Grafted Tomatoes – Facebook Like!

Small green tomato grafted tomato plantWe live in a social media world, and currently, a Facebook like is a seal of approval. So far I like my experience with grafted tomatoes. The grafting technique is over 7,000 years old, yet at the commercial level for tomatoes plants here in the United States it's relatively new. Local farmers, horticulturists, and gardeners probably have been doing this on their own, now it seems smart plant and seed companies have realized that this is a good alternative to genetically modified plants. It's a basic concept, you take a rootstock of a strong, disease resistant hybrid, and graft an heirloom tomato plant on top of it. The top part being grafted is called a scion. This gives you the benefits of a stronger root system, which is resistant to soil borne diseases, and the beauty, history and taste of an heirloom above the soil. You have to keep the grafting scar well above the soil, a minimum of 1 " is required. Tomato plants are notorious for self-rooting, and if the heirloom tomato scion is too close to the soil line, it will want to root. Also, any of the suckers that come out below the grafting scar, will be the root variety, so you need to cut them off.

This year is the first year I have seen them at nurseries and garden centers. While the $14.99 price tag put me off at first, once I started to read about these plants, I became intrigued. Also, an opportunity presented itself to sell some of my harvest, so the claim of up to a 50% higher yield went cha ching in my head.

The plants that I had access to by Burpee, a company that I trust. I bought a Black Krim to start. I love black tomatoes, while the color is not a true black, the darker color tomatoes have the flavor I look for in tomatoes. The strength of the Black Krim plant I bought convinced me to give these plants a try, The plant was trying desperately to grow out of the tight confinement it found itself in. The contortions caught my eye. Its was a tangled, gnarly mess, sending out a tremendous amount of new growth in every direction it could find to get someone's attention. It got mine. Leave the contortions to the circus, and let the tomato plant grow I thought.

I had to plant the root ball on an angle to coax the plant into growing vertically. I have on 3 stakes, and so far, it's responding well. Burpee doesn't say on the plant tags, or on it's web page for these plants what the rootstock is, but here is what it's resistant to:

Rootstock Resistances
C Cold (Sub-optimum temperature)
TMV Tobacco Mosaic Virus
N Nematodes
V Verticillium Wilt
F2 Fusarium Wilt (Races 1 & 2)
PL Corky Root Rot
FOR Fusarium Crown and Root Rot

I'll take that any day in heirloom plant.

When the opportunity presented itself to get some of my harvest to market, I went back to the first garden center where I saw these plants. They had a wider variety to choose from than the garden center I bought my Black Krim. When I got there, the plants 50% off. It was getting late in the season, the greenhouse was getting too hot, and the owner wanted the plants to find good homes instead of these plants becoming compost. I bought 3, and was given 3 more by the owner. SO now I have the lucky 7 as I call them.

Thanks to for this image.

I found Mortgage Lifters which have a well-deserved reputation for being prolific. If the yield is up to 50% more, Radiator Charlie's going to be very proud. Or at least I hope he will be.

There were Big Rainbows, a variety I didn't know about, and they sound very exciting. A large tricolor beefsteak. What's not to love? The photo at the top of this post is fruit that set on the vine this week. Last week, when the plant went into the ground,they were flowers. In a week's time, during a transplanting transition, it set some impressive fruit.

And the biggest surprise of all, I found a Big Zac, a New Jersey hybrid developed by Minnie Zaccaria by crossing two heirloom varieties. They are known for growing huge tomatoes that could reach 4lbs.-6 lbs. I said welcome home Zac! You're in your home soil with a strong rootstock, plenty of bat guano, and organic microbrewed-wormcasting fertilizer to feed ya. I'm Italian, we like to feed our friends and family well. Big Zac is my new BFF, so he will be quite comfortable, and well feed.

Next year, I will try this grafting technique. Thanks to Johnny's Select Seeds, they have a video up that explains the process, along with rootstock seeds, scion seeds and grafting clips. The grafting clips link doesn't work on the Johnny's page, but this link does.

Finally, here's an excellent overview, and in-dpeth look at grafted tomatoes from Anne Raver of the New York Times. I look forward to watching this tomatoes, grow and produce, and I'll you know how it goes.


What's New in This Year's Garden

plant planting cellsSince the organization meeting for my community garden is coming up next week, and my plot will be available, it makes sense that I should get my seeds started. Most of what I grow will be planted after May 15, so I'm still good. Barely. Life happens so I will just go with the flow, and hope for the best. I have a couple new varieties this year, as always and I'm looking forward to what's going to happen with them. The Tabaris bean will be new, which I wrote about a little while back.

Toothache Plant or Szechuan Buttons will be new. It intrigues me. I look forward to growing and photographing it. It seems like a beautiful subject to photograph with the leaves described as bronze-purple, and flowers that look like yellow gumdrops with red eyes, it might be a specimen from a garden in Alice in Wonderland.  The leaves numb the mouth, hence the name Toothache Plant. There are references for culinary uses, for cocktails, and as a medicinal herb. It's a member of the Asteraceae family, which includes sunflowers, asters and daisies. Sounds like a fun plant.

Dragon Carrots, which is vegetable that people rave about, will have a place in my garden. Red skin with orange interiors, and chock full of vitamins, they demonstrate that nutrition can be fun. First and foremost, food is nutrition, and when you can grow fresh, organic nutrition, you should take advantage of it. It's a simple concept.

Paris White Cos lettuce is a new to me, but considering Jefferson grew this for 60 years at Monticello, it's been around a long time. It's a French heirloom. I find the French have a nice selection of heirloom lettuces. It's a romaine lettuce, which I enjoy a lot.

Green Pear Tomatoes sound interesting. I like green tomatoes a lot. Aunt Ruby's German Green Beefsteaks are legendary, and rightfully so. They have a sweet, spicy flavor that sets the standard for green tomatoes. The Green Pears are fruity in addition to the traditional spicy sweet green tomato flavor profile from the description. Throw in prolific and I'm sold.

