ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Tomato time…Kendall Jackson’s 18th Heirloom Tomato Festival is Saturday, September 27, 2014

Japanese Black Trifele (truffle) is a 3 to 4" inch long pear-shaped, deep purple-black Russian heirloom tomato with gorgeous green shoulders with a rich deep smoky, chocolaty flavor.  More than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes will be available for tasting, along with tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors at the 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival Saturday, September 27, 2014.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Japanese Black Trifele (truffle) is a 3 to 4″ inch long pear-shaped, deep purple-black Russian heirloom tomato with gorgeous green shoulders with a rich deep smoky, chocolaty flavor. More than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes will be available for tasting, along with tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors at the 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival Saturday, September 27, 2014. Photo: Geneva Anderson

One of the greatest pleasures of Indian summer is the special nudge its gives heirloom tomatoes to sun-ripened perfection.  As we pursue the great tomato hunt, there’s one event that tops them all—the annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, which returns on Saturday, September 27, 2014, for a one-of-a-kind celebration of Sonoma County’s seasonal bounty.  Now in its 18th year, the popular festival has a cult like following, attracting tomato lovers from all over the West Coast.   Highlights include—the popular heirloom tomato tasting station offering some 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes (grown by Kendall-Jackson); an Heirloom Tomato Grower’s Competition (judging is Thursday, September 25, 2014 with winners on display on Saturday); the popular Chef Challenge featuring Bravo’s Top Chef® contenders; and tomato-inspired gourmet delights from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors.  Guests will also enjoy wine tasting, live music by the Carlos Herrera Band and educational wine and garden seminars.

The event, which utilizes nearly 10,000 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, benefits the Ceres Community Project, which involves community-building through providing nourishing free meals to those struggling with serious illnesses.

ARThound’s favorite part of the day is engaging complete strangers in tomato talk —what’s the best tasting heirloom tomato? What’s the best way to grow them?  Of course, it’s foolhardy to even attempt to answer these questions but it’s the kind of talk that happily engages any tomato fanatic—for hours.

Tucker Taylor, Kendall-Jackson’s culinary gardener, is an expert on heirloom tomatoes and will be leading garden tours at the 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival Saturday, September 27, 2014.  More than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes will be available for tasting, along with tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors.  Photo:  Jackson Family Wines

Tucker Taylor, Kendall-Jackson’s culinary gardener, is an expert on heirloom tomatoes and will be leading garden tours at the 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival Saturday, September 27, 2014. More than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes will be available for tasting, along with tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors. Photo: Jackson Family Wines

Tour KJ’s expanded gardens: In addition to wine and food, guests at the 2014 Tomato Festival can discover the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate’s recently expanded culinary and sensory gardens. Culinary gardener Tucker Taylor will lead tours throughout the day to reveal the captivating garden transformation, including an exploration of the garden’s wide variety of organic specialty produce and beautiful design enhancements. Tucker says:

—Technically a tomato is a fruit, but it is legally classified as a vegetable

—Over 90% of gardeners in America grow tomatoes

—We eat close to 25 pounds of tomatoes per year

—The botanical name is Lycopersicon lycopersicum ​which means “wolf peach”

—Tomatoes originate in South America

—China is the largest producer of tomatoes followed by the US

—California produces over 95% of the tomatoes processed in the US

—Florida is the largest producer of fresh market tomatoes

—The largest tomato on record was grown in 1986 in Oklahoma and weighed 7 lbs. 12 oz.

—The largest tomato plant on record was grown in a greenhouse in Florida and produced over 32,000 tomatoes in the first 16 months

—It is estimated that there are over 25,000 tomato varieties

 

VIP event package: An all access festival package which includes a VIP tent and lounge, VIP check-in, valet parking with a separate entrance to the event, exclusive wine and food pairings and limited production reserve wines poured by the winery’s Master Sommelier  Tickets for this extra special VIP experience are $150 per person. (*Will sell-out, buy now.)

About Kendall-Jackson Winery: Kendall-Jackson is one of America’s most beloved family-owned and operated wineries.  Founded by entrepreneur Jess Jackson and now led by his wife Barbara Banke and their children, Kendall-Jackson is based in Sonoma County and offers a range of acclaimed wines grown on the family’s estate vineyards along the coastal ridges of California.  A leader in sustainable vineyard and winery practices including solar cogeneration, water conservation, and natural pest control, 100% of Kendall-Jackson’s vineyards in California are SIP Certified (Sustainability in Practice).  Learn more online at http://www.kj.com, and follow KJ on Facebook. Engage in this year’s Tomato Festival conversation on Twitter via @KJWines and #Kjtomfest.

Details: The 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival is Saturday, September 27, 2014 from 11AM to 4 PM.  Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens are located 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton CA  95439.  Advance ticket purchase is essential as the event sells out every year.  Purchase tickets online hereGeneral Admission tickets: $95; VIP Package $150. Wear Sun Protection to this outdoor event.

