I’m infatuated with Heirloom tomatoes. At the end of summer is when they begin to make their debut at farmers markets in all their miraculous glory; move over Beefsteak, you are a bore. The variety of colors, shapes, flavors and sizes is overwhelming and at times magical; blue tomatoes anyone?
Stephanie Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms is the Tomato Whisperer, a walking encyclopedia when it comes to heirloom tomatoes and seed saving. I met Stephanie at a seed saving seminar she gave at the Hallockville Museum Farm and shortly thereafter a tasting of her pride and joy: 30 or so diverse tomatoes on stage for everyone to savor. As we tasted the heirlooms, Stephanie proudly and nervously watch us nibble on every tomato. The variety was staggering and the taste was sensational — BRAVA!
My encore was a private tour of her farm that has 350 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and other nightshades like peppers, eggplants and potatoes. Scattered about was kale, sweet potatoes, okra and a variety of winter squash. All of which are grown for consumers and seed saving.
In recent years, I have noticed heirloom signage peppered along Sound Avenue. I have never fully understood what it meant for a plant to be classified as an heirloom. Stephanie broke it down into four parts:
- Commercial Heirlooms: Open-pollinated varieties that are more than 50 years in circulation.
- Created Heirlooms: Crossing two heirlooms or an heirloom and a hybrid and dehybridizing the resulting seeds for approximately 5-8 years to stabilize the desired characteristics.
- Family Heirlooms: Seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation.
- Mystery Heirlooms: Varieties that are a product of natural cross-pollination of other heirloom varieties.
“To be truly terrior on Long Island farmers should be saving their seeds”, says Stephanie. If farmers started to save and produce their own seeds it will allow them to develop varieties suited for their individual farms and their own issues with insects and diseases.
Stephanie points to a native tomato called the Shinnecock Indian Currant. This is the smallest tomato I have ever seen, as sweet as a grape and a zillion times more flavorful than your mainstream Big Boy.
Wafting through the air was fennel pollen; the taste of one bud had enough licorice flavor to be categorized as breath freshener. 36 varieties of winter squash and melons were dispersed like land mines.
Moreover, kale that Stephanie named Tough Mother Kale was scattered by birds that picked off an overwintered heap of kale seeds that sustained itself through the polar vortex. Now that is a seed I want to get my hands on. The who, what, when, where and why it is growing on the farm is cataloged by Stephanie and her team. “Everything has a story in the field”, says Stephanie.
Just this year, Stephanie started Salt of the Earth Seed Company with help from the Long Island Plant Initiative, the Long Island Seed Consortium, and business partners Cheryl Frey Richards and Kate Moriarty. They specialize in growing and selling rare heirloom and open-pollinated vegetables, herbs and flowers to local restaurants and the public. They hear feedback from chefs and customers, and then save the seeds from outstanding rare varieties that do well on the East End. “We want people to share our seeds and give it to other people and continue to improve it”, says Stephanie.
As I walked between the rows of heirloom tomatoes, I thought an end of summer Gazpacho would be delightful. Stephanie sent me home with bags of tomatoes on one condition! That I make her a batch of gazpacho. If you are interested in getting a bushel of Invincible Summer Farms Heirloom tomatoes now is the time! They are offering Wholesale Saturdays—25lb boxes for $50— for the first three Saturdays in September, 10am – 2pm. Be sure to save your seeds
Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
- 3 pounds of ripe yellow heirloom tomatoes; blanched, peeled, seeded and cored.
- 2 hothouse cucumber; chopped, peeled and seeded
- 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped and seeded
- ½ jalapeño; seeded, chopped and cut in half
- 4 cilantro sprigs
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup of good extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of Sea Salt or more to taste
- 1 tablespoon of tabasco
- Pepper to taste
Note: For Red Gazpacho: Substitute tomatoes and peppers for a red variety.
- In boiling water blanch the tomatoes for 30 seconds; cut a cross hatch at the bottom of the tomato before inserting. Cool the tomatoes in a bowl of ice water and then peel the skin off. Remove the cores and strain the seeds over a large bowl to save the juice. Place the tomato flesh in the bowl.
- Place half of the tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro, shallot, vinegar, olive oil, salt, tabasco and a pinch of pepper in a blender or food processor.
- Puree until the soup is completely smooth. Taste for seasoning and place in a bowl. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients. You can chill the soup in the refrigerator or have it at room temperature.
Note: If you desire, garnish with chopped cucumber, avocado, and a drizzle of olive oil.