Peak Season Best Flavor
Heirloom Tomatoes are in peak season this late July from plants protected by high-tunnels and most of August from open field production. The ones from my backyard garden will fill me up, but I also love the care many of the Central Pennsylvania growers give their Heirlooms. Organic Heirloom Tomatoes are in season from small farms in California this July and will be in season in the Mid-Atlantic region in August.
What exactly are Heirloom Tomatoes?
Most conventional, round Tomatoes have been hybrid-bred for consistency of size, shape, color, shelf-life and firmness – all so that they can safely make it through the supermarket supply channel and into your kitchen without getting soft or going bad. Heirlooms, on the other hand, are old and diverse varieties that have been around since WWII. Some have been passed down over the years by a family and others were created through natural cross-pollinations, still others were commercially produced by a seed company or university ag program ¾ of a century ago. With Heirloom varieties you can take seeds from this year’s fruit and plant it year after year and get the exact same tomato plant. Each Heirloom variety has its own special taste, texture, shape, size and color characteristics that make them unique and wonderful in their own way.
- Soft? Straight-talk: Heirloom Tomatoes are soft to begin with – you should expect them to have a little give. Since they are not “bred” for shelf-life, do not expect a long shelf-life. Use them quickly.
- Appearance? Oh, and they’re ugly by most normal standards, …but the flavor, whether sweet, earthy, bold, tangy or bold – is always beautiful!
- Price? Since Heirlooms are not bred or hybridized for maximum production or disease resistance – yields are typically smaller and they cost more to grow. That is part of why you can expect to pay more. What is flavor worth to you?
- Selection: Select Heirloom Tomatoes that are free from punctures, water blisters or large decay spots. Avoid Heirloom Tomatoes with open flesh splits or cracks that have not healed over into a scar. Otherwise, buy them and eat them!
- Storage: Store Heirloom Tomatoes at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Do not refrigerate Tomatoes since it zaps flavor and ruins the texture.
What’s an Heirloom Tomato?
Red Seedless Grapes
Peak Season Best Flavor Value Priced
- Select Grapes that feel firm to a gentle squeeze. Lift up the bag or container and look at it from all sides.
- Look for Grapes with stems that are still green at the thickest parts and appear to still have life in them.
- Choose packs that have most of the berries still on the vine.
- Avoid bags that are wet and sticky – a sign that some of the Grapes are going bad – or have berries with splits or cracks.
- Go ahead… ask the produce clerk for a sample grape or two. Tasting is believing!
- Keep your Grapes refrigerated until you’re about ready to eat them, since they lose their crunch much quicker at room temperature.
- Wash Grapes with a cold water rinse just before serving them.
Peak Season Best Flavor
- Ripe Honeydew will have a waxy feel and good ones begin to emit a tropical aroma as they ripen and soften at room temperature. Honeydew should give slightly to firm thumb pressure when it is ready to cut.
- To get the most out of the melon: Slice the melon in half, scoop out the seeds, peel on a cutting board, chunk the flesh and store cut melon in the fridge.
- Honeydew is good by itself as a snack, to mix into fresh fruit salads, to pair with cheese and add to smoothie recipes like this one.
- Ever have Spa Water? It is basically flavoring your own water with fruit – a great way to stay deliciously hydrated. Honeydew and Watermelon is great for this! Find Spa Water Recipes here.
The best-tasting Honeydew Melons of the year are coming into season right now from California. Be sure to enjoy one while they’re peaking – now through mid-September.
Peak Season Best Flavor Value Priced
- Regular: Regular Eggplant, sometimes called Black Beauty or Black Bell Eggplant, are large in size and dark purple in skin color. They are the all-purpose Eggplant found in most produce departments.
- Italian: Italian Eggplant, also called Baby Eggplant, looks like Regular Eggplant only smaller and more slender. This variety is ideal for roasting and can be used in ways similar to regular eggplant.
- Graffiti: Graffiti Eggplant is beautiful! If features a lavender skin streaked with white stripes. Use Graffiti Eggplant the same as regular eggplant.
- Sicilian Eggplant: Sicilian Eggplant is a round Eggplant with lavender skin color that varies dark to light. Careful, there can be some gnarly spikes on the calyx. This variety is the very best type for making classic Eggplant Parmesan thanks to its firm texture and round shape for cutting.
- Asian varieties: I am not an expert on the myriad of Asian types of Eggplant other than Japanese Eggplant that is long, slender and lavender, and Indian Eggplant that is purple and has twisted ribbing and inconsistent shape. Most Asian Eggplant varieties are slightly less bitter than Mediterranean Eggplants.
- Selecting: Choose Eggplant that is firm, not soft, is free from brown-sunken areas, and has some green color still in calyx around the stem.
- Storage: Store whole Eggplant at room temperature though in a cooler spot away from direct sunlight. Do not store Eggplant in plastic bags or sealed containers since the lack of respiration will make the fruit decay quicker. You can refrigerate it, but over time cold temperatures make the Eggplant lose flavor and become flabby.
- Stop S.E.G. To avoid “Soggy Eggplant Syndrome” in your dishes, sprinkle coarse or sea salt on sliced Eggplant and let it set for 10 to 20 minutes. Rinse the slices and pat them dry with a paper towel. This process will draw out some of the moisture to the Eggplant texture and shape holds up better during cooking.
- Cooking how-to? Click here to learn how to cook Eggplant perfectly using multiple methods.
- Eggplant Recipes: Check out these 15 Easy Eggplant recipes from Real Simple.