Neither taste nor nutrition has been a priority in breeding tomatoes over the past 60 years. The “old fashioned’ flavour is basically gone from the usual store bought tomatoes. Vitamin and mineral content has greatly declined also, leaving the tomato with only a shadow of the goodness it once held.
The “modern” tomato is genetically a slim line. If we wanted to feed a harsh climate-changing world and needed to reintroduce a lost characteristic back into the commercial tomato industry, we may have to step back and pick up a tomato gene from an old variety. The same goes for resistance to pests and diseases. The vast variety of heirloom tomatoes contains many unique characteristics that have evolved to fend off plant disease and pest epidemics without chemicals. For generations, the tomatoes that naturally resisted the epidemic of the year produced the seed for next year’s plants. To further this point, large-scale monoculture planting of one variety could fall to the disease of the year, leaving a shortage in the market, whereas diversification of agriculture makes our country and the world more sustainable.
Remember our ancestors took pride in creating a perfect fruit for a specific use, whether it was for its fantastic taste or its ability to be sun-dried or canned or long-keeping for winter usage. Some varieties created the perfect traditional family sauce or frying dishes. These were all handed down with pride to sons and daughters and have come to us in the thousands with the most unusual names, and in all shapes, sizes, colours and textures. Heirloom tomatoes is an unending world that should be explored by all tomato lovers.By Suzi Gabany