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Tomato, To-mah-to

Lucky for us in Coronado, different varieties of tomatoes are available practically year-round.

Remember those we talked about earlier this month? They’ve got a reason to be green with envy. A summer fruit has made its way into the market one season early and may steal some of the limelight from our beloved avocados.

Tomatoes are generally a summer crop. They love warm weather and thrive in it. One of the many advantages about living in San Diego is our consistent warm weather. Our winters here are still warm enough to grow the lycopene-rich fruit, so we can enjoy fresh BLTs year-round.

Valdivia Farms, located in Carlsbad, sells different types of fruits and veggies at the Coronado Farmers Market, with the current cream of their crops being their plethora of . But the true star of Valdivia Farms is their tomatoes. Currently on sale are vine-ripe tomatoes ($2.99 per pound), and three different varieties of heirloom tomatoes ($4.99 per pound).

People walking by Valdivia’s tables of tomatoes usually stop and comment about the unusual-looking tomatoes we call heirlooms. Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated, non-hybrid tomatoes. This means that the birds and the do all of the pollinating, not the tomatoes themselves. According to tomatoes.org, an heirloom tomato is “a cultivar that has been handed down from one family member to another for many generations, or a cultivar that was introduced many years ago and has been saved, maintained and handed down—even though the seed company may have gone out of business.”

Valdivia is currently showing off three different varieties of their heirlooms—the Brandywine, a bright red and meatier tomato that’s prone to cracking; Cherokee Purple, a personal favorite for its rich, smoky flavor; and the Pineapple, a bright yellow tomato with an almost spicy kick and subtle sweetness.

“The heirloom is more meaty and less water-based [than the vine-ripe variety],” said Lupe Figueroa, seller for Valdivia Farms. “Some are sweet, salty, bitter, tangy. Every heirloom is different.”

The look of the heirloom is also unique. “They grow the size of a beefsteak,” Figueroa said. But the size is the only thing heirlooms have in common with the beefsteak. They have a pleated, almost lumpy look to them and can sometimes have big cracks in them. But don’t be offput by their strange sight—these heirlooms pack a huge flavor punch, making them perfect for sandwiches and .

Valdivia’s table may look sparse with the heirlooms right now, but we should just be happy they’re even present! Generally a warm-weather fruit, Coronado gets to feast on these practically year-round. “We’ll have a little more until summer,” Figueroa said. “But once summer hits, we’ll have a lot. We gamble. It’s San Diego, we really don’t get bad weather.”

Restaurants across San Diego, including Coronado’s , use Valdivia’s produce. “The chefs and restaurant owners love them,” said market manager . “But I’m impressed with them because they’re good farmers. It’s hard to grow [heirlooms].”

Never tried an heirloom tomato? Visit the Coronado Farmers Market this Tuesday from 2:30-6 p.m. and grab one of each kind. Slice them on your favorite sandwich or eat them with a touch of salt for an afternoon snack. And for all you purists out there, there are plenty of vine-ripe tomatoes for you that are just as flavorful as the heirlooms. “They’re picked, then they’re ripe. They’re not refrigerated or stored,” Figueroa said.

It’s almost like summer is here early … almost.

Figueroa’s One and Only Tip for Storing Your Tomatoes:

  • No refrigeration! “Keep them on the countertop, away from direct sunlight. Never put them in the fridge—it doesn’t let them ripen and it muted the flavor,” he said.
Jayne Jang Belz March 21, 2011 at 09:17 PM
I am slightly obsessed with these tomatoes. My favorite is the Hawaiian, but they are all delicious! Thank you, Valdivia Farms!
Melissa Phy March 21, 2011 at 09:51 PM
I'm nothing less than obsessed with these, too. Cherokee Purple take the cake for me, but you're right--they're all delicious. These certainly take tomatoes to the next level!

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