The Best Heirloom Tomatoes For Summer Meals, According To A Farmer And Chef

One of the great joys of the summer harvest is the bounty of beautiful heirloom tomatoes to be found. Coming in tantalizing shades of gold, hot orange, ruby red, and earthy purple as well as whimsically bumpy shapes, there are numerous types of heirloom tomatoes to choose from. But which will prove the most rewarding for a warm-weather dish? 

Enter chef and farmer John Barker, co-owner of Forts Ferry Farm, a New York state farm selling over 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, along with other fresh summer produce on location and online. Barker has at least three recommendations for tomato enthusiasts, from sweet to meaty in flavor, including a cherry-sized variety for those looking for a petite option. 

First up is the Costoluto Genovese, a dramatically fluted-edged red tomato that Barker claims makes the best tomato sandwich around. Next is the Paul Robeson heirloom tomato, named after the famed actor, singer, and activist. The tomato itself is reddish brown in color and packs both a meaty flavor and intense umami notes. Finally, for the cherry tomato, Barker endorses the sungold tomato, which they claim is as sweet as candy. 

Three heirloom varieties to make the most of summer

Along with these varietal recommendations, the chef has a few pointers on how to best use these treasured heirloom tomatoes. First and foremost, Barker advises you to keep things simple. "When using heirloom tomatoes in dishes, minimal manipulation is always best to let their flavors shine," the farmer says. So look to enjoy them in tomato sandwiches or salads, plainly dressed with a bit of salt and good-quality olive oil. If you want to make a classic sauce, try to make an unadorned tomato sauce with just a touch of herbs. In other words, treat it like the fresh seasonal produce it is without covering up its natural sweet and savory taste.

If you want to extend the lifeline of your tomatoes, look to canning them for a homemade pantry item that will eclipse any store-bought brand. Better yet, you can take a page from Barker and freeze any leftover sungolds to make a beautiful winter tomato sauce that still has peak-season flavor. Either way, you're in for a summer treat with a batch of these delicious heirloom varieties that can enhance your meals in an instant.