Last month, I got an e-mail from Cynthia Sandberg asking me to come up to photograph her tomato stand. Having never seen it in full flush before, I jumped at the chance. It seems that Sunset magazine was coming for a visit, and Cynthia had gussied everything up: "It's never looked better here, and I just want to get some pictures. You're such a good photographer--would you do it for me?" Happy to oblige!
So Logan and I lit out for Ben Lomond, and spent a couple of hours at Love Apple Farm. Yow!
Cynthia and I have become good friends, and it's way beyond our mutual love of tomatoes. Of which she grew 145 varieties this summer. You read that correctly: one hundred and forty five kinds of tomatoes, nearly all heirlooms. Earlier in the year, I bought six seedlings from her, including an Anana's Noir, which is one of Cynthia's favorites, as well as Julia Child, Cuor Di Bue, and others. Alas, the snails ate off all the paper labels, and we planted mystery seedlings.
My second visit this year was in May, to attend one of Cynthia's standing room only lectures on tomatoes. Close to a hundred people came out in the drizzling rain to hear what Cynthia had to say. (Most of her tips can be found on the website. The #1 most important thing is this: tomatoes are like people. They like to be warm, but not too warm. They do not like having cold feet. Wait to plant until the earth has warmed up some, or you will not be doing your tomatoes any favors.)
"AN INGREDIENT FREAK"
If you've been reading my blog from the beginning, you might remember that I had suggested Cynthia have her birthday dinner at Manresa restaurant, in Los Gatos. She did, and called to tell me that it had been the best meal of her life. Her son and husband agreed. But there was an additional outcome that evening: Cynthia met Chef David Kinch, and when her tomatoes started to ripen, she started supplying Manresa with some of her astonishing varieties.
In the past year, David Kinch earned some honors that include being selected as one of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, and four stars from the San Francisco Chronicle (one of only seven in the San Francisco Bay area). For a better understanding of the chef, you might read this article from the Metro Silicon Valley. A snippet: "Since most restaurants get their produce from the same purveyors, Kinch has sought out small-scale, sometimes backyard suppliers to distinguish his cooking and further root his restaurant to its terroir. The eggs for his signature egg amuse bouche, a slow-cooked soft-boiled egg opened up at the top and filled with sherry vinegar whipped cream, maple syrup and chives, come from a woman who lives atop Kennedy Road in Los Gatos. She also supplies Kinch with duck and goose eggs." He's all about the flavor.
And flavor is what comes from Cynthia's tomatoes. One night she got a phone call from the chef, reporting that one of his customers, "an ingredient freak," had his bell rung over one particular tomato of hers, the Green Giant. Green Giant is an unusual tomato that remains perfectly green when ripe, unlike the Green Zebra, which ripens with green stripes on a chartreuse background. I had a taste of a nearly ripe one in her kitchen, and we will be growing one next year, I'll tell ya that.
TOMATOES, DAHLIAS, AND EGGS
Beyond growing and selling the tomatoes at her farm stand, Love Apple Farm grows dahlias as well. Oddly enough, the six dozen hens at Love Apple Farm prefer a wilted dahlia to the tomatoes that get tossed into their pen. Who knew? And who knew eating dahlias would make such tasty eggs? (I just finished breakfast: two large Love Apple Farm eggs and toast. De-lish!)
And who knew that there were so many creepy people in the world? A worker at the property told her that he had regularly seen people help themselves to eggs, dahlias, and tomatoes, and then leave without paying. This sickened Cynthia, who spends about $5 for every pound of tomatoes she grows--and who was selling them for only $2 a pound at her stand. Organic farming isn't cheap, and here some people are, stealing from a farmer. Fie!
SIX THOUSAND KINDS OF TOMATOES
Are you asking yourself why she's willing to lose money on the deal? I did. But the more I know about Cynthia, the more I know about how much she loves tomatoes. She's more than a tomato evangelist: she's like a tomato curator. She's an educator and a giver, and lives to turn people on, which is a trait we share. (We share a lot of traits, and we're only five days apart.)
"There are six thousand varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and I want to try every one of them." In the world of true tomato geeks, Cynthia is considered somewhat of an upstart, despite her passion and commitment to spreading the word and spreading the seeds. Many of her tomatoes went to Gary Ibsen, for the seeds he sells and for the glorious Tomato Festival, which I photographed and wrote about here.
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SPREAD THE LOVE AROUND
Cynthia has been getting into the world of food blogs lately, and trying to educate herself about the world of food. She has seen several mentions of "dry-farmed Early Girls" being the best (as in "the only") tomato to buy, and we talked about that. I told her that Ron Garthwaite, dairy farmer and gardener extraordinaire, didn't particularly care for them as they acquire thicker skins from the lack of water. I agreed: I love Early Girls for the slow-roasted tomatoes I make, and for tomato sauces, but when it comes to tomatoes for a Stoplight Caprese, I want some good heirlooms. And I want heirlooms for my BLTs, and for anything requiring tomato slices.
I think it's a disservice to proclaim one tomato superior to all others. It is fair to say, "Early Girls are one of the best tomatoes out there." But Cynthia says "No seriously geeky tomato grower [like her] will tell you that they have a favorite tomato. I won't grow Early Girls myself, because the market is flooded with them. And if you tell people that one kind of tomato is better than every other kind, think of the effect that has on all of us who are growing other varieties!"
