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What are Heirlooms?

By definition, heirlooms are objects in a family handed down through succeeding generations. When it comes to tomatoes, though, it seems the jury is still out on the exact definition.

There are several areas of thought when it comes to identifying Heirloom tomatoes. For some, the belief is that a variety must be 50 or more years old, or developed prior to the time when seed companies started crossing varieties and creating hybrids for public use.

The one sure thing about Heirloom tomatoes, though, is their genuine flavor and fresh taste.

The taste of a tomato can range from very acidic to very sweet, and the size can range from very small up to three lb. (and larger) heavyweights. Shapes can vary from perfectly round to flat, lobed or heart-shaped, and downright unattractive, while colors include red, purple, black, yellow, white, green, pink, orange, and even bi-colored. It has been our experience that reds are more acidic, and pinks, whites, and yellows are sweeter and less acidic.

Most tomato experts categorize Heirlooms into four specific groups:

  1. Commercial Heirlooms, or varieties introduced prior to 1940.
  2. Family Heirlooms, which, as the name states, have been passed down through generations.
  3. Created Heirlooms, in which two known varieties were crossed by man until the desired qualities were found.
  4. Mystery Heirlooms, which have been produced by natural cross-pollination of other Heirloom varieties.
With all these choices, it is easy to understand why Heirloom tomatoes are so popular in the family garden nowadays.