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What Does a Redneck Put on Salads? Hillbilly Tomatoes, of Course…

Hillbilly Tomato

Heirloom tomatoes are all the rage these days. Why? In my opinion, Americans want more flavor. In everything. Typical store-boughten tomatoes don’t seem to have much savor or aroma these days. They’re “designed” and optimized to stand up to the rigors of logistics: Picking, stacking, storing, shipping, more storing, and so on. They’re usually picked in the field long before they’re ripe, and in some cases are shipped up to 2,000 miles under refrigeration. If they’re not ripe enough at that point, they’re treated with ethylene gas (or similar) to turn the fruit a brighter red. Are they really ripe, though? I don’t think so; red and hard isn’t anything like vine-ripened.

Heirlooms, however, don’t stand up quite as well to the rigors of transport and store sales. It’s why the commercial interests drove the development of currently available bulk tomatoes. However, these heirlooms do have old-fashioned flavor, and lots of it.

One interesting heirloom that’s growing in popularity is the Hillbilly. It’s originally from West Virginia, or maybe Ohio; sources conflict on this point. Some specialty garden centers and nurseries will have sets (young plants) in the spring, but most of us gardeners start our own from seed and nurture them indoors until it’s safe to transplant them. The plants are indeterminate and will make large vines, needing lots of support and care.

The fruit’s worth it, though!

Hillbilly SlicersDon’t expect these Hillbillys to be available early on. Ripe fruit is seldom available until at least 80 days after transplant. If you want some at the earliest possible date, then you’ll have to start them early, grow them quite a while in protected circumstances, and then fed them well once you get them outdoors in the garden space.

Because they’re heirlooms they’re not bred to resist many diseases. So you’ll have to be vigilant, treating with care at the first sign of trouble. If you make it to ripeness you’ll be rewarded with bicolor red-and-orange (or even tricolor, with some pink streaks) globes of one to two pounds size, juicy and flavorful. A fresh Hillbilly is slightly sweet, very juicy, and one slice covers a full hamburger patty (1/3 lb size) with edges to spare. One tomato can make several tasty BLT sandwiches, or quite a pile of club sandwiches.

You may also know these as Flame tomatoes. Good stuff.

The Hillbilly really shines on a fresh garden salad. Start with fresh Romaine or red-leaf lettuce; tear the leaves rather than chop with a knife and the edges won’t brown quite so quickly. Take out large ribs (if present) as they’re usually not great eats. Add some crunchy veggies (sliced carrots, celery, bell pepper) and some zesty ones (sliced green onion or diced red onion, sliced radishes, etc.). Cucumbers are great if you have them. To add interesting flavor, chop some curly or Italian parsley or cilantro and add; but not too much! After that you can get creative with corn, Mandarin orange slices or whatever you like. Croutons, yes, if you enjoy their yeasty, toasty crunch. And don’t forget the chile peppers! They’re a great way to add zest, flavor and interest to a green salad.

Large-dice or roughly chop a fresh, ripe Hillbilly and add on top. Dress simply with a fresh, hand-made vinaigrette and toss lightly. If you make this salad a bit early, say for a dinner party, cover with plastic wrap and chill; otherwise, serve immediately.

Here’s a free bonus just for you: Visit the Chile Underground’s download page for your very own, free copy of “The Compleat Guide® to Vinaigrette Dressings.” Free. As in it costs you nothing! Just for you, of course. Inside the Guide you’ll find The All-Purpose, Never-Fail, Standing-on-Your-Head-Simple Vinaigrette recipe, along with over 55 recipes for salad dressings that will have your family or dinner party visitors begging for more. Even for dessert! (Well, maybe.)

If you aren’t growing any heirloom tomatoes this season, never fear; the farmers markets in your area are likely to have many varieties starting Real Soon Now…

Enjoy the (Rustic Red Tomato) Heat!

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