Directions:  From Highway 101 going NORTH, take River Road exit.  Come to stop light and turn LEFT going over the freeway.  Travel approximately 1 1/4 mile to first stoplight, which is Fulton Road.  Turn RIGHT at Fulton Road.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens is less than 1/2 mile on the LEFT side of the road.  (If you go over the Hwy 101 overpass on Fulton, you’ve gone too far.)

From Highway 101 going SOUTH, take Fulton Road exit.  The FIRST driveway on the right is the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens.

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September 22, 2014 Posted by | Food, Gardening | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wet juicy tomato-inspired bites…Kendall Jackson’s Heirloom Tomato Festival is Saturday, September 28, 2013

Japanese Black Trifele (truffle) is a 3 to 4" inch long pear-shaped, deep purple-black Russian heirloom tomato with gorgeous green shoulders and an unforgettable rich deep smoky, chocolaty flavor.  More than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes will be available for tasting, along with tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors at the 17th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival Saturday, September 28, 2013.

Japanese Black Trifele (truffle) is a 3 to 4″ inch long pear-shaped, deep purple-black Russian heirloom tomato with gorgeous green shoulders and an unforgettable rich deep smoky, chocolaty flavor. More than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes will be available for tasting, along with tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors at the 17th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival Saturday, September 28, 2013.

Those of us lucky enough to grow heirloom tomatoes know that absolutely nothing beats the exquisite sensation of biting into a sun-ripened juicy fruit in its peak.  For those of us in the Bay Area, tomato time is now!  As we pursue the great tomato hunt, there’s one stand-out event, the annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, which returns on Saturday, September 28, 2013, for a one-of-a-kind celebration of Sonoma County’s seasonal bounty.  Now in its 17th year, the popular festival has a cult like following, attracting tomato lovers from all over the West Coast.   Highlights include—a tasting table with more than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes to sample (grown in the Kendall-Jackson culinary gardens); Heirloom
Tomato Grower’s Competition
; a chef competition featuring Bravo’s Top Chef® contenders; and tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants chefs and food purveyors. Guests will also enjoy wine tasting, live music and educational wine and garden seminars.  The event, which utilizes nearly 10,000 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, benefits the Cooking With Kids Foundation, founded by uber-celeb chef Guy Fieri in 2010 to encourage youth to cook.

ARThound’s favorite part of the day is engaging complete strangers in tomato talk —what’s the best tasting heirloom tomato? What’s the best way to grow them?  Of course, it’s foolhardy to even attempt to answer these questions but it’s the kind of talk that happily engages any tomato fanatic—for hours.

NEW THIS YEAR:

VIP event package: This year, Kendall-Jackson is introducing a VIP event package featuring exclusive wine and food pairings and limited production reserve wines poured by the winery’s Master Sommelier.  Additional privileges include access to a private lounge tent, valet parking and a special entrance to the event.  Tickets for this extra special VIP experience are $150 per person.

Tomato tasting tent replaced!  For the first time, the event’s popular heirloom tomato tasting, which normally takes place in a huge central tented area, will take place in the gardens to celebrate these just-picked tomatoes fresh from the source.

Black cherry—a perfectly round cherry tomato that resembles a dusky purple-brown grape.  It has an irresistibly delicious classic black tomato flavor, sweet, yet rich, smoky and complex.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Black cherry—a perfectly round cherry tomato that resembles a dusky purple-brown grape. It has an irresistibly delicious classic black tomato flavor, sweet, yet rich, smoky and complex. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Tour KJ’s expanded gardens: In addition to wine and food, guests at the 2013 Tomato Festival can discover the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate’s recently expanded culinary and sensory gardens. Culinary gardener Tucker Taylor will lead tours throughout the day to reveal the captivating garden transformation, including an exploration of the garden’s wide variety of organic specialty produce and beautiful design enhancements.

About Kendall-Jackson Winery: Kendall-Jackson is one of America’s most beloved family-owned and operated wineries.  Founded by entrepreneur Jess Jackson and now led by his wife Barbara Banke and their children, Kendall-Jackson is based in Sonoma County and offers a range of acclaimed wines grown on the family’s estate vineyards along the coastal ridges of California.  A leader in sustainable vineyard and winery practices including solar cogeneration, water conservation, and natural pest control, 100% of Kendall-Jackson’s vineyards in California are SIP Certified (Sustainability in Practice).  Learn more online at http://www.kj.com, and follow KJ on Facebook. Engage in this year’s Tomato Festival conversation on Twitter via @KJWines and #Kjtomfest.

Details: The 17th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival is Saturday, September 28, 2013 from 11AM to 4 PM.  Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens are located 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton CA  95439.  Advance ticket purchase is essential as the event sells out every year.  Purchase tickets online hereGeneral Admission tickets: $95; VIP Package $150. Wear Sun Protection to this outdoor event.

Directions:  From Highway 101 going NORTH, take River Road exit.  Come to stop light and turn LEFT going over the freeway.  Travel approximately 1 1/4 mile to first stoplight, which is Fulton Road.  Turn RIGHT at Fulton Road.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens is less than 1/2 mile on the LEFT side of the road.  (If you go over the Hwy 101 overpass on Fulton, you’ve gone too far.)