Wild Galápagos Tomatoes are another tomato that captured my imagination. Anything Galápagos related is fascinating, especially the giant tortoises. I wasn't aware that wild tomatoes grew there until I came across these seeds. The seeds I have are one of two varieties endemic to the Galápagos. They are small, yellow-orange grape shaped, and because of their resistance to a number of tomato pests including the whitefly, and resistance to salt. plant breeders use them as source to cross with other varieties. It all sounds great but the key for me, I have a connection to the giant tortoises.

Japanese Black Trifele tomatoes introduces me to the Trifele tomatoes of Russia. Russia contributes a lot of varieties to the heirloom tomato rainbow, and these large, black, pear shape tomatoes are described everywhere, and I do mean everywhere on the Internet as;

In Russia the Trifele varieties of tomatoes (of which there are several colors) are highly prized and command big prices.

Where the Japanese in the name comes from I can't find a source for that because of the above sentence defines the tomato on the Google. I did find a source for the red, pink, and yellow Trifele varieties,, scroll through this interesting collection of Russian varieties to find them. Gotta love looking at Russian tomatoes with Japanese in their name on a website called Amish Land. A rainbow indeed.

Black tomatoes are some of the most flavorful around. These are compact, determinate potato leaf plants that produce all season, and can handle all types of weather from what I read. I'll see if they can handle the oppressive Jersey July humidity.

Sungold Tomato seeds were shared with me by Carol Ann, a good friend. They are sweet, early and have notes of fruit. The color is described as orange, tangerine, apricot or gold. I'll take any or all of those colors. They will be a nice contrast with the Green Pear described earlier, and the Black Cherry that I will be growing.

And finally, Speckled Roman, also from my friend Carol Ann, who raves about these paste tomatoes. Red with orange stripes, just the name alone makes want to grow them. Speckled has a gesture of humor to me, which I love.  They were developed by John Senson of the Seed Savers Exchange, and are said to be a cross between Antique Roman and Banana Legs.

That's what's new this year. Now, if the weather cooperates...



Tomato Talk!

poster for an event about heirloom gardening

I'm please to announce that I will give a talk about heirloom gardening with a focus on tomatoes and seed saving. I'm honored that McCowan Public Library and the Pitman Garden Club would ask me to do this. The event takes place Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. at the Pitman Boro Hall, (Municipal Building), 110 South Broadway, Pitman, NJ 08071.

There will be a book signing also of Future Tomatoes, my book about the beauty of tomato buds, featuring macro photographs about tomato buds and some stories about them. I hope to see you there.

Faux Green Olives, A Good Use of Green Tomatoes

green tomatoes and olivesI'm a little busy right now, and unfortunately, the garden has fallen down the list of priorities. I will be a vendor at The 2nd National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, CA, September 11-13, 2012. Shortly after that, I will be part of the international press covering, Salone del Gusto Terra Madre, in Turin, Italy October 25, 2012 - October, 28, 2012. Not to mention the day job, 2 hours commuting everyday, and all the activities associated with life, e.g. laundry. My garden is not located on my property. I have a community garden plot about 10 minutes from my house that I have to haul everything to and fro, including water. Even though I store water there, the water still has to get to the storage container. I need approximately 60 gallons at a time. It's a challenge. Especially with the water and with the heat and flirting with drought here in my corner of southern New Jersey.

Recently, I stopped by just to see what was up. It had rained, or stormed is more like it since rain just doesn't exist with the new weather, so I was off the hook for a bit with watering. When I got there, a branch of a lush Ramapo plant, a New Jersey heirloom, had split from the force of the weight of the green tomatoes. My lack of time contributed since I didn't keep up with securing the new growth to the stake, and than there was the power of the storm.

The tomatoes were too small to fry, and not really enough to pickle. Not one to waste the gift of food, I knew I could do something with them. So, while driving home with the green tomatoes, I thought, when in doubt, roast. From my harvest that day of ripe tomatoes and eggplants, I was going to make a fresh tomato sauce with eggplant, and to that, I would also add the roasted green tomatoes.

I remembered earlier in the day, I had bought some sigi olives, otherwise known as oil cured sicialin olives. They are dry cured black olives that are soaked in oil. The flavor is robust and dense, and they can be very salty. The dry curing intensifies all the flavor as the moisture is removed. They have pits, and for some, the flavor, can be overwhelming. Good, cured olives in tomato sauce is always a favorite of mine with pasta, so now, they were going into the sauce too.

I was all set in my mind until I started to cook. Always one to experiment, I decided to roast the olives with the green tomatoes. I would add  some Italian sunflower oil, which is superb, salt, fresh garlic, some fresh lemon juice, and hope for the best. As you can see by reading this, it worked because I'm sharing it with you.

When I cook, I never measure, that's why I don't bake. So, I can't give you precise amounts here. But here's what I did;

  1. Cut up the tomatoes into quarters, and placed them in a bowl
  2. Removed the pits from the olives, and added the pitted olives to the tomatoes int he bowl
  3. Coat with oil
  4. Sprinkled in some course sea salt, sliced 3 cloves of fresh garlic, and squeezed a fresh lemon into the tomatoes and olives.  I tossed it all together, and let it sit for about 10 minutes while the oven heated up. I used a counter top convection oven at 450
  5. Roasted them for about 12 minutes, removed them, and placed them in a bowl where I tossed them again.

When eaten together, the moisture from the roasted tomatoes, along with the oil, mellows the intense flavor of the dry cured olives while adding a slight tang, that a green olive would have. The textures blend into what one would expect from olives. Hence, faux green olives.

pasta and sauceRight before the pasta was done, I added the mixture with the eggplant, which I french fried, to the tomato sauce, which I tossed with a wonderful organic, Italian glutten freen pasta by BioNataure. I have to say, I was very pleased.

Let them marinate in the refrigerator for a couple days, and the green tomatoes really pick up the olive flavor. It makes a nice tapenade also. I'm so glad  I discovered this. I found another branch spilt from a second Ramapo plant. Can't wait to see a ripe Ramapo will taste like. All in good time. Time right now for me is lacking. Time though is a great equalizer. We all get 24 hours in a day. How we shape it into our own story defines who we are.


