Tree & Twig - A Tomato Tour

Isn't it great when you fit in with strangers?

Last Sunday, my husband and I drove out to Wellandport to visit Tree & Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm for a Tomato Tour.  That's right... a TOMATO TOUR!  Imagine my bliss.  It seems I'm not the only one enraptured with the charms of the tomato, because the farm was packed with like-minded folks, smiling, sipping wine and chatting despite the grim weather. 

The afternoon began with a walk through the gardens of our gracious host and inspirational farmer, Linda.  Donning an 'I heart Tomatoes' tee (which I now passionately covet) and ankle-deep in the sticky clay of her land, Linda guided us along, providing candid stories of her growing season and her favourite (and less-than-favourite) varieties. Here are a few highlights from the garden...

Linda in her element.
Fantastic peppers! Gorgeous!
Blooming eggplant.
Cool pepper!  I'm sorry, I can't remember any variety names!
Amazing marigolds (above) and zinnias (below) from Linda's 'Organic Gardening' magazine trial gardens.
Beautiful basil.

We escaped the mud, and stomped back into the grassy yard to start the main event - time to taste the tomatoes!  I was shocked at the depth of variety - with so many types and sizes and colours to taste, it was impossible to choose where to begin.  I decided that my best bet was to work systematically and try them all.  After all, it's a unique experience to have so many beautiful flavours together at once!

Just 1 of 2 tasting tables.  Wow!
Linda talking tomatoes.
Some of these beauties came home with me.
The culinary delights didn't stop at the tomato tasting.  The group was also treated to some seriously creative and unexpected treats.  Delectable tomato cake, savoury tomato muffins and, if you can imagine it, tomato-basil-mascarpone ice cream were available for sampling too.  Mmmmmm! 
Tomato, basil & mascarpone combine to make a creamy, dreamy treat.

Local Chef Mark Picone created sweet, fresh sips of delight using tomatoes, watermelon, honey, sunberries and basil that danced over our tongues with a bouquet of summer flavours.

Chef Mark Picone
Tomato shooters.  So delish!
 With soaked clothes and arms laden with quarts of purchased tomato favourites, we said farewell to the farm for the day.  I've seldom been so inspired and satisfied while so wretchedly uncomfortable! 

Thanks for the great afternoon, Linda.  We'll definitely be back!

Black Krim - The Queen of the Heirlooms?

Do you suppose it's possible to fall in love with a tomato?  This is the culmination of the gardening/farming season - the moment that growers and eaters of fresh food most anticipate.  Yes, folks, it's officially tomato season, and you'll be hearing much about mine in the coming weeks.  On Monday, I picked and ate my very first 'Black Krim' heirloom tomato, and I'm trying to find a way to describe the experience without sounding absolutely nuts.

I think this tomato just changed my life.

It's bulky and surprisingly heavy for it's size.  It's beautiful in an ugly kind of way.  It's perfect.

There is a very good reason why gardeners and growers so highly covet these prized fruits.  Of all the edibles that you can grow in your backyard, the tomato by far offers the most exceptionally rewarding harvest.  If you've never grown your own tomatoes, I have to insist that you try.  Even just one.

For weeks on end, you watch carefully as the smallest plant begins to grow and change.  You can't help but giggle with excitement  when you glimpse the first, tiny yellow blooms that appear - a hint of the glorious fruits to come.  Finally, little green globes begin to form, and you know you're in the home stretch.  They swell, blush and ripen, twisting on their vines.

You've made tomatoes.  You.  All by yourself.  Congratulations.

It's difficult to explain the first bite of a homegrown tomato.  It's warm in your hands, full of sunshine and sweetness, a miraculous and compact package.  Biting into it, the flavour rushes throughout your mouth, juices running down your chin and arm.  It's impossible not to smile as you savour this reward for your efforts - this remarkably delicious fruit that was alive and breathing just a moment before.  Everything you once thought you knew about a tomato was wrong.  This is what makes life worth living.

My 'Black Krim' became the ultimate toasted tomato sandwich, but only after I ate half of it while standing on the warm deck with the summer sun on my hair.  I'll never again be without this variety.  She's the Queen of the Heirlooms.  But that's just my opinion... what's yours?

Zucchini 'Costata Romanesca'

She's a beaut!  'Costata Romanesca' harvested on Aug 3, 2010.

According to the seed supplier, this gorgeous variety is often voted the 'best tasting of all zucchini'.  I love the distinctive stripes and intricate patterns of it's skin, but I was instantly hooked when I grilled thick slices coated lightly in olive oil, salt and pepper.  It's wonderfully nutty and delicious... a must-grow for me from now on.

Grilled zucchini, risotto & warm mushroom salad.

On The Wild Side

My garden has gone feral.  In a way it's a relief, but it's an odd realization that all of my planning, preening and care is in many ways completely irrelevant.  Throughout the summer, life gets in the way of my good gardening intentions, and I'm left with little choice but to allow my garden to thrive on neglect.  (Oh... did you think you were the only one?)

With vacations, a busy work schedule and old-fashioned summer laziness taking up my time, I've been able to let the garden just... be.  To my chagrin, it remains lush and productive without my intervention.  Who knew?  Yes, the tomatoes are out of control.  Yes, that IS a bolted, flowering head of lettuce in the middle of the photo.  But that's ok.

Here are some additional pictorial updates.  Summer madness - it's good stuff!  

Carrots, mixed beans and thyme for the dinner table.

A 'Dusty' eggplant.  It was a 'cheater' I planted in mid-July when I realized that my 'Little Fingers' were definitely not going to reach fruiting size this season.  A good score from the garden center saves the day... there's nothing wrong with a back-up plan!  I don't feel guilty!

Another ringer.  'Sweet Cherry Pick' peppers I bought at the same time as the eggplant, just because I couldn't resist.  C'mon, look how cute!

'Bright Lights' swiss chard.  Indeed!

Remember how I planted some watermelon in the space left by the spent lettuce?  It's gone bananas, and I couldn't be happier...
Little 'Malali' watermelon.  More where this one came from, too.  There WILL be home-grown watermelons this season, and by any account I can think of, this officially makes my summer gardening effort a success.