August is primetime for making use of the bountiful produce available. Basil begs to be made into pesto, tomatoes weighing down the vine can be plucked and turned into sauce, jam, salad, gazpacho. The farmer’s market stands alive with different varieties of heirloom tomatoes.
The term “heirloom” refers to tomato varieties that were either developed prior to 1940, or have been hybridized by cross-pollination of different varieties to maximize positive traits. This cross pollination results in varieties that are unique and striking in color, shape, and taste. Eating heirloom varieties is also a positive step towards securing the future of food crops on our planet. Gary Ibsen’s Tomatofest writes that
Every heirloom variety is genetically unique and inherent in this uniqueness is an evolved resistance to pests and diseases and an adaptation to specific growing conditions and climates. With the reduction in genetic diversity, food production is drastically at risk from plant epidemics and infestation by pests.
In our classes we often play the “mystery food” game, where students have the opportunity to touch and taste fruits and vegetables they might never have encountered otherwise. We pass the food around and let them guess what it is. Sometimes the guesses can be hilariously off, such as when our students mistook heirloom tomatoes for pumpkins.
Tomatoes, heirloom and otherwise, are amazingly versatile and only beg for a vehicle. Sourdough bread. Homemade pita bread or pizza dough. A crisp leaf of romaine lettuce. Or that old standby, pasta. We’ve shared our recipe for homemade pasta here.
While we’re not clean plate fanatics, a strong underlying theme in our classes is to encourage tasting foods, not taking more than we need, and avoiding food waste. Which is why we love this advice from Epicurious about cooking pasta with less water, directly in its sauce. Give it a try and know that you’re advocating for water conservation and a resilient planet while also eating a delicious dinner!