The importance of Peru within global food culture cannot be overstated. Imagine Italian cuisine without tomatoes, or England without potatoes, or India without potatoes, or tomatoes; all are far less interesting places, and all owe a debt to Peru as the origin of these new World Fruits and vegetables. That’s not to say the tomato sprung fully formed from the Andes a plump, delicious red or; on the contrary the ‘original’ tomato was a small sour thing that required a couple stages of pureeing and boiling to really be edible.
The primitive tomato was bred to be sweeter and bigger and made its way to Mexico where it got it’s name – the Nahuatal: tomatl (giving Nahuatal the two most delicious words in English Chocolate and Tomato). The Spanish showed up and took both the fruit, and its name tomate back to Europe. Here the tomato became variously the Italian Pomodoro “Golden Apple” which implies the early Italian varietals were yellow or gold, rather than red, and the German Paradiesapfel “paradise apple”, which does not imply much other than its deliciousness and rumored aphrodisiac qualities. A few other names were banded about involving werewolves and witches, the tomato is, after all, a relative of the deadly nightshade. After years of careful cultivation, genetic mixing, and breeding something like our current tomato selection must have been around in the 1690s, as that’s when the first cookbook with a tomato recipe can be found.
A New Level
Credit for the elevation of the tomato from an expensive delicacy to a staple of cuisine has to go mostly to the Spanish, who really modified their entire cuisine around this new giant berry, and then exported their methods. Italy, from the standpoint of the United States, is a much larger culinary influencer than Spain, but both Italy and Spain owes much to the tomato. From sauce to preserves to salads and stocks, the tomato is everywhere in Italian cooking.
The breeding of the tomato is interesting; since the tomato has been in the hands of people we have attempted to create a product that better suits our needs. From the creation of something that we actually want to eat raw to the ultimately discontinued but important Flavr Savr; the variety modified for a long shelf life was the first genetically modified food, tomatoes have been at the forefront of horticultural research for years, which is why such things as an heirloom salad can exist.
Developing Our Dish
Heirloom is not a breed of tomato, it is rather the description for tomatoes that are grown using saved seeds from non hybrid strains. These strains are not hybrids, and withstand cross pollination, unlike commercial tomato plants. The famous San Marzano tomato is an heirloom tomato, as is the award winning Aunt Ruby’s German Gold, but they have entirely different uses, tastes and looks. A common trait shared by heirloom tomatoes is the lack of the mutation gene that causes a uniform redness. This redness and predictability is something we liked, and selected for in hybrid commercial tomatoes, but it came at the cost of carotenoids and the ability to produce sugar within the fruit – leading to a less sweet tomato. That’s why heirloom breeds tend to have a sweeter more complex taste.
The yellow tomato that we selected for the salad is called a Brandywine, but they won’t be available everywhere. In fact, that is somewhat of the point; not every Heirloom Salad at every Atlanta Bread will taste the same. Some of our locations can source the Golden Brandywine, others can get the German Greens, Zebras, or Mortgage Lifters, whatever variety ends up in the salad, they are of a different breed than the regular 8 X 10 tomatoes that are regularly seen, and look and taste more interesting. Not better, not worse, but more interesting.