Monday, July 26, 2010

Belated Market Report: Tomato Day!

Wow, now that I'm only working one job, I seem to be busier than ever!  Really, it's just that Miss Chef is busier than ever, and between stepping up at home and making myself available for the few hours we actually have together, my weekends are packed.

Now, when I say "tomato day," I don't just mean that Saturday happened to be the tomato-tasting day at the Matthews Farmers' Market (although that was the case).  I also mean that somehow my entire day and night were dedicated to the plump sensual fruit of the semitropical vine Lycopersicon esculentum.

Our Saturday started with a 6:30 alarm.  Miss Chef and I had both signed ourselves up to volunteer at the market.  As I result, I was kind of double-booked, but it was no big deal.  First I helped set up for the tomato tasting.  The vendors submitted samples of as many varieties as they cared to, and a small army of volunteers proceeded to dice them into bite-sized, toothpick-up-able pieces.

To be clear, there were three tables; two with your basic beefsteak varieties, and one dedicated to cherry and grape tomatoes.  I was told each table held 11 samples.

Yep, that's right, 33 different tomatoes to taste and compare!  Here's our table:

I had to step away for a shift in the community house, selling coffee and cold drinks, and answering questions, but then I headed back to the tasting table.  It's always fun and very interesting to watch the market customers during these tasting competitions.  There are the hesitant ones who aren't sure what the rules are (there aren't many: taste and vote).  There are the serious ones, often in couples, who maintain an ongoing commentary with each other, replete with names like "Mecklenburg Black" and "Aunt Ruby's Gold."  (Many varieties were developed by the vendors themselves--one of them is actually a professor of horticulture at UNCC.)

And then there are the ones who want to share with you their favorites, their tomato recipes, their stories of tomatoes past,  of their struggles and successes with growing their own.  All in all, there's a whole lotta tomato chat over those tables.

This is the sample provided by Grandpa's Garden--which, yes, is run by a lean, elegant looking Grandpa type in a white straw cowboy hat.  We had three different Better Boy samples, each from a different farm, and each with its own very distinct flavor!

Of course, there were tomatoes for sale, too!


This is a great opportunity for the vendors.  Not only do they have a chance to win market-wide bragging rights, but as the customers found varieties they particularly liked, they often asked where that farmer's booth was.  It kind of tested my knowledge of the market, but once we pointed the way, most customers made a beeline to pick up a pound or three of their new favorite.  How's that for target marketing?

And whoo-wee, are we in prime tomato flood season.  Even Maw-Maw's Garden patch has tomatoes for sale.

The tasting wound up at 11:00, and we volunteers found ourselves cleaning up piles and piles of chopped 'maters.  We dumped them all into ziploc bags, and sent them home with whoever would take them!

Seemed like a lot of volunteers were either tomatoed out, heading out of town, or just didn't have the time to figure out what to do with a gallon bag of diced tomatoes.  I handed about three pounds to Mindy of Tega Hills Farms, so she could make tomato soup.  But between the two of us, Miss Chef and I ended up with ten pounds of diced tomatoes, just for spending three hours sweating like pigs.  (Did I mention it was sunny and in the mid-90s by the time we were done?)

Now, before I could address our suddenly overwhelming tomato supply, I had to stop in the office for several hours--but I can't say I really minded a few hours of free air-conditioning at that point!  Afterwards, I headed home, gathered some ingredients from the garden, set up the Victorio strainer and got to work.  'Cause when the tomatoes come flooding in, there's really only one thing I want to do with them: make sauce!

I will spare you the excruciating details, but several hours and dishpan hands later, I had successfully canned by myself for the first time ever!  Good thing I had all that practice with my mom and Miss Chef earlier this month.  I have to say I was quite proud, knowing that I really do know how to can...the only disappointing thing was this:
After about five hours of labor and sweat in a humid kitchen on one of the hottest days so far, I ended up with only three pints of sauce.  Oh well, even Miss Chef said it looked beautiful, so I'm just determined to buy about twenty-five pounds of tomatoes next time we bother to whip out the canner.

And, if you add my little pints to our new canning shelf, they surely add to the look, don't you think?

Here's our inventory: top shelf is the leftovers from last year (not too bad; we used a lot of it up!): whole tomatoes, peaches and strawberry lemonade.  Middle shelf on the left we've got two wee jars of pickled onions, a case of wee jars of strawberry jam, a few small jars of salsa, and the right side is all whole tomatoes and tomato sauce.

The bottom shelf is all strawberry jam!  Told you we made a lot!

So, after getting up at 6:30, sweating outside for three hours in the hot North Carolina sun, putting in a half-day at the office and taking on my first solo canning project, I finally hit the sack at 11 pm.  I was hot, tired and a little sore from being on my feet half the day.

But I still felt lucky.  Why?  'Cause Miss Chef was still at work!

So who won the tasting?  The favorite beefsteak was a variety called Italian Carmello, the favorite cherry was--for at least the third year running--the bright yellow Sungolds.  Which is why we grow sungolds in our garden!


  1. great day! sounds busy and i can totally relate to the deflating feeling of "??that's ALL THAT MADE?!?!"

    I had about 12 lbs today and made 8 pints of salsa! 8 pints? it felt like the work should have = 16 pints!

    and yeah, how about this NC HEAT?! Turn it down already!

  2. You're sauce looks wonderful. Just think about some cold winter night, when you can use that, hot and comforting.

  3. Fresh home-grown tomatoes and canned goodies? Yum!

  4. I would have loved to be one of the tasters for those yummy tomatoes! Out of all the vegies/fruit, tomatoes are my absolute fav.
    Your canning shelf is filling up nicely. The taste of summer in the mid of winter. Can't beat that!

  5. I love farmer's markets! It looks like it was a good time, even though it was hot. Your canning shelf looks great with the sauce in it! Wish I could taste some! :)

  6. I'm curious about the words Flartus and Flartopia. Is there a post in your archives I could read on the story behind them?

  7. Terry, click on the "About This Blog" link at the top of the page. You can even see a picture of the original Flartus! (Flartopia's just a place where a Flartus can thrive.)

  8. That tasting looks like tomato heaven to me!!! Wow.

    And why is it that canning usually only ever happens on the hottest day of the year?!?! But good for you for sticking with it. When you break one of those jars open down the road you'll be so happy.

    Cheers, jj

  9. Last year was my first time canning, and I had exactly the same experience: hours of sweat for five measly jars of tomato sauce. But what tomato sauce! I'm sure when you break open the first jar all that work will be forgotten and all you'll remember is the glorious summer day tasting tomatoes at the market.

  10. There's nothing better than summer grower's markets, is there? And, oh, my goodness, we love us some tomatoes. :)

  11. Opps! Don't know how I missed it. I had read "About Me", but somehow I missed the "About this Blog" tab. Thanks!


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