Every year we schedule our annual Tomato Dinner (Aug. 26-29 this year) to correspond with when we think the fullest range of tomatoes will be at their peak. But that date is always only a guess. In fact, every year, every area and every variety is different. This year, we thought we would try to discover why and how that comes about. Here is some of what we will be looking at: We will follow this season of tomatoes as they grow, noting what is ripe and when. At the tomato tasting, our chefs will rate each variety from each farm for acidity, sweetness, and specific attributes, designating each its role within the annual tomato dinner menu to best bring out those attributes. We will examine the effects of different farming methods: water timing, dry-farming, cover crops, fertilizers, and rotation. We will hear how our farmers are dealing with current water shortages. And we will meet some farmers.
Created by Oliveto on Mar 6, 2009
Last updated: 07/26/10 at 05:01 PM
Tags: Tomato Watch Oliveto Restaurant Bay Area
Tis the season of abundance and acute ripeness, as summer crops put all their remaining energy into their final fruits and seeds in one last attempt to be sown back into the earth. The farms themselves seem at their most beautiful, and the harvest months have a certain celebratory cheer about them, the true pleasure in a job well done.
It’s also the season when farmers and chefs alike are borderline overwhelmed with an onslaught of fruits & vegetables that are ripe RIGHT NOW. It brings an immediacy and a level of creativity to the kitchen and menu that is unique to this time of year. The term farmers use to describe some of their produce (specifically tomatoes and stone fruit) around now is “dead ripe”. Chef Canales explains to us what that means exactly and describes the sense of timeliness it brings to the act of cooking during this brief yet vibrant season.
For the kitchen, the first step in planning the menu for Tomato Dinners is knowing what they have to work with. Yesterday, Chef Canales and his sous chefs sat down for three hours and tasted fifty-five different tomatoes from seven different farms. Each tomato was assessed using the following criteria: color, acid, sugar, gel, other flavors, texture, structure, and then given an overall rating.
A primary task was picking the 6 - 12 tomatoes to comprise the best-of-season tasting plate. While each tomato on the tasting plate has to be a knockout in its own right, the dish overall requires diversity, balanced color, and variety of exceptional characteristics.
A few of the standouts from yesterday’s tasting were Momotaros from Brookside Farm, Big Girls from Lucero Organic Farm, German Reds from Riverdog Farm, and Yellow Brandywines from Catalan Farms.
Anne & Welling Tom came by with some pictures of tomatoes currently ripening on their farm in Brentwood, CA.
We’ve been tomato watching now for five months and finally, tomato season is here! Dry-farmed Early Girls are tasting excellent right now, and the heirlooms have just reached their height, giving the kitchen ample time to work with them before Tomato Dinners begin on August 26th. It has been a great year for tomatoes weather-wise and also timing-wise; many farmers took the risk of planting early and the risk paid off.
Another part of the equation is knowing when to pick tomatoes and who to pick them for. Back in April, Tim Mueller of Riverdog Farm in Yolo County took the time to explain to us the stages of a ripening tomato. He differentiates between what is ripe enough to ship and sit, what is perfectly ripe, or “dead ripe” that it heads to the Farmers’ Market (or Oliveto) that day, and what is so ripe it’s only fit for a hog or a hen.
Chef Paul Canales hit up the Derby Street Farmers’ Market yesterday with daughter Eva in tow. The duo got a look at some of the recently ripe tomatoes at Riverdog Farm, Catalan Farms, Lucero Organic Farm, and Full Belly Farm. Tomato season should hit its peak in the next few weeks, giving the chefs time to evaluate what will be up to snuff for this year’s tomato dinners.
In the meantime, the current showstopper is eggplant. Chef Canales evaluates the three varieties he’s particularly fond of and explains how he likes to use them.
Cherry tomatoes and Sun Golds are tasting delicious right now, but we’re still waiting on Early Girls, San Marzanos, Red Zebras, Pineapples, and the rest of the larger varieties to hit their peak flavor. If everything goes according to plan, that should happen some time over the next three to four weeks just in time for our annual Tomato dinners.
