The cooler days and chilly evenings we’ve been having lately unfortunately means that the end of tomato season is nearing. And for those of us who have not yet had their fill of all the gorgeous heirloom varieties, that is a very frightening thought. Tomato lovers know that nothing beats the taste of a sun-ripened heirloom variety and we all dread the long Illinois winters of tomato-less salads and sandwiches. Heirloom tomatoes differ from their standard counterparts in that instead of being grown for their size, durability and even red hue they are grown for their myriad colors, flavors and textures.
Several farmers at the market sell heirloom tomatoes including red, yellow, green, black, red, orange and pink varieties all having different levels of sweetness, acidity and juice. Certain varieties are better for canning, while others are better for eating raw or cooking. Heirloom tomatoes are generally varieties that have been grown for decades, their seeds being passed down from generation to generation, protected and preserved.
Some of the most popular heirloom varieties are commonplace at the Market at the Square as well as some of the rarest, and these are just a few of the dozens out there:
Brandywine: One of the most popular at the market, and the tomato your grandmother talks about, the Brandywine has a pink-ish skin and a red flesh. A super sweet tomato with a rich flavor and juicy flesh, Brandywines are nice and large and when sliced make good on creating the perfect BLT.
Cherokee Purple: A rare “black” variety with a unique dusty rose color and green shoulders. This tomato is extremely sweet with a rich smoky taste. The Cherokee Purple has refreshing acidity and an earthy lingering flavor. The Cherokee Purple tomato is popular not only for its striking beauty but its interesting flesh, green juice and utterly outstanding flavor.
German Striped: A large tomato with a funky-ribbed shape, the German Stripe is one of the most beautiful tomatoes at the market. Bi-colored with hues of red and yellow, the German Stripe tomato is gorgeous when sliced and hard to pass up when making an impressive salad. This tomato is remarkably sweet, complex and fruity with a nice firm flesh and relatively little juice.
Aunt Ruby’s German Green: Aunt Ruby’s is a large beefsteak type tomato that is pale green in color with a hint of yellow striping. Certainly my all time favorite tomato, Aunt Ruby’s German Green has the sweetness of a melon and a juicy piquant bite. Good for eating and/or frying, Aunt Ruby’s is very versatile and can be used in just about any recipe. Quite rare and a variety that has recently become endangered in America, we are lucky to have this tomato at our Market.
Green Zebra: Not considered authentically heirloom by some due to its “recent” development in the eighties, the Green Zebra has catapulted itself to possibly the most popular heirloom variety in America. A relatively small tomato with golden yellow stripes, the green zebra has a tart bite with citrus notes and is awfully darn cute to boot.
If you haven’t experienced the flavor of these and all the other great heirloom varieties at the market, grab your umbrella and come out this Saturday. Aside from tomatoes, there will be tons of great food and entertainment available — so check it out.
The Market at the Square runs every Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine now through November 8. It is located in the parking lot of Urbana Square Mall on the corners of Vine and Illinois Streets.