Bisignano #2 Tomatoes – One Plant, Four Shapes of Fruit

photo group of bisignano2 tomatoes I like to think of this tomato like this as the anti-Cello pack tomato. The Cello Packs as I recalled were 3 bland tomatoes in a small, white rectangle shaped basket wrapped in cellophane. It was the perfect synthesis of what was, and still is wrong with the industrial food machine today.

Tomatoes bred for shipping not flavor, uniform in shape and size, and the shelf life and texture of the wax fruit that one could interchange in a pinch if needed. The packaging might have tasted better than those tomatoes.


Fortunately though, with a little luck, I think I found the Bisigano #2 tomato. Or I should say, the tomato found me. While I'm not sure the tomatoes I grew last year are Bisignano #2s, I will confirm it this year when I grow them side by side.

Last year I wrote about some seeds that came my way from a friend of mine. My friend got these seeds from a friend of hers. He had grown them for 36 years, did not know the name of the variety, and said the seeds came from a family in Italy. There was an air of mystery about this, and was sounded like many seed collecting and seed saving stories. I tried to research what variety they were based on the little information I had. No luck though. I needed a full season to observe all of the characteristics of the plants.

To my fascination I watched these seeds take off and grow into these large, lush and tall plants. The circumference of them was astounding to me, think a wooden bushel, and not only wide but tall also. I felt awkward staking them since they grew in such a perfect circle. I knew these were going to produce some special fruit, and they did.

green bisignano2 tomatoes

The first fruits were these large bell  shaped tomatoes that looked like bell peppers as you can see on the right. As if this was not enough to blow away a fanatic like me, I could sense the plants were laughing at me and saying to themselves "you ain't seen nothing yet."

And they were right. I observed harvested 3 other shaped tomatoes, on the plant. One a, standard plum shape, one oblong, and a globe shape. Some had a small tip at the end of them. This might have indicated that this variety were Opalkas, which has the tip as a distinctive characteristic. While a few did have it, the majority did not.

In my search for seeds this year, I happen to come across the Bisignano #2 tomatoes. I read this description, (scroll down the web page to the description), and it seems to describe the tomatoes as accurately;

A favorite plum tomato. From Italian, Mr. Bisignano. Sturdy, rampant vines, set out four different fruit shapes; oval, globes, plums, and large heart shapes. All are thick walled and meaty, deep orange-red with full, rich tomato flavor. One of the best processing types you'll ever find, they are equally good in salads. Some of the first plants I set out, and the last fruits I pick each year. A true all season tomato

While it will be a full season before I have the results of the side by side comparison, my gut tells me this is the tomato I grew last year. I hope it is. It's another example of the wonders of heirlooms and nature itself. And one I will advocate for since it seems to be less popular.

You can purchase seeds at the site of the description above, or here.

Heirloom as Hybrid – 1890, The Essex Hybrid

Maulelarge I'll be the the first to admit it, I'm a sucker for the romantic notion of heirloom varities being pure as the driven snow. When I first strated exploring heirloom varities, I assumed, (and yes you can break it apart into THOSE three words), that these were pure lines of vegetables. The blue bloods pedigrees of the vegetable kindom.

HA! What an amateur assumption that was. Let's face it, farmers, horticulturists, seedmen, etc. have always had a vested interest in making the better producing plant. I love heirloom varities, and for the scale that I grew, they are fine. For market crops though they can be a real challenge. If you need to make money to flourish, a Watermelon Pink Beefsteak with it low yields is not a good choice. Cherokee Purples, Cherokee Chocolates and Black Cherry Tomatoes are prolific enough to turn some profit. And then there's the legendary Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter.

As I dug deeper into this wonderful and crazy world of heirloom vegetables, I came across a seedman by the name of William Henry Maule. He had a local business in Philadelphia, PA. I was excited to find out that he had a farm in Newfield, NJ, which is about 10 miles from where I live. He grew his business of plants seeds around the turn of the century, and established himself as well-know figure in the history of the seed business.

So when I found this description from his 1890 catalogue I laughed at the crazy assumption I had made when I first started out. From page 53 in William Heny Maule's 1890 catalogue;

Essex Hybrid - A most valuable new variety gaining great popularity everywhere. It's very solid, of rich flavor, grows perfectly smooth, large in size, and is very productive. It ripens all over alike and flesh is very hard and solid. A vigourous grower, fruits evenly on the vines. Just the sort for shipping. All progressive growers should plant the Essex variety largely.

Just the sort for shipping? Perfectly smooth? Sounds like some of the complaints today lodged about the factory-farmed pale red wax ball tomatos that basically destroyed the tomato growing industry, and put a lot of heirloom varities at risk for extinction.

I think this is a good lesson to learn that hybrids are not a problem. In fact, a lot of heirloom varities are hybrids, they're just an older generation, and they don't have the word hybrid in their name. The word hybrid doesn't fit into the old romantic notion that Radiator Charilie's Mortgage Lifter has, which by the way is a hybrid, or the endearing quality of Aunt Ruby's German Green. Dear, sweet Aunt Ruby.

The important thing is that we realize now that we are the stweards to keep these varities going no matter if they are a hybrid or not. The issue is one of extinction, not distinction between two words that begin with the letter h. There's room at the table for both. Just not for GMOs.

As far as the Essex Hyrid, I couldn't find any trusted sources of information about them. I'll keep an eye out and if I do find anything about them I'll include it another post.

Book Update – Waiting for a Proof

Future_tomatoes_CVR_FinalI kicked around the idea of pre-selliing the book, but I have no control over the print quality. The print on demand nature of self-publishing lends itself to manuscript type of books where it's all type, or perhaps a lot of type with some illustrations through out the book.

Digital printing of photographs has gotten better over the years, and since this book does have superb photos in it, I thought it would be best to get a proof before selling it.

Another factor is the paper stock. I would think the people who run this business would have a good idea of what paper works the best for both type and photos. That's why we get proofs.

The files are uploaded. I'm waiting for them to be reviewed to see if they meet the submission guidelines required by, the publishing studio by I have confidence that the final product will be good.

I have a donation button the right hand side of the blog. I put there for people who want to donate to help me continue. I know the economy is tough. In October, I'm going to lose my job for the third time in 5.5 years. It will complicate my life in many ways, and it does offer the opportunity perhaps to spend more time on this.

