Last week, on another snowy evening, I stepped out of the freezing cold and into an event that reminded me that one day, summer will come.
The event was called "Tomato Talk" and was hosted by Backyard Farms.
If the name sounds familiar, that's probably because you've seen their gorgeous tomatoes in your local grocery store. Backyard Farms tomatoes come in a box that is decorated with a bright blue sky, green grass and a white picket fence. It doesn't get more idyllic than that.
After shedding our hats, scarves, gloves and coats, we took a seat around the dinner table. Up and down the center of the table were all different kinds of Backyard Farms tomatoes. I swear just the sight of them made me feel as if the sun was shining.
In the center of the table was the newest variety, the somerest pinks. More on that in a minute.
The beefsteak tomatoes were also display. These most definitely belong on your next burger or stuffed into a grilled cheese.
We also sampled tomatoes on the vine. These are the kind you buy in bunches at the store. They are in giant crates, rather than in individual boxes. While hearing about this particular tomato, we learned that if you rub your fingers along the vine and then smell your hands, they will smell like a garden. They should bottle that scent and sell it!
At the far end of the table were the cocktail tomatoes. I buy these all the time at Star Market on Mt. Auburn Street. I like them in salads, in omelettes and on nachos.
The evening's Tomato Talk was being hosted by Tim Cunniff, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Backyard Farms. First, he talked us through each type of tomato and the growing process. He then shared how Backyard Farms runs their operations, which was truly inspiring. Rather than hire workers who are willing to take low wages, Backyard Farms hires employees and then assigns them each rows of tomatoes. Each person is responsible for their owns plants. They are rewarded based on performance, and if they'd like to take on a larger plot, they can.
What I found most admirable, is that within one year of work, Backyard Farms employees are eligible for full benefits - medical, dental and 401K. For picking tomatoes!
Of the over 200 workers on the farm, over 65 of them have been with Backyard Farms since the very first day. That's over nine years of tomato picking.
Tim said, "They way we do business is not the cheapest way, it's the best way. We give our team a sense of pride and ownership. It's really an incredible thing."
While we talked, we enjoyed a three course meal. Each dish highlighted a different tomato.
To begin, we sampled the somerset pink tomatoes with burrata cheese (fresh from the North End), olive oil and saba.
Let's be real, you can't ever go wrong with burrata. This combination of the freshly sliced tomatoes with the creamy, rich cheese was heavenly.
For the second course, we sampled delicious spoonfuls of cocktail tomato soup, made with onions, dill, tarragon, oregano and honey. Unlike the tomato soup you get in a can, this soup had a beautiful golden color to it.
As the grand finale, we shared paninis made with somerset pink tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and goat cheese on francese bread. I have to tell you, this was so yummy that I devoured it and forgot to take a picture! Tisk, tisk.
Over the course of the dinner, we got to pick Tim's brain about everything from why the farm decided to set up shop in Maine, to how and where they deliver, to debunking the myth of whether or not your tomatoes can last longer in the fridge (they can't and don't).
Tim also labeled each of us a different type of tomato eater. I was dubbed a "chopper" which is a person who chops sweet tomatoes (like the cocktail tomato) to include them in other things. He decided the girl next to me was a "slicer" after she described enjoying tomatoes on their own or as a primary ingredient in many summertime dishes.
After all three courses, we were very full and very happy. Before heading back out into the arctic tundra, Tim handed each of us a gift bag which was stuffed to the brim with treats.
We each went home with several kinds of tomatoes, a tomato shaped cutting board, a tomato knife (my dad already tried to steal it), a recipe book and of course, a magnet for our refrigerators.
I'd like to say a huge thank you to Tim and his team for this tomato-tastic evening. After all that talk about Maine, gardening and cooking with tomatoes, I really did feel like summer is coming.
Tell me, do you buy Backyard Farms tomatoes? What is your favorite kind?