Amy Goldman loves heirloom tomatoes. Loves them enough that one might be tempted to dub her obsessed, consumed even—labels she embraces. After all, what else would you call a woman who over a single season grew more than 500 varieties of heirloom tomatoes on her farm in New York’s Hudson Valley, tested and tasted every one—sometimes twice—and published her findings in a mouthwatering book, The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table, extolling their myriad virtues, complete with recipes, histories and envy-inducing photographs of “the world’s most beautiful fruit.”
“I never do anything in a small way,” Goldman says, laughing. Especially when it comes to heirloom tomatoes, of which she has “two hundred favorites.”
A lifelong gardener and late-blooming activist, Goldman was distressed by the commercial hybrid tomatoes that most of us were raised on: perfectly colored balls of unyielding flesh stuffed with something approximating wet sand. So Goldman sought out alternatives. Lots and lots of alternatives.
Heirloom tomatoes, says Goldman, “are almost human.” Meaning they have personalities, habits and quirks, and defy, at times, classification. Some are gorgeous, resembling carved marble or undulating Eva Zeisel pottery. Others are bulbous, bottom-heavy, cartoonish, like balloons filled with water. Some varieties of currant tomatoes are as small as cranberries, while larger beefsteaks can weigh over two pounds. All, however, are unique. And delectable, their farm-fresh taste so transcendent, it requires nothing in the way of accouterments beyond a pinch of salt and a large napkin.
“If you taste an heirloom tomato you’ll never go back,” Goldman swoons. “For a straight-up tomato, I love African Queen.” Armed with a pocket knife and a shaker of salt, she gobbles hers straight from the vine. “I feast on one pink meaty slice after another.”