A Soggy Day for a Garden Party
The week leading up to the “Tomato Lovers’ Dinner” was filled with activity: cleaning the patio, weeding the vegetable garden and all of the gardens surrounding the patio, harvesting, searching out recipes, selecting the proper wines, and tracking the weather. Mother Nature intervened about an hour before showtime with a downpour.
We went to plan “B”, dinner in the Dining Room. However, the rain stopped just before everyone arrived. I wiped off the chairs, threw a table cloth over the coffee table on the deck and conducted the tomato tasting portion of the dinner on the patio before the next downpour.
I poured everyone a glass of “Jumilla”, a Spanish wine made from Monestrell grapes, well known for pairing well with tomatoes and tomato dishes. Once everyone had settled in, I started the tasting. We began with a beautiful hybrid tomato called “Betty”. Deep red and nearly flawless, it got everyone’s attention. “Hey look at me. I am the very epitome of what a tomato should look like.”
I cut it in vertical slices and handed them around, encouraging folks to use a bit of salt to enhance the flavor. There was general consensus that “Betty” was pretty good. Next up was an heirloom called “Black Krim”, so named because it originated on the Island of Krim in the Black Sea. The “Black Krim” blew everybody’s head off with it’s taste and texture. Universal thumbs up.
This was a deliberate maneuver on my part to illustrate how great the taste difference can be from tomato to tomato. All of our guests had seconds of the “Black Krim”. It was now time to introduce them to one of our favorite American heirlooms, “Rose”. Rose is a cultivar of “Brandywine”, considered by some to be the best tasting tomato. Brandywine tomatoes are very good, but not very productive.
Rose has Brandywine’s flavor with much better production. Rose was a big hit with our tasters. Not the most photogenic looking tomato, our photographer did not capture an image of this variety.
After Rose, it was time for a some visual variety. I introduced our guests to “Nebraska Wedding”, a lovely orange tomato with mild, sweet taste. The name comes from the practice of giving new brides seeds of this variety as a wedding gift back “in the day”(Eighteen hundreds). At this point, folks were beginning to pick favorites. Nebraska Wedding definitely was the favorite of a couple of tasters.
The visual impact of the Nebraska Wedding tomato was followed up with the introduction of the “Green Zebra” salad tomato. In addition to it’s unique coloring, the Green Zebra added a crisp citrus-like flavor to contrast with the mild sweetness of the Nebraska Wedding. Our tasters were starting to have fun with all of these flavors and colors. Conversation became more animated. Everyone had opinions and questions. I was a very happy host.
While on the subject of salad tomatoes, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce my guests to a different looking and tasting variety, “Black Ethiopian”.
The seeds for this variety were given to me by my friends Pam and Dave Webb who first got seeds after visiting Gary Ibsen’s “Tomato Fest” headquarters in California. I think that this is one of the most beautiful pieces of fruit that I grow. The tomatoes are a deep mahogany color when ripe with slightly green shoulders. The taste is great with spice notes at the finish – almost like wine.
We wrapped up the tomato tasting with a new variety to me; “hillbilly”. This is the prototype big ugly tomato that tastes great. The tomato that I picked for the tasting weighed in at nearly two pounds.
Hillbilly ripens yellow/golden with red streaks; a fact I had not absorbed from the “gitgo”. After one tomato got mealy on the vine I thought that it might be prudent to check out what to look for to determine ripeness in a Hillbilly tomato. Yeah, add this to the “there’s no fool like an old fool” file.
At the time of the tasting, I had yet to experience a Hillbilly tomato. I admitted this to my tasters and volunteered to try it first. If I didn’t like it they wouldn’t have to try it.
I tried it. I liked it. Everyone agreed that it was quite different than anything else we had sampled. Most thought that Hillbilly had a melon-like flavor. I agree. Certainly not my personal favorite, it was non-the-less a huge hit with my tasters. This was truly a fun experience. I highly recommend hosting a tomato tasting for your friends.
To be continued: Tomato Lovers Dinner Part Two – Dinner
Photos by Jay McCarthy: You can view other examples of his work at http://natureslightphotography.zenfolio.com