July 27, 2013

Gardeners, devotees savor annual Tomato Day event

You know there’s something special about tomatoes when even the “ugliest” is a winner.

You know there’s something special about tomatoes when even the “ugliest” is a winner.

That’s right. Marianne Slagle’s scary-looking tomato got a blue ribbon Saturday — first place for “ugliest” tomato entered in the 24th annual Tomato Day show at the Sedgwick County Extension Office. It was a time for every kind of tomato to be appreciated.

Valerie Williams, one of the many visitors to the exhibits and tomato offerings inside the center at 21st and Ridge, paused at the contest-entries table and looked down at Slagle’s interesting-looking tomato, it’s color an odd mix of green, red and shades in between.

“It looks like warts or something,” Williams said of the tomato’s pocked skin.

Slagle, a 55-year-old who lives near Derby, said the tomato came from a plant started in mid-May, relatively late because of the late freezes and snowfall. “I thought it was too ugly to eat,” she said of the champion fruit. “My husband insisted I put it in as the ugliest” in the contest, which also had categories including largest, three standard tomatoes, cherry or pear, Roma or plum, grape and heirloom specimen.

Two years ago, Slagle won for best Roma.

You also know there’s something special about tomatoes when the co-chair for Saturday’s event, Kop Tretheway, dressed as one. She not only put on a red-and-green tomato costume, she colored her face red.

What made so many people come inside on a spectacularly beautiful summer day to look at and taste various forms of tomatoes and learn about their pests — some with strange, scientific names — and how to nurture the plants?

“Just because they’re so pretty and yummy,” Tretheway said. “You can just do so many things with tomatoes. They’re not just for salads.”

One of the most popular places at the tomato show was the table where people could get a plate of chips and several samples of different kinds of salsa, including roasted poblano, cucumber and strawberry.

Each plate came with a slice of fried green tomato. Each slice got soaked in batter, coated in seasoned cornmeal and fried in bacon grease.

Thirty-eight-year-old Sally Duncan was finishing her samples with her mother and her 5-year-old son. She pronounced the food delicious and said she has been to maybe 15 Tomato Days, “as long as I can remember.”

Duncan has four tomato plants this year. “I like to watch them grow,” she said.

Horticulture agent Rebecca McMahon, helping to oversee Saturday’s activities, said, “Tomatoes are the most popular garden vegetable.

“There’s nothing that just tastes quite like a homegrown tomato.”

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