With so many festivals and events cancelled in 2020, it should come as no surprise that we will not be holding our annual Tomato Tasting Festival this year. The good news, however, is that this has been a great tomato-growing season, and by now, we should all be experiencing a bountiful harvest of home-grown produce! Tomatoes are grown in more American home gardens than any other fruit or vegetable.
About 15 years ago, we held our first tomato tasting event as a small neighborhood gathering with maybe 12 different varieties (last year we sampled 34, but we have tasted as many as 50+ in one year). Many heirloom and hybrid tomatoes were becoming available to home gardeners, but few people knew what they tasted like or which ones they wanted to grow, so we decided to hold a tasting event to educate the public and help with selection.
During the tasting, attendees are given a list with basic growing details and some brief flavor notes. A big part of the tasting event is having the tasters vote for their favorites so we can attempt to carry the most popular varieties the following spring; our buyers and growers all anxiously await the voting results to plan their next season. Over the years, we added many more tomato varieties as the event grew in attendance and popularity. An employee-made salsa contest was even introduced a few years ago which pits our staff against one another for the rights to be crowned “Salsa Champion” by the voting public.
Often, different tomatoes are chosen as favorites from one year to the next, but some tomatoes have been frequently listed among the top 10. Summer heat, length of season, soil preparation, watering, and harvest times can all affect tomato flavors, so some years may be better than others for a specific variety.
Cherry tomatoes, in general, are always a popular category, with ‘Sungold’, ‘Sunsugar’, ‘Sweet 100’, and ‘Snow White’ usually leading the vote counts. Heirloom varieties are also highly rated and are grown for their excellent range of flavors. Recent winners in the Heirloom category include ‘Amana Orange’, ‘Mortgage Lifter’, ‘Brandywine’, ‘Hawaiian Pineapple’, ‘Striped German’, ‘Black Krim’, and ‘Moskovich’. There are, of course, several “tried and true” hybrids that have been faithfully planted and enjoyed for years such as ‘Early Girl’, ‘Burpee Big Boy’, ‘Lemonboy’, and ‘Goliath’. All of the above mentioned tomatoes have been voted as #1 over the years by one or more of our tasting attendees and can usually be found in our spring tomato inventory due to popular demand.
Just in case you are out of ideas for what to do with all those tomatoes from this season’s harvest, here are a few of our favorite recipes to showcase fresh, homegrown tomatoes followed by some previous years’ Salsa Champion recipes. Enjoy, and if you do your own “tasting” at home, we would love to hear about it too!
2019 Salsa Winner
- 6 medium tomatoes (Abe Lincoln, New Girl, Bloody Butcher)
- 2 jalapenos, seeds removed
- ½ red onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- handful of cilantro
- 1½ teaspoon cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Roughly chop all ingredients and add to food processor with lime juice and spices; gently process to desired consistency. Best flavor if made in advance.
2018 Salsa Winner
- 4 large Roma tomatoes
- ½ cup cilantro
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ½ large jalapeno
Roughly chop all ingredients and add to blender or food processor until desired consistency. Best flavor if made in advance.
- frozen pie crust (or homemade)
- sliced tomatoes
- fresh herbs (e.g. basil)
- sliced onions, optional
- shredded Gruyère (or other low oil cheese)
Bake pie crust according to directions. Layer sliced tomatoes; add herbs, sliced onions, and shredded cheese. Repeat another layer and bake at 350°F until cheese is melted.
From “Love Soup” by Anna Thomas, 2009
(makes 6 servings)
- 2½ lbs vine-ripe tomatoes (e.g. Jaune Flamme, Black Krim, Momotaro)
- 12 oz bell peppers
- 1 lb cucumbers
- ½ cup or less of sweet onion, diced
- 2 oz French bread, crusts removed
- 2–3 tsp garlic, chopped
- ½ cup fruity green olive oil
- 5 Tbsp sherry or red wine vinegar
- 3–3½ tsp sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp sugar, optional
- 1 cup water or tomato water, optional
- garnishes: diced bell peppers, diced cucumber, red/yellow cherry tomatoes, fruity green olive oil
- Cut crosses in tomato skins with a sharp knife, scald in boiling water for a minute or less, drain, and plunge in cold water. Peel and core; then chop coarsely. You should have 4½ cups; be sure to save all the juice!
- Core, seed, and chop bell peppers (2 cups). Peel and seed cucumbers, taste ends to check for bitterness, then slice or dice them (3 cups).
- Taste the onion—if sweet like Walla Walla or Vidalia, use ½ cup; if not sweet, use about 2 Tbsp.
- Cut bread into cubes; soak in water until softened, about 5 minutes; then squeeze out excess water.
- Mix vegetables with bread, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, 3 tsp sea salt, and some pepper in a large bowl. Puree mixture in blender (in batches or use a strong immersion blender) until you reach preferred texture (chunky or smooth!). If too thick, add water, ¼ cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached.
- Taste and adjust by adding salt, vinegar, and/or sugar. Keep stirring, tasting, and adjusting until flavors are full, piquant, and well-balanced.
- Chill thoroughly in refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Garnish with chopped vegetables for contrast. Enjoy with crusty bread and a fresh green salad.