Ripe, round and red: We give you the tomato

Local growers bring their favorites to the Auburn Home Show
By: Paul Cambra, Journal staff writer
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The great tomato/to-mah-to debate is a thing of the past, as popular vernacular long ago adopted the former pronunciation (the gaudy, haughty and “bougie” notwithstanding).

No, the big question now is: Fruit or vegetable?

“It’s a fruit,” said Gary Gilligan, director of this weekend’s Tomato Fest at the Auburn Home Show. And Gilligan knows his fruit, as he is executive director of Placer County’s annual Mountain Mandarin Festival.

And he’s right. Botanically, the tomato is considered a fruit because it has seeds. But those in the culinary world like to think of it as a vegetable, most likely due to its use in savory – as opposed to sweet – dishes.

Of course, those in Arkansas don’t really care, as they have adopted the “South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato” as both the state fruit and the state vegetable.

But this weekend, the Auburn Home Show will pay special tribute to the best boys and early girls that populate our backyard garden boxes. There will be cooking demos, tomato samplings, visits by local growers, even vegetable art.

“It’s the ‘Gourmet Feature’ of the home show,” Gilligan said. “We went a little further with it than in year’s past. The local growers wanted some way to feature their tomatoes as the farmers’ markets are winding down.”

Mary Pierce, of Pierce’s Farm in Loomis is one of the growers who will be setting up shop at Tomato Fest.

“It’s going to be a great turnout this weekend,” Pierce said. “It will attract a broader spectrum than a farmers’ market, since there are two events going on. Some people may not be well-educated on farms and others will be there for the tomatoes, finding out good ways to use them.”

Pierce’s Farm will be bringing at least 10 varieties to the show, among them Lemonboys, German Johnsons and the Costoluto Genovese, or “jennies.” But their specialty is the heirloom tomato.

“We have about 1,200 to 1,500 plants, 30 varieties and about 14 colors,” Pierce said, though her favorite is the Kentucky beefsteak. “It’s an orange tomato, lower in acid.”

While the acidity in the average tomato may be cause for digestive concern, the health benefits of the tomato – and its phytochemical lycopene – seem to grow as fast as a hothouse honey hybrid.

Cooked tomatoes, such as those in sauces and purees, have been said to aid in the prevention of prostate cancer and lower urinary tract symptoms, reduce the cardiovascular risk in type 2 diabetes, make skin less sensitive to UV light damage and improve bone mass. Add to that some beta-carotene, bioflavonoids, chromium and vitamins A and K, and they can help regulate blood sugar, reduce the risk of macular degeneration and chronic pain, as well a make your hair strong and shiny.

And cooked tomatoes will be a big part of Tomato Fest, with five cooking demos scheduled each day, including Chef Ty Rowe from Bootleggers in Old Town Auburn, Molly Hawk from Hawks in Granite Bay, local food blogger Rachel Chaddock, and Jodie Moreno from News 10’s Sac & Company, who will prepare a corn chili stuffed tomato.

“I’m going to be making a tomato cobbler,” said Gilligan. “It’s a unique item I have been experimenting with. It seems to be the ‘in food’ right now.”

And of course, there will be more to the Auburn Home Show than just tomatoes.

More than 1,000 exhibitors will showcase their products and services. You can find tips on getting your garden and landscaping ready for winter, sit in on an interior design demonstration or get help and ideas for your project. You can learn about fire prevention and safety, or visit the food court for a variety of cuisines.

But if it’s the tomato you like, be it plum, grape or cherry; soup, sauce or paste; sun dried or fried green; you can get your fill of these nutritious and delicious little orbs this weekend in Auburn.

Auburn Home Show featuring Tomato Fest
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, Auburn
Cost: $7 general; $1 ages 5-12; under 5 free.
Friday only: $2 seniors 60 and above