I admit it. I’m a tomato junkie. But not just any tomato. Heirlooms. And how this came to be I’m not completely sure. It’s not like I grew up on a farm. And I know it’s not because I have romantic notions of plucking tomatoes off vines in some hazy late summer yellow-lit garden. But when summer rolls around the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, my body goes into automatic mode and my thirst for heirlooms sends me into a frenzy–all rational sense gone. I’m not afraid to admit it: I am an Heirloomaniac.


I’m racing down the 405 with precious cargo on the seat next to me. Four boxes of heirlooms are belted in and I must tell myself to wait. Wait until tomorrow when they’ve all been photographed and my job is over. But….. I…… I just can’t wait. I reach over and grab a Marvel Stripe. Chomp. At 64 miles an hour. Juice explodes and I’m a mess. I don’t care*. I’m glad I made it home safely.


ITomatopolaroid woke up early and tinkered around the studio. Had a few new surfaces to use and decided to shoot film, medium format. A few polaroid backs were stacked on the prop table waiting to be loaded, but I couldn’t stop
glancing over at the boxes. Yes, the boxes. Boxes of Marvel Stripes, Beefsteaks and Yellow Pineapples were ripening before my very eyes, their sugary acidic insides ticking away. I had to move fast.

My models cooperated beautifully. The camera loves those gnarly ridges and alien-like ripples…and so do I. After a few set changes I’m finished. I’m going to eat my models now. A serrated knife, sea salt and my mouth are all I need.


I took The Heirloom Tomato Cookbook off the shelf as I do every year, thumbing through the pages trying to find something to do with an heirloom that doesn’t involve immediate consumption while standing over the sink. My good intentions disappeared when I remembered Adam brought home burrata and there’s basil in the garden. Enough said.


Not quite a midnight snack, but a tomato with balsamic makes me happy.


I get home after a jog with Lisa Shaw (on my iPod, I mean) and find myself ravenous. Two eggs from the Farmers’ Market make their way into frying pan, scrambled with olive oil and playing catch up to the tomato I’ve already begun to devour.

My mother-in-law comes over and Adam desperately requests she not leave empty-handed.


This is the first quiet Saturday I’ve had at home with my man and the pups in quite some time. I’m catching up on reading, petting miniature chihuahua heads, and doing something I’m not very good at – RELAXING. Relaxation is made better with a trip to the kitchen for one of my all time favorite sandwiches: Sliced heirlooms, good mayo, rustic bread. Hell, I’ll even take cheap mayo. A few leaves of almost-past-their-prime mache get layered on top of tomatoes and I sprinkle them with salt. My eyes roll back in my head as I struggle to eat the sandwich fast enough so that the tomatoes don’t create soggy bread. I succeed in my endeavor.


Adam asks if it’s really possible that I will exist on tomato-based dishes for 3 days. I tell him of course! And that I don’t need dishes to eat my tomatoes.

Tomato fatigue begins to set in with him; it hasn’t even entered my brain.


Is there anything that gets my tastebuds revved up faster than this? Gorgeous slices of tomatoes in a variety of gem hues, shavings of real Parmigiano Reggiano, a few capers and a drizzling of good extra virgin olive oil? I think not. Dinner is fantastic and I’m sad it’s over.


I’d normally never say this, but go ahead, you can keep your french toast, your frittatas, your bagels and lox. I’ll happily eat my heirlooms and feel like I’m the king of the world. Nope, I’m not missing a thing. But then again, maybe a few slices of tomatoes on a bagel wouldn’t be such a bad thing? I reach for the toaster.


Yes, tomatoes again. But this time they’re joined by anchovy and garlic toast. And it couldn’t be easier. Sauté a few cloves of garlic in olive oil over low to medium heat for about 25 minutes until they are soft, mash with 1 or 2 anchovy fillets and oil from the pan in a morter and pestle and then spread on toasted bread. Inhale immediately.


