I love tomatoes! And many people I know love tomatoes. We eat tomatoes, we talk tomatoes, and we grow tomatoes. Thus when I first started hearing about tomato tastings and tomato festivals several years ago, I desperately wanted to go to one. However, the times and locations were not convenient for me. So I held my own! After all, it’s a great excuse for a summer party.
Now that I waited five years to hold my second tomato tasting party, I realize that I don’t really need to be having a “good tomato year” to pull it off. The truth is that I finally held another tomato tasting in part because I’m having a good tomato year and partly because I’m having a great container garden year. I just couldn’t look at my beautiful flower bestrewn deck without thinking I should throw a party. So I picked a date and sent out the invitations.
When the day arrived, I had fun setting up and decorating for the party. Not everyone need do this, but my preparations included printing voting ballots and winners’ certificates and also providing bread and water for the tasters to cleanse their palates. I like to keep the taste testing somewhat “blind,” so I put the tomatoes on numbered plates and did not reveal their names until the results were in. All told, we ended up with 18 different varieties to taste!
But first we partied. Again not everyone need do this, but a Chez Rea Tomato Tasting is as much about having a party as it is about holding a taste test (and–gasp!–not everyone who came was a tomato lover). Besides, I took the easy route this time around and did not cook anything myself. I just asked the guests to bring appetizers or desserts while I supplied chicken, bread and drinks. We were blessed with good weather that evening, so the party–as I had hoped–flowed out to the deck and the lawn. We mingled and chatted as we enjoyed all the good food everyone brought. I also got to show the garden to a few who were interested and had not seen it yet this year.
Then we tasted. It was all very subjective, of course, as everyone has different criteria for what makes a good tasting tomato. Moreover, not every tomato on the table was at its peak. Nevertheless, we had a great time tasting and testing them all. Then we tallied the results and announced the winners.
And now announcing . . . [May I have a drum roll please?] . . . the winners of the 2011 Chez Rea Tomato Tasting!
- Best Tasting Full-Size Tomato: Gregori’s Altai
- Best Tasting Cherry-Size Tomato: Sweet Millions
- BEST TASTING TOMATO: Sweet Millions
The winning tomato came from April Wong Loi Sing’s garden. And to think she almost didn’t bring her tomatoes because she knew that I grow that variety. (In fact, she got her tomato seedlings from me, so I can at least say that I started the winning tomato.) However, my Sweet Millions plant was between flushes of growth that week, so we wouldn’t have had any of my favorite tomato to taste had she not brought them. (By the way, she is growing her plant in a container she used to use for petunias, a cauldron suspended from a large tripod. I don’t recommend putting indeterminate tomatoes in containers, but here’s an example of great success with that.)
And that’s how we do a Chez Rea Tomato Tasting. There are other ways, of course. We do more informal tomato tastings at master gardener meetings in my county. Master gardeners just bring in their tomatoes and set them out and write or tell us the variety. Then we taste them and talk about them–no voting, no ballots, just tasting. Anyone could do that! At my garden club we have too many people for everyone to get a taste, so we choose a few judges to do the testing and voting. They see the name of the varieties they are testing but not the names of those who brought them. We also add other categories, such as the prettiest and ugliest tomato and the largest by weight. So far I’ve won in at least one category each year we’ve done that. (TIP for garden club members: The best way to win contests is to bring in as many entries as you can and enter something in ALL the categories. You could be an award-winning gardener, too!) Or you could do a smaller scale version of my tomato tasting like I did with my family earlier in the season.
No matter how you do it, a tomato tasting is a fun event to do. Plus, it’s a great way, if you grow tomatoes yourself, to find out which varieties are worth the space and effort in your own garden. I think I’ll just set the date for next year’s Chez Rea Tomato Tasting now–let’s say the Friday of Labor Day weekend again–and you folks keep talking tomatoes with me (and make sure I have your email address) if you’d like to come.
Want to see MORE PICTURES from the Tomato Tasting? Here they are: