Tomato Overload

How many tomatoes can one girl eat?  A lot.

Especially when there are so many farm stands and festivals to visit.

On Saturday, it was the Heirloom Tomato Festival in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. On Sunday, it was the Sustainable Feast, sponsored by the Rachel Carson Homestead,  on the Ninth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh. Today, it was my kitchen, loaded with tomatoes from Harvest Valley Farm in Valencia.   My first visit to the Heirloom Tomato Festival, on the grounds of the West Overton Museum will not be my last.  For me, the best part was the tasting table.  Many types of tomatoes that I have never seen before. Heaven on a plate.

Cooking demos, crafters and museum-ish folks like a blacksmith were also a part of the festival. My overflowing dish of tomatoes got the pump primed for more, so  I came home and made a yellow tomato gazpacho, one of the recipes from Chef Matt Finarelli’s cooking class at LIFeSTYLE in Bedford last week. Then on Sunday it was time for the enviro-fest in downtown Pittsburgh.  The cost of admission included some generous sized samples of cutting edge cuisine ( like tiny red sorrel leaves on top of a wild mushroom mousse of some sort from the soon to open Salt of the Earth.) My favorite tomato-y dish was an heirloom tomato salad with little bits of black pepper bacon, tiny croutons and creamy light green pesto aioli  from Corporate Chef Bill Fuller, of the big Burrito group. The basil scented aioli was as good as it gets.  After we came home, I ate two more tomatoes from my kitchen counter. And today, my plum and yellow love apples (I’m getting tired of typing tomato) were just at that point where they neded to be eaten .. .today .  . .  right now . . . so I sliced them up and had them as an afternoon snack.  By dinnertime, the fresh tomatoes were gone, but not forgotten.  But have no fear, I always have a spare jar of Stepped in What? tomato sauce in my pantry. Canned in  the Brandywine Valley, this sauce has just the right amount of herbs and garlic.  Tossed some in with a bit of sauteed zucchini .. and I’ll call it a (tomato) day.

Outstanding in the Field

Last September, I was literally out standing in a field.  The field was Tim Stark’s  pasture at Eckerton Hill Farm, near Kutztown. I was there for the Pennsylvania stop of the Outstanding in the Field tour. Jim Denevan’s  company roams the country in a 57 year old bus and stages farm dinners  out in  fields, at vineyards or in all sort of other interesting outdoor places.  The bus is coming to Stark’s farm again this September and since it’s usually a sell-out, now is the time to sign up.

A beautiful late summer evening - Photo by Ali Locascio

Tim, farmer and author,  is the king of the heirloom tomato.  His book, Heirloom:  Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer ( Broadway Books, 2008), is a must -read for anyone who loves farms and farm markets or who has a secret dream of ditching the rat race for  something more rewarding. If you’ve ever been to the  Union Square Greenmarket in New York, you’ve probably seen Tim selling his PA produce. He’s there a few days each week.

Sampling some local wine.

The wine was locally made and most of the food came from within a few miles of the  long white clothed outdoor dinner table.  Sheep yogurt and grilled lamb,  Stark’s bounty of tomatoes, onions , fingerling potatoes and  herbs and a grand finale that included local,  juicy  peaches and homemade whipped cream melted in our mouths.   The food was fantastic and the conversation was even better . . .  even though we were pretty much all strangers just a few hours before.

Not every chef wants to take on this challenge since the bulk of the cooking is  done over an open fire near the dining area. In 2009, the chef was Dave Pasternack  fom Esca in NYC. This September,  Lee Chizmar,  executive chef of Bolete in Bethlehem PA, will  test his skills in this outdoor setting.

The website lists all the stops on this year’s tour. Just don’t wait too long to sign up. . they sell out fast. This year, I’m thinking it could be  the Delaware or Virginia stop  for me.

Then I can say I once again have been out standing in a field.