Adam puts his foot down and tells me that enough is enough. To facilitate the intervention he’s invited our good friends Jennifer, Eddy and Troy to remove the remaining tomatoes, but not before we sit down to an Insalata Caprese grande and something from the grill. However, my addiction won’t let go that easily and I reveal my secret weapon that kept me in the kitchen during the afternoon: Heirloom Tomato Bloody Marys. Roasted heirlooms, tomato water, onion and jalapeño makes one hell of a drink. Besides, it’s Sunday afternoon, the perfect time for sharing a cocktail with friends. Or two. Or three. Or Se3grxen or Ei58gt.

Our guests leave, we clean up a bit, and I look at the last single tomato left on the counter from my weekend of debauchery. I begin to wonder: it’s not really indulgence when you consider how seasonal and special these types of tomatoes are, is it? Or is this an act of rationalization? I mean seriously, when life gives you heirlooms (4 cases to be exact), you eat them! Surely no one could fault me for that.


My head hits the pillow as thoughts of bright greens and oranges and crimsons swirl through my head. I lost count of how many tomatoes we actually ate this weekend, but it doesn’t matter. As long as there is sea salt and olive oil in this world I’d do it all over again tomorrow.

Or at least next summer.



I photograph heirlooms every year, and because of this I’ve been blessed with a surplus of tomatoes that has allowed me to indulge and experiment in almost every way imaginable (after I’ve snapped my shots, of course). Sorbets, aspics, sauces and salads are all made better when you use heirlooms, but if I had to choose my favorite method of preparation it’d be raw, hands down. Heirloom tomatoes are so incredibly special and I find in order to appreciate what a real tomato tastes like you need only slice and serve. However, tomato sauces are great ways to utilize an abundance of tomatoes since these gems aren’t genetically altered to last as long as their industrial cousins. OR,
you can just make Bloody Marys by the pitcher and forget where you’re at and wake up in the morning with tomato seeds stuck to the counter and little gnats buzzing around. Not that it’s ever happened to me.

Roasted Tomato Bloody Mary Mix

2 red heirloom tomatoes, quartered
1/2 onion, cut into large dice
1 jalapeño chili, stemmed
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup tomato water, see below
2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
fresh lemon juice to taste

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Spread the tomatoes, onions, and chili in a nonreactive roasting pan in one later and roast for about 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the vodka and tomato water to the pan and roast for another 15 minutes. Transfer the roasted vegetables to a blender, add the cilantro, and purée until smooth. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days. Makes 2 cups.

Tomato Water:
Take 1 pound of ripe tomatoes, chopped, and place them in a sieve set over a bowl and let drain for about 2 hours, or until tomatoes stop dripping. To further clarify the tomato water, strain it through cheese cloth or use a coffee filter. You can use the drained tomatoes in another recipe but note that it will be less watery.

Matt says: When you’re ready to make your Bloody Mary, add the Mary mix to a cocktail shaker filled with ice, vodka, Tabasco, Worcestershire, and however you prefer your cocktail. Add a dash of celery salt or pepper if you’d like, and garnish the glass with a celery stalk.


*Always wash your fruits and vegetables.


  1. says

    My name is Mary and I’m a tomato-holic. I have tomatoes just about every day. When I don’t have one, I’m usually thinking about them. Especially this time of year. ROASTED TOMATO BLOODY MARY! This is killing me (omg, omg, omg, this looks good). Good thing it’s Sunday afternoon and I bought tomatoes at the market yesterday. I’m heading out for the vodka now.

  2. says

    this is my all-time favourite post. EVER. hilarious, brilliant, and YUMMY.

    i am also a tomatoholic. and i think you just aggrivated my condition. aren’t we supposed to be supporting each other here?

  3. says

    Hi, Mary!

    Hi, Matt!

    My name is Tana, and I’m a tomatoholic. And an enabler.

    I have two words for you: Tomato Fest.


    I’ll be attending this year for the third time (second on a press pass). Go see some tomato porn from last year.


    And here are 2004 Tomato Festival pics.


    We’ve got over twenty kinds growing right now in our garden, but so far, only a handful of varieties have ripened: Green Giant, Green Zebra, Sun Gold, and Cherokee Purple. The rest are coming.

