Tomato Summer Tour 2010

August 17, 2010

I took another cooking class and this time it was all about heirloom tomatoes. Before class, the only thing I really knew about heirloom tomatoes was that I loved eating them, they were expensive and a bitch to grow. I walked away with a lot more knowledge and 4 awesome recipes that I will be sharing through posts.

Tomatoes do really well in Sacramento, CA due to the awesome climate. The co-op gets their heirloom tomatoes from 5 local farms. I’m going to look into touring one of the farms – I think it would be a lot of fun.

We got a double-sided fact sheet that outlined many different heirloom varieties with photos for easy identification. I don’t know about the easy part – some varieties were a bit challenging to identify – even for Chef Terese.

Between recipes, Chef Terese cut into a few with a really cool serrated knife – perfect for tomato cutting. I didn’t get a good photo of that, bummer.

The first heirloom up for tasting was my favorite of the bunch.

The Black Pineapple

The Black Pineapple is a Belgian tomato variety that features smooth fruit in a kaleidoscope of colors. When sliced, it reveals bright green flesh with deep red streaks. It has a sweet, smokey flavor with a hint of citrus. This one was served plain. I definitely noticed the sweetness and the little hint of citrus, it was really good.

The second tomato that we tasted was a Brandywine. I didn’t get a good photo of that one. The co-op guide said that it is a pink Amish variety from the 1880’s and has received cult status among heirlooms. It is legendary for it’s exceptionally rich, succulent tomato flavor. I thought it tasted a sweet. Chef Terese served this tomato plain as well.

We then got to learn the differences between salts. 99 cent salt, kosher and regular sea salts and finishing salts such as fleur de sel. The fleur de sel is a hand harvested sea salt. It was slightly damp in the jar and runs anywhere from $10 – $50 – but lasts a long time since you only use it as a finishing salt. I kind of felt like I already knew a little about the finishing salts because my girlfriend Deede and I spent an entire afternoon on the hunt through Napa and Sonoma looking for a special finishing salt for a macaron recipe she was making.

The next heirloom up for tasting was The Striped German.

I loved this one too. It was served with extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil and fleur de sel.

Next up was the Vintage Wine heirloom.

The Vintage Wine was a deep pink with golden streaks – hard to see because they were on the outside. Chef Terese added fresh ground pepper and fleur de sel to the oil. The flavor was incredible, but I still liked the Black Pineapple the best.

We also tried a Black Brandywine heirloom with Gustosella Mozzarella Di Bufala, extra virgin olive oil, and fleur de sel. The Mozzarella was made from water buffalo milk raised in Campania – a region in Southern Italy. The cheese was super soft and a perfect pairing to the rich flavor of the Black Brandywine. Chef Terese brought the expensive stuff and it was obvious that I don’t normally by the “good stuff” – hah! – Note: I will be splurging now.

Chef Terese consulted with one of her sommelier friends about what type of wine would pair well with the heirloom dishes she prepared for the evening. Her friend suggested a Pinot Noir Rose – so they poured a Moniz Family Wines Pinot Noir Rose from Napa. I don’t generally like Rose wines, but I did like it paired with the dishes we tasted.

One of the assistants talked a little bit about her Heirloom tomato garden and explained how heirloom tomatoes are hand-picked and not cross-bred. Chef Terese and the assistant both talked about how you can save the seeds and grow your own. There were a bunch of gardeners in the class and apparently it’s been a bad year for heirlooms in this area. I think a lot of it is because our weather has been all over the place.

I went on wikipedia and looked up some of the other heirloom names and descriptions from our heirloom fact sheet. It’s so interesting to see how they came about and the names are very creative. One of the students in the class mentioned the “Mortgage Lifter”  – he talked about a guy selling the seeds to his popular tomato that resulted in him being able to pay off the mortgage on his house. I did a little more research and found an article about the tomato on Veggiegardener.com.

I think I’m in love with the history behind some of the tomatoes and how they got their names.

The recipes for the evening also included  Aunt Ruby’s German GreenMarvel Stripes, Purple Cherokees, Sun Gold Cherry and Green Grape Heirlooms.

I think my fear of cooking fish is over – there is no way I’m not going to make the salmon dish we had last night. Let me just throw out “Spicy Cherry Tomato Compote” as a little clue. Freakin’ amazing!

I had a great time learning about something new – Check me out – You Say Tomato! I say Tomahto. Stay tuned for the recipes.



  1. do you ever listen to podcasts of the Splendid Table? I love listening to Lynn, she’s such a foodie. One of her shows last fall talked about heirloom vegetables, and they talked about tomatos – I remember hearing about the Mortagage Lifter. Just thought that might be up your alley…

  2. Kathleen, I am thoroughly enjoying your blog. Please keep it up!

    I, too, love taking cooking classes. This heirloom tomato class sounds like it was great. Where was it held? Is there a website where I can find a schedule of future classes?



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