Invited my friend, Sandy, to accompany me to the 2009 Santa Rosa Farmers Market Heirloom Tomato Tasting on the last Saturday of September. I’d heard about these sorts of events for years, but never managed to get myself to one.
I grew heirloom tomatoes for over a decade, until our maturing ‘postage stamp’ property became too shady from our huge “dwarf” (NOT!) fruit trees. Bri & Bill, and now, Bill & I always wait eagerly for those first tomatoes to ripen. Being passionate heirloom tomato connoisseurs, we have our favorites: Brandywine
Sandy and I got to the market around 10:30am. The market was packed with regular Saturday shoppers and with curious tomato tasters. We did our regular shopping first, so we could savor the tomato experience without time constraints.
Lazaro grows 60,000 (!) tomato plants on his farm ‘The Patch’ in Sonoma. We buy tomatoes from him every summer weekend. ‘The Patch’ was one of the participating vendors supplying tomatoes for everyone to nibble on. The front boxes in the photo are filled with Golden Jubilee, a gorgeous orangey tomato.
The sign posted at the front of his booth educates those who are being introduced to the history of Heirloom Tomatoes as well as providing answers to the Tomato Trivia Contest.
Here’s what it said:
“Over the years Heirloom tomatoes have grown in popularity. Today you can find over 600 varieties of Heirloom tomatoes from all corners of the world. Many of them have odd names based on where and when the variety was discovered, such as “Mortgage Lifter” that was developed by M.C. Byles in the 1930’s. He sold his plants for $1 each [in the 1940s] and paid off his mortgage of $6,000 in only 6 years.”
Just around the corner from ‘The Patch’ were the tasting tables and cooking demos which we, unfortunately, had just missed….some sort of delicious sounding tomato tart.
This nice lady carefully prepared small plates of 5-6 varieties, naming them for us as she cut bite-sized pieces. My favorite of the tasting was a French pear-shaped tomato simply called ‘Poire’ (pear) if I recall correctly.
In the middle of the tasting tables some fun guessing games, a trivia contest, and a raffle with prizes invited shoppers’ participation. Would have jumped right in, but was too busy taking these photos to share with all of you!
People were lining up to fill out trivia questionnaire forms, read hand-outs on the tables, and study the prize offerings.
Here’s what the pink ‘Tomato Varieties’ flyer said, though I’m not sure what it had to do with tomato varieties?
Below please find general tomato terms as well as descriptions of tomato classifications. Each classification has at least one tomato variety described. Happy Tomato Tasting!
~ Indeterminate – plant continues to grow. Needs staking.
~ Determinate (bush) – stops growing and all fruit set ad ripens at about the same time.
~Vigorous bush – semi determinate
~ Fast-ripening – any tomato that stars producing it’s crop of ripe fruit with about 4 months of first sowing the seed.
~ Main season – any tomato that doesn’t start ripening fruit until more than 5 months form seed sowing
~ Late variety – a tomato that doesn’t start ripening fruit until more than 5 months form seed sowing
~ Open pollinated – usually, but not always, older varieties that ‘come true from seed’. That is, if you keep seed from a tomato and resow it, you will always get the exact tomato that the seed came from. You can create a new variety yourself if you have time and patience.
~ Heirloom – An old variety which has been maintained either because it has appealing attributes like extra large size, unusual coloring, special connoisseur qualities, or because of family sentimental reason. Because heirloom tomatoes haven;t been ‘worked on’ by plant breeders, they often have less disease resistance.
~ Hybrid – this is a variety created by deliberately and painstakingly taking pollen from an existing open pollinated tomato and putting it onto a different open pollinated tomato. The gives a first generation (F1) that are extremely uniform. but keeping seed and resowing it gives a highly varied and non-uniform lot of plant and fruit. The original cross to create the F1 seed has to be done every year. the advantage of hybrids is vigor, and the ability to use a parent know to be disease resistant.”
The TRIVIA Test (and participation instructions)
All you need to do to play is simply find the Farmers Market Vendors with Heirloom Tomatoes (they all have balloons) and read the answer for each of the questions.
1. Are Heirloom Tomatoes a hybrid (Circle One) True or False
2. How are Heirloom Tomatoes pollinated?
3. How many varieties of Heirloom Tomatoes are there?
4. What are some of the names of Heirloom Tomatoes?
5. What can Heirloom Tomatoes be used for?
6. What is the name of the most popular Heirloom Tomato?
The tomato trivia participants seemed VERY focused. Not all market-goers were curious about tomatoes though. This young man was completely engrossed eating his berry pie, which I must admit looked incredibly tempting! Took a couple of photos of him from different angles. He never even noticed.
Across the aisle from the tasting tables was this vendor, who had also supplied ‘tasting’ tomatoes including ‘Poire.’ (Will have to post the vendor’s name later as I didn’t take notes.) My eyes were riveted by the gorgeous abundance of sweet peppers piled on his tables glowing jewel-like in the bright sun.
Kitty-corner from the peppers & tomato vendor was a FREE tasting demo of gourmet smoked flavored olive oils from ‘The Smoked Olive.’ (You can see the banner over their booth in the background of the peppers vendor photo.)
Wow, wow, WOW! Was that olive oil incredible!!! We were given tastes on crusty sour dough bread, the usual offering. Our culinary imaginations were intrigued by lovely platters their professional chef had set up on the display table….hinting at delicious pairings & recipes she had assembled for olive oil buyers.
Evidently, The Smoked Olive folks are the first to think of producing this product in our area at least. The smoking process is so unique, they’ve got a patent pending. (Read more & check out their recipe suggestions at the link above.) My cash cache wasn’t fat enough to buy the gourmet oil that day. But plans are afoot for a few special friends & family members to be lucky recipients this Christmas. You may be one!
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If you’re interested in growing your own tomatoes, buy healthy starter plants from your local farm market, seeds from your local organic nurseries or rare varieties seeds & plants may be purchased from these mail-order suppliers:
The Natural Gardening Company
The Oldest Certified Organic Nursery in the United States
Seeds of Change, Certified Organic
Preserving Biodiversity, Supporting Sustainable Organic Agriculture
In 1989, Seeds of Change began with a simple mission: to preserve biodiversity and promote sustainable, organic agriculture. We have honored that mission for 20 years. Our organic seeds represent a starting point for change. They epitomize the best of our genetic heritage and are well-adapted for the low-input, sustainable gardening and farming of the future.
The Sustainable Seed Company
An heirloom seed company based in Sonoma county run by young farmers just down the road from us in Petaluma, CA.
Here’s what they have to say about local & sustainable:
“Supporting Local Farmers and Local Economies: You make a choice every time you spend a dollar. It is like casting a vote if you will. When you buy seed from heirloom seed companies who obtain their seed from other countries you are making a choice to fund farmers in far away lands. For example: an estimated 84,000 acres of agriculture production and 22,285 jobs have been moved to Mexico from the United States. This is just one country.
We have all learned the importance of supporting our local economy these days as our foreign trade deficit continues to rise and your neighbors, family and friends lose their jobs. American farmers are literally losing their farms to the choices you make. Please support us in growing and buying seed from American farmers.”
Territorial Seed Company
Check out their 2009 Great Northwest Tomato Taste-Off results before choosing which seeds to buy.
Gary Ibsen’s TomatoFest® Farm
For the 2010 season we have over 600 varieties of (CCOF) certified organic heirloom tomato seeds. We’ve selected, grown and harvested all of our heirloom tomato seeds by hand, to bring you the world’s best tasting heirloom tomato varieties.