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September 2006


FEATURE

Edible Heirlooms
By Peggy Tagliarino
Photographs by Susan Mcwhinney

SURE, THEY'RE THIN-SKINNED, BUT HEIRLOOM TOMATOES ARE FRESHER, JUICIER AND FAR MORE FLAVORFUL THAN THEIR STORE-BOUGHT COUSINS

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In the tomato world, what's old is new again. Heirloom tomatoes of every shape, size, color, taste and texture are invading farmer's markets and culinary tables nationwide. (In California, they're even developing a vocabulary similar to that applied to wine to describe an heirloom's range of flavors, which some claim taste like anything from cinnamon to pumpkin to melon.) Unlike their thicker-skinned, genetically modified, hothouse cousins, heirlooms, which are grown from open-pollinated, non-hybrid seeds that are at least 50 years old, cannot travel cross-country. This makes them a precious local commodity with a fleeting, roughly 10-week growing season that lasts from August through mid-October, or until the first hard frost.

At Waldingfield Farm in Washington, Daniel Horan and his brothers Quincy and Patrick are now hitting peak heirloom season. The farm has been in their family for four generations, and in 1990, after Daniel graduated from college, he decided to farm it organically. His younger brothers pitched in during college vacations and then eventually full time.

They began small, growing all types of vegetables on just an acre. By 1997, they were growing on five acres, and today, they farm roughly 20 acres. In the mid-1990s, Quincy became interested in heirloom seed stocks of vegetables that were no longer sold commercially. This summer, they planted more than 16,000 heirloom tomato plants in 40 different varieties. These are varieties, according to Patrick, that many of their customers remembered from their childhoods—from their grandparents' gardens and the like. "We decided to become the producer to help them relive their culinary past," he says.

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