By Antonio Caban
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — Judges and state officials slowly made their way from table to table Thursday at Boston’s newest culinary venue to taste from a competitive field of tomatoes from around the Commonwealth.
For tomato judge Yaz Healey, choosing a winning tomato is all about balance.
“Whenever you eat the best tomato you also remember the flavor,” said Healey, a personal chef and part-time waitress, as she reached for another cherry tomato to judge.
More than eight million pounds of tomatoes valued at $17 million are grown at 759 farms in Massachusetts, according to organizers of the 31st Annual Tomato Contest, which was held on Thursday at the new Boston Public Market.
Fifteen food panelist were tasked to pick the best of the best tomatoes based on flavor, firmness and slicing quality, exterior color and shape in four categories: slicing, cherry, heirloom and weight. Judges examined 92 entries, which some admitted was a tough task.
“It’s a tough competition,” said judge Dan Sieger, assistant secretary at the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Eighteen farms were featured in this year’s contest with top prizes going to seven of them. Each winner was presented a tomato-topped trophy by Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux.
Four of those trophies went to Kevin O’Dwyer and his wife Kate of Langwater Farm in North Easton. They took home first prize in the weight category for a tomato weighing in at 2.46 pounds. O’Dwyer, who started his own family farm five years ago, said the prep-work for his winning tomatoes started back in February when they “hot-water treated all the seeds.”
“We baby them every step of the way. From the time they’re small one-inch plants I transplant them up into a larger cell, look for a nice weather window to plant them out in May and after that we’re on them every week trellising them, pruning them so there’s a lot of effort that goes into them,” O’Dwyer said.
Other top prizes went to MacArthur Farm in Holliston in the slicing category, Dancing Bear in Leyden for their cherry tomatoes, and Red Fire Farm in Granby for their heirlooms. Entwood farm in New Braintree, Wards Farm in Sharon and Kimball Fruit Farm in Pepperell were among the other farms to place in various categories.
While previous tomato contests were held outdoors at farmers markets at City Hall and Haymarket, this year’s contest found a different home within the newly opened demonstration kitchen in the Boston Public Markey, a culinary facility where events can be held.
Mimi Hall, trustees’ programming manager for the market, said moving the contest indoors benefited both the judges and farmers because it provided a much “calmer” environment for “better judging techniques.”
“In the past we had to battle wind, rain and heat,” Hall told the News Service.
Hall said having the event inside helped to “bring people into the culinary world” and touted the benefit of the Kitchen as a place to connect rural and urban food lovers.