It’s time to start planting your garden. If you are like me, you yearn for a sunny vegetable garden, but have to make do with a deck and some planters. Because space is limited, the decision about what to grow becomes important. I prioritize my herb choices, happily giving up parsley for sage, and losing oregano to thyme. And when it comes to tomatoes, I look for heirloom varieties, because if I can only grow a couple of plants I want them to be interesting, packed with flavour and gorgeous.
Source (cropped): goumetfury.com
What are the characteristics of “heirloom” vegetables?
- Old. There is agreement that heirloom varieties must be old although no agreement on how old. Some say over 100 years, others say over 50 years, and still others other point to 1945 which coincided with the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies.
- Open-pollinated. Heirloom varieties must be open-pollinated, which means that they are pollinated by insects, birds, wind or other natural mechanisms and are, by definition, not hybrids.
- Cultivars. Heirlooms of all types are cultivated varieties (not wild) that have been deliberately selected for specific characteristics, and demonstrate consistent flavour, texture, colour and yields, for example.
Apart from their good looks and their great taste, it is vital to keep a wide range of heirloom vegetables (and flowers, trees, and livestock) growing from year to year to maximize the gene pool for future generations because vegetable varieties can become extinct just like any other living thing.
It is thought that in the 20th century alone, around 75% of food crop varieties disappeared due to the spread of industrial agriculture and the movement of farmers towards monoculture – focusing on one crop – in the case of tomatoes, hybridized varieties bred for their commercially attractive characteristics. This alarming rate of genetic erosion places our conventional food supply at risk from plant epidemics and infestations as the line between abundance and potential disaster becomes thinner and thinner.
At Galerie CO we’re promoting heirloom tomatoes for Mother’s Day. On Saturday May 10 and Sunday May 11 we will give away a free heritage tomato seedling with any purchase of $60.00 and over (not including tax). The seedlings are grown organically in the Eastern Townships by Gwynne Basen of Tomatoes Etc. The offer is good until we run out of seedlings with a limit of one seedling per customer.
To get you thinking about the culinary delicacies you could concoct with said tomatoes, I’m going to leave you with a mouth-watering recipe for an heirloom tomato tart from Julia Dawson, a wonderful Montreal food writer. This recipe appeared on the blog “The Main” and was inspired by the fresh heirloom tomatoes grown at Montreal’s Lufa Farms, which we featured recently on the blog.
Heirloom tomato tart
For the filling and topping:
- 5 ounces goat’s cheese
- 1 shallot, peeled and diced
- 1½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (plus a couple sprigs for garnish)
- 3-4 small/medium sized tomatoes, cut into ½” slices
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
For the tart crust:
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 3to 4 tablespoons ice water
In a food processor, pulse flour and salt together. Add the butter pieces and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal (there should be a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining). Add 2 tablespoons ice water through the feeding tube of the food processor. Pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if necessary, add up to 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time). Be careful not to over-mix, as it will toughen the dough.
On a floured surface, shape dough lightly into a disk. Wrap in cling-film and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days).
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Lightly flour work surface and roll out dough into a round that is a couple of inches larger than your pie plate. Prick the dough with a fork and wrap it around rolling pin and unroll over the pie plate. Gently fit into bottom and up sides of the baking plate and trim the excess.
Bake the crust in the preheated oven for 10 minutes (pre-baking a crust like this is called “baking blind” – it will help it from getting soggy from the filling).
In a medium bowl lightly toss to combine shallots, thyme and goat cheese. Spread into the bottom of warm tart shell and using the back of a spoon, spatula, or your fingers to cover bottom of tart.
Arrange tomato slices in a fan pattern with edges slightly overlapping each other. Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes and top with Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove and allow to cool slightly before serving.