True heirloom tomatoes are grown from tomato seeds that are passed down through generations. The tomatoes vary in size, shape, color, and flavor. Heirloom tomatoes are sometimes the secret in a delicious sauce, and some are good enough to pluck from the vine and eat like an apple.
However, the term “heirloom” was later adapted to tomatoes that have disappeared from normal production for various reasons. They are grown from provincial seeds, which are cataloged, reconstituted, and planted to bring new — or in this case old — tomatoes back into production.
“It is like going into a museum and finding an old sheet of music that hasn’t been played in years and bringing it out for a particular musician to play,” said Roy Breiman, corporate culinary director at Copperleaf Restaurant at Cedarbrook Lodge at SeaTac. Cedarbook is hosting its sixth annual Heirloom Tomato Festival Sept. 11.
At the festival there will be an abundant variety of Pacific Northwest heirloom tomatoes, and local chefs will produce a dynamic array of tomato-based dishes.
There are more than 100 varieties of heirloom tomato throughout the world, many of which are grown in Washington by artisan growers like Gene and Geri Prentice and John and Nancy Bromiley. Both couples produce 200 to 400 pounds of tomatoes each year, routinely finding a surplus of stock.
“They were originally growing (heirloom tomatoes) for the farmers markets, and they had too many. So they started giving them away to the food banks, but they outgrew the food banks, and that is where we came in,” Breiman said.
Breiman personally delivers a large cross-section of heirloom tomatoes to approximately 10 of his cohorts in the culinary industry, and lets them create whatever they can dream up. Breiman says he avoids stifling the creativity of the chefs involved in the festival. “I try to stay out of it as much as possible and just let people bring their own flavor and their own inspiration to the party. It is like a big potluck,” he said.
During the festival, each chef — with their accompanying dish — partners with one of many local wineries or breweries to create the perfect pairings. Of course there also will be plenty of Bloody Marys for total tomato fanatics.
The Spa at Cedarbrook is also getting into the tomato spirit. It will be using lycopene-rich tomatoes as part of a series of tomato-based treatments aimed at neutralizing free radicals and boosting collagen production. Tomato-based services include a tomato and lime brightening facial and a tomato and olive oil body polish.
Above all, the Heirloom Tomato Festival is about supporting local growers and artisans while cultivating a farm-to-table ethos, Breiman said.
“We work within 200 miles of our restaurant to support food that is grown in the field, animals that are raised, fish that come from Elliott Bay,” he said. “(The festival) fit right in with those values, and we’ve really enjoyed the relationship (with the growers) throughout the years.”