Tomato speed dating

Propagation draws local tomato geeks to annual tasting ritual

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Susan France

Anyway, like I was sayin’, you can grill a tomato, bake it and saute it and put it in salsa, gazpacho, and in salads with basil and olive oil. There’s fresh tomato sandwiches and savory tomato pie, tomato toast and tomato pasta salad, and cherry tomato Cheddar cobbler and fried tomato eggs Benedicts.

With a nod to Forrest Gump, we’re so busy adding window dressing to them that we don’t always stop to actually taste the fresh tomatoes in their diverse varieties.  

True tomato fans talk about varietals as if they were wines, about the ripened-in-the-sun complexity, sweet-tart balance, fruitiness and musky aromas of the Black Cherry, the Mortgage Lifter and the Kellogg Breakfast. 

Tomato geeks are as much a support group as a social group because anyone who attempts to grow tomatoes in Boulder County will eventually openly weep and piteously moan as quarter-sized hail turns Black Krims to salsa on the vine and slugs have Beefsteaks for breakfast. This has been an especially difficult summer for gardeners because of the season’s cold rain and snow.

Still, when everything goes well with hot, sunny, dry days and cool nights and you have sacrificed your first born to a deity, you may be allowed to harvest one of this planet’s most exceptional foods. There is still plenty of time to enjoy this year’s crop from local farmers, but if you want to grow your own, it’s time to think about what kind of tomatoes you want to taste in August 2020. 

This urge to propagate properly is the impetus behind Harlequin’s Gardens annual Taste of Tomato at 10 a.m. Sept. 7 in the Growing Gardens barn at 1630 Hawthorn Ave. Last year there were 64 varieties cut up for tasting, with Aunt Ruby’s German Green winning the popular vote as the best-tasting tomato. 

You don’t know until the gardeners start showing up with their prized fruit which of hundreds of homegrown heirloom varieties, from Extra Eros to Brad’s Atomic Grape, you’ll be tasting. The event illustrates that many tomatoes are not red, but rather ripe green, striped, pink, burgundy and canary yellow, with a wide range of flavors. 

The seemingly pleasant ritual serves as a gateway experience, as casual tomato lovers get sucked into the alternate tomato gardening lifestyle. They taste an heirloom variety that rings their chimes, that seems like the perfect tomato and they wonder: Why can’t I have this tomato again? That’s when they go looking for seeds, advice and sympathy. At the Taste of Tomato they can learn seed-saving from elder geeks and maybe even score some heirloom Lycopersicon esculentum and discover which varieties really thrive in Boulder County’s diverse mini-climates. 

If you bring three (or more) medium to large tomatoes (or 10-plus small or cherry tomatoes) to donate, you get into the event free. However, they must come from a named variety to be used in the tasting of cherry tomatoes, beefsteaks, slicers and paste tomatoes. Otherwise, it’s a bargain $5 entry. 

How to Bake Bacon

Songwriter Guy Clark once opined:

“Ain’t nothin’ in the world that I like better, than bacon and lettuce and home grown tomatoes.”

While lots of folks love BLT sandwiches, many home cooks apparently lack the skill to cook bacon from scratch. For instance, Vermont’s Black River Meats offers the following instructions on its packages:

“Every American should know how to cook bacon. If you really don’t know how to cook bacon, please contact our elected officials and complain about our education system.” 

This snark prompted some social media backlash including the criticism that, for instance, American Jews, Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists and vegans have no need of bacon-cooking know-how. 

Some wonder whether it’s worth it to cook real bacon versus buying precooked strips. Would you buy your burgers pre-cooked and shrink-wrapped? First, start with great locally smoked bacon from Tender Belly, Elevation Meats or River Bear Meats. Next, cook the bacon in the oven, not in a pan, to avoid spatter and get crisper bacon. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Ideally, set bacon strips atop wire racks on baking sheets with sides. If not, cover baking sheets with foil or parchment paper and set strips on top without touching. At about 12 minutes, rotate the sheet so the strips all cook evenly. The thin ones will cook faster. If necessary, remove fully cooked strips to continue baking the others. Bacon should be done at about the 20-minute mark, but check frequently. Save the bacon grease to use in cooking potatoes or in warm dressings for spinach salads. 

Local Food News

Boulder’s Osaka’s is bringing its Japanese-American okonomiyaki (cabbage bun) burgers to a new fast-casual location in Guangzhou, China. Meanwhile, the arrival of Costco in Shanghai is expected to boost U.S.-China relations as Chinese citizens wander the bargain-filled aisles and forget about Trump’s tariffs. …  Adelia’s Street Legal Pizza (3060 Pearl Parkway), 1000 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria (1310 College Ave.) and PizzaRev (1650 28th St.) have closed. … Cow-A-Bunga Ice Cream has opened at 1455 Coal Creek Drive in Lafayette scooping Glacier Ice Cream. … Plan ahead: Chile & Frijoles Festival, Sept. 20-22, Pueblo, pueblochamber.org; Flatirons Food Film Festival, Oct. 10-13, Boulder, flatironsfoodfilmfest.org; First Bite: Boulder County Restaurant Week, Nov. 8-16. firstbiteboulder.com.

Local Taste of the Week

Once you try Picaflor Bulgarian Carrot Pepper Flakes you’ll never want to go back to those red chile flakes in little packs you get with your pizza delivery. The yellowish-orange peppers are organically grown at McCauley Family Farms in Longmont, fermented and gently dried. They have so much more flavor in addition to some tolerable heat. These flakes are ideal for adding heat to a dish without the vinegar and other flavors in hot sauces. 

Words to Chew On

“You can boil it, roast it, broil it, cook it in a pan or a pot, eat it with potatoes, rice or tomatoes, but chicken’s still what you got, boy.” — “A Chicken Ain’t Nothin’ But a Bird” by Cab Calloway  

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, kgnu.org). Comments: nibbles@boulderweekly.com.