Lily’s Salsa

At the recent Tomatopalooza (see the post from a couple of days ago for details and juicy photos), there was also a small salsa competition. One intrigued me because it combined sweet fruit with the tomatoes.

I’m a fan of fruit salsas, but not as a dip with chips. I use fruit salsa as a bright addition to simple grilled chicken or fish – and your guests will think you’ve gone upscale. I often make one using fresh peaches, but the one at Tomatopalooza had a different fruit involved, along with tomatoes.

When I found the salsa’s creator, Jodi Grubbs, she gave me the instructions and revealed the secret fruit: Pear.

To achieve the balance of flavors in this salsa, the type of tomatoes used are important. Grubbs used a combination of yellow, orange and red tomatoes along with the pears. Yellow and orange tomatoes have a less acid, more sweet flavor. Replace them all with tart-tasting reds, and you will lose the nice flavor mix in the salsa. So take the time to search out good heirloom tomatoes in the right colors.

Here are Grubbs’ instructions for Lily’s Salsa, which she named after her daughter: Finely chop 1/4 of a red onion, 1 medium pear (peeled) and 2 habaneros. Stir it all together and refrigerate for 2 days. Then chop 2 orange tomatoes, 2 small red low-acid-flavor tomatoes, 1 medium pear (peeled), 1 medium yellow tomato (she used a Lillian’s Yellow) and 6 leaves of fresh lemon verbena. Stir that into the mixture. Taste, add sea salt as needed and serve.

Tomatoes times ten

Ten years of Tomatopalooza – wow. And it all started in a geeky guy’s driveway. The difference today is that Craig LeHoullier is now a full-time tomato-guy, after leaving his chemist job at Glaxo, His interest in collecting and promoting heirloom tomato varieties grew into a passion for preserving and perpetuating these unusual, flavorful tomatoes. He started collecting seeds and growing plants, which he sells at farmers markets.

Slow Food USA has recognized LeHoullier for rediscovering and preserving the Cherokee Purple, which the organization has named to its U.S. Ark of Taste. Cherokee Purple is one of the most popular and more widely available heirlooms, with rich, balanced flavor (not too acid, not too sweet) and meaty texture.

Tomatopalooza started as a way to popularize heirlooms among tomato-growing nuts. This year, as always, visitors were asked to vote on their favorites. I never do – because I’d take any of them home (although I do prefer a more acid-tasting tomato; love that tartness).

Black, green, yellow, white, crimson, even one with a green-and-red tie-dye look. Sweet, acid, bright, smoky flavors. Tiny ruby ‘maters the size of the tip of my little finger (Mexico Midget). Giant Cherokee Purples like softballs. More than 160 varieties in all were on the long tables beneath the welcome shade of trees on an Efland, N.C. farm last Saturday.

I tasted the same variety, called Carbon, provided by two different growers and they didn’t taste exactly the same, like wine produced in different terroirs. Actually, there are many similarities between great tomatoes and fine wine, and both stain your shirt if you’re clumsy.

By the way, despite what many people think, there is really no such thing as a low-acid tomato. All tomatoes have about the same acid content, and differences in flavor are caused by variations in the sugar-to-acid ratio. That means that sweeter-tasting tomatoes have more sugar, not less acid.

LeHoullier also offered samples of what he calls the “dwarf project”: His work with an Australian scientist to tame the heirloom plants, which can grow 8 to 10 feet tall, into four or five-foot home versions that might even work in containers.

To find out more about LeHoullier and his projects (he also hosts tomato dinners are area restaurants and is working on a book) visit here. And you can see more delectable photos here.