By Emily Ryan, The Mercury
“I’m going to buy some tomatoes,” a woman told her 6-year-old daughter as they walked through the Downingtown Farmers Market toward Two Gander Farm’s stand.
“Can I pick the tomatoes?” asked the girl, wearing a pink T-shirt, pink ruffled skirt, pink rain boots and sunny smile despite the darkening sky.
She checked out Brandywine, Striped German and Moskvich before settling on Jaune Flamme. Her mother chose a Cherokee Purple.
“They look yummy!” added another shopper, scooping up some mixed cherry tomatoes.
At the organic farm in East Brandywine, Deirdre Flemming and her husband grow about 15 tomato varieties, starting from seed in February.
“For me, it’s just the anticipation. They take forever,” she said with a laugh. “I love it. I think it’s great. We’ve had great yields so far.”
Red, orange, yellow, green and purple beauties abound at markets, roadside stands and CSAs.
“A fresh farm tomato is something that only lasts a few days,” explained Fred de Long, director of the community farm program at Willistown Conservation Trust. “That’s why it’s really important to buy from a local producer.”
Taking a break from tomato picking, he talked about Rushton Farm, which covers six acres of the nature preserve. Like Flemming, de Long organically tends around 15 varieties, ranging from Jubilee and Orange Blossom to Early Girl and San Marzano.
“The Brandywines are the typical favorite,” he said. “My favorite is actually Eva Purple Ball. It’s a German variety. It’s very similar to a small Brandywine, but it doesn’t crack.”
To celebrate the harvest, the farm holds an annual tomato tasting, attracting a sell-out crowd.
“I like to see people try the different tomatoes and notice they’re not all uniform in taste, like they’re not all uniform in color or size,” de Long said. “A tomato you buy from a farm market is going to be much different than you buy in a supermarket.”
“People should appreciate a farm-fresh tomato,” agreed Jillian Prout of Prout’s Jollyview Farm in Oley. “They are a fruit, and when you eat them fresh from a farm or a farm stand, they taste like a fruit. They’re sort of a savory-sweet flavor – this wonderful deep, rich combination.”
She grows as many as 20 varieties using organic methods.
“They not only taste good, but they’re good for you. And they’re very filling,” said Prout, who makes everything from strawberry tomato chutney to heirloom tomato salsa.
“It’s fresh, and it’s colorful. And it has a lot of flavor,” she raved.
Back at the market, the mother-daughter duo wrapped up their shopping as the girl skipped and twirled along, excited to try her tomatoes. Naturally, the farmers share her enthusiasm.
“I’m surrounded by these gorgeous tomatoes. I feel pretty fortunate!” Flemming said.
Rushton Farm Gazpacho
1 cucumber, halved and seeded, but not peeled
2 red (or green) bell peppers, cored and seeded
4 plum tomatoes
1 red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
23 ounces tomato juice (3 cups)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup good olive oil
½ tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes and red onions into 1-inch cubes. Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped. Do not overprocess. After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well and chill before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.
Recipe courtesy of Rushton Farm
Oven-Dried Tomato Bruschetta
12 plum tomatoes
Fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch thick slices
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Halve each tomato lengthwise through the stem. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, side by side on a rimmed cookie sheet. (Tomatoes should not be touching one another.) Sprinkle each tomato lightly with salt.
Place in the oven and bake for six to eight hours or until tomatoes are shriveled, but not dry and brittle. Check every couple of hours. (The tomatoes should still feel flexible when removed from the oven.) Remove tomatoes from the oven and let cool completely before storing. Store in a glass jar or Ziploc. Moisten with olive oil if tomatoes are too dry. The tomatoes will keep indefinitely.
For the bruschetta, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the baguette into ¾-inch-thick rounds, drizzle with olive oil and bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Top each baguette slice with a piece of mozzarella, a few oven-dried tomatoes and a few small leaves of basil. Serves six as an appetizer.
Recipe courtesy of Rushton Farm, originally from Alexandra’s Kitchen
Heirloom Tomato Salsa
4 to 5 heirloom tomatoes, Brandywine varieties, yellow-hued ones, Mr. Stripey or Black Krim
1 Vidalia onion
A couple of cloves of fresh garlic
A small heap of cilantro, cut into small pieces
A few drizzles of olive oil
A splash of apple cider vinegar
Chop tomatoes into chunks of your size preference. Slice onions and cloves into dime-size or tinier pieces. In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, garlic and cilantro with several hearty stirs. Lightly mix in olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Enjoy with the dipping agent of your choice!
Recipe courtesy of Prout’s Jollyview Farm
Tips for eating and growing tomatoes
• “Never refrigerate tomatoes. That’s a common mistake people make. It actually changes the flavor of them.” -Fred de Long, Rushton Farm
• “If you get pink tomatoes or ones that aren’t quite ripe, put them in a brown paper bag and let them sit on the windowsill, and they will ripen a little quicker.” –Jillian Prout, Prout’s Jollyview Farm
• “If you want nice tomatoes, they have to be cared for. You can’t walk away from them… Trellising is probably the most important – keeping the plant upright and supported.” – Deirdre Flemming, Two Gander Farm