With the gardening off-season coming up, I want to start shooting some video of what people are doing to preserve the heirloom varieties. I do believe it's a good niche to fill. I have the camera to shoot it. I need a good mic such as a Zoom H4 , and good tripod to start.

I now have a calendar store at which features my photography, with a wide range of subject matter. Any calendar ordered will support Vanishing Feast. The choices right now include the Sunflowers a Go Go mentioned in the previous post, The Sonoma County Coast, and Window Shopping, a series of photos of store windows that capture the surreal dioramas that the reflections in them create. I have a blog set up, and will be posting at the blog and tweeting daily to see what kind of traffic and attention I can get. Perhaps some Google Ad Words too.

I also woke up from a very lucid dream with the idea of three tomatoes and how to grow them. What better way to preserve the future tomatoes and vegetables than to teach children about them. I have a concept developed that's been soundly rejected by publishing companies so there has to be merit in the idea. I will adapt that concept to this.

I'm experimenting with the self-publishing opportunities that are out there. I see myself as a media company that creates media that will support heirloom varieties and offer some products to others to use as fund raising tools. It would a variation of the social business model that Muhammad Yunus presents in Creating a World Without Poverty. With your support, this will happen. Please feel free to pass this post along to anyone who you know that can help me achieve this goal.

I have a lot of talent and creativity and the corporate world has made it clear to me that I'm not worthy of them. No matter what happens over the course of the next six months with my situation, I will find a way to continue on with this.

Ok enough of the shameless self-promotion, now back to the stuff I grow and write about. On the horizon we have a failed experiment with fermenting hot peppers to create hot pepper sauce. I will demonstrate what not to do. It's a good metaphor at my attempt at my previous career.

I also tried to make dye from Hopi Dye Sunflowers that I grew this year. It didn't work either. It's a beautiful plant that the Hopi Nation has used for hundreds of years so I'm sure it works quite well when you know what to do with it.

That's it for now, and thank you for your support.



A Dried, Sweetened Tomato as a Fig Substitute?

Redfig_1 Evidently in colonial times in America, this Philadelphia heirlom variety did exactly that. It seemed odd and intriguing to me when I first read about the Red Fig tomato being used as fig susbsitute in early America. When I read about that use, of course I had to experience this piece of hertigae and history for myself. I was born in Philadelphia, and my family has lived in the city for 100 years. I'm also a history buff and sucker for a good story like this. I love fresh figs, and fresh tomatoes, but I never thought about substituting a tomato for a fig. As far as the dried versions of either, I can do without them.

So I ordered the seeds, and got a new perspective on the use of a tomato. The seeds came from On the Red Fig description page I found instructions on how to prepare tomato figs. Basically, you boil some water, place the tomatoes in the hot water so you can peel them. Once peeled, you place them in a jar with an equal amount of sugar and let them sit for a couple days. Everyday you pour off the syrup and add more sugar. Once that is complete, the colonial folks dried them in the sun for a few days on screens. I used my dehydrator. Once they are dried, in colonial times they covered them with powdered sugar and packed them away. I didn't coat my version in powdered sugar. It's too sweet and too processed for me. I also used light brown sugar to cure the tomatoes.

Red_fig_2 I did this for two days. The result is I have some tasty little nuggets that to me taste more bbq than a fig. I have some tomato simple syrup that will be used in a cocktail or a drizzle on some buttermilk ice cream the next time I make it. I only did a small batch since I wasn't quite sure how these would turn out. I would like to try them in some baking. Perhaps biscuits or breads with herbs and cheese. Thanks to a wicked hail storm the bulk of my harvest got knocked off the vine or else I would make more.

The plants produce an abundant amount of pear shaped tomatoes. The foliage is delicate, and on the dainty side. The plants remind me of botanical drawings. The fruit grows in clusters, and it falls ont he vine real easy. You have to be careful while picking the ripe ones.

They also dry in the oven well. I still don't get the Redfig_3 fig substitution but it doesn't really matter since the odd and intriguing concept inspired me to try this tomato. I can take it from here. As I learned in my art history courses, in order to create new art you have to study and understand the past. So while I won't be substituting these tasty morsels for figs anytime soon, I have a new ingredient and flavor in my culinary and gardening pallet. And in the end, that's just fine by me.



Black Cherry Tomatoes, Small Tomatoes, Taste as Big as the Plants

Black_cherry I'm 6'4" and my Black Cherry Tomato plants are taller then me, and still growing. We had a severe thunderstorm Tuesday evening, and two of these plants fell over. It's a good thing the Northern Lights were there to catch them. The plants are fine. I'm can see using a ladder soon to put in the 8 ft. stakes that these plants are going to need. The plants are covered in delicious fruit. Sweet little morsels of flavor that pack a wallop as big as the plants. Add a nice bit of acid, and they are everything I want in a bite size tomato. These are first black tomato I've grown. Black Prince are on deck though. From reading around, I see the blacks and or purples are known for their intense flavor. I know Cherokee Purples are my favorite because of their intense flavor. I was tempted to grow Carbon this year, but I didn't. It's on my list for next year.

The tops of the plants resemble a lit Christmas tree with all the tiny yellow flowers signaling more flavor to come. Cherry tomatoes are my favorite choice among the smaller varieties. I find Juliet tomatoes are a really good choice in grape tomato varieties. A local farmer grows them, and they are a short harvest. I fell lucky when I stumble upon them at his stand. Somehow though, my heart belongs to cherry tomatoes.

Blackcherryplant The plants are easy to grow, seems to be disease resistent, are more wispy then bushy, and are very prolific. Just be forewarned, they are VERY tall. I'm actually looking forward to using the ladder and the 8 ft. stake. Also using a ladder to pick tomatoes will be a unique experience, and one I'm sure will attract a lot of attention at the community garden. If that should happen, I will post a photo or two.

Check out my project, a photo book of the buds of the 22 varities of tomatoes that I'm growing this year.  

The Garden is Finished

When I left off last time I was transitioning from Tribute to Tye Dye with Hopi Dye Sunflowers to some yet unknown patch in my garden. Ah, what a sweet and philosophical post that was. Living in the moment seemed to be the happy go lucky way forward.

