Reading Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier took me back to my childhood and enjoying tomato sandwiches with my grandfather during the summertime. Though I’ve reviewed many books this year, this is one of the most delightful perhaps because of the many delicious-looking photos, descriptions, and the author’s personal stories about different tomato varieties. LeHoullier even includes letters he received from seed savers across the country along with some of their treasured heirloom tomato seeds.
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The stories in the book about the history and origins of today’s tomatoes are very entertaining, particularly one which occurred in Salem, New Jersey. I can’t imagine, but according to LeHoullier, it was commonly believed before the 1820s that tomatoes were poisonous. When Robert Gibbon Johnson announced in 1820 that he was going to eat his homegrown tomatoes in front of a crowd, hundreds of people traveled to witness his “daring public tomato consumption.” The story goes that when Johnson survived this bold tasting, it marked the launch of the tomato industry in America. After this, tomatoes began to be regularly grown in home gardens, added to recipes, and served in restaurants.
How to find, grow, eat, and share the tastiest tomatoes
In addition to sharing the history behind today’s tomatoes, Epic Tomatoes includes information about the following topics:
- Anatomy of a tomato – different shapes, sizes, colors, flavors, and uses of tomatoes as well as tomato seed types (hybrid vs. open pollinated vs. heirloom), tomato growth types (indeterminate, determinate, and dwarf), and leaf shapes
- Planning and planting tomatoes – starting tomatoes from seed and transplanting tomato plants (with step-by-step photographs)
- Growing, maintenance, and care for tomatoes – soil, spacing, nutrient, watering, and pruning recommendations; growing tomatoes in raised beds, containers, and straw bales; caging and staking tomatoes
- Hosting a tomato harvest celebration – how to determine when to pick your tomatoes; cooking with and storing tomatoes; and how to plan a tomato tasting event
- Saving and preserving tomatoes – freezing, milling, dehydrating, and canning tomatoes; saving and storing tomato seeds
- Breeding your own tomatoes
- Troubleshooting – physiological, pest, and disease problems and how to solve them including what to do about foliar, fruit, and plant growth issues
LeHoullier also shares 250 of his favorite tomato varieties sorted by color, shape, size, season, and flavor. Many tomato varieties are also highlighted throughout the book along with the story about how LeHoullier first encountered them. He also includes regional growing tips for many parts of the U.S. and Canada.
A tomato recipe: gazpacho
As a sneak peek from the book, here’s a recipe for gazpacho developed by chef Sarig Agassi formerly of Zely and Ritz restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina.
LeHoullier recommends changing up the color of the soup by using different varieties of tomatoes. For a yellow gazpacho, he suggests Azoychka, Lemon Boy, Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, or Hugh’s varieties. For a pinkish-yellow gazpacho, try Ruby Gold, Yellow Cross, or Pineapple varieties. However, he notes that mixing red and green varieties will create a brown-colored soup, which may not be as appealing!
- 12 large heirloom tomatoes
- 1 leek or sweet onion
- 1 cucumber
- 1 sweet pepper
- 2 tbsp. salt
- 2 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 cup sherry vinegar
- 12 basil leaves
- Halved cherry tomatoes for garnish
- Extra virgin olive oil for garnish
- In a large bowl, combine diced tomatoes, onion, cucumber, and sweet pepper.
- Add salt, pepper, and vinegar to the vegetables. Marinate for 24 hours in the refrigerator.
- Add basil to the vegetables and puree the mixture.
- Garnish the gazpacho with extra virgin olive oil and cherry tomatoes (halved). Serve chilled.
More about tomatoes and growing your own food:
- Recipe: Creamy Heirloom Tomato Soup
- Variety is the spice of life
- Planning the Sustainable Garden: How Much Will You Grow?
- Planning the Sustainable Garden: What Will You Grow?
- 8 Reasons to Grow Your Own Food
Janie Hynson is a beginning homesteader in North Carolina. She recently moved back to her hometown after living in Boston for six years and then traveling across the U.S. working on organic farms. Janie works in public health and sustainable agriculture and is interested in how health can be improved through homesteading.