31st Annual Massachusetts Tomato Contest

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/08/20/31st-annual-massachusetts-tomato-contest/

Past the shiny new vendors and down a backdoor hallway of the Boston Public Market, the 31st Annual Massachusetts Tomato Contest drew attention on Thursday from customers as well as from pedestrians walking past the glass windows on Hanover Street.

Shoppers had a hard time passing, as the largest tomatoes set up shop next to the tomato topped trophies. Their large, grotesque shapes and striped colors stopped everyone in their tracks. Long tables of tomatoes, ranging from small cherry tomatoes to large multi-colored heirloom specimens, enticed passersby to want to stop and try them.

A total of 15 judges descended upon the tomatoes on August 20 to test for flavor, firmness/ slicing quality, exterior color, and shape. This year, 18 farms submitted a total of 92 entries.

“It’s really fabulous to taste all of the tomatoes and [experience] the different textures and flavors,” said one of the judges, Ris Lacoste, chef and owner of RIS in Washington D.C., who says it is hard to keep a clear mind for each new bite that she takes.


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Copyright: ©Beth Treffeisen

“I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and ate 24 different types of heirloom tomatoes before,” said Lacoste, who admitted that much of this year’s heirloom crop was mostly soft, as it is difficult to maintain their firmness after leaving the vine.

According to Peter MacArthur a farmer from Holliston, Mass., who entered his tomatoes in the contest, this year’s growing season was particularly good.

“It’s been one of the better seasons for produce. There was not a lot of rain, but just when you needed it a little, it would rain,” said MacArthur.

May was also warm this year, which MacArthur says was perfect for growing tomatoes. Since this year provided ideal growing conditions, MacArthur said he believed the competition was stiff.

MacArthur, who has won in years past, wasn’t nervous about winning this time around but said that whoever does win will benefit from the award.

“We had banners for award winning tomatoes,” said MacArthur. “We got famous for it in 2004 and, ever since, people wanted to wait in line for them.”

In years past, the tomato contest has been held outside at the City Hall Plaza Market where the tomatoes have been left out in the heat. But, for the first time, the tomatoes this year were brought inside to the new temperature-controlled Boston Public Market Test Kitchen.

“The colors look really great inside, it’s always so cramped, and this seems way more lovely,” said Mimi Hall, program manager of the Trustees a non-profit organization that is a founding partner and the programming partner for the KITCHEN at the Boston Public Market.

Hall said that in the past they had to rope off the judging section to the public but that holding the competition inside the test kitchen allowed the public to be a part of it.

Also for the first time this year, competition organizers worked with Analog Devices, a data conversion and signal processing company, which collected samples of the tomatoes to test for acidity and sugar content for the purpose of creating profiles of different tomato varieties.

“It’s the scientific way of taste of that tomato,” said Francis Gouillart of Experience Co-Creation. “It is the internet of tomatoes. It coordinates with the judges to objective scientific data.”

In the future they hope to create a phone app that farmers can use to determine the acidity and sugar content of their tomatoes in order for them to grow the right tomatoes for their culinary customers.

Rob O’ Reilly from Analog Devices said they are looking into the parts of the growth cycle that can make the tomato taste better or worse.

O’Reilly, who doesn’t particularly like the taste of Massachusetts tomatoes, hopes that this work will help Massachusetts growers thrive.

“At the end of the day if it still tastes like crap what will this work be for?” said O’Reilly.

Seven hundred and fifty nine (759) Massachusetts farms grow tomatoes and produce approximately 8.5 million pounds of tomatoes a year. But living in the city, it is easy to forget where tomatoes come from.

Katie Duncan the public relations specialist for the Trustees said, “[The contest] is like a little taste of the farms inside the city.”

You can see the full list of winners here.

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