Bloody heirloom tomatoes. Wretched heritage carrots. The words ‘heirloom’ and ‘heritage’ are spreading like a pointless mildew across restaurant menus. I have lost count of the times I have said to a waiter ‘Tell me, these ‘heirloom’ tomatoes, what varieties are they?’ He or she tends to look at me with the tired patience of a someone dealing with a particularly awkward child. ‘I don’t know, sir. I’ll ask the chef.’ When they come back, the invariable report is ‘The chef isn’t sure, sir, but he’ll ask his supplier/grower/forager, sir.’ Fat use that is to me, even assuming the supplier knows what tomatoes he’s been selling to the kitchen.
The words ‘heirloom’ and ‘heritage’ are simply marketing schmoozes in the endless litany of menu-speak. They have no significance or meaning in themselves. Whose heirloom, pray? From which heritage? French? Italian? American? Spanish? English for heaven’s sake?
No two tomato varieties are alike. They differ in sweetness, acidity, flavour, texture and thickness of skin. Some are good for one kind of dich, one for another. The same is true of carrots. James Scarlet Intermediate, currently my favourite carrot, is utterly different from Touchon, Chantenay or de Meaux. To plonk a selection of sliced tomatoes, almost certainly because they produce fetching colour contrasts and combinations rather than from a profound udnerstanding of their varying flavours and textures, and call them heritage, is simply idle, ignorant and pointless.It’s time to do away with them.
NB. I have just been potting out my own tomato plants – John Baer, Sioux, Matt’s Choice, Mortgage Lifter, Pantano, Brandywine, Sungold and Mexican Midget, all from different tomato cultures and heritages. Yes, I am a seed saddo. I haven’t a clue yet which will taste like what. It’ll be a voyage of discovery, and I will report back on the qualities of each.