From Highway 101 going SOUTH, take Fulton Road exit.  The FIRST driveway on the right is the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens.

2013 Food Vendors

A La Heart Catering Nicasio Valley   Cheese
Agave Mexican   Restaurant & Tequila Bar Nick’s Cove
Applewood Inn &   Restaurant Opa Helmut’s Rub
Backyard Partake
Bay View Resturant Peloton Catering
Beehive Cheese   Company Rocker Oysterfellers   Kitchen + Saloon
Catelli’s Savory Spice Shop
Chole’s French Cafe Sea Thai Bistro
Cookie… Take a   Bite Shoki Ramen House
Costeaux French   Bakery Smash Foods
Duck Club at Bodega   Bay Lodge & Spa Sonoma Latina Grill
Equus Restaurant SooFoo
Fiorello’s Summerfield Foods
G & G Market/   Harris Ranch Sosu Ketchup
Heirloom Ketchup Sur La Table
Jackson’s Bar &   Oven Taverna Sofia
John Ash &   Company Taylor Maid Farms   Organic Coffee & Tea
Johnny Garlic’s The Smoked Olive LLC
Lucero Olive Oil The Spinster Sisters
Marin French Cheese   Co. Tolay Sonoma County   Cuisine
Mary’s Pizza Shack Trader Joe’s
Montibella Sausage Whole Vine Products
Nectar, Hilton   Sonoma Wine County Zin Resturant &   Wine Bar

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes? Kendall-Jackson’s Heirloom Tomato Festival is September 14-15, 2012

The 16th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival features over 150 varieties of delicious vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes in all colors, shapes and sizes—all grown at Kendall-Jackson. Saturday, September 15, 2012. Photo: Geneva Anderson

It’s tomato time ! The 16th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, a special gourmet celebration of the bounty of Sonoma County featuring heirloom tomatoes, is September 14 and 15, 2012—just two weeks away.  This year, the popular festival has gone from 1 to 2 days and features a new “Chef Tables in the Vineyard” component on Friday evening with celebrity chefs Guy Fieri and Mario Batali hosting a unique “al fresco” dinner experience at Kendall-Jackson’s acclaimed wine center.  The traditional tomato festival is Saturday, September 15, 2012, from 11 to 4 p.m. and it always sells out in advance, drawing crowds from all over California.  If you want tickets, buy them right now, as they are capped at 3,000 and no tickets are sold at the event itself.

Those lucky enough to have snared tickets to the festival will have 5 hours to feast to their heart’s content on a multitude of tomato-inspired gourmet dishes prepared on the spot by leading chefs and by dozens of local fine food purveyors and Bay Area top restaurants.  All of them will use freshly-picked heirloom tomatoes supplied by Kendall-Jackson and, in many cases, K-J olive oil and fine wines too.  The event also includes the chance to sample and compare more than 150 varieties of heirloom tomatoes (grown in the Kendall-Jackson

Kendall-Jackson’s Heirloom Tomato Festival has a new Friday evening gourmet dining event.

culinary gardens); a chef competition featuring Bravo’s Top Chef® contenders Kevin Gillespie and Eli Kirshtein and among others; and an array of food, wine and gardening seminars.  There will also be garden tours, wine-tasting and live music.  And new this year, #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber is the festival’s first-ever celebrity critic who will sample and judge the festival’s various dishes on Saturday and award a “Critic’s Choice Award” to her favorite restaurant or food purveyor that afternoon. Tomato Heaven!   The emphasis is, of course, heirloom tomatoes.  Genetically unchanged from one generation to another−heirlooms offer the intense flavor prized by gardeners and gourmets.  There’s no better place to grow these jewels than right here in Sonoma County where our climate, soil and tomato fervor combine to produce a wide selection of these lovely delicious orbs.  Always central to the event is the famous “tomato tasting tent”−a large tent with long tables holding dozens of plates of delicately vine-ripened sliced heirloom tomatoes organized by color/type−all of them are grown in the Kendall-Jackson’s extensive gardens.  This year, the weather has cooperated and we are enjoying a particularly flush Indian summer output of tomatoes.  The tasting tent will have over 150 varieties to sample, including some Sonoma County favorites such as Brandywine, Green Zebra, Stupice, Mortgage Lifter, San Marzano, and Cherokee Purple and, along with these, many unfamiliar varieties.  There will be a tomato growing contest, too, for gardeners to show off their prize heirlooms and have them judged by looks, flavor and texture. Larry Wagner and his Pink Berkeley Tie Dye tomato took home last year’s Best Of Show award and he’ll be back again this year hoping to win  again.

