Far be it from me to go on and on and on about tomatoes. (I know, I know: I seem obsessed. I tell my daughters that the secret to happiness is wanting what you have. So why don't I heed my own words?) Truly the lovely, juicy orbs have taken up far more space in the blog this year than they have in the garden or in the kitchen. But here's the thing: When we have them, we are happy, and we do our best to honor their presence.
Ruby Gold tomato tartlet
The very best way I've ever found to honor an heirloom tomato (other than sliced and sprinkled generously with huge snowflake crystals of sea salt) is the tomato tartlet.
I take puff pastry and defrost it just enough so that a knife deals with it easily. I cut it in squares or rounds or whatever shape works for the tomato at hand. Then I spread ricotta cheese on the pastry, tear a basil leaf or three over it (thyme is good too), dash on ground black pepper (even red pepper if our spirits are spicy). Then I add a slice of heirloom tomato and some shavings of Parmesan cheese (though not enough to hide the lovely color of the tomato itself). Then I tuck the edges up around the tomato and make it nice and cozy. Then I repeat so I have one for each person around my table.
Into the 425-degree Fahrenheit oven the tartlets go for about ten minutes -- or just until the pastry puffs and crisps to a golden crunchiness. When they come out, I give them another bit of torn basil and some flaky salt.
It creates quite the sensation when dinner begins with each of us sitting down to a tart as bright as a Gauguin painting.
Some of you live in places where heirloom tomatoes are still ripe (or on their way to ripening; hello, Australia!), and some of us live in places where we are already entering what gardener-extraordinaire Daphne calls the season of dreaming: You know how it goes. We sip hot tea and pore over blogs and catalogs to find all the varieties of heirlooms that we might want to grow when the growing is once again good.
When your time comes for dreaming, here are our entries into the parade of heirlooms you might consider. We've already reviewed Moskovich and Ruby Gold, and I just have to add here again that Ruby Gold fought off late blight better than any other variety; she produced. She is very dear to me.
And now the others...
Two different gardening friends insisted I grow Aunt Ruby's German Green tomatoes -- insisted to the point of sending me home with a plant each. Don't tell them, but I would have grown these just for the name. Who doesn't want an Aunt Ruby out in the garden with them? These 'maters are green (a little more yellowish green when they are ripe). Three-quarters of us loved the taste. It was leafy, almost as if you were eating salad greens and a tomato. (One-quarter of us thought it tasted like stinky feet. We are still trying to get her to tell us how she knows what stinky feet taste like.)
Aunt Ruby's German Green, whole and sliced
Abraham Lincoln is my favorite president, and I would have grown a tomato by his name even if it hadn't come recommended by Mildred Armstrong Kalish's grandfather. Have you read Little Heathens? Oh, my! I gave it to my father two Christmases ago with a note saying he would need to send it back to me after he finished reading it because I had dipped into it and couldn't stop but couldn't finish before it was time to wrap it for under the tree. When Grandpa Hickory returned it, he had annotated it with memories from his own childhood. (Did he really think I was going to return it with his hand-written treasures in the margins?)
Abraham Lincoln, in his glory
I don't even remember where on the Internet I tracked down the Abe Lincoln seeds. It was two winters ago, and hail destroyed my first crop last summer. Blight practically did in my second attempt. But I did get a few, enough to know I agree with the Mildred Armstrong Kalish's grandfather: A tomato that lives up to its name!
My great tomato love is Persimmon. The taste is mild and subtle yet deeply complex when conditions conspire for perfection. To me, it is the most beautiful tomato in the world. It should have been called Perfectly Ripe Cantaloupe; that's the most apt description of the color of its melting flesh. It is ethereal. I still cannot believe I can put a seed in a bit of soil and this comes of it. Persimmon is why I garden. I couldn't buy this tomato anywhere. And how could I live without it?
Persimmon, whole and sliced
So dream on these. And do guide me, please, to your favorite heirlooms. I am loyal, but I'm always looking for something that likes Maine weather as much as I do.