4 of the Best Heirloom Tomatoes

There are many reasons to grow tomatoes—the locavore movement, food safety, economic considerations—but the most important is that homegrown tomatoes taste so much better than anything you can buy in a grocery store.

Tomatoes are the gateway vegetable for many home gardeners, and more than 90% of home gardeners who grow edibles plant tomatoes. Because of the ease of breeding, there are hundreds of tomato varieties. Heirloom tomatoes in particular are fueling our passion to have that perfect, delicious tomato for a salad or BLT.

Not only can you plant heirlooms from seeds, but many garden retailers sell transplants in spring. Tomatoes need lots of sun. They also like consistent watering and perform best if fed with slow-release fertilizers. (Fast-release fertilizers supply too much nitrogen, producing big plants with lots of leaves—but not as many tomatoes.)

Train tomatoes to a cage or stake them to keep the fruit off the ground (and away from sharp-toothed rabbits). Use soft material to tie the plants to their supports. Thick mulch keeps the soil moist underneath, keeps weeds down, and prevents water from splashing back onto the leaves, which could create fungal problems. In fact, only water gently at their roots, by hand or with a soaker hose. Don’t use a sprinkler. When tomatoes start to ripen, check them daily. Cut or gently twist the stem to separate the tomato.

As the “Garden Diva” and foodie Doreen Howard shares in her new book Heirloom Flavor, it’s all about the flavor. Here are some descriptions:

Garden Peach—Yellow, blushed with rose, these fuzzy two-ounce tomatoes resemble small peaches, and they almost taste like them. The flavor is fruity with a touch of acid; a peachy aroma is evident when a tomato is bit into or cut.

Green Zebra—Green Zebra is the perfect tomato for colorful salads or as a slicing tomato. Fruits ripen to chartreuse with lime zebra-like stripes. Its flesh is emerald colored and rich tasting, sweet with an acid note of an aged Chardonnay.

Pineapple—Not only is this huge beefsteak gorgeous (tawny gold swirled and striped with vivid red and pink), it has a big tomato perfume and taste with a fruity finish.

Mortgage Lifter—Saturated with bold tomato flavor, Mortgage Lifter beefsteak tomatoes deliver a juicy jolt of what a tomato should be in every bite.

The Pineapple heirloom tomato

Doreen G. Howard / Heirloom Flavor

Garden Peach tomatoes resemble small peaches, and they almost taste like them, too.

The Green Zebra heirloom tomato

Doreen G. Howard / Heirloom Flavor

The Green Zebra is a fabulous tomato for colorful salads and for slicing.

The Garden Peach heirloom tomato

Doreen G. Howard / Heirloom Flavor

The Pineapple is a huge, gorgeous tomato with a big tomato taste and perfume.

RECIPE: The Classic BLT

Good-quality white bread, toasted and buttered (trust me)

Bacon, crisply fried (I like Benton’s)

Leaf lettuce

Duke’s mayonnaise (well, okay, you can use any that’s your favorite)

Vine-ripe heirloom tomatoes, thickly sliced

Slather lots of mayo on one piece of buttered toast. Layer bacon, leaf lettuce, and tomato slices on top. If you must, salt and pepper. Top with the second piece of toast. Cut in half; savor. Try not to make a mess.

Book cover of Heirloom Flavor by Doreen G. Howard

Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday’s Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs for Today’s Cook by Doreen G. Howard