The festival is all about heirloom tomatoes and attendees have 5 hours to eat to their heart’s content. Over 150 varieties of freshly-picked heirloom tomatoes from Kendall-Jackson’s extensive gardens can be sampled at the tomato tent, the festival’s go-to spot for tomato aficionados. Photo: Geneva Anderson

New this Year: Friday night celebrity chef dinner, hosted by Mario Batali and Guy Fieri:

The festival will kick off on Friday evening at 6 p.m. with Chef Tables in the Vineyard, an exclusive celebrity chef dinner, hosted by Mario Batali and Guy Fieri to support Santa Rosa-based CWK Foundation  (Cooking with Kids Foundation), a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit founded by Guy Fieri in 2010 with the goal of inspiring one million young people to get in the kitchen and cook.  The dinner will feature 22 of the Bay Area and wine country’s most acclaimed chefs, including: Douglas Keane, John Ash, Domenica Catelli and Kendall-Jackson Executive Chef Justin Wangler. (full list chefs here)  All of the menus will showcase local ingredients and wine pairings from Kendall-Jackson, and will be enjoyed “al fresco” in the lovely estate vineyard with each chef hosting a table that will feature a unique dinner menu designed and prepared by that chef.

A limited number of VIP tickets are available with assigned seating at the head table, hosted by Guy Fieri and Mario Batali.  With a menu designed and prepared by these two renowned celebrity chefs, and net proceeds also benefiting Cooking with Kids, this promises to be one of your most memorable dining experiences.  Even if you’re not at the head tables, an evening spent in the company of any one of the talented guest chefs will leave you  exhilarated and there’s always a fabulous take-away in terms of cutting edge techniques, food lore and gourmet gossip.  Buy tickets here.

General Seating Chef Tables in the Vineyard: $350 per person (includes entry to Saturday’s Tomato Festival.)

VIP Seating Chef Tables in the Vineyard: $3,000 per person (includes entry to Saturday’s Tomato Festival.)

More  About Debbie Macomber, inaugural judge for Saturday’s “Critic’s Choice Award:

Debbie Macomber is one of today’s most popular authors.  Seven of her novels have hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, with three debuting at #1 on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly lists.  Best known for her heartwarming tales about small-town life, home and family, enduring friendships and women who knit, Macomber also has cookbooks (Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove Cookbook), books for children, and inspirational non-fiction to her publishing credit.  Macomber has also channeled her creativity into top-rated Hallmark Channel movies and A Good Yarn Shop, her own yarn store and tea room in Port Orchard, Washington.  Her latest book, The Inn at Rose Harbor (Random House, August 2012)takes readers back to the fictional Pacific Northwest setting of her much-loved Cedar Cove series where a charming cast of characters finds love, forgiveness and renewal behind the doors of the cozy Rose Harbor Inn.  Hallmark Channel is currently filming a Cedar Cove series pilot tentatively scheduled to air in 2013.

KJ Executive Chef Justin Wangler’s “go-to” heirloom for eating is Cherokee Purple, a delicious sweet fruit over 100 years old that has captured the hearts of many, especially food-writers who have embellished its history with all sorts of lore. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Heirloom Tomato Festival Details: Saturday, September 15, 2012 • 11am – 4pm, Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, California 95439, information: 707.571.7500TICKETS—Tickets are pre-sold only (3,000 are available) and are $85 for the general public and $50 for Wine Club members and are available online at www.kj.com, or at the Kendall Wine Center itself, or the Healdsburg Tasting Room.  The festival sells out every year, so buy your tickets now if you want to attend.

Directions: From Highway 101 going NORTH, take River Road exit. Come to stop light and turn LEFT going over the freeway. Travel approximately 1 1/4 mile to first stoplight, which is Fulton Road. Turn RIGHT at Fulton Road.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center is less than 1/2 mile on the LEFT side of the road. (If you go over the Hwy 101 overpass on Fulton, you’ve gone too far.)

From Highway 101 going SOUTH, take Fulton Road exit. The FIRST driveway on the right is the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center.

The festival is an outdoor event, and it’s usually hot, so bring appropriate hats for sun protection and country walking shoes.

September 2, 2012 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kendall-Jackson’s Heirloom Tomato Festival–Food, Fun, and TONS of TOMATOES

The festival is all about tomatoes and attendees could sample over 170 varieties freshly picked from Kendall-Jackson's organic sensory garden.

Last Saturday’s Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center turned out to be a hoot for ARThound and the weekend’s hottest gourmet ticket.  The event’s 3,000 tickets were sold out in early September.  The festival, now in its 14th year, was well worth the $65 donation, which went to the School Garden Network of Sonoma County, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable garden and nutrition-based learning programs for local students.   Considering there was ample opportunity to gorge yourself on as much food as you could eat in 5.5 hours, 5 complementary samplings of Kendall-Jackson wines, and loads of great entertainment, there was a lot of value in that ticket too.  True, this festival is all about heirloom tomatoes but it’s also a very well-run gourmet event, and by that I mean fairly high-end gourmet.  Fifty-five of the area’s top restaurants sampled incredible delicacies using heirloom tomatoes that came right from Kendall-Jackson’s own gardens, with attendees voting on whose dish was most delectable.   The event also included a number of timed cook-offs which pitted top chefs against each other, winners determined by audience applause.   

