So Lee came up with the name Tomatopalooza - and Lee reserved a picnic area at Umstead Park in Raleigh. On August 8, a small group of tomato enthusiasts got together, pooled our tomato harvests, lined them up on tables and went about the serious business of tasting the tomatoes. We may have had a few dozen (I must ask Lee if he has any records at all of the event). The few pictures I took don't really answer the attendance question, but it was a start of something that grew and evolved...we will be reconvening for the tenth time on July 28. There is a picture that included our two 2012 Tomatopalooza site hosts - Jimmy and Fred - so it is appropriate that they've been there with us from the start!
We returned to Umstead quite a few times - then held a couple at Efland, and also held a few events in Apex and at Lake Wheeler Park. They've all been similar, all been great fun, and each was slightly different - different people, different tomatoes, different weather. It seems like the format has evolved to something that will either need to get bigger/more organized, or smaller/more specialized. We shall see.....but a milestone like the 10th event seems like a good time to reflect and reevaluate.
For those who've attended in the past, you know what to expect. For those who've yet to attend an event, or aren't sure if you will or won't - here are some key aspects to help you decide. The event is free - we are happy to accept donations (we will have a donation box at the event) just to help defray the costs of the organizers (mostly in materials). The success of the event really depends upon having great tomatoes to taste, and we depend upon the attendees in that area - it is the most important donation of all, in fact. Each year we worry, and each year it has somehow worked out.
We arrange the tomatoes on tables on labeled plates by color. Tomato slicers man the tables...after a few introductory remarks, you can start where you like and taste what you like. Some people write lots of notes, most don't. It's always a good idea to bring small plastic baggies - you may taste something you really like and can snag a few seeds so you can grow it yourself the following year. There are always mystery varieties - crosses, company mixups, things that do not match the name on the tag. I am pretty good at spotting those and am available to provide information on history, background, and availability of anything that people bring.
This year we will hold a salsa competition - in past years, this one or that one brings some great food to share (anything needing heating up or utensils is not recommended, however - keep it simple and finger food-like!). We are working out the guidelines for that and more info will be on the Tomatopalooza website (see below for the link). The location this year is just wonderful, and at 4 PM, there will be music and clogging. The event is a throw back to days of our youths - spent outdoors, among friends, making new friends, enjoying nature, great tomatoes, relaxing - a few Tomatopalooza events have been among my favorite days of the year. Sometimes people come from afar (Michigan, or England, or Australia, or Kentucky, Texas, Ohio, Massaschusetts, Georgia, to name some past origins of attendees). Mostly it is people who are close by, who hear about it by word of mouth, or seedling customers of mine.
One thing is certain - there are really no other events like it in this area. There is simply no other venue for satisfying your tomato tasting curiosity that compares to this. We hope this sounds good to you, that you come, and can share some of your garden bounty with us!
Tomatopalooza has its own website - which has been upgraded for our Anniversary event. It can be found here. Please go to that website and click the registration button so we can get an idea of who is coming and what you are bringing.
Below are a few pictures from that first event at Umstead back in August of 2003!