There have been many moments since. Most of them wet with rain. Others filled with coughing from a really bad cold. Somewhere in between my birthday, which I usually spend in the garden. Well this year that was not the case, it was a washout here. I did however, write the draft of this post, so I was working the virtual soil.

Stuff happens, it's unavoidable. When you look at your life and what you do as a story, you come to realize the magic is messy and uncontrollable at at times. It still adds to the narrative. Take for example all the rain we've had around here. While it's decimated my plans to get the plants in the ground, as well as two pepper plants, it showed me that I had a slight problem with my plot. 

This double plot has a rather large low spot that the rain settled. I was able to fix it by filling it in with some other dirt.  I'm glad I didn't plant anything there. I've been working my way around it for no reason really. A potential safety hazard, my food dropped about a foot, which the rain help to expose. Not every plot twist will reap the magic that the Mark Twain tomatoes did, but that does not make any less important. 

And now back to the fun part of this story, the patches. The transition never happened. The Hopi Dye Sunflowers were going to transition to a patch that I call Tennessee. Tennessee has a rich tradition in heirloom gardening, specifically tomatoes like Cherokee PurplesAunt Ruby's German Green, and Lilian's Yellow, to name a few. I have Cherokee Purples and Cherokee Chocolates. It seemed perfect. The seeds from the Hopi Dye are used for dyeing, and they are named after one Native America nation would transition to another patch that featured Cherokee Purples, which are named after another Native American nation. The sunflowers would unite the two, except for the fact that my Family Garden Quilt was in the way. Smack dab in the middle of the two patches. So much for that. 

So now each patch will stand on its own, united by the fence that surrounds the plot, and the inclusion in this story. Tennessee has made a big splash into my life this year. It all started innocently enough, a gift of a package of Middle Tennessee Low Acid tomato seeds would arrive from with my order. Who knew it was foreshadowing?

An intriguing tomato, a low acid red, I was grateful for the generosity and the tomato blessings from Gary Isben and Dagma Lacey. After all Tennessee is where I acquired the Mark Twains, and and an Israeli tomato plant which is a Greene County, Tennesse heirloom. It was great to acknowledge this content with a patch of plants.

The next patch over is what I like to consider a patch of history. I have a Painted Serpent Cucumber, which has been gracing gardens since the 1400's, Grandfather Ashlocks which is named after a descendant of a soldier who fought in the Revolutionary war, Red Figs, which has been around since the early 1800s, Watermelon Pink Beefsteaks, which have been around for ovwer 100 years, and Goose Creek, which are red tomatoes that a slave brought seeds with them from their home land, passed those seeds down through generations of her family. 

There's my Family Garden Quilt, and finally Gallimaufry, which could turn out to be the most intriguing of them all. It's here that I have the mystery seeds planted. These seeds came to me through a friend, from a friend of hers, an elderly Italian gentleman whose family plants these seeds in Sicily. George, the seed source, called them Bell tomatoes. The instructions that I got was to plant the paper towel. The seeds were dried on a paper towel. I did plant the paper towel, and these plants took off like rockets. I believe they are plum type. The plants have the look of plums and name Bell, can be used to describe a variety of plum tomato. As the plants grow, and more distinctive characteristics appear, I will know for sure. There are the Cour Di Bue tomatoes, an Italian oxheart, and and a couple Hinkelhatz hot pepper plants. They are one of the oldest Pennsylvania Dutch heirlooms. 

Also, me being me, and that's human, I forgot to record what some seeds were when I started them. Last year I got the Pineapples and Aunt Ruby's German Green mixed up. I was waiting for the Aunt Rubys to turn yellow. The first few just got rotten. As the Pineapples started to turn yellow I realized my mistake. I think the tomatoes I didn't record are Cherokee Purples, but I won't know until the fruits ripen. A little fun and mystery goes a long way.

And that's the garden. I love that I was able to create these patches using the heirloom qualities and the stories that my plants possess. 

The Plot Twist of the Mark Twain Tomatoes

In this post, The Magic in This Story's Process, I wrote about a plot twist about Mark Twain tomatoes that presented itself: Mark Twain tomatoes - Never heard of them until I started seeking out rare tomato seeds for Vanishing Feast. I discovered them in the catalogue. When I went to order the seeds, they were out. I was faced with a choice, a classic example in building a narrative in a story. Do I just say "oh well I'll order earlier next year" or do I demonstrate my commitment to this project, and start a journey to find these seeds or plants. I chose to find seeds, plants or both. A little alchemy later for making the right choice, I found plants that will be available in northern Tennessee at Shy Valley Plant Farm. Living in southern New Jersey I can make this trip, document it as part of this story, and taste these rare tomatoes, that evidently bruise easily but taste really good. Perhaps the Mark Twain will become a rally point in this story.

I took that trip this past weekend. I stayed in Johnson City, TN, which I found out is right down the the road from Jonesborough, TN. Jonesborough hosts a National Storytelling Festival. At the Inetrnational Storytelling Center.  Imagine that? A plot twist in a story about tomatoes named after a great American writer, who wrote classic American stories, leads me to an area that hosts a storytelling festival and is home to an international storytelling center.

Pretty darn cool I will say. Had I shrugged my shoulders, and said I'll order earlier next year, the above would never happened. I would have gotten the seeds instead of finding the plants. I would've never met the nice owners of Shy Valley, and never discovered the storytelling festival or center.

Viewing my life as a story, and using this blog as a medium to focus my passion and attention towards expressing that concept, along with demonstrating the twists and turns that make a story great, the narrative that developed is so much better then anything I could've made up. There's the magic in the process.

The tomatoes Jeff? What about the tomatoes? I'll find out later in the season when they get ripe.The people at have good things to say about the flavor, so I will go on that for now. I can't seem to find much more information about Mark Twain tomatoes so far, but if its out there, I will.

The blurb from says they bruise easily, which disqualifies them the big box retailing model in existence today. According to that model, this tomato has no value. I call bull shit on that. The value in this tomato is that exclusive to people who grow it. It much more precious because of it's nature. And it fits in well the concept of heirloom plants as family heirlooms. I can see these tomatoes becoming a rally point for Vanishing Feast because of the process covered above that brought them to my attention, the magic in the process, and the value that disqualifies them from the big box retail model.

