Archive for July, 2010

Second Annual KC Tomato Times Tomato Tasting…FAQ’s

We’re just a week and change away from the 2nd annual KCTTTT!  Last year’s event was very successful and this year looks to be twice as big and twice as awesome!

I have had a lot of tomato lovers ask me about how this event works, so I’m listing some FAQ’s to clarify things for everyone so that we can all have a great time celebrating the tomato!

Q:  When and where is the KCTTTT?

A: It’s Saturday, August 7th at Roe Park from 10:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m.  The event will be held at Roe Park: 104th and Roe in Overland Park, KS.  It’s just about 1/2 mile north of 435 and Roe on the west side of the street.

Q: Who is invited to the KCTTTT?

A: All Tomato Gardeners and Tomato Lovers and their families are invited.  All I ask is that you RSVP ahead of time so I know how many name tags, plates, and other things to bring.

Q: How much does it cost to attend?

A: It’s free to all who RSVP and their families.

Q:  What do I need to bring to the KCTTTT?

A:  If you have home grown tomatoes, please bring them.  One or two of each variety you have ripe would be great.  Please label them with the variety name with a marker near the stem end so we can distinguish one type from another.  If you have a favorite tomato-related dish, you can bring that as well.  Please bring several copies of the recipe so guests can try your dish out at home.  You might want to bring a notebook and pen to record information about varieties you try so that you have a reference for what to grow next year. Seating is very limited, so everyone needs to bring a lawn chair.  The picnic tables will be covered with tomatoes and there will not be any available seating…so again, please bring a chair.  You can also bring a beverage if you’d like, but remember that Roe Park does not allow alcohol.

Q: What if I don’t have any tomatoes…can I still attend the KCTTTT?

A:  Of course you can!  Just bring your tomato loving appetite and maybe something to share such as bread, cheese, or a dessert of some sort.

Q:  Will there be prizes for attendees?

A:  I have some great gardening gifts, T-shirts from Tomatoville.com, and gift certificates for plants as door prizes and for contest winners.

Q:  What are the contests?

A: There will be three awarded for three categories.  Heaviest tomato, Ugliest Tomato, and Most Beautiful Tomato Art.  I will have a scale to weigh the whopper tomatoes.  Ugliest tomato and MBTA will be judged by crowd accolades.  Bring your most cat-faced, fused bloom, monkey-butt-looking tomato to win for ugliest.  Make a primarily tomato-themed piece of art to win the MBTA award…show us how creative you can be with your bounty from the garden!

Q: Are pets allowed?

A:  Well-behaved, leashed pets are definitely welcome!

Q: Is there anything for the kids to do at this event?

A: There is a great playground and bicycle trail right by the pavilion and Roe Pool is right across the parking lot.

Q:  Do you need any help setting up the event or help with anything else?

A:  I plan on arriving at around 9:00 a.m. to begin setting up.  If you’d like to help with covering tables and organizing, we would appreciate the help.  If you have a folding table, please bring it along.  I’m not sure how many tables we’ll need, but it would be great to have some extras available to spread out the tomatoes and dishes.  I’ll have several cutting boards, and knives available to slice everything up.  I’ll also have labels for any variety of tomato that I sold seedlings of this spring.  If you are bringing other varieties, please bring a note card with the name of your types of tomato.

I am looking forward to seeing all of you again and talking about all the trials, tribulations, and victories you’ve had this summer. I’m also looking forward to tasting some great different varieties and maybe finding my new favorite tomato!

James

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Tomato Processing 101

We are at Defcon 5 in the Tomato War now…the tomatoes keep advancing and threatening to take over the house, but we keep fighting back with Weapons of Mass Deliciousness! My wife is mostly engaged in tomato to mouth combat…she’s eating sliced tomatoes with sea salt and evaluating for appearance, taste, and texture.  I’m not much for eating a lot of plain, raw tomatoes, so I am a bit more creative with my tomato warfare strategies. I like to let the tomatoes think they are getting the upper hand, then I plan a mass assault with the KitchenAid Food Strainer.

Today I’ll show you the basic steps I follow to process tomatoes for juice and sauce.  The sauce can be used a bajillion ways such as spaghetti sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, tomato jam, tomato chutney, taco sauce, or pretty much anything else you can think of.

Start with a batch of any kind of ripe tomatoes you have.  If you’re wanting more juice, stick with the Brandywines, Mortgage Lifters, Cherokee Purples, and other super juicy tomatoes.  If you’re wanting more sauce, use Romas, Opalkas, or other paste types.  Don’t be afraid to mix varieties of tomatoes as this lends a very deep and complex flavor to your sauce and juice.  You can also use only one type to make a yellow sauce or a black sauce (trust me on this one…one day, make a sauce made of only black tomatoes!)

