By Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan
In Yolo County, it’s tomato time. You only have to watch the tomato trucks, flatbeds in sets of doubles with tomato tubs on them, pulling out of the fields and up and down the highway, hauling the ripe, red tomatoes to the processors in Woodland, Colusa, Dixon and points south.
The processors will turn the tomatoes into purees, pastes and sauces, cans of whole tomatoes, chopped tomatoes, diced — virtually any tomato product consumed in the United States. California produces 96 percent of all the tomatoes grown and processed in the United States, and tomatoes are Yolo County’s No. 1 crop in terms of farm gate receipts. Yolo County ranks third in tomatoes grown, just behind Fresno and San Joaquin counties.
But processing tomatoes aren’t the only tomatoes grown in Yolo County — there are fresh market types to slice into salads and pastas, and top hamburgers and garden burgers, and sweet cherry tomatoes to eat of hand. Unlike processing types of tomatoes, which are high-solid, low-moisture fruits that make them economical for reducing into sauces and paste products, slicing and cherry tomatoes are quite juicy, just the way we like them for summer eating.
The popular slicers may be heirlooms with enticing names like Mortgage Lifter, Purple Cherokee and Pink Ponderosa, or standards like Ace, Early Girl and Big Boy. These are among the tomatoes you’ll find at the local farm stands, farmers markets and in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes, from Yolo producers such as Terra Firma, Farm Fresh to You, Good Humus, Riverdog Farm, Pacific Star Gardens, Live Oak Farm and Full Belly Farm.
With all these tomatoes growing in our county it’s not surprising that Woodland, the county seat, is putting on its fifth annual Tomato Festival on Saturday, Aug. 11, hosted jointly by the Woodland Farmers Market and the North County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The festival includes salsa competitions, an “Iron Chef”-style competition, tomato tosses and more. It is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Freeman Park on Main Street in downtown Woodland.
A couple of weeks later, on Saturday, Aug. 25, Davis Farm to School hosts its eighth annual Village Feast fundraiser in Davis’ Central Park, and on Sept. 9, the Yolo Land Trust presents its popular event, A Day in the Country, which will take place this year at Terrain Ruisseau, John Pickerel and Melanie Bajakian’s property along Putah Creek.
At the Village Feast, the meal leads off with the traditional first course of a platter of local heirloom tomatoes, dressed with local extra-virgin olive oil. Last month, a Bastille Day Feast, a fundraiser for Winters Farm to School, led with a similar platter of local heirlooms and local extra-virgin olive oil, but with the addition of Burrata cheese and garlic toasts.
A Day in the Country boasts a different format — a walk around tasting of dishes created for the event by 20 or more Bay Area chefs. In years past, the chefs have wisely made use of the county’s tomatoes, and we can expect them to do so again this year. A particularly memorable appetizer was served a few years ago by Chez Panisse — a simple bruschetta of tomato and basil atop grilled Acme bread — full of flavor.
If you can’t get to these events, or others like them, you can create your own tomato fest at home. Try making your own salsa, serving up fresh, local sliced tomatoes and topping them with basil and mozzarella or feta, or creating your own tomato sauce. You can also use the recipe below to make marinated tomato vinaigrette for your favorite green salad. Chopped tomatoes also can be added to cottage cheese, to quesadillas or tacos, or to hot linguini pasta.
Now is the local tomato apex, a time to indulge every day in every way with fresh, local tomatoes. Too soon will come the frosts of October and with them, sadly, the end of tomato time until next year.
Heirloom Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette with Herbs and Greens
Serves 6 to 8
This is especially good with herbs and mixed lettuces, but it can be used on any salad. Cooked beets or avocado slices might be added as well, or the salads plated and then topped with a round of goat cheese.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 to 15 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 to 2 cups arugula leaves
1 to 2 cups torn lettuce leaves
1 cup fresh, flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup fresh chives, chopped about one-half inch long
Putting it together:
In the bottom of a salad bowl, combine the olive oil, shallots, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add the cherry tomatoes. Mix well with a fork or whisk, crushing some of the tomatoes to release their juice. Add the arugula, lettuce, parsley and chives. Just before serving, toss.
Join the fun
What, when, where: Woodland Tomato Festival; 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11; Freeman Park on Main Street, downtown Woodland
What, when, where: Village Feast, noon-3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25; Central Park, Fourth and C streets, downtown Davis
Tickets: $75 each; www.davisfarmtoschool.org
What, when, where: A Day in the Country, 3-6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9; Terrain Ruisseau, 4029 Putah Creek Road, Winters
Tickets: $85; www.yololandtrust.org/dayincountry.php