When the first seedlings sprout in late winter, expectations are high. As the weather warms, our anticipation for the arrival of the first field grown tomato builds. Summer’s sultry conditions explode finally in an avalanche of heirloom varieties, a plethora of colors, sizes and tastes, that satisfy multiple senses. We relish every recipe, and savor the sauces prepared at the peak of flavor. When they’re ripe and juicy, they are soooo good, nearly nirvana.
Tomatoes are best in the summer months. No feat of technological manipulation comes close to replicating nature’s handiwork. Thus, we’ve reached the pinnacle of tomato season here in the Triangle, and we’re enjoying nature’s bountiful fruit (disguised as a vegetable) through local festivals and events.
Carrboro Farmers’ Market bares all tomatoes at Tomato Day, Saturday, July 16, 2011, 8:30 am to noon, where they invite us to enjoy “the naked tomato”. Market shoppers can sample slices, as well as get some helpful tips and recipes from market staff and volunteers. This year, customers can earn raffle tickets for their tomato purchases. The raffle prizes from local restaurants and shops include dinner for two at Lantern, tomato appetizers at Elaine’s, gift certificates to select restaurants in Durham, Carrboro & Chapel Hill, tickets from the ArtsCenter, and much more. Look for the special tomato signs, directing you to vendors selling tomatoes, to make your purchase.
Meanwhile in downtown Hillsborough, Tomato Fest takes place at the Eno River Farmers’ Market, July 16, 2011, 8:00 am to noon. Local farmers supply more than fifty varieties to purchase and a dozen or so different types to sample, then vote for your favorite. If you’re wondering what to do with all the tomatoes you’re hauling away from the market, staff can help with storage suggestions, canning information, and recipes.
Tomatopalooza, an annual tomato tasting event, is scheduled for Saturday, July 23, 2011, 1 – 4 pm, at the Apex Community Park. Participants in the annual feat of extreme tomato tasting may bring tomatoes from their own gardens to share with attendees. Event registration is required (see the website for full details, and how to register). Prior Tomatopalooza events yielded more than 150 varieties, and revealed crowd favorites like Black Cherry for its taste, and Garden Peach as most unusual.
Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market gets in on the action too, celebrating with a Tomato Festival on Saturday, July 23, 2011 (normal market hours are 8 am to noon). Details aren’t quite available as of yet, but similar to the above described tomato-centric festivities, you can be assured that fresh, local tomatoes will be plentiful, and pleasing.
Speaking of Chapel Hill, one of the organizers of Tomatopalooza will be a co-host at “Farm to Fork: Heirloom Tomatoes from the Vine” a cooking class offered at A Southern Season, July 12, 6:00 pm, $35.00 (see the link to register, if seats are still available). Marilyn Markel demonstrates the menu, and Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farms joins in the discussion of all matters ‘mater with Craig LeHoullier. What’s on the menu for the class? Citrus-Herb Tomato Soup, Tomato Confit and Marinated Tomato Salad on Goat Cheese Quiche, Lamb Sliders with Tomato Chutney and Curried Cucumber Salad. Doesn’t that sound scrumptious!?
Already underway are the weekly tomato dinners (with optional wine pairings) at Zely and Ritz, in downtown Raleigh, July 14th, July 20th, July 26th, and August 3rd, at 7:00 pm. In case you missed the premier episode of Flavor NC on UNC-TV last month (like me), you can see some of the tomato offerings from Coon Rock Farm in this podcast. The menu for the five-course tomato dinner includes Heirloom Tomato Stuffed with CRF Bratwurst, Gypsy Peppers and Onions, Harris Robinette Slow Roasted Brisket with Tomatoes and Onions, and finishes with a Sun Gold Tomato Panna Cotta for dessert.
If you’re up for an entire weekend of tomato-focused meals, then Acme in Carrboro will make your wishes come true during their 10th Annual Tomato Festival, July 15th – 17th. I’m not sure what’s on Acme’s menu for this weekend, but this article from Garden & Gun magazine features the chef’s BL-Green-T, if you’re looking for a little something to whet the appetite.
Piedmont restaurant in Durham is holding a first ever tomato dinner (starring more Coon Rock Farm tomatoes) on Saturday, July 16th (call 919-683-1213 for reservations). The $45 ($65 with wine pairings) six-course menu starts with an amuse bouche of “Tomato water shooter, tomato pearls, mini mozzarella, basil-champagne gelee”. Oh my, that does tantalize.
Many tomato appetites will be sated during the summer months. We can savor the delicious memories through winter, in anticipation of the next sunny season.