Here's a quote from Mark Twain's story, Hunting The Deciftful Turkey:

I was ashamed, and also lost; and it was while wandering the woods hunting for myself that I found a deserted log cabin and had one of the best meals there that in my life-days I have eaten. The weed-grown garden was full of ripe tomatoes, and I ate them ravenously, though I had never liked them before. Not more than two or three times since have I tasted anything that was so delicious as those tomatoes. I surfeited myself with them, and did not taste another one until I was in middle life. I can eat them now, but I do not like the look of them. I suppose we have all experienced a surfeit at one time or another. Once, in stress of circumstances, I ate part of a barrel of sardines, there being nothing else at hand, but since then I have always been able to get along without sardines.

I'll let you know if the Mark Twain's are as delicious as that quote. Que the cliffhanger.

Heirloom? Hybrids? Why Not Both?

A friend of mine sent me a link to this article, Heirloom Seeds or Flinty Hybrids? and it gave me some food for thought. Since this is not a blog devoted to media critiques, I'll refrain from that. I will focus on the one thing that made sense to me from that article, the subject matter, heirlooms or hybrids. Heirlooms hold a special place in my heart. I am a passionate supporter of them. My mission now is to connect people to them, and encourage them to make them family heirlooms. That said, I feel hybrids serve an equally important purpose. It comes down to what is the end user's goal.

I can understand farmers needing to have a a uniform crop. Their living depends on the harvest. The challenge of weather, plant disease and pests is a formidable one. Hybrid seeds level the playing field in a big way, and encourage the farmer to farm. On a smaller scale, the home gardner faces the same challenges, and hybrids offer them the same advantage. Hybrids plants offer a safe and stable alternative to the potential gamble that heirlooms offer.

Heirloom varieties can be a bit of a crap shoot. Take for example heirloom tomatoes. For the farmer looking for a full-fledged, market-ready cash crop, a major stumbling blocks to heirloom tomatoes is their thin skin. It hinders shipping them over a distance. They also have a shorter shelf life. The plants can be more susceptible to disease. The odd shapes and sizes makes packing difficult.  In the structure of modern society, with the big box retail model as the driving consumer practice, heirloom tomatoes don't stand a chance.

For the backyard gardener, the stability of hybrids offers them opportunity to grow plants that aren't as finicky and fussy as heirlooms, according to the reputation that heirloom's have. Limitations of time, space, ability, and the growing zone in which a gardner lives, all are challenges that hybrids can address to a varying degree of success. They can bring more people in the fold as gardeners.

Hybrids on the surface offer a safer return on your investment of time and money for gardening for a certain segment of society.

They just don't taste as good. And you can't save the seeds. The seed factor is big. With hybrids you're handing over the power to sustain life on this planet to seed companies. These companies will decide which plants are worthy to be grown. This allows decisions to be made about what best for the company, not the balance of life on the planet. Keep in mind, mother nature perfected the blend of art and science in a seed. This generally tiny thing, that when planted in the earth with the addition of light and water, can grow into something that can help sustain life, for so many inhabitants on this planet, while tantalizing and tickling all of the human senses, is an amazing achievement. And it wasn't done for profit.

And it's that factor that I will place my trust in her, and her heirloom varieties.

While Watermelon Pink Beefsteaks, are, at least in my experience, one of THOSE varieties with THAT reputation about being not prolific, uncooperative and having a will of their own, the majesty of their process makes it easy to forgive them. Watching the fruit ripen on these plants is a sight to be seen. Not all ripen this way, however some go from a standard green tomato, to a green striped tomato that resembles a watermelon right before turning a highly chromatic crimson that is the color of a very sweet and ripe watermelon. The tomatoes are big, after all they are beefstakes, and ultra sweet. And the taste is worthy of the experience of their process. If you get a half a dozen from a plant, you've done well. They are truly fascinating. I'll always have a couple of these plants around.

So for me, that's what I relish in my garden. I could also understand why a farmer would pass these over for a cash crop, or someone who was challenged by time, space and enviromental issues, to choose a hybrid over a Watermelon Pink. There's good reasons for both heirlooms and hybrids. For me though, it's that nonconformist tendency that heirlooms offer, that make them my choice. And the power of their seeds.

Heirloom Garden 2011, Part 2 of 2

As mention in part 1, I'm going to be growing a lot of tomato varieties, sixteen to be exact. A few more then I originally thought, but since I have a knack for growing them, I might as well work with the inherent magic that is presented. Without further ado, and in no particular order, I give you tomatoes 2011:

Pomodoro Belmonte – That is what the front of this beautiful package of seeds from Italy says. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, and Belmonte is a heirloom from the Calabria region in Italy. There is a town called Belmonte in Italy, which the residents are very proud of their culinary flag.

I was so excited to find these tomatoes. They will be part of my Family Garden Quilt. My paternal grandparents are from Calabria, so to find a tomato that is from their region is really very special. While my grandparents are gone, I will be sharing a taste of a tomato that I would venture a guess they tasted before they left for America. I shared some seeds with my cousins who will be growing them this year also. One tomato, many generations, and a common experience of taste, aroma and visual stimulation.

Black Cherry Tomato – This is considered a rare cherry tomato. From what I read, black tomatoes are argued by a lot of connoisseurs to be the best tasting color in palette of tomato colors. I love cherry tomatoes, and these are said to produce and abundant crop.

Goose Creek Tomato – The story of this tomato is that a Caribbean slave smuggled these seeds aboard a ship that docked near Goose Creek, South Carolina. She planted the seeds the first spring after she arrived, and the seeds have been passed down through generations of her family. I look forward to sharing the taste that motivated a slave to smuggle seeds with her on her journey, and shared with her family as a true heirloom.

Lime Green Salad Tomatoes – These are new to me this year. They are small fruits, early season and grow on compact plants. Green tomatoes have a great flavor, and this variety is said to be be prolific. I'm excited to mix these with the black cherry tomatoes in a very colorful salad.

