Madoline Markham
July 14, 2010

If you're not familiar with the term, heirloom refers to avariety of plant that has been farmed for more than 50 years. Heirloomtomatoes, melons, squash, and more come in every color and shape imaginable.Flavor varies along with a fruit or veggie's skin and flesh and can add different dimensions to recipes. Because they are locally grown and so colorful, youknow heirlooms have to been good for your body, too.

You can find heirloom tomatoes and possibly other veggies at your local farmer's market, but I actually bought these colorful fruits at the Fresh Market by my house. Because the tomatoes had such a unique flavor profile, I went with a simple preparation by slicing and serving with mozzarella, fresh basil, oil, and balsamic vinegar in a caprese salad. There are lots of other recipe options available for heirlooms too. Foodimentary Guy recommends Brandywine, Cherokee purple, German Johnson, or Azoyochka tomatoes ona BLT.

The best way to experiment with heirloom cooking is by growing your own produce. Once I move somewhere with gardenable space, I want to order from the hundreds of varieties available online seed stores like Baker Creek and Seed Savers and plant away. Any green thumb I have is completely motivated by the potential for cooking experimentation that resulting fruits and veggies will enable.

Last spring, I ventured to an heirloom planting festival in the Ozark Mountains outside Mansfield, Missouri (home of the Laura Ingalls Wilder's Home and Museum). Among the rows of vendors, I was fascinated by the plethora unique varieties of seeds and plants and the stories they told. Farhad's Persian cucumber came from the gardener's Iraqi friend whose mother grew this cucumber. A blacktail mountain watermelon featured scarlet flesh and black rind. A pink banana squash, whose rind is pink when ripe, grows to twelve pounds, pink rind and displays a buttery taste that is great steamed. 

Do you garden or buy heirlooms? What are your favorite varieties? How do you like to eat them?

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