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January 14, 2016

Farmhouse Tomatoes

by Anne Paddock

The difference between a bland tomato and a great one is immense, much like the difference between a standard, sliced white bread and a crusty, aromatic sourdough.     ~Yotam Ottolenghi

Nearly all of America’s winter tomatoes are grown in Florida and California because of the mild climate and long growing season needed to take a seedling with a few green leaves to mature into a vine full of tomatoes. Most of these tomatoes have been bred to ripen uniformly red and round, although historically America’s favorite “fruit” has been a myriad of colors and shapes, which are not attributes coveted by retailers who value consistency and predictability.

Those supermarket tomatoes may look good stacked on top of each other but they lack the sweetness and flavor of the tomatoes grown decades ago when we only ate food that was in season. Back then, tomatoes were known to have a orangey, greenish shade around the stem as they ripened to perfection.

Heirloom_TomatoesSmaller, sweeter tomatoes – cherry, grape, and Villagio Marzano – have filled in to meet some of the demand for flavorful tomatoes but these pint-sized tomatoes are best for salads. To make a really great tomato sauce or to simply have tomato slices on a sandwich, a standard sized tomato is needed. But finding great tasting regular sized tomatoes is challenging, especially in the wintertime.

One of the tricks to finding really good food is to find out who has it and where they obtain it. Have you ever wondered where really good restaurants get their tomatoes? One of their sources is Farmhouse Tomatoes, Inc. – two greenhouse locations in Palm Beach County (Lake Worth and Delray Beach) that grow 40,000 heirloom tomato plants including beefsteak varieties – Red Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and the Gold Medal – between November 1st and June 30th.Farmhouse_Tomatoes

Grown from seeds dating back more than 100 years, the heirloom tomatoes look, feel, smell, and taste like the tomatoes you may remember eating as a child in the summertime. With odd shapes and colors ranging from red, orange, green, purple, and yellow, Farmhouse Tomatoes, Inc. makes some of the most delicious and coveted tomatoes in the country and there are only two ways to get them: at the West Palm Beach Green Market or by mail-order.

The West Palm Beach Green Market operates on Saturdays from 9 am (although I go at 8 am and the market is already bustling) – 1 pm every Saturday between October and May. Located at 101 S Flagler Drive in downtown West Palm Beach, the market spans a large triangular-shaped block. Farmhouse Tomatoes has a booth (on N. Clematis Street) where the tomatoes sell for $5 a pound. So, instead of toting a case of Florida oranges back north, take a 10 pound case of Farmhouse Tomatoes.Farmhouse_Tomatoes_Heirlooms

For those who are unable to attend the market, go to their website: or call 561-968-6971 to place an order. A 10-pound cushioned box of heirloom tomatoes is $65, including shipping. Expensive but so worth it, and a perfect gift for a tomato aficionado or foodie.

Although most people eat these tomatoes raw, I also use them to make tomato sauce because a sauce is only as good as the ingredients and if you want good sauce, you have to use good tomatoes (I never bought the argument to use “seconds” or crappy tomatoes to make a sauce). Dip each tomato into boiling water for about 15 seconds to make the skin easy to remove and then add the whole tomatoes (seeds and all) to a big sauce pot that already contains sautéed onions and fresh minced garlic in olive oil and seasoning. Using a wooden spoon, gently stir and break apart the tomatoes while they gently boil for about 20-25 minutes. For a smooth sauce, place half the sauce in a blender and whirl for a few seconds and then pour back into the sauce pot. Otherwise, enjoy the chunky tomato sauce over your favorite pasta.

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