Compari and Kumato tomatoes get me through the winter. At least, they try. But there is nothing like biting into that first big, bright red perfect tomato from the farmers market…. one that not so long ago was straight off the vine. It looks like all those beautiful but tasteless ones you have tried, but then you almost fall off your chair in surprise. Instead of a mealy interior, you get a bright red color and an explosion of juicy, sweet and tangy flavor.
You get the perfect tomato.
Every year, I look forward to the springtime return of New Morning Farm organic market at Sheridan School, and in June, the return of its hothouse tomatoes. (The market is at the corner of Alton and 36th Streets on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and during the summer, Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m.)
I talked to Jim Crawford, the owner of New Morning Farm, about what makes these special. And he told me it’s his neighbor and fellow farmer, Andrew Mack. Mack grows the tomatoes in his greenhouse, and the key, says Crawford, is the soil mix.
“Andrew is always tinkering with the soil with his consultant, and over the years his tomatoes have gotten even better,” Crawford said.
Potassium is the important element, but there are other elements and organisms in the soil that contribute to the uptake of potassium by the plant. In a separate phone conversation, Mack’s wife (who asked to be called “Mrs. Mack”) told me that in addition to the potassium, calcium, and magnesium balance, there are the trace elements of boron, copper, iron manganese, zinc sodium and the organic matter in the soil. Mrs. Mack said growing tomatoes is an “art.” And she, herself, prefers the hothouse tomatoes. The Macks have four greenhouses, about 3,000 square feet, and they rotate planting in each from January through April.
Both Crawford and Andrew Mack lectured me about the inferiority of hydroponic tomatoes. They can’t touch tomatoes grown in soil. Well, my hat comes off to Mr. Mack for developing his “art.” I can’t recommend the tomatoes enough. They’re best if left out to ripen for a day or two to get a bit soft to the touch.
Another favorite of mine at the market is kohlrabi, and the asparagus is great.
And don’t forget to take in the Van Ness farmer’s market, only three blocks away at 4340 Connecticut Avenue. The selection of fresh herbs at Omar Flores’s stand can’t be beat! And try the tamales and other wares sold by the market’s other vendors.