When my husband, Drew, and I attended the Wilkes Farmers’ Market July 27, one thing was readily apparent...tomatoes are in full swing. It seemed every booth had fresh tomatoes for sale.

We were there specifically to attend the tomato tasting, which was sponsored by Wilkes County’s Master Gardeners and Wilkes County Agricultural Extension. This year, the second year of the event,  35 varieties of tomatoes were available to taste. Approximately 100 people stopped by their booth, to taste and vote for their favorites.

First place was won by Roger Owens for his Ultra Pink tomato. Second place went to Ritz Beshears for his Cherokee Purple. Tied for third place were JoAn Johnson’s Egg Yolk tomato, Roger Owens’ Sun Sugar and  a German Pink, grown by Randy’s Produce and Ritz Beshears.

 Master Gardener JoAn Johnson told us their group wanted to show the public multiple varieties of tomatoes can be grown, other than the standard, “Better Boy” and “Big Boy,” which are the most common varieties.  She had 10 different varieties in the competition. Drew particularly liked her Tough Boy tomatoes and she sent several of them home with us. They are a lighter color of red, almost pink, and are a meaty, firm tomato.

Johnson grows her tomato plants from seeds, and gets most of the seeds online from TotallyTomatoes.com.She currently has two plots at the Cub Creek Park Community Garden and another one at her brother’s house in Moravian Falls. Johnson mostly gives away the vegetables she grows. Evidently, Johnson has a “green thumb.”

 Master gardeners undergo a 40 hour training program, under the guidance and direction of extension agents. They also must pass an examination and complete at least a 40-hour internship. Each year, certified  master gardeners must provide 20 hours of volunteer service and take 10 hours of continuing education.

 Summer garden

This spring, Drew built several raised beds for our garden and we are growing early spinach, green beans, tomatoes, squash, green peppers, and for the first time ever, carrots.  

We have our own tomato competition going on. In one bed, we are growing Better Boy tomatoes and in another, heirloom tomatoes. Hallalene Brown of Wilkesboro gave me a few heirloom plants, which she had grown from seeds. It’s been interesting to see the differences in the tomatoes. The Better Boy tomatoes are smaller and more perfectly round and the heirloom tomatoes are misshapen but much bigger.      

We are enjoying the Better Boy tomatoes now and are still waiting for the heirloom tomatoes to ripen.

Tomato abundance

When you are growing tomatoes, it seems they all ripen at once. The question then becomes what to do with them. Canning and freezing are both popular.

Mike and Sandra Pennington, two of the newspaper’s carriers, always have a big garden. So far, they have put up about 125 quarts of tomatoes. They usually can about 200 quarts a summer for their family, which includes their daughters and their families. Pennington said he set out 129 tomato plants this year.

Courtney Tevepaugh, Wilkes County Home Extension Agent,  taught two classes in canning this spring. She taught “water bath” canning in May and pressure canning in June. The Penningtons use the water bath method.

I have used our tomatoes for homemade salsa and for burgers. “The Best Fresh Tomato Salsa,” from Allrecipes is the recipe I used. The recipe makes a chunky salsa, so if you prefer a smoother salsa, you might want to put the salsa in a food chopper after mixing it together.

“The Best Fresh Tomato Salsa”

3 cups chopped tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1 cup diced onion (I used 1/3 cup green onion)

1/4 cup fresh minced cilantro

2 T lime juice

4 tsp chopped fresh jalapeno pepper (including seeds)

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Stir the tomatoes (well drained), green pepper, onion, cilantro, lime juice, jalapeno pepper, cumin, salt and pepper in a bowl. Serve.

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