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Substitute heirloom varieties in these FoodFit recipes.

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Heirlooms...Taste of the Past

Have you ever sampled a salad of Deer Tongue lettuce, bitten into a Cherokee Purple tomato, or sucked on a slice of a Jenny Lind melon? While this may sound like exotic eating it's actually quite the opposite: these varieties of vegetables and fruits are actually some of the oldest around and were enjoyed not only by our grandparents, but our great grandparents too. These so-called heirlooms — varieties that date back at least 50 years — are cropping up more and more in farmer's markets and supermarkets as people rediscover the full-bodied flavors of the past.

Heirloom varieties offer not only good-tasting fruits and vegetables, but enticing colors and irregular shapes as well. Don't be put off by their unfamiliar appearance: just imagine how the look of a summer staple, like a tomato salad, could be livened up by a mixture of dusty pink, deep red, and lemon yellow fruits.

If these old varieties taste so great, why aren't they more common? Heirloom varieties tend to be strains that were bred for taste, when small-scale agricultural production was the norm. They don't necessarily stand up as well as modern hybrids to the rigors of today's farming methods where mass transportation and storage are unavoidable. But, as supermarkets are beginning to respond to consumer demand for more local produce, small-scale farmers are able to offer more heirloom specialties.

Here are just a few delicious heirlooms to add to your grocery cart next time you go shopping.

Brandywine Tomato — An heirloom that has been around for more than a hundred years, the Amish reportedly bred the Brandywine. This luscious fruit, with a pinkish flesh and deep red skin is one of the largest tomatoes, each one can weigh up to a pound. Don't be put off by the skin, which is sometimes ribbed or cracked: this is the filet mignon of tomatoes.

Deer Tongue Lettuce — Named for distinctive, long, pointed leaves, this variety of the green bibb lettuce is mild in flavor but has thicker leaves that take well to a stronger dressing.

Hubbard Squash — With varieties of Hubbard squash such as the Blue Hubbard or the Warted Hubbard, the classic Hubbard squash was brought to New England in the late eighteenth century by a sea captain returning from the West Indies and South America. This large squash is wonderful either baked or used as a substitute for sweet potato in pies. Beware of its size: a Hubbard Squash can weigh 10 pounds or more.

Jenny Lind Melon — Named after a Swedish opera singer, this wonderful musk melon is renown for its soft juicy flesh. Although it quickly became popular for both home gardening and commercial use, but it proved too delicate to ship in large quantities. The Jenny Lind is a smallish melon with a distinctive globe-like shape.

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Make It Heirloom

Liven up these FoodFit recipes with the full-bodied flavor of an heirloom.

Substitute Hubbard squash for sweet potatoes in Sweet Potato Puree
Deer Tongue lettuce would be an excellent addition to Caesar Salad or Arugula Mushroom Salad
Heirloom tomatoes add color to Goat Hill Tomato Salad or Rainbow Pizza
Jenny Lind melons don't need any dressing up. Just squeeze a lime over them and serve.

By Ruth Prince

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