Tasting Tent: 170 varieties

Central to the annual event is a large tent with long tables holding dozens of plates of sliced heirloom

ARThound loved the sweet carrot-colored and orange-sized "Glory of Moldova" which makes an excellent juice.

tomatoes, organized by color/type which attendees are encouraged to taste with toothpicks and then rank.  This year, there were over 170 varieties that had been freshly picked from Kendall-Jackson’s organic culinary gardens, which were also available to tour.  I had come to try “Zogola,” a huge, deep-red beautifully fluted on the shoulders beefsteak.  Its taste was reportedly full-bodied, tangy, rich and sweet.  And like the fascinating and legendary first King of Albania, who I imagine is this tomato’s namesake, Zogola is noble and reliable.  While listed on the JK tasting sheet, there was no Zogola to be found, so I made my way down the tables and landed upon the luscious “Glory of Moldova,” which seduced me immediately with its rich carrot-orange color and sweet mild taste and that name, harkening to the Republic of Moldova’s independent status.  I had visited this remote rural area when it was still part of Romania.  A prolific late-season heirloom that yields 2 to 3 inch fruits, I was told that Glory of Moldova makes fantastic juice. 

Mia Brown of Lodi won 6 of 18 available awards, including the prestigious "Golden Trowel" in the annual tomato growing competition.

To be honest, I have to reveal my personal biases.  As a journalist who spent years in the former Eastern and Central Europe and the Balkans, I am easily moved by any Siberian, Ukrainian, Black Sea or pre and post-glasnost names.  And with good reason, many of the exotic purple, dusky brown, bluish brown and mahogany skinned tomatoes that Northern Californians are currently so enamored with, hail from this part of the world.

Originally, black-purple tomatoes were native to the Southern Ukraine during the early 19th century and were found on a small Crimean peninsula.  They spread throughout the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and ultimately made their way here, where we marvel at their colors and bold complex taste. In tomato tastings all over, blacks are placing as high as reds or pinks.   Actually, “black” became the new red among tomatoes a few years ago in the haute food world and now it seems like almost everyone has tried them.  They are gorgeous sliced and served plain on a plate, sprucing up a salad or sandwich and they are robust enough for sauces.   This year’s festival offered—Black, Black from Tula, Black Krim, Black Plum, Paul Robeson, Purple Prince, Cherokee Purple. 

Mia Brown's "San Marzano Redorita," a Sonoma County favorite for sauces, won the Paste competition.

An heirloom that I grow in my own garden, the Japanese Black Trifele, produces pear-shaped globes with a rich flavor that can’t be beat. 

Growing Contest–Looks, Flavor, Weight 

Growers from far and wide entered the home-grown tomato-growing competition where judging was based on looks, flavor, and weight.  The “Golden Trowel Award” for best of show went to Mia Brown of Lodi for her “Green Doctor” tomatoes which won the Cherry and Currant Division.  Brown seems to have had the right tomato karma this year—she got 6 of 18 awards given, more than anyone else.  The Largest/Heaviest tomato was a 2lb 4.5 oz “Pineapple Stripe” tomato grown by Brad Agerter of Healdsburg.  Other categories included “White and Green,” “Yellow and Orange,” “Pink and Red,” “Purple, Brown and Black” and “Paste.”

 

 

Sonoma Cheesemaker Sheana Davis of Epicurean Connection paired a dallop of her creamy award-winning Delice de la Vallee cheese with Kendall-Jackson heirloom tomoatoes and dresed it homemade balsamic vinegar and Kendall-Jackson Estate olive oil.

Gourmet Samples–GALORE!

 

The chance to try amazing tomato gourmet delicacies created right before your eyes by some of the area’s top chefs is what makes this festival so popular.  All of them use freshly picked heirloom tomatoes supplied by Kendall-Jackson and, in many cases, KJ olive oil and wine too.   Here are a few that caught my fancy—

Carrie Brown of Healdsburg's Jimtown Store was serving a romesco, a Spanish-inspired gourmet spread.

I started off with dessert, no breakfast.  Chef Rene Jakushak of Nectar Restaurant (Hilton Sonoma Wine Country) did tomato waffles (pureed Brandywine tomatoes are a staple in the pink batter), with heirloom tomato whipped butter, a sweet tomato syrup, topped with ground pistachios.  The amazing thing about this combo was its sweet taste, hinting at its prime ingredient. 

Cheesemaker Sheena Davis of Epicurean Connection, Sonoma, was sampling scoops of her award-winning Delice de la Vallee cheese, a sweet and creamy blend of fresh triple cream cow and fresh goat milk, over heirlooms with fresh homemade balsamic and Kendall-Jackson Estate extra virgin olive oils.  By 1:30 pm she and her beaming assistant Eva (manning the scoop) had served about 4,500 samples.  “We’re gonna keep going,” she said.  “People can’t get enough of this.”    Like many of the vendors I met, Davis’ acclaim in the highly competitive cheese world is hard-won and something she is very proud of.   She had a copy of cheese aficionado and author Juliet Harbut’s The World Cheese Book proudly displayed at her booth and told me that she had authored the American cheese section, quite an honor.  As it turns out, Davis’ section of this gorgeous cheese book is packed with wisdom about cheese making and pairings.