Give the tomatoes a good rinse.

Then cut them into pieces that will fit into your food mill.  Make sure you trim off any bruised areas, or spots where bugs or cracks have cut deep into the tomatoes.  Larger tomatoes may need to be cored before cutting.

The type of food mill you use is up to your budget or whatever you have available to you.  We have a KitchenAid Mixer and bought the attachment kit that has a food strainer and meat grinder.  We used to use one called a Rigamonti that has a suction cup base and a hand crank.  It worked very well and I processed several years’ worth of tomatoes with it and it performed flawlessly, but since we bought the Kitchen Aide it has sat idle in a box.  They sell for $60 new plus shipping.  If any of you would like this one, I’ll sell it for $40.  It’s a great machine, just requires a bit of elbow grease to make some great sauce.

When I process the tomatoes, I like to let the juice fall into a strainer over a pan to separate the heavy tomato solids (sauce) from the lighter liquids (juice).

Out of the end of the strainer comes what I like to call “tomato turds”  This contains the skins and seeds.  I let these plop into a bowl, then when I’m done processing all of the tomatoes, I run the “turds” through the strainer again to get the rest of the juice and pulp out. You end up with almost no juice or pulp wasted this way.

(My wife wanted me to edit the word “turd” and replace it with “poop”, I’m sticking to my guns for the sake of alliteration!)

The juice and sauce will last about a week in the refrigerator for you to use, but if you have too much, you’ll want to preserve it for later use.  If you’re new to canning, make sure you check out Ball’s Canning Guidelines to make sure your food is completely safe.

After I’ve processed all of the tomatoes, I add some salt to taste and bring the juice to a full boil.  I add a teaspoon of lemon juice to my sterile jars, then add the hot juice to the jars making sure to leave some head space.

I then clean the rims of the jars, seal with a sterilized lid, lightly screw on a jar ring, then put them in a hot water bath for 30 minutes.

For my sauce, I keep it pretty simple.  I cook it down for several hours to thicken it.  I’ve cooked sauce 12 hours or more to get it to the right consistency.  I add nothing at all to it except for a teaspoon of lemon juice to the jars and preserve the same way I preserve juice.  When we cook with the sauce throughout the year, we add whatever seasonings we need for the recipe…oregano, garlic, fresh herbs, or whatever.

Well…I hope you now have a strategy to help you win the Tomato Battle!

Next weekend I’ll have a Tomato Tasting primer blog where I’ll talk about labeling tomatoes that you’re bringing as well as a way to judge the different varieties you’ll try so that you can make concrete descriptions of what makes a tomato your favorite.

Two weeks from now, we’ll all be basking in the glory of tasting more types of tomatoes than we’ve ever tried before!  I can’t wait!  RSVP if you haven’t already!

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Zucchini Bread Recipe

My recipe is no secret…I just Googled Zucchini Bread Recipe a few years ago and came up with  a basic recipe such as this one.  I replaced half the oil with applesauce and add glazed pecans or walnuts and chocolate chips when I’m  feeling crazy.

The main thing is not to over cook it or it will be dry.  I tend to under cook it a smidgen.  It also freezes very well for delicious breakfasts all winter long!

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F ( 165 degrees C). Grease and flour two 8×4 inch loaf pans.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Mix in oil and sugar. Stir in zucchini and vanilla. Combine flour, cinnamon, soda, baking powder, salt and nuts; stir into the egg mixture. Divide batter into prepared pans.
  3. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until done.

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What to do on the hottest day of the year?

When life gives you lemons…well…I don’t have any lemons, but plenty of tomatoes, peppers, and squash so I made a huge batch of pico de gallo and 2 batches of zucchini bread.  Glazed pecans, walnuts, and chocolate chips send the bread over the top!  Fire roasted garlic and lots of lime juice, not to mention a healthy quantity of black tomatoes and some others make a pico sauce that will make you want a margarita!

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A pile of tomatoes!

Jen and I went to the garden this morning and it took two trips to haul it all in the house.  We both nearly passed out from the heat and stifling humidity, but we’ve got a table full of maters and the big push is yet to come…I’d say next week and the week after will keep me VERY busy canning up tomato goodness!

The whole spread!  Okra, eggplant, jalapenos, lilac, banana peppers, and a whole bunch of tomatoes!

