Imagine eating a juicy tomato. The taste, the texture, the ripeness.
Now imagine this flavor multiplied exponentially.
Such an experience is how most people get into growing their own fruits and vegetables and exploring heirlooms. And Doreen Howard, author of “Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday’s Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs for Today’s Cook” (Cool Springs Press, $24.99), is no exception.
“I had read about heirlooms. I had heard about them from different people, so of course, like everybody else, I tried an heirloom tomato and was totally blown away with the color,” Howard said. “It was black krim, and the flavor was just overwhelmingly wonderful. It was a full tomato flavor, with fruit nuances. … That’s a very complicated flavor, and that’s what you find in heirlooms.”
Howard argues in her book that we do not even recognize original flavors anymore due to hybridized supermarket fruits and vegetables. Howard encourages growing one’s own food or purchasing produce from farmers markets, which help rejuvenate the original flavors.
Howard, an organic gardener, spent 20 to 25 years planting more than 300 varieties of heirlooms. Her book features 18 heirloom must-haves, as well as a top five bucket-list of flavors that everyone must taste:
• All Blue potato: Nutty and moist, these beauties are excellent in salads and roasted. Drizzle a little olive oil over freshly cut quarters and roast until edges brown for a fast, gourmet addition to a meal.
• Klari Baby Cheese sweet pepper: A sweet and crunchy treat right off the bush, this cheese-type pepper has thick walls, is petite and deep yellow to red when ripe. Try stuffing these sweeties with ground turkey and minced garlic chives. Bake 20 minutes, sprinkle with Hungarian paprika and serve.
• Vietnamese mint: Add fresh leaves to hot or cold tea, lemonade or seltzer for a refreshing hot-day drink. Traditional Thai cuisine such as pho and spring rolls are enhanced by the mint’s burst of flavors.
• Pineapple tomato: Not only is this huge beefsteak gorgeous (tawny gold swirled and striped with vivid red and pink), it has big tomato perfume and taste with a fruity finish. Great on BLTs.
• Ashmead’s Kernel apple: Its strong, sugary-sharp cider taste sets apart this mid-season heirloom from England. There are undertones of spice and honey, too. Howard added, “It’s not a real crunchy apple, but you can bake with it, eat it out of hand. It’s like a flavor overload. It’s wonderful.”