If you think Arkansas Traveler is simply a popular American folk tune and Glasnost a Soviet governing philosophy, if you think Matt's Wild Cherry must be a new Lifesaver flavor and Green Zebras belong in the exotica section at the zoo--think again.
They are four varieties of heirloom tomatoes out of more than 3,000 that are providing inspiration to cooks and gardeners all over the world, from Vermont to Siberia, from Arizona to the Crimean Peninsula, from Poland and Italy to--not incidentally, as I'll explain in a minute--France. Seed savers and collectors, working in attics, garden sheds and country markets like medieval monks in pursuit of saintly relics, are scrambling after the smallish, flattish, round and rather nondescript-looking seeds of old and forgotten varieties of Lycopersicon esculentum. At greenmarket stalls, heirlooms exhibit a profusion of colors, shapes and sizes: red, pink, yellow, green, orange, purple, ivory and almost black fruits, some as small as currants, some as large as squashes--striped ones, dappled ones, fruits shaped like plums, like persimmons, like peppers, some smooth and round, some ridged and crenulated.
Heirloom-tomato fever has even caught on with the French aristocracy. Prince Louis-Albert de Broglie--who bears a name almost as venerable as Bourbon or Charlemagne but refers to himself as le prince jardinier (the gardener prince)--recently installed an heirloom-tomato collection in the walled potager, or kitchen garden, of his Château de la Bourdaisière, a modest but charming sixteenth-century estate outside Tours that he and his brother Philippe-Maurice bought a few years back.