This is another installment of Food Field Trip. When I found out that the Hollywood Farmers' Market was having a tomato festival this morning, I knew I had to go. It's no secret that tomatoes are my favorite food, meaning that I couldn't pass up a chance to taste countless varieties and worship at the altar (read: food stall) of the Heirloom. Plus I had been meaning to check out the HFM, which is ginormous and requires at least 2-3 hours of wander time to peruse. And that's on top of tomato tasting, photographing and watching a cooking demonstration by Chef Evan Kleiman of Angeli Caffe. She makes a mean sauce.
Before you read my impression of the vast variety of tomatoes I consumed today, keep two things in mind. First, I prefer my tomatoes highly flavorful and a bit on the tangy side. And second, I think tomatoes are hard to describe and I feel silly trying to describe them like people describe wine. Perhaps my palette isn't as sophisticated, or perhaps tomatoes really don't taste smoky or floral.
Marvel Stripe heirlooms are characterized by their yellowish-orange color with red stripes and indents. They have an intense, rich sweet taste that ends in a tart note. I think I'd call them fruity. Definitely the star of the dish, and definitely one of my favorites.
Black Crimson, or Krim, are sweet, with a hint of salty, but definitely mild enough not to overpower you or your dish. I found them to be quite unique and different from any tomato I had ever had. If you're interested, you're looking for a tomato that is a dark red maroon color with a deep forest green around the crimped top.
Cherokee Purple. I'm sure you've heard of these before--they seem to be the darling of the heirloom tomato world. Honestly? Not 100% impressed. They're fairly mild, minimally sweet, and the flesh was a little too soft for me. I prefer tomatoes with a little bit more bite and strength. Just look for mottled green, yellow, red in a funky and dimpled shape.
Valencias look like smaller orange Romas and don't really have the funky shapes and ridges that most heirlooms seem to have. I found them to be mild, but bursting with that traditional tomato taste if you know what I mean. They also kind of just melt in your mouth, which is a quality I have yet to encounter in other tomatoes.
Brown Derbys were amongst my favorites. They were so flavorful - tangy yet sweet, and insanely juicy. Apparently they're a cross between a darker, sweet heirloom and a tangier green heirloom, combining the strengths of both perfectly. These tend to be rounder with grooves, and a yellow-brownish color that borders on gold with green stripes.
German Stripes are oddly named, but I'm not questioning it. They vary in size and shape, but are covered in yellowish-orange and red stripes. I think these were the sweetest tomatoes I have ever tasted--they were almost dessert like. This would be amazing in a fruit salsa or as a sweet tomato soup.
Pineapple. Yes, Pineapple. I love the inside of these--the yellow, green, orange marbling. It's like a fiesta in tomato form. Google tells me that this is because half the tomato is yellow and the other half is red. Always. Would it be obnoxious to call them fruity? They had a very light sweet flavor and mostly fleshy. If you don't like seeds, these are for you.
Finley Farms of Santa Ynez, CA
Green Zebra. Another giant in the heirloom world, and another one of my favorites. I think this may have been my top tomato of the day. I don't know how to describe them--they're not particularly sweet, but they are certainly tangy. I overheard someone mention that there was just something at the end. I want to make salsa and sauce with these. I want to roast them and pop them in my mouth. I want to make a tomato sandwich--just these and some good, crusty bread. Yeah, I'm a fan.
Mixed Cherries. When you encounter a basket of these heirlooms at the store, you're in for a treat. These are my go-to snack. The red ones with a hint of green are delightfully tangy. The orange and yellow ones sweet and mellow. The bright red ones are a nice balance of sweet and tart and freshen up any dish.
Valdivia Farms of Carlsbad, CA
Mango. I know, what's with the tropical fruit? These were actually quite refreshing and amongst my favorite of the day. They were fruity and sweet, much like their namesake, but they end with a nice hint of acid. Look for tomatoes the color of a ripe mango with a reddish blush.
White Brandywine are up in the air. With their name, I mean. Some people say it's a misnomer and a variant of a different variety. I'm not so sure I care. These were dessert tomatoes, almost like eating grapes. As you can see in the picture, some are more of a light yellow color, while others are a pale greenish-white color. They tend to have larger ribs and vary in size.
The very first picture up at the way top is of Chocolate Tomatoes, with the shining star shaped like a heart. If you like chocolate, and you like tomatoes, you cannot resist this variety. Um, not that they taste like chocolate, but they're pretty damn good and have a great name. They have very strong, acidic and tangy flavor, with juicy firm flesh and very little seeds. If you're looking for these tomatoes, it's best you ask the farmer--they kind of look like Purple Cherokees and Black Krims. In fact, if you're curious about any variety, check with the farmer first--sometimes it's very hard to distinguish between different heirlooms and only the farm knows which seeds were used.
Mix of different Zebra heirlooms
NOW GO EAT SOME TOMATOES!