Just down the way, Carrie Brown, proprietress of Healdsburg’s charming Jimtown Store, was sampling more of Davis’ cheese with her own “Spicy Pepper Jam” and another delicacy–Spanish “romesco” sauce of roasted red pepper, toasted almonds, smoked paprika, garlic, and olive oil, topped with cucumber-fennel slaw on a hand-cut corn tortilla chip.  Brown proudly informed me that her spicy pepper jam is soon going to be sold in tubs in the refrigerated cheese sections of stores like Whole Foods so that it can be paired with the fresh cheeses it so wonderfully complements.  Coups like this are to be celebrated. In my enthusiasm, I forgot to inquire about the tomato component of her offerings….aheemmm.

Part of the fun is getting to vote by casting your chip into the bowl of your favorite vendor.  This year’s people choice Food Vendor Award went to Tolay, Sonoma County Cuisine (at the Sonoma Sheraton Petaluma) and executive chef Danny Mai for their “Sope de Tinga,” chicken sopes with tomato sauce.  Mai is well-known for appropriating ideas from several different regions and then recreating them in his own assimilated signature dishes.  He told me that his inspiration for cooking comes from chef Rick Bayless who has changed the image of Mexican food in America and yet remains a very humble and authentic person.   Mai’s sopes were essentially very thick homemade tostadas piled high with a perfect mix of simple ingredients—shredded chicken, cubed

The "People's Choice Award" went to Sonoma County Cusine's "Sope de Tinga," Chicken sopes with tomato sauce.

heirlooms and chiplote in a salsa called tingua, cilantro, fresh cream, sour cream and feta cheese.  At 4-inches in diameter (among the most generous servings offered), these chunky heavenly Cal-Mex treats, with their rainbow of bright colors, had everyone buzzing.   I had two.  Hats off to Tolay! 

Adam Mali, executive chef, Nick’s Cove in Point Reyes, offered up thousands of oysters simply topped with mild heirloom tomato varieties.  Sean Thomas, aka The Zinful Chef, offered another winning seafood-tomato combo– yellow heirloom tomato lobster bisque that looked mild but actually delivered a robust red tomato taste.  Thomas was one of these chefs who was really chatting it up with people, and was as interested in their opinions as he was in telling them about his innovative catering.  

I topped off my afternoon of tasting with a long wait in line for Anthony Bonviso’s Watermelon Tomato Mint gelato at Fiorello’s Italian Ice Cream stand.  Fiorello’s is a San Rafael institution and Anthony told me he is currently refining his popular basic wine sorbet into several spin-offs. 

Tomato Talks

Tomato guru Amy Goldman, from New York gave a fascinating, informative and humorous lecture on

Amy Goodman, author and chairman of the Seed Saver's Exchange, encouraged people to grab and save the seeds of the tomatoes that most impressed them.

 heirlooms to a standing room only audience.  As chairman of the Seed Savers Exchange (the largest organization of rare seed devotes in the world) she also had a lot to say about the  Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, the ultimate safety deposit box for biodiversity and global food supply preservation, storing duplicate collections of seeds on behalf of gene banks from around the world.  (ARThound will be devoting a special article to Goldman and her work later.)

 While the heirloom varieties that Seed Savers Exchange has contributed—for example, “Tomato German Pink”– make-up only a small portion of the total “deposits” at Svalbard, she mentioned that these are from seeds conserved

Laura Taylor of Woodland Hills produced a unique and gorgeous Tomato calendar that tracks the tomato-growing season with photos, tasks, recipes.

by its members who are largely home gardeners.  Goldman encouraged people to snatch and save the seeds of those heirloom tomatoes that catch their fancy.  For those interested in germinating and starting their own heirlooms, her book The Heirloom Tomato, has everything a novice needs to know on the topic. 

After Goldman’s lecture, I ran into gardener Laura Taylor of Woodland Hills, who gave me a copy of her tomato calendar, a gorgeous month-by-month guide to growing tomatoes that begins in March and runs through February.   Taylor represents the pioneering attitude that, along with the climate, has established Northern California as a Mecca for gardeners.  While yet to start her own heirloom tomatoes from seeds, she has an unbridled passion for tasty tomatoes and a knack for gardening that she has turned into a business.  She has branded herself  “Laura Taylor at Home in the Garden,” teaches  tomato growing and cooking classes, blogs about tomatoes, and has numerous media appearances.  She came to this year’s KJ festival with a dream and mission—to be a featured tomato author/lecturer in the future.

 

TICKETS– The festival is a perennial sell-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, 2011.

