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Reason behind the label ‘heirloom’ tomato, finding the best potato to mash

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Posted: Saturday, September 7, 2013 8:40 am

Dear Barbara: I vaguely remember you writing about heirloom tomatoes several years back. Would you mind explaining again why they are called “heirloom” tomatoes and not just tomatoes? — Lin from Lockeford

Dear Lin: Heirloom tomatoes are fascinating in that they cannot be called “heirloom” unless the seeds are pure and have not been altered in any way for at least 50 years! The shapes and colors are very unique in each of the varieties. You don’t see a lot of heirlooms in the supermarkets and the prices are a little higher than some of the standard red tomatoes, the reason being that heirloom tomatoes are very delicate. The skin on heirloom tomatoes is thin and difficult to transport without being damaged.

Each is so different yet people expect them to taste the same as the tomatoes that are produced today. Trust me, they don’t.

Each variety has a distinct flavor of its own. You are tasting a real, unaltered, mostly organic tomato.

I think people get so used to the tomatoes in the supermarkets that are crossed to get a thicker skin for transport and also to have less juice so they will have a longer shelf life. What did they do with the flavor? It is just gone.

One other thing about any tomato; don’t put them in the refrigerator. They will start losing their flavor immediately.

Dear Barbara: We have trouble getting good potatoes; they are either green or have bad spots. What is a good time to get good potatoes? Do you get better potatoes when you buy them by the pound and not by the bag? How can you tell? We have spuds almost every day. I have been getting instant mashed spud, but I do prefer the ones I mash. Please help me. Thank you. — Beth from Lodi

Dear Beth: Since you mash them, I am going to assume you use russet potatoes or Yukon Golds. Russet potatoes are harvested around August-September, so if it is a new crop of potatoes (ask your produce man), this is a good time of year to buy them.

Buying in bags is not bad. You can see through most of the bags. Look for excessive cuts, dark spots, or green skin. By all means, cut off any green areas. Potatoes turn green when they are exposed to the sun, or fluorescent lights while in storage. This green area is moderately toxic and very bitter. Once you cut that area off, the rest of the potato is fine.

If you are uncomfortable with that, I would buy them by the pound. You can examine each potato for firmness, and pick the more desirable ones. However, they are more expensive by the pound. If you are feeding a lot of people, you might want to buy a 10-pound bag on sale that looks pretty good and just sort out any you don’t like. Also, choose a store that is very busy and has a high volume turnover. Potatoes should only be stored a week or two, and never in the refrigerator because the starch will turn to sugar and the taste is not pleasant! I hope this helps!

Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at bdspitzer@comcast.net. Please include your first name and city.

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