Last week the heirlooms began showing up in your tote; you may have gotten a big pink Brandywine, or a great green Aunt Ruby’s (yes, that green tomato is RIPE!), or a persimmon orange Persimmon, or a sunset-hued Striped German. Bets grows a half dozen or more varieties in her greenhouses, and they are just hitting their peak right now. It’s a heartbreakingly short season (she’ll get a month of real production, and then they peter out), especially compared to some of the hybridized red slicing varieties that ripen sooner, produce longer, and yield more. But year after year, my mom plants her heirlooms, for the love of true tomato flavor and beauty – in spite of the fact that she might make more money by simply growing hybrids.
(A botany sidenote here: a hybrid plant is one that has been specifically bred for certain characteristics by crossing two genetically distinct parents. The hybrid that results often has certain desired traits, like better heat or cold tolerance, or crack resistance, or disease resistance, etc. You cannot, however, save seeds from that hybrid because they won’t come “true” – meaning the genetics are not stable and the next generation will likely express myriad traits (maybe some desirable and some not). As a result, you have to buy hybrid seed, as opposed to saving your own. An “heirloom,” or open-pollinated (OP) plant, on the other hand, is a genetically stable plant that usually self-pollinates. You can save the seeds of an heirloom tomato and usually get the same-looking tomato the next year. This distinction between hybrids and OP varieties is important, for both agricultural and political reasons – many advocates of open-pollinated varieties argue that it’s important to grow them in order to maintain genetic diversity in our plant/food world, and to keep public control of seeds and genetic information in the hands of farmers and gardeners, not Monsanto and other huge, private corporations. At Valley Flora, we grow both hybrids and open-pollinated, heirloom varieties. There are some crops, like broccoli, for which there simply is no viable open-pollinated variety available.)
But back to tomatoes: Heirlooms come in a rainbow of colors and folksy names (Omar’s Lebanese, Box Car Willie, Cherokee Purple, Golden Ponderosa, Hillbilly, Mortgage Lifter, Amish Paste, Arkansas Traveler, etc.). There are various definitions of “heirloom:” commercial heirlooms are varieties that were introduced before 1940, or that have been in circulation for over 50 years; family heirlooms are seeds that have been passed down within a family for several generations.
A general rule of thumb: good tomatoes, just like good strawberries, are usually the ones that have traveled the fewest miles to your mouth. Picking them from your own garden is tops, but if you’re buying them, you’re wise to source them from a farmer nearby. Why? Because the tomatoes that are produced for local, nearby markets are soft, ripe, and grown for flavor – as opposed to fruits that are grown to ship (think of the hard, pink tomatoes you see in the supermarket in the winter, most of which are grown in Florida, picked green by farmworkers, and then gassed with ethylene to turn red).
There couldn't be more contrast. While you savor your soft, local, family-grown-and-harvested tomatoes this week, I encourage you to learn more about the sobering reality of Florida’s tomato fields: http://www.ciw-online.org/
The pictures speak a thousand words. On the eve of Labor Day, 2012, it’s hard to believe that this reality still exists:
Like textile workers at the turn of the last century, Florida tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece. The average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32-lbs of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday -- nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago, when the rate was 40 cents per bucket. Most farmworkers today earn less than $12,000 a year.
In the most extreme conditions, farmworkers are held against their will and forced to work for little or no pay, facing conditions that meet the stringent legal standards for prosecution under modern-day slavery statutes. Federal Civil Rights officials have successfully prosecuted seven slavery operations involving over 1,000 workers in Florida’s fields since 1997, prompting one federal prosecutor to call Florida "ground zero for modern-day slavery." In 2010, federal prosecutors indicted two more forced labor rings operating in Florida.
This is the week for Finocchio!
You’ve got it all in your tote, so don’t miss the opportunity to do up one of my all-time favorite recipes: http://www.valleyflorafarm.com/content/finocchio
There are a pile of other fennel recipes on our website as well: http://www.valleyflorafarm.com/recipe_search/results/fennel
…the latest of which was shared with us by a friend in Washington who is a member of a CSA up there. She said this was the best thing she has ever eaten (she is 3 years old): http://www.valleyflorafarm.com/content/caramelized-fennel-honey-lemon-ze...
Strawberries Still Available by the Flat!
The strawberries are booming again (sweeter than ever with all this heat) and we have plenty to fill special orders. If you would like to order a flat (or two), email us your name, pickup location, phone number, and the number of flats you would like. We will deliver to your pickup site. Flats are $35 each, 12 heaping pints to a flat.
In your share this week:
- Walla Walla Sweet Onions
- Head Lettuce
- Tomatoes – Red Slicers & Heirlooms
- Sweet Peppers
This means that some pickup locations will receive it this week, others next week – or in a future week.
The Valley Flora Crystal Ball: What MIGHT be in your Share Next week
Remember, no promises!
- Red Onions
- Sweet Peppers
Please note: all of our produce is field-rinsed, not washed. We recommend you wash all of your produce before eating it.
For recipes and ideas, check out these links:
Our own collection of recipes that you can contribute to
Our website’s recipe “search engine,” where you can hunt down recipes by ingredient
A vast collection of recipes, searchable by one or multiple ingredients
A storehouse of recipes, searchable by ingredient
A Washington farm that has a good collection of seasonal recipes