Have you ever bitten into a garden fresh tomato and marveled at how the flavor is so much more distinctive, rich, and robust than the bland, tasteless ones you bring home from the grocery store? If so, and if you want to kick the experience up a notch or two, try sinking your teeth into a garden fresh heirloom tomato. You might never want to go back to the typical “hybrid” again. Char Gottlieb, a Jefferson County Master Gardner and longtime heirloom enthusiast not only fell in love with this taste experience, but for the past 15 years has been inviting fellow master gardeners, friends and family to her home for an annual heirloom tomato tasting.
Char and her husband Tom moved to their Arvada homestead 40 years ago from East Denver, primarily to satisfy their yearnings to garden. Their purpose was clear with the decision to purchase 10 acres of farmland on the edge of town that happened to include a small house built in 1875. When they moved in, the house had no central heat and the running water flowed only to the one bathroom and the single sink that was out side of the kitchen. To accommodate a growing family, they expanded and remodeled their home while still retaining the 19th century farmhouse charm.
The garden, which takes up about an acre of the ten is where Tom and Char spend much of their time. They grow about everything you can imagine, from raspberries to gourds to herbs, but take a special interest in nurturing their twenty to thirty heirloom tomato plants. Char became interested in heirlooms about thirty-five years ago while reading cooking magazines and garden catalogs that included heirlooms and began ordering the seeds. After tasting these gems straight from the vine, she was hooked. Among their favorites are a large Italian Pear, Pruden’s Purple, and Black Krim, and a hybrid cherry tomato called Sungold. They are not only packed with flavor but add a rainbow of colors to any plate.
To introduce others to the horticultural experience and to get counsel about refining their own garden, the Gottliebs began the annual tasting event where they ask their guests to rate each of the tomatoes for flavor. It is an old fashioned, Sunday-picnic style potluck. Almost everyone, expert or novice, judges. They grab pencils, taste samples of the umpteen varieties that are individually cut up and organized on labeled paper plates, then make their blue ribbon choices. And at the end of the day, everyone is well fed and Tom and Char are brimming with important input for next year’s plantings.
Bob Clark, contributing writer