I went to my first ever Tomato Tasting event. It was hosted by The Dahlem Conservancy at their Ecology Community Gardens. There were several varieties of tomatoes to sample, many that are considered to be “Heirloom.” One tomato was bright yellow with a subtle lemon flavor and another was a beautiful orange and it tasted of peaches. Each kind of tomato had a distinctly different flavor. They are grown by the gardeners who have plots at the Community Garden.
Tomato tasting was new to me but is a regular summer event in places such as California and the south where there are sizeable commercial growers. The larger, well known, seed companies host annual tomato tasting competitions, looking for new varieties to include in their catalogues.
I spoke with Lisa Brown, the Ecology Farm Educator and she said that there are 48 garden plots this year that together equal approximately an acre of land. It is up to the individual gardeners to decide what vegetables and flowers they choose to grow and to maintain and care for their garden plots.
We toured the gardens and some of the vegetables growing included okra, sugar snap peas, tomatoes (of course), carrots, beets, squash and there were flowers everywhere. The gardens are organic with no use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers allowed.
The gardeners donate their extra produce to local shelters and food banks. One plot was planted by employees of Consumers Energy Company specifically for the Aware Shelter, a shelter for battered women and their children. Several large deliveries of vegetables have been made to the various organizations already this year.
But back to the delicious tomatoes; Ellen Rathbone, the Conservancy’s Education Director, suggested growing Paul Robeson and Black Prince tomatoes. The Paul Robeson tomato is a purple-black beefsteak with dark green coloring at the stem end with deep red flesh that has a sweet, smoky flavor. It is one of Ellen’s favorites and when she said “Have a bite,” I flashed back to a time I’d heard those words before.
I’m not adventurous when it comes to trying new foods and was skeptical because of the tomato’s odd coloring. I fight that tendency but it is still there lurking whenever someone says, “Just take a bite.” I remember the one time my mom sprinkled vinegar on my French fries after I begged her not to. We’d gone out to dinner, something we didn’t do very often, at Tony’s in Saginaw for a steak sandwich and fries. I was ten at the time and excited about joining my parents. I reached for the ketchup and was just getting ready to squirt – mom and I had already had the “vinegar” discussion and I thought I’d won this time. Mom reached right over me and doused my fries but good. I just wanted to cry and didn’t eat a one. I’ve forgiven but haven’t forgotten. I make sure my plate is a long way from mom whenever the vinegar cruet is near.
I eyed the Paul Robeson tomato and brought a slice to my mouth. It was amazing, very full flavored and sweet. This tomato originated in Siberia and is ideal for Michigan’s cooler growing environment. Its fruit ripens in 90 day, a little long but well worth the wait.
Another wonderful tasty tomato is The Black Prince which is dusky red to chocolate bronze with flesh that is deep green to chocolate rose. The flavor is sweet, rich and excellent in a salad. Plants product clusters of fruit in 70 days so they are a good choice for regions with shorter growing seasons.
Both of these are “Heirloom” tomatoes. The seeds can be purchased at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company which is out of Mansfield, MO. Their web-site address is http://www.rareseeds.com
Ellen had suggested I bring a bowl to take home some samples. It was chock-full of beautiful, colorful, delicious tomato slices when I left. This was The Dahlem Conservancy’s second annual Tomato Tasting event. Plans are already underway for next year. You can find out more about the Dahlem Conservancy at http://www.dahlemcenter.org
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