Monday, September 20, 2010

You say tomato, I say toe-mah-toe

Here in the Northeast, last summer was a disaster in terms of the tomato harvest for both home gardeners and farmers.  Plagued with an outbreak of late blight (or phytopthora infestans if you want to be technical about it) there are farmers that faced either losing their entire crop or fighting the pathogen with lots of nasty chemicals and still in many cases losing the battle.  Many home growers who were giving it a first try were seriously discouraged. There was lots of finger pointing as to the cause (I'm looking at you, Dan Barber) with the holy grail of tomatoes, the heirloom, holding center stage.

This summer it's a whole different story. While there was an early in the season confirmed case of the blight here in Connecticut, the early July heatwave knocked the pathogen down without issue.  Since then it's been so hot and dry that tomatoes are thriving and tasting better than ever.  The heirloom tomatoes, that is.  There is a reason why heirlooms have become so popular with chefs and regular folks alike - they just taste so much better.

We were having dinner the other night with friends when I was asked why heirloom tomatoes are so much more expensive than "regular" tomatoes, was it the seeds that are more expensive?  For those who are seeking very rare heirlooms that may be the case - but in general not so.  For farmers there is a much higher rate of loss on heirlooms.  First there are many fruits (and yes, they are) that end up not sale-able because they are so ugly, cracked, etc.  Also heirloom tomatoes are susceptible to a whole host of plant diseases, so there is a higher loss of plants in general.  The tradeoff is the hybridized tomato, they are perfect looking and have been bred to resist disease but what suffers in the process is taste and texture.

A hard killing frost is probably just a few weeks away here in CT unless we get really lucky... so go out and get some heirloom tomatoes while you still can (and think about growing your own next year!).

Gorgeous Ox Heart Tomato, one of my favorite heirlooms.

1 comment:

  1. It has absolutely been the summer of the heirloom tomato! I'm glad I didn't just start veggie growing last year. I would have been terribly discouraged.