Northern Lights – Another early season variety. Last year I planted all mid to late season varieties. I ended up with a  boat load of tomatoes that ripened all at once, over a two week period. It's a bicolor, red and yellow, and smaller then most of the bicolors that are around. I may never see the northern lights but I will be able to say I tasted them.

Middle Tennessee Low Acid – These seeds were a gift from a purchase from What a great surprise. These large red beefsteaks have a low acidity to them, something I used to only associate with yellow tomatoes. Now this gift of seeds will not only broaden my selection of tomatoes that I grow, but my knowledge of low acid tomatoes.

Red Fig – I was fascinated by the story of this tomato. Imagine that. Me fascinated by a story. Grown since the early 1800's in America, this small pear shaped, red tomato got it's name from a process in which they ended dried out and stored as a fig substitute. Yum. You can about that process here.

Grandfather Ashlock – More history that I'm going to grow and taste. Three Ashlock brothers served George Washington in the Revolutionary War., One brother settled in Kentucky, where he grew this pink, potato-leaf beefsteak variety. The seeds were passed along the generations, and this is a very rare tomato.

Cherokee Chocolate – Cherokee Purples are my favorite tomato overall,and any variety that comes from them is going to get attention from me. From what I read, there's not much difference in taste, but it's the color and size that distinguishes the chocolate from the purple. Evidently, there was mutation in a grower's garden that changed the color of the epidermis from clear to yellow, which changed the color of the fruit to mahogany.

Cherokee Purples – My favorite tomato, all though last year Henderson's Pink Ponderosas swooped in and stole my heart. The Cherokee Purples though, still retain the top spot. An amazing taste experience for me. And quite beautiful to look at. I saved seeds from last year's garden.

Watermelon Pink Beefsteak – These tomatoes are big, red and very sweet. Last year they were the least prolific in my garden, but produced some of of the largest tomatoes overall. During the ripening process, I observed a couple that developed green stripes on them, and for a couple days they had the markings of a watermelon. It's said that it's the little things in life that make it worth living. Seeing that process is one of them. Allow yourself to see it too by growing them.

Mark Twain – I never heard of these tomaotes before, and I haven't found the reason why they are named for Mark Twain yet. I will do my best though to find out. These are another very rare tomato, one that I will drive from NJ to Tennessee to buy Mark Twain tomato plants. They will be featured post in the future, so stay tuned for more about them.

Pomodoro Cuor Di Bue – Or Oxheart, or Heart of the Bull. Another Italian variety, and since I am a Taurus, I do have heart, and I am of Italian descent, this is me in a tomato. As I encourage people to look at plants as a reflection of themselves, and their family, this tomato demonstrates that concept for me. It's an oxheart shaped tomato, pink/red in color, very meaty from what I read, and a nice saucing tomato. It's also considered a rare tomato by some. I look forward to growing them. I grew an Orange Oxheart one year, and I just loved the shape, and flavor of that tomato.

Rutger's Tomato – I grew this New Jersey heirloom last year. A wonderful tomato I have to say. Small sized fruits, very prolific, a great taste, no cracking problems, and overall a tomato that demonstrates what a Jersey Tomato is all about. The local lore here in New Jersey is that we grow the best tasting tomatoes. Anywhere.

Boxcar Willie – Another New Jersey heirloom, a late season orange/red tomato that will round out my Family Garden Quilt as representative of learning to grow tomatoes in New Jersey. I welcome this tomato into the fold, and look forward to making a nice sauce with the Rutgers for a true Jersey Tomato sauce.

"Bell Tomatoes" – I put the name of this tomato in parentheses because that's the name of the tomato that these seeds originated from. The seeds are part of a larger seed collecting story that I feel I'm living right now. This is another post in the making, and has the potential to add a significant layer to the story of Vanishing Feast. For now thought I will leave you with the cryptic instructions I was given, "...plant the paper towel".

That's the list for this year. It's through the power of seeds that I can do this. They offer me the opportunity to grow history, and tickle and tantalize my senses like so many generations before, and hopefully after, providing that this feast for the senses does not vanish.

The Magic in This Story's Process

When I started writing my other blog, Magic Hat Stories (MHS) I encouraged people to look at their lives as stories, and to remember the magic and impact that stories had on them growing up. I know for myself, as an adult, I get caught up in the stress of modern life, and at times, forgo the magic that living a life framed in stories offered. I got really lucky when I started writing MHS. It reconnected me to when I was a child living the adventures in my storybook pages. The incredible journeys that myths and folklore took me on in college, and at one point, when both of those times conspired to push me into being a storytelling milliner. That though, is another story for another time.

In the midst of living my life, and being open to the creating this story of Vanishing Feast, the magic appeared ten fold over the past 6 weeks or so. In any process, magic happens. One has to keep a keen eye or two open, and perhaps three if you consider the mythical third eye to your soul, to see what magic happens with the process. I feel the magic that existed in the storybooks of my youth is what I'm experiencing now with this project.

For example;

Mark Twain tomatoes- Never heard of them until I started seeking out rare tomato seeds for Vanishing Feast. I discovered them in the catalogue. When I went to order the seeds, they were out. I was faced with a choice, a classic example in building a narrative in a story. Do I just say "oh well I'll order earlier next year" or do I demonstrate my commitment to this project, and start a journey to find these seeds or plants. I chose to find seeds, plants or both. A little alchemy later for making the right choice, I found plants that will be available in northern Tennessee at Shy Valley Plant Farm. Living in southern New Jersey I can make this trip, document it as part of this story, and taste these rare tomatoes, that evidently bruise easily but taste really good. Perhaps the Mark Twain will become a rally point in this story.

Seed Collecting Stories - The charm of a lot heirloom plants for me obviously is the story behind them. In the course of a conversation with a friend, it seems like I am living a my own version of a seed saving or seed collecting story. I'm keeping this close to vest as I follow the path this story is taking me on. Once I get more details I will share them here. You gotta love the instructions "Plant the paper towel."

Hydroponics - It started innocently enough, I walked in the door of the local horticultural supply company. When I walked out, I had this potential hydroponic system in my head as way to keep the feast going year round. There's an odd shaped closet in my studio that has become a catch all of dead energy. What a great flip this would be to turn this dead space into a thriving area that could perpetuate the feast all year round. This presents a bit of challenge  since I would have to slightly modify a room and find the cash for this system though.

