Fort Wayne – For many years, Pierceton had a tomato festival. But Patricia Knott decided the festival had turned into more of a street fair. That was fine, but being a foodie, she thought the public was ready for something more.
Knott, a petite woman with an infectious smile, says, I decided we should have an Heirloom Tomato Festival. I researched, and I’m a member of the Chamber and they said, OK, here you are.’
So that’s how she became the founder and chairwoman of the festival, which takes place Saturday.
The first year, I planted and grew in my daughter’s sunroom 1,200 tomato plants, she says. I gave them away to people to take home and grow and bring back to the festival. I kept one of each kind. But 99 percent died.
Knott, an author (Historical Indiana Cookbook), thinks the reason many plants died was because people didn’t know they had to temper the plants off or allow the plants to adjust to the temperature differences from inside to outside.
The festival is in its fifth year. The focus of the event is teaching gardeners to save their own seeds.
To me, the only true heirloom tomato seed are the ones that came over on the ship. This year, we may have up to 100 different specimens here, she says.
In addition to educating the public with a seed exhibit, Knott has many activities that young and old alike will find appealing.
We’ll have samples of green tomato soup. It’s cream-based and cold. It’s good. We’ll have different samples. We’re going to have a salsa contest. The ingredients will be here with the utensils, including rubber gloves. We have judges that like to taste things.
Pointing to a corner in the Old Train Depot of which she is founder and owner, Knott says, And in that corner, there will be a tomato sandwich, it’s called Tomato Sandwich Social.
And we’ll have Jerry and Jackie Clase and friends frying green tomatoes (outside) in an iron skillet. It’s fun to watch. We have homemade ice cream, vanilla and lemon.
Also on the agenda is a green tomato pie contest. Knott, who is also co-owner of Classic Catering Foods Inc., says she will not be one of the judges.
Last year, we had a couple older men that judged the pies. Then they have the pie auction by the piece, she says. It’s amazing people want to see a homemade pie.
Asked whether there was time for bakers to enter pies for the contest, Knott says, Oh yeah, they just have to be here by 11 a.m. (Saturday) and bring them to the music tent. They’re judged at 12:30 p.m. and then auctioned off.
Reflecting on the upcoming event, Knott says, I like all of it, really. It’s a nice day to be here. Thank God that there are people that put themselves out to make other people smile. Some people will bring their lawn chairs and stay all day.
Green Tomato Pie
4 cups peeled and thinly sliced green tomatoes
2 (9-inch) unbaked pie shells
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons flour
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
Peel tomatoes by dipping in boiling water. Mix ingredients and place in crust. Dot with butter, adjust top crust. Sprinkle with sugar, bake in a 425-degree oven for 10 minutes, then lower to 375 degrees and bake about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Yellow Pear Tomato Jam
4 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
6 cups yellow pear tomatoes
3 jalapeño chiles, seeded and finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
In a 6-quart saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer until the syrup reaches 234 degrees on a cooking thermometer.
Remove from the heat and add the tomatoes, mixing well. The syrup may change consistency, but continue stirring and eventually the tomatoes will mix evenly.
Return to the heat and add the chiles, basil, lemon juice and vinegar. Simmer, uncovered, on low heat until the mixture thickens, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Stir often, being careful not to burn. The jam will darken.
Ladle into clean half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Cap and seal. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water-bath canner. Makes 5 1/2 pints.