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Homegrown variety
From sweet and tart to meaty or mild, heirloom tomatoes have some flavor
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Bull's heart tomato from David White's garden - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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David White, owner of It Began with a Seed Farm in Lula and president of the Hall County Farmers Market, talks about different types of heirloom tomatoes.

To get the perfect flavor of a vine-ripened tomato - one that your great-grandparents may have grown in their garden - you have to try the heirloom varieties.

Tomato growers Tom Reines and David White agree that flavor is what the heirlooms provide that the supermarket can't.

"They have a different taste and texture," said Reines, a Hall County Master Gardener who tends the garden at the Northeast Georgia History Center. "The tomatoes that you buy at the store are bred so they can be shipped and withstand the shipping. They have a hard skin to them, they are more acidic, they are smaller and those are generally picked green and they ripen as they go down the road."

Reines has headed up the History Center garden for two years and grows "the type the Indians, which goes along with White Path's Cabin here, what they would have been growing at the time in the late 1700s."

White, owner of It Began With a Seed Farm in Lula, said there are three things that set heirloom tomatoes apart.

"Flavor, flavor and flavor," said White, who also is president of the Hall County Farmers Market. "They are pretty, but we don't grow them to look at them, we grow them to eat them and for their flavor.

"Whether people want to admit it or not we have a relationship with food in our lives. Some things ought to be so unique that we can enjoy them as a speciality, and that's the way heirlooms are to me."

White grows 27 varieties of heirloom tomatoes at his farm, like the San Marzano, black from Tula, black Crim, garden peach, pineapple and the Cherokee purple.

"To be an heirloom you must have a seed that is unmanipulated for at least 50 years," he said. "They are not disease resistant. From breed to breed the skin textures will change."

And there are differences in taste, shape, color and acidity, to name a few.

"San Marzano is a paste tomato, it's a Roma," White said. "They are drier, they have less seeds and more meat. Copia is a highly acidic heirloom; it is a yellow-red with green. It is unbelievable how acidic it is for a yellow tomato. Yellow tomatoes are usually lower in acid."

The black tomatoes, which are Anita White's favorite, have a great sweet and tart flavor.

"I like them with some balsamic vinegar, maybe a little bit of olive oil mixed together," she said. "Put a little salt on them. The flavor themselves are so good. I like any of the blacks, the Cherokee purple, the black from Tula, the black Crim; they are sweet but they are tart at the same time. And they have a good tomato flavor."

At the History Center, Reines is growing the brandywine heirloom tomato.

"The brandywine is considered the pink, it's a red color but it is a light red," he said. "These are generally 1-pound tomatoes but I had one last year that was 2 pounds."

Reines also is growing other heirloom vegetables like Trail of Tears beans, Tennessee potato squash, blue corn and the Moon and Stars watermelon.

Seedsavers.com is where Reines and White buy many of their heirloom seeds.

"It's just like anything else, you get what you pay for," White said.

White added that he grows heirloom vegetables for a specific reason.

"I don't want people buying from me because that is what they've always liked," he said. "I want people to buy because they never seen it before. I don't want to make people's lives what they think it should be, I want to give them the opportunity to make it better."

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