In the context of living my life as a story though, the plot twists above offer me the opportunity to take this story to the next level. And as true storyteller will tell you, these magical moments that so innocently appear, offer the best content to be told.

I've secured a double lot in the community garden program I participate in for this year, have a great variety of seeds, and will be plotting my garden this afternoon. That will be the next post up. I will be posting more frequently now, so thanks for your patience and stay tuned.

My Family Garden Quilt

Well I'm planning my garden, and this year I'm ahead of the game. Last year it all happened so quickly that I was lucky to get anything out of it. The greatest harvest thought was this concept of Vanishing Feast. How lucky am I?! In these posts at my other blog, Magic Hat Stories (MHS), An Heirloom Garden, A Family Quilt by Another Name, Part 1, Part 2, I look at the concept of heirloom gardening, and put it in the context of a family quilt. This year I fully intend to use a portion of my garden as a family garden quilt.

In this post at MHS, My Heirloom Garden Follows the Journey of My Family, I use 3 heirloom varities of vegetables to trace my family's journey from Italy, to Philadelphia, PA, and eventually to southern New Jersey. While I did grow all three varities, they were not set up as a quilt. As I mentioned above, last year was rushed experience.

I will be using the same 3 varities I wrote about in the post mentioned in the paragraph above. These are Jimmy Nardello's Sweet Italian Peppers, Fish Peppers and Rutger's tomatoes. This year I will be adding Belmonte Tomatoes, which originated in Calabria area of Italy, where my Dad's family is from. The Jimmy Nardello's are from Basilicata, Italy where my Mom's family is from. The story of the Fish Peppers goes that it originated with African-American slaves, and was used in the Baltimore/Philadlephia area to flavor seafood chowders. Both sets of my grandparents settled in Philadelphia, and the Fish peper will honor that fact my garden quilt.

Rutgers and Boxcar Willie tomatoes will complete the quilt. They represent New Jersery where my dad moved our family in the 1960's. This is where my dad taught me and my brothers about organic gardening.  I'll use some flowers and herbs to represent my mom to color and texture. And yes, this will be a square shape. I plan on shooting video and still photos as part of the documentry.

I will share the photo and the progress on this blog.


A Reason Why – San Marzano Tomatoes

In a conversation with a rather astute associate of mine about the idea of Vanishing Feast, the devil's advocate appeared, and asked me "So why is this important? A tomato is just a tomato." It was a great question. The challenge was meant so I could think through why this would be important for someone who doesn't have a vested interest in this project. It forced me to practice the principle of detachment, which to me in communications, is a important part of the process.

To survive the shark infested waters of corporate America, I learned detachment as a survival mechanism. When the devil advocate played his role mentioned above, I wasn't aware of the story of San Marzano tomatoes. Had I been, I would've been prepared. Now I am, and this story will be the featured response should that question come up again.

I woke up one morning with the words San Marzano in my head. I couldn't imagine what theses Italian plum tomatoes had to do with anything but a delcious tomato sauce. So I asked my good friend Google to search the words San Marzano. Lo and behold I found a fascinating story at From the site;

Royalty, emmigration, 70 years of glory, gradual neglect, forsaken, replaced, threat of extinction, rescue, redemption, prosperity, politics, public relations, protectionism, DNA testing, and the most ironic outcome of all: - this is the story of the San Marzano Tomato that few people in America know about.

Take a trip over there and read the whole story. It's a fun and fascinating read. I'll leave you with this tidbit, the moral of San Marzano story is what Vanishing Feast is all about.

I hope to get to Campania, Italy this year to video some of the lore of this scrappy heirloom hero.

Hello and Welcome Pepsi Refresh Visitors!

My name is Jeff Quattrone, and here's my bio. I'm thrilled that I am in the running for a Pepsi Refresh Grant. The idea for Vanishing Feast started out organically, appropriately enough. I started a blog called Magic Hat Stories and in the course of writing about people, organizations, etc. that do something that changes the world in a positive direction, I came across SlowFoods USA's Arc of Taste.

The US Ark of Taste is a catalog of over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction. By promoting and eating Ark products we help ensure they remain in production and on our plates.

Since I love storytelling, a lot of my writing on the blog was to encourage adults to see their lives as ongoing stories that they write everyday. By focusing on the actions of people who were doing something positive, I wanted to inspire people to emulate that in what they do on their own. When I came across the Arc of Tatse and the stories behind the food sources, I became fascinated (aka obsessed), which inspires my creativity.

Sometime around the middle of March 2010, I happened to be a counter having breakfast. The local paper was there. In it was a story about a community garden program at my local county college. I was stoked as they say. I haven't had access to a plot of ground to grow vegetables for a very long time. I realized that I had the opportunity to walk my talk, so I signed up.

As the saying goes, life happens and the blogging fell off for a while. That's because there's a bigger purpose for what I should be doing, and that is how the idea for Vanishing Feast sprouted. I started storyboarding some ideas, and the creative process started. My father taught me about organic gardening in the 60's. I won a Honorable Mention at the Salem County Fair for a 7lb canteloupe I grew. I studied photography and film making in college. I have extensive experience designing communications across a broad spectrum of media and audiences. And I wrote this post, My Heirloom Garden Follows the Journey of My Family. which I see now is where the seed was planted. Also, there is a heirloom in my family that is a plant, and that story will be featured in the video.

While I was writing Magic Hat Stories I would refer to the magic that happens when people take action. Little did I realize that the magic would happen to me in the process.

I will blog about the process here. Thank you for stopping by and considering to vote for me. I assure you that I take my creativity seriously, and if I win this grant, I promise that it will story of inspiration along with tools that will take that inspiration into action.

Some other blog posts that are related to this subject.

New Year's Resolution - Renew Your Region's Culinary Traditions With Endangered Fruits and Vegetables 

An Heirloom Garden, A Family Quilt by Another Name, Part 1

An Heirloom Garden, A Family Quilt by Another Name, Part 2

Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout Thanks to the Oyster Restoration Project

Turning The Big Apple Into The Big Green Apple