soups, jams, preserves, and other tomato dishes churn out of our kitchen all summer long. It’s never tiring to cook with tomatoes; the creative possibilities are endless. For those young, green tomatoes that never make it to fruition, we also have pickles, chutneys, and frying recipes to fall back on, so no tomato goes to waste.
Treat yourself to a swipe of goat cheese on fried bread, topped with a thick slice of heirloom tomato and slivers of fragrant basil. You’ll see why one of our freshest and simplest meals can be so addictive. It’s that easy to fall in love with a great, humble tomato.
© 2013 All rights reserved. Published by Abrams Books.