What’s the difference: tomatoes

We all know there’s a difference when you shop at your local farmers market: you get to meet the amazing people who grow your food, you get to participate in a special community, you have access to the freshest stuff around, you learn more about your region, and the fun fruits and vegetables you might otherwise not know about. And in addition to finding out about something new, you can also learn more about all the varieties of something familiar. Farmers don’t just have potatoes, they have Blue Pride and French Fingerling! They don’t just grow plums, they have Duarte plums and pluots! Not just plain old onions, but Walla Walla and Torpedo! Of course, all of these varieties are region specific, but my guess is that no matter where you live, you’ll find farmers with a fascinating array of variations on a theme. And nobody knows better what’s the difference among all these varieties than the people who grow them. So ask some questions! And find out… what’s the difference?

Heirloom tomatoes are popular right now, but they all look so different! How do I pick which ones to get? What kind should I get for sandwiches? What about caprese salad? Does is matter?

Yep, it matters. Just like wine or coffee, different types of tomatoes have varying levels of sweetness and acidity, different textures and water contents, and work better with some recipes than with others.

This week, at the Broadway Farmers Market, in Seattle, WA, I received a quick tutorial from the friendly people at the Local Roots Farm stall.

I learned that Brandywine tomatoes taste the tomato-y-est, that Pineapple and Pink Beauty are  both good slicers (great for sandwiches and salads), and that Cherokee Purple is a little more watery and might be better in a saucy dish.

There they are, on my counter. Left to right, Pink Beauty, Pineapple, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple!

Now it’s time for experimenting! Also known as cooking!

So, I wanted to make a panzanella type thing (bread + tomato salad). Since this involves chunks of toasted bread, I figured I needed a tough tomato that would  hold it’s shape but still be juicy enough to flavor the salad. Pink Beauty it was.

Very nice. The big pieces held together really well, making for nice presentation in the salad, while the smaller chopped bits were juicy enough to flavor the bread. Very tasty.

Lettuce and onion from Willie Green’s Organic Farm, basil from Local Roots Farm, toasted bread (it’s in there!) from Panzanella Bread Company. Flowers from Vue Meng Farms.

Ok, so we learned about Pink Beauty. Next up, Pineapple!

Definitely the coolest looking, with great colors! Do you think it’d be good in a carrot slaw type salad?

YES. Not only does it look great, Pineapple is another good slicer, meaning that though it is very soft when you bite into it, it holds up great when mixed with crunchier things, like carrots and raw onions.

And the orange on orange looks nice too. Carrots and basil from Local Roots Farm, Willie Walla onions from Willie Green’s Organic Farm.

I later used some slices of Pineapple on burgers, and they worked great for that too!

Brandywine and Cherokee Purple are still waiting in the fridge for their time to shine, but I’m thinking I might just slice and eat the Brandywine, maybe with some cheese, as it is reputed to have the fullest flavor. Cherokee Purple I’m thinking of roasting with some other veggies and then mixing with pasta. Does that sound good? I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway, variety is the spice of life, so ask questions about all the different varieties of tomatoes (or potatoes, or onions, or peppers) your farmers markets offer. It’s very interesting, and can really help you make the most of what grows near you!

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