    Meanwhile, I’m about to hit up Happy Boy Farms at the market, and grab some of their Brandywines.

    BTW, my sisters invented the Better Than Sex Bagel: one bagel with everything (onion, seeds, garlic, the works), cream cheese, lox, giant heirloom tomato slice, and tamari, with cracked pepper and (some kind of fancy salt).


  4. says

    I’m almost embarrassed to admit I’ve never had an heirloom. But after reading this I know I need to pony up and buy some.

  5. says

    tomato man – you make me laugh (not just about tomatoes, but also about petting chihuahua heads). have you ever had a tomato called coeur du boeuf? – mad tomato, very big, very fragile, very juicy. i can send you seeds if you like. they grow here all over the place.
    i hope that tomato stain washed out…? 😉

  6. says

    *sob* I’m going to miss tomato-fest by two weeks? someone hold me. I’m sad. because my name is Ann, and I too am a tomatoholic. My boyfriend thinks it’s because I have a lycopene difficency. I think it’s because tomatoes are the greatest food on the face of the planet! I’m going to go eat some right now in fact, because I can. It’ll be my own personal tomato fest!

  7. excelsior says

    Y’all just tell your loved ones that tomatoes are high in vitamin C and you are feeling under the weather.

  8. says

    ohhh I miss heirloom tomatoes!! I first met this sexy tomato back at a farmers market in North Carolina. I admit, it was freakish and weird and that alone was enough to make me take notice. Anything that odd-looking should be investigated further…and when I had a taste…I was absolutely sure that freak-fruits were my thang.

    I’ve been searching around local farmer’s stands in MA and so far…nothing. [sigh] I’m utterly broken-hearted to go through yet another summer without tasting one of these heavenly creations.

    Compari tomatoes are slightly easing the pain…don’t tell them I said so, but they’re still not quite the same as those beautifully-weird heirloom beauties I fell in love with years ago.

  9. says

    Oh, dear. I swoon at the idea of having so many heirloomed, sun-ripened tomatoes as to be able to make tomato water. For my sanity, and my local happiness, I’m afraid I simply must just jot such bounty down as a Lower 48 myth and carry on with my endeavours to make lemonade with the pint of cherry tomatoes I get shipped up every week. But, just in case you are ever flying around with another 4 boxes of ripe, exploding tomatoes, feel free to make a detour to this side of beyond. I bet we could arrange a trade. The salmon up here is something pretty incredible, and with such luggage there is a strong possibility that you’d be greeted like a local deity. Oh, I can’t pull my mind away from that bounty. Seriously?….enough to make tomato water? And burrata – so casually – in the fridge….Oh, dear me. Dear me.

  10. says

    you are right about sun-warmed tomatoes picked from the plant and eaten on the spot…very fond childhood memories for me too : ) Never heard of heirloom tomatoes but your picture of it looks fantastic! The most popular variety here in Liguria is Cuore di bue, have you ever tried it (http://www.pomodoroitaliano.it/arawak.html)?

  11. says

    When I was a kid, I would often spend weekends at my grandparents house. While it was a few long strides outside of Washington DC, they managed to create the most rural looking backyard suburbia has ever seen. My grandfather grew up on a farm and made sure to have important things like corn, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes planted every year. I grew up on these homegrown tomatoes and have since grown into a tomato snob…I simply won’t eat a tomato that doesn’t smell like it should.

    After my mother realized that I loved tomatoes more than apples, she planted a few tomato plants in our backyard at home too. I remember going outside every day to check the status of my tomatoes, and how much my mother would laugh when I would come in with a dress full of freshly picked tomatoes and juices running down my chin.

    Because if it’s shaped like an apple, why not eat it like one? :)

  12. says

    I grew up in the South on a farm and all summer we would eat tomato sandwiches — ripe heirloom tomatoes on white bread with mayo. Do I miss those sandwiches!

  13. says

    Hey Matt-
    Re: tomato pulp used to make tomato water – does “less watery” also mean “less taste” of the pulp? Is it worth saving for another use or does the water contain all the taste/?

  14. says

    OMG, Matt. I don’t think it gets much better than heirs for great photos. They give you so much to work with. Every angle, new light. A quarter turn to the left (or right for that matter) and you’ve got a whole new vista. I’ve got to dive into the farmer’s market here in new orleans. I’ve got to find me some heirloom tomatoes and shoot them DEAD! bk

  15. says

    I’ve been having organic heirloom wraps for several days now… typically with some homemade veggie cream cheese, and slices of mozzarella (with a few baby greens and a little chiffonade of basil for good measure) tomorrow i’ll add some smoked salmon and avocado…. Way better than anything else I can think of… Oh the joys of seasonal eating! Too bad everyone else in the house doesn’t really go for tomatoes in their natural state… (or is it?)

  16. says

    Matt – Over the years I’ve been trying to get over my childhood hate of tomatoes – a slice here, a slice there. Making a bolognese with heirlooms seems like a bit of a waste – or is it? This post has made me hungry for tomatoes, which is quite shocking, but I’m not sure what to do. Maybe I’ll just follow your lead and make insalata Caprese. Cheers, mate.

  17. says

    I was waiting for you to get to the Caprese salad! That is my absolute favorite use for heirloom tomatoes. Mmmmm….I love your endurance. Never give up your love for heirloom tomatoes!

  18. says

    You, sir, have created a monster. I generally don’t eat raw tomatoes unless they are on sandwiches, which is why I picked up two of them Sunday at the farmer’s market. After reading this post, I thought about it and the last time I sat down with some salt and just ate a bit of raw tomato was at least twenty years ago. So I did it.

    I cut a slice of heirloom, sprinkled some salt, and sampled.

    And now I can’t stop.

  19. says

    Holy Pomodoro! Tana’s got tomato porn, indeed!

    Okay, now to send yourself into the food-gasam stratosphere, slow roast a few of those beauties. 225 for 4+ hours, slice tomatoes in half, sprinkle with a bit of herbs de provence and a splash of olive oil…and wait (if you can.) The result? Moist, concentrated tomato flavor…Oooh la la….I can hear the shrieks of delight already!

  20. says

    I can’t WAIT to try the bloody mary mix. And you’ve inspired me to make some tomato soup for the freezer with my bounty.

  21. says

    I am also a tomato-aholic. I returned from Saturday’s farmer’s market with 5 bags of tomatoes and one bag of green beans. Clearly I love them more than any other, because not only do I buy them but I’ve got three heirloom plants growing right now (Mr. Stripey, Snow White and Sweet Chelsea).

  22. janinerator says

    I too am addicted. I make heirloom gazpacho every week. I eat tomato sandwiches almost every day… just mayo, real fast…I get it!

    Just now I ate a reheated bowl of the heirloom tomato gratin that I made a couple of days ago. (Dang! Heirlooms taste great with sauteed onions, thyme, olive oil , s&p, and breadcrumbs, baked a loooog time.) Mmmm

  23. says

    Oh Matt, you’ve made me so hungry. In late July and August, I’d take heirloom tomatoes over any other food, any day. A thick slice with a few flicks of Maldon sea salt. My father-in-law (the day before he became that) stood at our kitchen sink and ate one piece of heirloom tomato after another. The joy on his face was one of my favorite memories of that weekend.

    Your photos made me want to lick the screen.

  24. says

    I’ve been on vacation, so I’m responding late here- but I couldn’t resist as I’m totally turned on by heirlooms. They are so irresistably gorgeous, kaleidoscopic in color and succulent! Plus they were my first food photography victim. :)

    Great post and photos- as always…

  25. kellymo says

    I remember being 10 or so and reading ‘Harriet the Spy’, with her tomato sandwiches. Started eating them then, and haven’t stopped yet, almost cough*30*cough years later…

  26. says

    My 4 year old son loves those small cherry tomatoes he calls them “poppy” toms, because you can “pop” them in your mouth!

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