September 18, 2010 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Field Days–Jonah Raskin’s Year-long Odyssey to find the Perfect Local Farm Yields an Abundant Harvest. Photographs on view at Sonoma State Library through April 2010

Several months ago, I was given a feast–Jonah Raskin’s memoir Field Days, A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking in California.  His writing is elegant, the content substantial and the story is moving–one of personal growth through re-connection with farming the land—our land, here in Sonoma County.  While busily harvesting my own garden, I found myself reading a chapter or more a day of Field Days and underlining like crazy, which I did not do with Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  Pollen gave me so much to think about factually that it was overwhelming and his writing, while excellent, didn’t really stir me.  With Field Days, not only did I learn about the local organic farming movement around our community of Sonoma through the well-told stories of involved individuals and passionate local farmers,  I witnessed Raskin’s transformation as well.   In the course of a year, as Raskin digs into this project and embraces the locavore lifestyle (a locavore is a person who shops locally), we witness his reconnection to the earth and ultimately to himself.  It almost seems that he is channeling Thoreau.

 Jonah Raskin is a well-published author, poet and journalist who is chairman of the Communications Studies Department at Sonoma State University.  He is proud of his activism and status as a 1970’s counterculture radical and his previous books reflect that.  He has written about marijuana, Abbie Hoffman, Alan Ginsberg and imperialism. In recent years, he has published poetry and begun to explore Northern CA writers—The Radical Jack London, Writings on War and Revolution (2008). 

Jonah Raskin speaking at Windrush Farm, Chileno Valley, August 2009 by Geneva Anderson

Field Days is immersive reporting or participatory journalism at its best—it springs from Raskin’s curiosity about the renaissance in local organic farming in Northern California– from a sociological and personal health and happiness perspective.   Raskin grew up in Long Island in the 1940’s and 50’s with free thinking parents who grew all their own food.  As suburbia encroached, the family relocated to the bohemian haven of Occidental and again found their rhythm.  Raskin lived in the family home until a few years ago and fondly recalls his fruit trees.  At age 65– after surviving a life-threatening health situation—he realized it was time to refocus and to get around to some things he’s been meaning to do—learn how to live in real harmony in this magical and historic place Sonoma that the rest of the world calls paradise.

What I lost was not a mystery to me.  I had lost the world of my childhood… Before it was too late, before life passed me by, I wanted to be in touch with the earth again.  I wanted to regain something I felt I had lost, and to work alongside men and women who were cultivating the earth.  I wanted to eat as though for the first time, with a sense of newness.(page 13)

Organizationally, Field Day’s 12 chapters can each be treated like a short story, entertaining and fulfilling, with digressions here and there.  Raskin starts his quest by talking with his friends like Mimi Luebbermann (Windrush Farms, Chileno Valley).  Mimi is a farmer, herder, foodie and a transplanted Berkeley writer who has authored several best-selling cookbooks.  With the assistance of local photographer Paige Green, who documents his journey, Raskin explores the old rural life in his neighborhood.  He has been living in an old barn close to Sonoma State University.  His chats with his neighbor “The Bean Queen”– Sharon Grossi of Valley End Farm, Penngrove,  the largest organic vegetable grower in Sonoma County about her struggles.  He explores the concept of “local” with Lure of the Local author Lucy Lippard.  Lippard, originally from New York, found her special place elsewhere and put down roots, a process Raskin seems fascinated with.  Momentum builds as Raskin listens to Alice Waters advocate for small organic farms at Copperfield’s bookstore in Petaluma and understands that she and other restauranteurs depend on California’s small organic growers for their produce. 

Raskin starts interviewing “founding farmers,” along with field workers, restauranteurs, farmer’s market vendors, people at the Whole Foods corporation, and smaller grocers.  Particularly interesting are his profiles of the visionaries who spearheaded California’s local organic movement and infused those around them with an environmental consciousness– Warren Weber (Star Route Farms, Marin), Anne Teller and her family and colleagues (Oak Hill Farm), and farmer and teacher Bob Cannard (Sonoma, founder Green String Farm).  Later in the book, members of the work crews at Oak Hill farms, laborers who toil in the fields and are the backbone of the California farm, are brought to life.  Through these unfortgettable farmers and workers, Raskin builds a emotional landscape whose foundation—of hopes, dreams, visions, struggles, rivalries, extreme risk and hard work—is every bit as important as the physical environment he is exploring.

After six months of talk and research, he zeros in on his farm of choice, Oak Hills Farms of Glen Ellen, in the heart of Sonoma Valley, owned by Anne Teller widow of Otto teller, one of the founders of the environmentalist movement in Sonoma County.  Glen Ellen is comfortable territory for Raskin whose 2008 book explored Jack London’s life there.  Jack and Charmain London were among the ancestors of today’s organic farmers and ranchers and created a life for themselves in Glen Ellen that gave them a great deal of satisfaction, a satisfaction Raskin yearns for also. 

But even at first sight I felt enclosed and protected within the Oak Hill world that surrounded me, and I wanted to embrace it in return.  Of course, I didn’t blurt out my feelings on that first day.  I wanted to see if the place was really as spectacular as it seemed to be.  Was the beauty skin deep or was there also underlying beauty not immediately apparent. (page 64)

He describes his first meeting at Oak Hill’s Red barn store with a “locavore” –a person who shops locally.  The concept takes hold of him and he realizes that he has entered “the world of the locavores” and he digs it. 