When I go to the farmers markets, I get my heirlooms from Happy Boy or Everett Family Farm. I get my Early Girls from Dirty Girl, if we don't have enough from our garden (which has been the case lately...Bob's been busy elsewhere). And I like Windmill Farms carrots and beets, and their strawberries, too. Or strawberries from Dirty Girl. Golden raspberries from Live Earth Farm or Vanessa Bogenholm (but she's not as local for me)...get the picture?
See, I like to spread the love around. I never buy everything from just one farm. I'm not a monogamous sort of gal, not with vegetables, not with fruit, and not with football teams.
Make no mistake: we always have Early Girls in the garden. They're pedestrian, but by golly, they do their stuff. We also always grow Green Zebras. And as of this year, I believe I will always grow Anana's Noir, because that is one mystery that got solved after the snails ate the labels.
I bought an Anana's Noir seedling when Cynthia said it was one of her favorites. NOTE: Getting Cynthia to say any tomato is a favorite is like asking my mother which of her five daughters she loves the most. (Psssst. It's Krissy. EVERYONE loves Krissy the most!)
Anana's Noir is not a pretty tomato at all: when ripe, it is the color of an old bruise. It can be green and brown and reddish, and it will either look unripe or overripe. But it tastes wonderful, and I fell in love with it. (I wish I had a photo, but they're done now.) And regrettably, I didn't save any seeds, either, because our plant, which was a heavy producer, did better than Cynthia's own plants up in Boulder Creek.
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When I learned that Cynthia had never been to the Ferry Plaza marketplace, my response: "ROAD TRIP!" Early Saturday morning, we headed up with a friend of hers, Peggy, to make the rounds. You've heard that phrase, "Shop 'til you drop?" Cynthia and Peggy haven't. They don't know the meaning of the word "drop." Unless it would be in this context: "I'm going to the car and DROP off this cart full of purchases, and come back so we can fill it up again."
Being that I am not by nature an envious person, or that I've trained myself out of it, I had a blast watching them spend money. They bought: avocados from Will Brokaw, June Taylor preserves, goat cheese(s), Rancho Gordo beans (four bags each), red pepper jellies, Acme breads, Scharffenberger chocolates, wine, and close to a ton of other stuff. I restrained myself to a few chocolates, a loaf of Acme olive bread, and this for Logan. (Click the link. Mandatory for farmy people! They're made by Crocodile Creek, and you can get the set at Sur La Table for $20. Logan had a rapturous fit when he saw those were for him.)
Pictured here is the winner of the 2005 Elk Grove Pumpkin Giant Pumpkin Contest: Grand Prize pumpkin, "El Camello," weighing 1200.9 pounds, grown by Leonardo Urena, head gardener at Hudson Vineyards in Carneros, California. It's outside Marketplace at the Ferry Plaza. Peggy had heard that the seeds would be sold for $2/each.
We visited The Peach Farm's booth. Farmer Ed George has been growing tomatoes for over twenty years, and he had 125 kinds this year. Cynthia bought a Copia tomato, and one called Hippy Zebra, both for the seeds. (I'm learning about seed selection: it isn't just random. You pick a specimen that would be prize-winning, like your prettiest horse or cow.)
Finally, we stopped at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant for a rest. After a glass of wine, Cynthia and I headed down to Boulette's Larder, where Lori Regis threw together a picnic lunch for us to take to the wine bar. (Yes, they let you do that there.) Lori's food is exactly the kind of food I love: simple, intensely flavorful, and seemingly drenched with love. She beams like a sprite when she's giving her gifts, and we felt incredibly blessed to be taken care of so well.
So there we sat, licking our fingers, sipping our wine, listening to Lyle Lovett's Joshua Judges Ruth, my favorite of all his recordings, and talking about hunky men and food. Life doesn't get better than that.
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Farmgirl Fare: recently ran a hilarious contest soliciting people to Name That Sheep. I am not making that up. Contestants vying to rename Yellow #21 (who presumably was temporarily named after a food dye) were encouraged to un-recommend other contestants' names. It stopped short of an all-out mud slinging brawl, and I personally cannot believe I won a special judge's prize. The prize? Having a "slightly older" sheep named after me! Well, my dears, being a "woman of a certain age," I wasn't quite sure how to handle that. Susan posts at least one photo a day from her farm in Missouri, and it's always worth a visit.
Fork & Bottle: It's not actually a blog, but an informative site indeed. Jack and Joanne also attended the picnic, and are all about real food, slow food, and good food.
This isn't a blog, but I thought it was cool: mosaics made from apples.
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AND ON THAT NOTE...
I am delighted to have supplied CAFF (Community Alliance with Family Farmer) with a bunch of photos for their upcoming Local Food Guide, featuring farms, farmers markets, CSAs, food programs in schools, and restaurants/caterers/markets who feature local/sustainable/organic produce.
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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "Farmers markets are green shoots coming out of the gun. They represent hope and they need to be cultivated. But we have a juggernaut coming at us." —Jerry Brown
Thanks for visiting.