We visited with Trini Campbell and Tim Mueller of Riverdog Farm back in April, soon after their tomato plants went in the ground. Tim tells us what the next few months will require to insure healthy, flavorful tomatoes by August: lots of attention, diligence, and a variety of essential oils that help to combat against an even wider variety of pests.
We received the following e-mail yesterday from Welling Tom of Brookside Farm in Brentwood:
Yesterday (Sunday, July 12) we sold our first tomatoes of the year at the Montclair farmers’ market. It was only a couple weeks ago when we were still watering them, so these tomatoes (Early Girls) were still larger and more water-plumped than ideal, but they were not bad, and people at the farmers’ market have been asking for tomatoes for some time now. The Early Girls were completely sold out. They should be better next week. Maybe good enough for Oliveto. We’ll see.
Our heirloom and San Marzano tomatoes should be ready some time this month, and should continue to be in peak production through the month of August. All the tomatoes look good,but they are mostly green now.
When we visited Joe Schirmer of Dirty Girl Produce back in April, he had many things to tell us in regards to climate, planting times, soil quality, and procuring information on patented seeds. But what really piqued our interest, was Joe’s knowledge of the practice of dry-farming, as well as its history. Finding little current information available, Joe tracked down texts dating back to the 1920s in an effort to understand how to grow vegetables using limited water. Here, he imparts some of his wisdom.
Curtis Lucero emailed us photos of Early Girls, Flammés, Pineapples, Red Zebras, and San Marzanos on their farm in Lodi, CA.
The first ripe Sun Golds started showing up at the farmers' markets this week! Tomato season has begun.
Anne Tom and Welling Tom of Brookside Farm in Brentwood stopped by this morning with a tomato update and some pictures of their San Marzano and Early Girl plants. Due to the recent cool weather, Welling estimates the tomatoes will be ready to go to market by mid-July.
In the meantime, Brookside’s Bing cherries and Rainier cherries are currently out of sight. And ‘Musica’ beans, started in the greenhouse back in March, should be ready in the next few weeks.
Another thrilling episode from the sunny studios of Dirty Girl Productions!
Last time we heard from Joe Schirmer of Dirty Girl Produce, he had just finished planting his first wave of dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes.
It is now June and the plants have not been watered since April. But thanks to a well-developed root system, they are looking healthy and robust and are expected to be producing ripe fruit by mid-July.
"Brookside Farm has gotten our tomatoes off to a late start. The plants that we tried to start at home all failed, so we had to scramble to various nurseries in Brentwood, Stockton, and Oakland on whom we've relied over the years. Around the middle of April, we began transplanting the first set of seedlings (Early Girl, heirlooms, and Momotaro) into the field. Last Friday (May 1) we transplanted the second set (heirlooms). The third set (San Marzano) will be transplanted as soon as their roots are big enough (probably a week or 2 from now)." -Welling Tom
Joe Schirmer of Dirty Girl Produce has taken Tomato Watch into his own hands! We had intended to cover the details of dry farming this week, but on Tuesday we received an email from Joe and shortly after that a video he shot himself of his tomatoes being planted. How cool is it to see the process of farming through a farmer’s eyes?
Last week, the Luceros were busy getting their tomato seedlings out of the greenhouse and into the ground. It was perfect timing apparently, as temperatures this week have surged. Ben Lucero wrote us this quick update yesterday letting us know what’s going on in Lodi and what to expect over the next few months:
“The temperature outside surpassed 90 degrees today. Tomatoes love the heat. The plants are doing well.
Typically, we harvest our first tomatoes sometime in June and maybe we might see some cherry types or smaller varieties as early as late May. Bye for now.”
Follow the link to view a slide show of photos Ben's son Curtis sent us.
Judith Redmond at Full Belly Farm says they will have several waves of tomato plantings.
At the beginning of April, about half of this year’s tomato crop at Lucero Farm in Lodi CA, is in the ground.
Trini Campbell and Tim Mueller, April 8th in the Capay Valley, Yolo County, California.
For this installment of Tomato Watch we took a trip down to Watsonville for a visit with Joe Schirmer of Dirty Girl Produce. We got some cool tractor footage, a crash course in dry farming, and learned all about capillarity!
Dry farming tomatoes can only work when there is coastal fog, making it unique to certain areas. We’ll hear more from Joe about this technique in the following weeks.