Passing on the tradition: HEIRLOOM TOMATOES
“There’s a freeze coming. What do I do?”
I love hearing from my girls, but I’m really excited when they ask for my advice, although it’s often shared even when not requested. Both of my daughters have inherited the gardening gene passed down from my dad, so when the youngest called a couple of days ago, we got to talk tomatoes. Her heirloom ‘Texas Wild’ crop has been prolific this year. She and her husband recently bought a house, warranting a relocation of her Topsy-Turvey, apartment garden to a more stable home in raised garden beds in the back yard. With her traveling tomatoes at various stages of ripeness, she wasn’t sure what to do about the impending Blue Norther scheduled to appear.
I explained the difference in PERENNIAL plants and ANNUAL ones, like the cherry tomatoes and her sweet basil. Annuals, as the name would suggest, live their life out annually: seed to plant to flower to more seed. Theoretically, anyway.
Tomatoes are warm season plants, native to Peru. Her heirloom tomatoes (those here before the 1940’s that have been passed down from someone else) are open-pollinated, so their seeds produce plants identical to the parent. The seeds of the Texas Wild tomato I gave her yielded this year’s crop, but if she chooses to grow more next year, she’ll need to save some of the seed to re-plant once it warms up a bit next spring. Sound difficult? I promise. It isn’t. That’s the beauty of heirloom plants.
a bountiful harvest, courtesy of Sarah Colburn Stock
So, how can you save the crop AND the seed of heirloom tomatoes?
1) Lay out the ones that aren’t quite ripe yet, UNWASHED, on newspaper or other absorbent material. And they are as touch-me-not as my girls were on a road trip, so give each one its own space. (Do not refrigerate them, as that will make them taste grainy.)
2) Green tomatoes can be sliced, coated in egg and then dredged in PANKO or other breading and fried or baked. YUMMY!
3) If you plan to cook soup or sauce with a tomato base, ripened fruits can go into a Zip-lock and then the freezer, as is.
4) Slice some of the ripe ones thin and remove the seeds. Put the seeds onto an absorbent material to dry for next year’s crop.
In some areas, the seeds can go straight into the ground after the temps are above 70 or so degrees. Otherwise, you might want to make starter pots to put into the garden later. We’ll have that lesson this winter……if it’s requested!