Heirloom is a term used to describe any tomato plant that's openly pollinated (by wind and bees) and has been cultivated for more than 50 years. They come in many shapes and sizes―from the two-pound beefsteak to cherry tomatoes as tiny as currants―and colors―red, orange, gold, yellow, purple, even green and nearly white.
Read on for our guide to 12 great heirloom varieties, with a recipe designed to highlight the unique flavor of each.
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This tomato is an excellent multipurpose beefsteak variety. Although it's difficult to verify exact origin, some experts speculate that it was first cultivated by the Amish more than a century ago. This fruit is grown in yellow, red, pink, and purple-fleshed varieties. With a classic tomato taste, the classic red Brandywine is full-flavored with a pleasant acidity, a floral aroma similar to roses, and a supple buttery texture.
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This pink-fleshed beefsteak was originally bred by a radiator repairman from West Virginia in the 1930s. Seedlings of the tomato were sold for $1 each, paying off his $6,000 mortgage in six years. This tomato can tip the scale at two pounds. It's also known for mild, sweet flavor.
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A Russian variety, this pale yellow beefsteak tomato has a strong, zesty, sweet citrusy flavor. It is also sometimes spelled Lemony.
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A pale yellow tomato with pinkish-orange blush, and occasionally, green stripes, Mr. Stripey is a delicate beefsteak with low acid content that allows its sweetness to shine. The flavor boasts notes of melon, and the firm skin provides a nice contrast to the tender flesh when eaten raw.
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A prolific rose-orange beefsteak, some say this creamy, meaty, gorgeous tomato was cultivated by Thomas Jefferson. It has a near perfect acid-to-sugar balance.
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As the name implies, this meaty beefsteak variety has a deep purple color that tends toward brown or black. The firm, juicy, sweet-tart flesh, along with its jammy hue, often leads people to find the flavor evocative of a spicy zinfandel wine. Indeed, it has similar vegetal undertones that are balanced with a natural sweetness.
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This dark red globe tomato is juicy and meaty with a robust flavor similar to ketchup, but slightly less sweet.
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At full maturity, this is a yellowish-green tomato with dark green striations. Although it's a beefsteak variety, the fruit is typically smaller than its kin, about the size of a baseball. The flavor is mildly spicy and slightly tart.
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Old Ivory Egg
A mild-flavored yellow plum, this tomato earned its name because it is the size and shape of a chicken's egg. It's a creamy ivory color that turns yellow as it ripens. Enjoy the mild, sweet flavor of this variety either cooked or raw. It's a great garden selection, as it produces fruit up until frost.
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These little prolific orange cherry tomatoes grow in pretty, long clusters. The flavor is a nice balance of citrusy tartness, with hints of grape, orange, and floral flavors and a pleasant sweetness.
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Sometimes called Beam's yellow pear, these are firm, tart, tiny, pear-shaped tomatoes with citruslike acidity.
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This delicious little fruit looks like a big Muscat grape. The mild flavor has a nice sweetness balanced by bright acidity, and it's deliciously juicy.