Saturday’s Juicy ticket– Kendall-Jackson’s Heirloom Tomato Festival
Who doesn’t love a freshly-picked sun-ripened tomato? Kendall-Jackson’s 14th Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival, at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, which I am heading to later today, will offer more than 170 heirloom varieties in every size, shape and color for tasting and ranking. The festival—sorry, it’s SOLD OUT—raises money for the School Garden Network of Sonoma County and will feature some of our area’s top chefs in a timed cook-off creating new heirloom tomato masterpieces, 50 gourmet food purveyors offering generous samples of their own tomato-inspired dishes (tomatoes supplied by Kendall-Jackson), plenty of Kendall-Jackson wines especially paired with tomato delicacies, educational food and wine seminars, and music. All the tomatoes will have been picked right from the Kendall-Jackson’s organic sensory culinary gardens which you will also be able to tour. There is also a tomato-growing contest, adding a kind of county-fair quality to the event.
There is no food I look forward to more than tomatoes, and heirloom tomatoes, as opposed to hybrid tomatoes, just can’t be beat for their outstanding and varied flavors. Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated varieties introduced before 1940, varieties that have been in circulation more than 50 years, or seeds that have been passed down for several generations through a family.
The KJ festival will feature about 170 varieties of classic and colorful heirlooms like Green Zebra, Stupice, Mortgage Lifter, and Cherokee Purple, which grow very well in Sonoma County, and the opportunity to try some varieties you may have never heard of. I am looking forward to tasting the exotic-sounding “Zogola.” The only reference that comes to mind is that of the legendary Zog of Albania, who became the Balkan nation’s first President and then King of Albania–he lived in dangerous times and enacted daring reform legislation. I am expecting nothing less than a large, zesty, dynamic tomato. In fact, taste aside, this is the underlying lure and legacy of the heirloom–we all love and need a good story, one that fuels our individual fantasies. Go out and find your Zogola!
This year, the festival also features acclaimed author and horticultural guru Amy Goldman, from New York, whose book The Heirloom Tomato, is regarded as one of the best on the subject. Goldman who also wrote best-selling books on melons and squashes, and is chairman of the Seed Savers Exchange (the largest organization of rare seed devotes in the world), will lead a seminar on heirlooms at 1 p.m. If you want a lasting treat, buy yourself a copy of her book at the festival, pour over Victor Schrager’s photography and try Goldman’s numerous recipes which are delicious, easy to follow and draw on diverse cultures. If you want the real-deal heirloom experience, get some seeds, or a starter plant (if you must), get your hands dirty, and prepare yourself for the deeply gratifying process of watching nature take its course. You will be subject to nature’s forces which may include gophers, insects and viruses but there is NOTHING more gratifying than seeing those first love apples start to appear and –at the perfect moment–which you decide–picking and eating them.
In terms of instant tomato gratification, the possibilities are endless at today’s festival, all you need to do is pace yourself over the course of the afternoon. Bring some sun protection like a hat because it’s going to be hot. And then there’s the wine–the event will feature continuous wine-tasting opportunities.
TICKETS– this year’s festival is completely sold out. Tickets, $65, are pre-sold only (3,000 are available) and are available online at www.kj.com, or the Kendall Wine Center itself or the Healdsburg Tasting Room. Inquire about May.
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