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Cook column: In search of Rowan’s Top Tomato

A ‘real,’ fresh tomato is like a taste of sunshine
Tomato sandwiches have always been a favorite of mine, but this year I hit a new high ó a grilled tomato-and-provolone sandwich. It was crispy on the outside, juicy and delicious on the inside.
Mmmm.
The only thing better is the first tomato sandwich of the season, best made with white bread and a good dose of mayo. After a long winter of flavorless store-bought fare, that first juicy tomato of the season is like a taste of sunshine ó summer comfort food.
The economy is on the rocks and Congress has gone haywire. But have you tasted a good tomato lately? The world can’t be too off-kilter if it still produces summer bounty like that.
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Since many people here share a passion for tomatoes ó and that tomatoes are an important crop in this area ó a contest to see who grows the biggest tomato of the season seems entirely in order.
We give you the Top Tomato Contest.With official weighing stations at the Farmer’s Market and Patterson Farm, we are launching a quest for the biggest tomato in the land, a monster ‘mater that will outweigh all others.
Darrell Blackwelder and the Master Gardeners are major players in this event. They helped brainstorm how to conduct such a competition, and the Master Gardeners came up with the $100 first-place prize. They’ll help people weigh in at the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 to 10 a.m. You’ll find them at the Eagle family’s stand, the closest produce stand to Main Street.
Patterson Farm is helping to promote the event and has a weigh-in station on its premises on Caldwell Road, too. Tomatoes can be weighed there 8 a.m.-6 p.m. each weekday, starting this Wednesday.
The contest runs from July 15 to Aug. 22. Employees of the Post and Patterson’s are ineligible to participate.
Entries must have been grown in Rowan County, and you might want to get cleaned up before you bring yours to the weigh-in station. You’ll be asked to pose with your tomato, and photos will be published in the Post, on our Web site and on the Patterson Farm Web site.
Darrell will update Post readers each Saturday on our Home & Garden page, telling what the greatest weight has been so far.
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The world record for heaviest tomato is said to have been set in 1986, when an Oklahoma man weighed one in at 7 pounds and 12 ounces, which sounds more like a baby’s birth weight than something plucked from a tomato plant.
Some more tomato trivia: Charles Wilber of Alabama earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records by coaxing 1,368 pounds of tomatoes from only four plants.
The California Tomato Growers Association says its state is number one nationally in processed tomato production, growing nine out of every 10 tomatoes processed in the U.S., with a crop value exceeding $547 million.
The key word there may be “processed.” The N.C. Department of Agriculture’s table of statistics says Florida is No. 1 in tomatoes, followed by Californiana and Georgia (which, by the way, is not even in the top three for peaches, its claim to fame).
Most tomato lovers are more interested in quality than quantity or weight. Wide enough to cover a slice of bread or a hamburger bun is plenty big, and all sizes slice up just fine for salads and platters and … well, the list goes on.
But if you believe you can grow the heaviest tomatoes in the county, this contest could help you win public recognition for the feat. Not to mention $100.
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Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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