As a kid, I always thought of an heirloom as a piece of furniture that my mom would pass down to Terri, my kid sister, like a Hope Chest or a bedroom set. Today, I think we all understand it’s anything worthy of being passed on from one generation to the next.
In the case of heirloom plants, the fruit they bear has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. A farmer in some part of the world valued what the plant was producing enough to keep replanting it and saving the seeds, yet it largely remained a family or regional secret.
Heirloom seeds were unearthed as people traveled the world and began to appreciate the unique characteristics of the vegetables and fruits they produced. They were ignored for the most part by commercial growers, since heirloom varieties don’t usually equate to the easiest to grow or highest yields. However, because they produced such a flavorful product, heirlooms weren’t ignored by chefs; rather, they were treasured in the same way you would treasure your great-great-great grandmother’s dresser.
When someone bites into one of our heirloom tomatoes, for example, it’s easy to understand why the seeds have been passed down for generations. I always carry a hankie to give ‘em so they can catch the juice running down their chin. And the grin I get after tasting a tomato with so much flavor is something I truly treasure.
It is our honor at The Chef’s Garden to preserve about 80 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Remember to eat your heirloom veggies!
To take an exclusive tour of our tomato house, chefs are invited to "friend" me, Farmer Lee Jones, on Facebook!