Why not shop, cook, and eat what was available…expressing much the same attitude as Henry David Thoreau, who urged his contemporaries to “live in the season as it passes” and “open all your pores and bathe in all the tides of Nature in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons.”  (page 71)

Oak Hill’s owner Anne Teller, a passionate advocate for the responsible stewardship of the land, invites Raskin to wander around Oak Hill and take it all in.  By chapter 3, Raskin is in London, England, discussing farming there, but his heart is back in Glen Ellen.  When he returns, he sets up interviews at Oak Hill and soon he is working “like hell” in the fields, tilling, planting and harvesting right along with Mexican farm-workers whom he befriends and learns how to plant and harvest from.

Jonah Raskin planting at Oak Hill Farm by Candi Edmondson

Writing of the day the workers regarded him as one of them—

I had never worked so fast or so accurately.  No one had told us to work quickly, but we all did.  All I could see was the ground in front of me.  No one spoke; there was nothing to say.  No one had assigned individual tasks, but each of us assumed a responsibility and took turns doing what had to be done.  By now I had also lost a good deal of my self-consciousness and awkwardness.  The field was my home now, and I knew instinctively what to do.  I loved the earth, and it belonged to me. (page 161) 

Raskin also works at the local farmers’ market in the Sonoma Plaza and connects with people who embrace the farm to table lifestyle.  He begins to cook, eat and live  more consciously, sumptuously and passionately.  Inspired by Michael Pollan’s writing, Raskin flushes out the difference between local organic and Big Corporate Organic as he penetrates the Whole Foods chain via the Sonoma store and shows why the store and what it stands for is a bad fit for the town of Sonoma but a better fit for the towns of Napa and Sebastopol.  Now that the organic agriculture business has attained cultural legitimacy, it ironically has become a paradox—it has come so far from its anti-industrial food roots in the early 1900’s that it now fully embraces the logic of capitalism, specifically of California agribusiness.  Raskin, an old skeptic, does a good job of pointing out that eating ethically has become very complex.  Food choices are moral choices and we need to think about how we want our food produced and delivered. 

For Raskin, buying and eating foods grown locally and organically, with the chain from farmer to customer as small as possible, is a no-brainer from the perspective of taste and values.  His wish is that if we all could embrace this locovore lifestyle, we could be happier and healthier.  I thank my lucky stars that I reside in Sonoma County where farmers markets are plentiful and where for most of us, our political consciousness is backed by the economic means to eat largely what we want to eat.  The stark reality of the global situation is that not everyone can eat what they want or even regularly.  And for most consumers right now, even in California, the difference between big organic versus sustainably grown and locally produced organic is nuance.   For Raskin though, having thought these issues through, connected with the land and discovered the joy of eating locally and of a local network, it has made all the difference– 

A change had come over me at Oak Hill.  The more I went down to the ground, the further up my imagination and my spirit had soared.  The earth elevated me even as it held me in its embrace. … With my hands and face in the dirt I had been inspired. (p 285)

What would a book about food be without a mouthwatering feast?   Raskin delivers–to celebrate his year in the fields, he lovingly prepares a vegetarian dinner for 8 friends and serves it outdoors under the oak trees.  This rustic feast is comprised of the freshest local organic ingredients—tomato soup from slow roasted tomatoes topped with shaved Gruyère, a creamy risotto with his own reduced vegetable stock topped with grated Parmesan, a green salad dressed with a De Vero olive oil and rice wine vinegar, corn on the cob with Strauss Family Creamery butter, heirloom tomatoes, sautéed brightly colored peppers, fresh picked pears and peaches with dark Scharffen Berger chocolate.  The meal, which goes on for hours, is savored by all and documented by photographer Paige Green–the empty table becomes the cover shot for the book.  Of course, those friends gathered at the table must have also been celebrating the remarkable transformation they observed in their friend.

I felt local now, too, a part of the earth, attached to the barn, the contours of the land, the valley and mountains an these people…When I went home to my barn, I felt as happy as I had at any time in my life.  Feelings of happiness I had learned to distrust over the course of my life.  If something was good, it was sure to change for the worse.  I had learned that lesson early and well.  But this time I trusted the happiness; it felt a part of me—something inside and organic and I allowed it to surge. (p. 286)

Field Days makes an enormous contribution to the way people should think about where their food comes from and celebrates the local people who toil with passion to grow it.  I really love the way Raskin brings his poetic insight to our local history and shares his own journey of self-discovery.  Anyone who is interested in growing and eating really fresh food will enjoy this book.

The show “Field Days Search for a Sustainable Feast” at Sonoma State Library Art Gallery (on the second floor), through April 2010, pairs Raskin’s elegant passages from Field Days with photos taken by Paige Green and Candi Edmmondson.  Field Days, A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking in California, is a UC Press, Simpson Book in the Humanities, hardback, May 2009, ISBN 9780520259027, paperback September 2010, ISBN 9780520268036.

January 26, 2010 Posted by | Book | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment