With local farms providing the produce, from heirloom tomatoes to pickling cucumbers, it's easy to use the fresh recipes in "The Farm to Table Cookbook: The Art of Eating Locally."

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by Greg Atkinson

photographed by Tom Reese

“THOUGH THERE are multitudes of heirloom plants that have recently taken the gardening world by storm,” writes Ivy Manning, a freelance food journalist who lives and works in Portland, “the most popular is undoubtedly the heirloom tomato, and for good reason.”

Manning is the author of “The Farm to Table Cookbook: The Art of Eating Locally.” In addition to more than 100 recipes, including 30 by some of the region’s best-known chefs (Jonathan Sundstrom of Lark, Jason Wilson of Crush, Maria Hines of Tilth and Vitaley Paley of Paley’s Place), the book includes profiles of some of the producers who grew the food she used to develop the recipes. But my favorite thing about this book is a series of four straightforward “primers” on seasonal ingredients, including one on heirloom tomatoes for summer.

I thought of Manning’s primer recently when I was on a farm tour with some students from Seattle Culinary Academy. We were visiting the Hedlin Family Farm, a 25-acre market garden, which serves as the flagship for more than 400 acres the family has under cultivation on fields between Mount Vernon and La Conner in Skagit County. The family has been growing vegetables in the valley there for about 100 years. “My great-grandfather, Rasmus Koudal, and his wife, Pothea, moved here from Sweden in 1903,” said Kai Otteson, a fourth-generation member of the Hedlin clan, as he led the students through stands of apple trees, artichokes, row vegetables, fresh herbs and flowers grown for the farm stand, farmers markets, local restaurants and CSA subscriptions

“CSA, short for community supported agriculture, has become a bigger and bigger part of what we do,” said Kai, “but all of this accounts for only about 10 percent of what we do. The bulk of our crops are commercial, and about half of our land is certified organic. We grow wheat, pickling cucumbers, peas, beets, spinach and cabbage seed, also a lot of organic sauerkraut cabbage, barley and field corn.”

Not far from the original 1913 home and barns is the original 1946 greenhouse, where the family still sells bedding plants, and not far from that is the state-of-the-art tomato greenhouse where the family grows at least a dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes, including several of the ones pictured in Ivy Manning’s primer. There were the “big, beefy” Brandywines, and the Sungolds as small and sweet as Rainier cherries. Green zebras that Manning calls the “supermodel” of heirloom tomatoes, and purple Cherokees, with the “deep burgundy flesh and forest-green stripes” so aptly described in Manning’s book.

In the greenhouse, Kai Otteson explained that heirloom tomatoes are those varieties that are not grown on a large scale commercially because they were not bred to be harvested all at once by machine and withstand the rigors of shipping and handling that commercially grown tomatoes must face. “Most of these varieties ripen very unevenly,” he explained. “And once they’re ripe they have to be handled very carefully. Even the vines are finicky; some of them just would not survive without a lot of TLC.”

I almost wished I had copies of Manning’s primer to distribute as a tutorial. “Americans lost real tomatoes for decades,” she writes, “casting aside the odd-shaped, vine-ripened varieties for the uniformity of mealy orbs that could be shipped long distances and offered year-round.”

Thanks to farmers like the Hedlin family, real tomatoes are back, and thanks to books like “The Farm to Table Cookbook,” more people know what to do with them.

Greg Atkinson is a chef instructor at Seattle Culinary Academy. He can be reached at greg@westcoastcooking.com. Tom Reese is a Seattle freelance photographer.

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella

“Several colors of heirloom tomatoes at the base of the salad add to the visual appeal,” writes Ivy Manning. And, “If you’re preparing this ahead, don’t mix the bread with the tomatoes and vinaigrette until just before serving or the bread will become mushy.” To preserve the vivid colors of the rainbow-hued heirloom tomatoes, I used white balsamic in place of the standard brown.

1 small loaf (10 ounces) rustic bread

1 garlic clove, peeled

½ cup kalamata olives, pitted

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 ½ pounds heirloom tomatoes

1 tablespoon minced shallots

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 cups baby arugula

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Slice the tough bottom crust off the bread and discard. Rub the loaf with the garlic to subtly flavor it. Cut the bread into 2-inch pieces (you should have about 6 cups) and toss the bread on a rimmed baking sheet with the kalamata olives, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Bake until the bread cubes are crisp and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

2. Cut the core from each tomato with a paring knife and discard. With a sharp, serrated knife, slice the tomatoes into ½-inch-thick slices. Arrange 4 or 5 slices in concentric circles on each of 4 salad plates and sprinkle the slices with salt and pepper.

3. Whisk together the minced shallots, balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard, then stream in the remaining ¼ cup olive oil.

4. Cut the remaining tomato slices into ½-inch cubes and toss with the bread cubes, vinaigrette and the arugula. Distribute the mixture evenly between the salad plates on top of the tomato slices and serve.

— Adapted from “The Farm to Table Cookbook: The Art of Eating Locally”