These in the foreground are a mix of Cherokee Purple, Carbon, JD’s Special C-Tex.  The green beast on the right is Aunt Ruby’s German Green….WOW!  That thing was crazy tasting…kind of like a sour lime/lemon/tomato…not for the weak at heart!

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The beginning of the Tomato Tsunami!

Don’t worry if you don’t have ripe tomatoes coming out of your ears…you will soon!  I’ve got about 70 plants out this year and maybe half of them are producing ripe fruit…some just one or two so far, but the best is yet to come!

We are eating tomatoes in some form or another pretty much every meal now…the variety is absolutely wonderful.  Our Sungold and SunSugar plants have been a delight this year.  My mother told me yesterday that she wants a LOT more Sungold in her garden next year.  We’ve also picked a few Black Cherry and are savoring them like a fine wine.  Juanne Flamme has been producing as well and we learned that they need to be fully ripe…almost over-ripe to get the best flavor from the French “Yellow Flame” .  Dr. Carolyn, Yellow Pear, and Isis Candy haven’t produced ripe fruit yet…they must be later producers.

On the larger tomato front, we’ve had plenty of Mortgage Lifters including a monster triple fused fruit that’s bigger than a softball.  We’ve had some JD’s Special C-Tex, Carbon, and one beautiful Cherokee Purple ripen to satisfy the taste for the black tomatoes. We’ve had a couple of Cuostralee grace our palates…beauty and flavor in one package!

The only ripe fruits to come out of the “rainbow bed”  so far have been some Mr. Stripey and two glorious KBX!

Demidov produced a few fruit, then the plant gave up the ghost.  It joins the dearly departed Betkeley Tie Dye, and Limmony that bit the dust due to virus and basterial issues.  R.I.P.!

We’ve also had our fair share of Blossom End Rot rear it’s ugly head..err…bottom. I’ve tossed at least 2 dozen fruit in the compost pile, but am not worried as this usually only affects the early season fruits.

My last post about when to pick a tomato brought several questions and requests for picture.  The following picks show fruit in various stages of blush…all will ripen on my table until they make their way into the next delicious meal!

Oh yeah…made a batch of Basil Jelly this morning.  I got the idea  from Tomato Addict , modified the recipe a bit from some other ones online and can’t wait to try it out!

The Tomato Tasting is just 3 weeks away…RSVP if you haven’t already!

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Love at first blush

I know a lot of you tomatoheads are eying those green tomatoes and wondering when you’ll get to make that first BLT.

The whole “vine ripened” concept is a bit confusing.  Some people say that tomatoes should be left on the vine until they are fully ripened to achieve maximum flavor…I disagree with this statement.  Leaving a tomato on the vine until it is fully ripe leaves it exposed to several potential problems.

  • With these heavy rains we are having, a ripening tomato could crack and split from excessive moisture.
  • Ripe tomatoes are magnets for critters such as squirrels and birds.
  • Some varieties of tomatoes tend to drop their fruit when ripe…a dropped tomato is a damaged tomato
  • Heavy fruit load could cause vines to break causing loss of other fruits not yet ripe.
  • Ripe tomatoes are also magnets for unscrupulous neighbors that might take advantage of the situation

The reason a lot of people are concerned about “vine ripened” fruit is that a lot of commercial growers actually pick their fruits green. A green tomato is easier to ship and less likely to bruise or rot.  When they are ready to sell the tomatoes, they gas them with ethylene to force ripening.  This results in a pretty, unblemished tomato that has way less flavor.

With that being said…pick at first blush! As soon as a tomato shows any sign of turning the color it’s supposed to be (red, yellow, purple, orange, etc..) pick it and bring it in the house.  Place the tomatoes on a towel or in a shallow dish or bowl on the counter or table and in a few days it will ripen nicely. Don’t stack them on top of each other or they might bruise.  Also NEVER PUT TOMATOES IN THE REFRIGERATOR!!! Refrigeration ruins tomato flavor.  Keep them at room temperature like a fine red wine.

If you get more tomatoes than you can eat fresh, don’t be afraid to core them and put them in a ziplock freezer bag and toss in the deep freeze.  This is a quick way to preserve tomatoes for using in sauces, soups, stews, and chili later in the year.  The frozen tomatoes lose their texture, but keep a good flavor that is perfect for saucy dishes.

Stay tuned and I’ll show you how to preserve tomatoes by canning.  It’s not that difficult and is the best way to preserve lots of tomatoes and retain their texture and flavor.  I’ll be canning later this month once those romas get ripe!

A month from tomorrow is the 2nd annual KCTTTT!  I’ve got some great prizes to give away and we’re having three contests this year.  Read all about them at Tomatoville!

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