Saturday, September 08, 2007
This past May I purchased some tomato plants at the farmer's market from an Old Order Mennonite vendor who told me that they were grown from heirloom seeds that his family had saved from season to season for over forty years. I love vine ripened tomatoes that are available in the late summer and fall, but have found the ones in the stores to be disappointing in flavour this year. I picked some of the beefsteak tomatoes from the garden today and finally experienced the sweetness and taste I expect from a fresh tomato.
Modern cultivars are bred for disease resistance and uniformity. Thicker skins allow for packing and distance travel and taste is secondary to appearance and durability. Heirlooms are often prone to cracking and disease and need to be watched carefully to prevent fungal diseases from developing on the fruit. I bought four cherry tomato plants at the same place, but they are not a heirloom variety. But they have been very productive and sweet to eat.
One of the palliative patients at the hospital saved the seeds from the cherry tomatoes in his salads last winter, dried them and planted them indoors. Penny, our recreational therapist, put the seedlings in raised flower beds at the back of the building and has been tending them all summer. They have grown well and the patients who are able to go and do a little gardening have been picking the fruit. Those are heirloom tomatoes of a different definition. The sower of the seed is gone, but his labours live on and bring pleasure to others. (Let the reader interpret the meaning of this parable!)
I am going to save some seeds from my heirloom tomatoes this year and see how they grow next season. Even though they are not the prettiest, they are the tastiest tomatoes of the season.
Have you saved seeds or planted heirloom plants in your garden?