Fifth annual Tomato Festival sees large turnout

Friday, September 4, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
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Columbia residents gathered to taste more than 50 kinds of tomatoes and dozens of different peppers at the remote Bradford Research and Extension Center in Columbia on Thursday.

COLUMBIA — The Sun Sugar Hybrid tried to defend its title as the best-tasting tomato at the fifth annual Tomato Festival on Thursday.

The two-time defending champion tomato had some competition, though, with more than 50 varieties being tasted, including some heirloom varieties that are more than 50 years old. Tim Reinbott, Bradford Research and Extension Center superintendent, is not surprised by the Sun Sugar Hybrid's success.

“Taste it, and you will find out,” he said. “It’s really sweet.”

Reinbott said jokingly that there might not be as many of the Sun Sugar Hybrids as other varieties because festival organizers kept eating them beforehand.

People came from as far away as Washington state to participate in the tomato-tasting contest and other festivities. Norma and Travis Brock of Puyallup, Wash., come every year to take part in the festival and to help their daughter Cindy Downing of the Copper Kettle Restaurant hand out samples of her salsa and canned goods.

Norma Brock's favorite part of the festival is mingling with the people, but she also enjoys sampling tomatoes she has never heard of, as does Bill White of Linn.

White grew to love tomatoes as a kid, eating them with his grandparents, and now he is looking for heirloom tomatoes to grow in his garden next year. He decided on the Black Brandywine tomato Thursday, calling it spectacular.

Steven Russon of Goldsberry traveled approximately 90 miles to attend the festival, and he had his own favorite.

“It’s Delicious,” Russon said. “That’s the tomato's actual name,” he added with a laugh.

Angela Nance of Columbia doesn’t have a favorite tomato because she likes them all.

“I love tomatoes,” Nance said. “But I’m not going to have enough, so I’m going to have to buy them by the bushel.”  

In addition to vast supply of tomatoes, about 30 different varieties of peppers were displayed. Steve Kirk, MU Extension associate, used chili peppers to prepare more than 5 gallons of salsa for the festival.

“Last year I made the largest batch I had ever made, and it’s even bigger this year,” he said.

This is a testament to the large attendance at the festival. About 500 people attended the event, according to Bradford secretary Thresa Chism, and five local restaurants participated in the event by handing out salsa samples.

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