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Published: Saturday, 2/9/2008

Gardeners' thoughts turning to heirloom tomatoes

Recently, when I visited the Old Mill Museum in Dundee, Mich., where the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibition, "Key Ingredients: America by Food" and the accompanying Michigan Foodways exhibit is being featured through March 16, I was given a little packet of heirloom tomato seeds from the World War II era.

The seeds are from Leon Spalding of Petersburg, Mich. "He has grown these tomatoes since World War II. He made friends with one of his German guards. When he returned to the United States, he came back with some of the seeds," said Meg Heinlein, project director.

He's been growing these tomatoes ever since. It is a tomato that comes out deep pink, and is large and oblong in shape. "We've grown it here at the Mill. It is a meaty type with few seeds. The seeds were grown in Monroe County so little packets could be given at 'Key Ingredients.' "

This reminded me that gardeners are gearing up for spring planting of their gardens, and heirloom tomatoes are increasingly popular. The flavor, juiciness, color, and size are so much better compared to store-bought varieties that are shipped from across the country.

There are many heirloom options.

TomatoFest Garden Seeds announced that "black" tomatoes rank high in the Top 10 list of favorite heirloom tomatoes going into 2008. The Top 10 favorite heirloom tomatoes are: Paul Robeson (purple/black), Cherokee Purple (purple/black), Brandywine (pink), Amana Orange (orange), Marvel Stripe (red/yellow striped), Julia Child (pink), Black Zebra (green/purple striped), Black Cherry (purple/black), Kellogg's Breakfast (orange), and Aussie (red). For information, call 831-625-6041.

The Cook's Garden catalog 2008 is described as the premiere seed source for European garden vegetables such as Snacker's Delight Grape Tomato, Ladybug Tomato, Balcony Tomato, and Brandy Boy, a 16-ounce pink beefsteak with heirloom flavor. For information, call 800-457-9703.

Sauder Village is having a Historic Dinner at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Barn Restaurant. Some recipes are from the Lauber family, one of the first five European families who settled in German Township near current day Sauder Village. The menu includes roast pork, chicken fricasse, root vegetables, Velma Lauber's Rivel "Ribley" Soup, salad with Aunt Fannie's Cabbage Dressing, cheese, an assortment of breads, and a dessert sampler, including Apple Butter Pie, Christena Lauber's Doughnuts, and Election Cake (because it's Presidents' Day).

Dinner is $30 per person. Pre-payment and pre-registration are required. Call Andi Erbskorn at 419-466-2541 or 800-590-9755.

The fifth annual Chocolate and Wine Tasting will be at

6:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at Katzingers Delicatessen at 475 South 3rd St. in Columbus. Participants learn about the history of chocolate and its production, from bean to powder to bar. Tasters will sample and compare several chocolates of milk, semisweet, bittersweet, and white chocolate. Vangard Wines will be chosen to complement those particular chocolates.

Cost is $23.95 per person. Reservations are required. Call 614-228-3354.

Evans Street Station at 110 South Evans St. in Tecumseh is holding a Wild Game Cooking Class at 5 p.m. March 2.

An encore class, Cooking for Two (reprised from the sold-out Feb. 17 class) will be at 5 p.m. March 9. Each class is $50. Call 517-424-5555 for registration and more information.

The National Cornbread Festival is in search of original main-dish corn bread recipes to be entered into the 12th annual National Cornbread Cook-Off sponsored by Martha White and Lodge Cast Iron.

Ten finalists will compete during the festival and create their corn bread specialties under the Big Cook-Off Tent on April 26 in South Pittsburg, Tenn. One winner will be chosen to receive $5,000 and a 30-inch seamless steel gas range.

Deadline for entries is Feb. 29. For contest rules visit www.marthawhite.com or www.lodgemfg.com.

The Ohio Restaurant Association has a list of Ohio restaurants that are cooking up special romantic dinners for Valentine's Day. The list is by region and is available at www.ohiorestaurant.org. Click on "Consumer" and then the story link of Ohio's Restaurants Cooking Up Specials for Valentine's Day Celebrations.



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