Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Matter of Taste

This post is long past due. Last month, I was one of the judges of the NatureSweet Tomato Challenge. When you edit a garden magazine, you get asked to do all sorts of fun and off-beat things. Last year, I turned down a Chili Cook-off judgeship -- mostly because I'm not big on red meat and felt that'd be really unfair to the competitors. I could not pass up this one though. The idea of tasting sweet, fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes sounded like the job for me!

It turned out to be a broiling hot day in the Virginia Commonwealth and we were out in the middle of the parking lot baking on the asphalt waiting for the entries to stream in. I watched as tomatoes of all shapes and colors were submitted for sugar (Brix) testing. We judges only tasted the top 3 sugar-content tomatoes in two categories -- cherry and large. That meant only 6 tomatoes total to taste and judge. That was fine by me as I had imagined we'd have to taste ALL the entries and that would result in me never wanting to eat another tomato for the rest of the summer.

When judging time came, it was serious and dead quiet on the panel. We tasted and noted our ratings plus any comments. How many ways can you say "sweet and tasty" or "just plain yummy"? I tried my best to channel one of the Top Chef Celebrity judges vocabulary and to come up with a pithy comment like, "If this tomato had been born a human it would have been Shirley Temple," but I think I ended up scribbling things like "Hell, yes."

Afterwards, while they totaled our scores, we judges compared notes and favorites. Interesting to find the chef, food writers, kitchen gardener, and I had very different ideas of what makes the best tomato. I'm a big texture-person with a huge sweet tooth so those ruled for me. Some of the other judges preferred a hit of acid and a definite tomato-y flavor. Guess it is all a matter of taste!

See the entire photo gallery here.

Here is the official press release listing the winners:

NatureSweet Tomatoes congratulates Trevor Devore of McLean, VA for winning the $2,500 grand prize in the small tomato category at the August 15 Homegrown Tomato Challenge. Devore won the competition with his Cherry variety of tomatoes. NatureSweet Tomatoes also congratulates Scott Robertson of Fairfax, VA for winning the other $2,500 grand prize in the large tomato category. Robertson won the competition with his Heirloom variety of tomatoes. This year’s competition was held at the Giant store located at 1454 Chain Bridge Road in McLean, VA.

While Devore and Robertson can now claim to be two of America’s best tomato gardeners, they each faced stiff competition by the following runners-up, who all received $250 Giant gift cards for their premium tomato entries: Joseph Manelski (Beefsteak variety), Nazir Dossani (Lemon Boy variety), Crystal McKenna (Grape variety), and Cindy Clown (Yellow Cherry variety).
NatureSweet’s distinguished judges included Cynthia Brown, Green Spring Gardens; Pat Casciato, Fairfax County Master Gardeners; Kathy Jentz, Washington Gardener Magazine; Michele Kayal, AP Reporter and Food Writer; and Michael Reed, Giant Chef.

Winners were chosen based on overall appearance/color test and Brix testing. Brix tests determine sweetness -- the higher the Brix number, the better the taste. The finalists were then taste-tested by the judge’s panel. All remaining tomato entries were donated to Capital Area Food Bank after the Challenge.

Now in its seventh year, the popular Homegrown Tomato Challenge continues to trek across the country as NatureSweet seeks out America’s best homegrown tomatoes.

2 comments:

Botania said...

Can you tell us what the particular varieties were that won in the Cherry and Heirloom categories?

WashingtonGardener said...

NEITHER of the winners remembered the exact variety of their winning tomatoes!