Events show off versatility of Arkansas tomatoes from appetizer to dessert
By KD Reep
For the U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Tomatoes have a long history in Arkansas and are celebrated with festival and other events.
- All-Tomato Luncheon and Tomatoes at the Trotter offer guests something to love in dishes using tomatoes as an ingredient.
LITTLE ROCK – Tomatoes, those favorite fruits-called-vegetables of the Arkansas garden, showed off their culinary versatility with a little star treatment this summer.
The tomatoes have been twice celebrated in June, on the 13th at the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival and again on the 25th at the fifth annual Tomatoes at the Trotter.
Nearly 300 people attended the 58th annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival all-tomato luncheon at First Baptist Church in Warren. The summery menu featured chicken salad-stuffed tomatoes, “to-marinated” carrots, tomato bean salad and tomato basil crackers. And if you think the tomatoes’ role ends at the entrée, think again. The luncheon diners finished with a tomato cake -- where tomato juice lent body to both the cake batter and frosting.
“The Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival is one of the oldest continuous running festivals in the state of Arkansas, and the profit from the all-tomato luncheon goes to the festival’s general fund,” said John Gavin, Bradley County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Among the VIPs attending this year: U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, State Sen. Eddie Cheatham of Crossett, state Rep. Jeff Wardlow of Warren, and Warren Mayor Bryan Martin.
Tomatoes at the Trotter
Chef Thomas Bedward of Aramark Food Service pulled out all the stops with his all-tomato spread at Tomatoes at the Trotter, a bed and breakfast owned by the University of Arkansas at Monticello. The $25 event tickets fund scholarships for UAM’s School of Agriculture. The event is a joint effort between UAM and the Division of Agriculture’s Southeast Research and Extension Center, known as SEREC.
It’s his Bedward’s second Tomatoes at the Trotter. That he’d even create an all-tomato is somewhat remarkable.
“As a kid, I could not stand tomatoes. I despised them,” Bedward said with a chuckle. “But part of being a chef is that your palate grows quite a bit.”
For his 2015 menu, Bedward relied on the unique colors and flavor profiles of locally grown heirloom tomatoes. From German Pinks to Carolina Golds and Cherokee Purples and their sweet and savory leanings, Bedward and his staff presented marinated Carolina Golds and German Pinks with fresh avocado and balsamic vinegar as a starter. The entree was a roasted flank steak that had been marinated in a Red Zebra tomato chutney with a nod to Tex-Mex. The steak shared the plate with a gorgeous purple polenta cake made from red and blue cornmeal and topped with a Cherokee purple dressed with a balsamic reduction.
The local favorite, Arkansas Travelers, were baked with zucchini. Dessert featured the Niagara tomatoes paired with a goat cheese cheesecake topped with strawberries and blueberries that had been tossed with honey and tarragon.
The heirlooms come from Deep Woods Farms of Bradley County, said Kelly Bryant, SEREC director. “Deep Woods is owned by the Terry Donnelly family and they are long-time cooperators with the Division of Agriculture.”
The availability of ingredients and even the heat of the Arkansas summer, are part of the calculus when developing an event menu.
“I changed recipes four or five times,” Bedward said. “We got our tomatoes 48 hours beforehand, and for those 48 hours, we test, test, test and go. We want to be sure it all works out right.”
Ben Gilmore with Congressman Westerman’s office addressed the crowd and former state Rep. Gregg Reep of Warren was among those on hand.
Tomatoes at the Trotter also included information about activities involving the local Market in the Park farmers’ market and the Master Gardener Program of the Cooperative Extension Service.
For more information about Arkansas tomatoes visit extension's Web site, www.uaex.edu, or contact your county extension agent.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your county office or research and extension center as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.
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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service