Wade on Birmingham

Birmingham’s Best Eats: In search of the perfect summer tomato



Finding the perfect summer tomato takes care, but the
reward can be mouthwatering. Photo by Ellen Riley.

By Shaun Chavis

Birmingham's Best EatsNothing tastes better than the perfect summer tomato. And nothing can be as disappointing as a faker. These three tomato experts shared their secrets for bringing the best ones home.

• Ellen Riley, manager of Oak Street Market in Mountain Brook’s Crestline Village, sources tomatoes from small growers who ripen them for better flavor by keeping them on the vine longer. She says larger growers may get tomatoes to market faster, but that denies them the chance to develop goodness. Just because they’re red doesn’t mean they’re ripe.

Another problem with tomatoes from some larger growers are tough white cores. “That comes from too much fertilizer, not enough water and picking too early,” Riley says. Her advice: “Buy from people who will cut a tomato open and let you see inside.”

Riley’s favorite kind? The Amelia, a new variety with old-fashioned flavor.

• Rod Palmer of Owl’s Hollow farm, near Gadsden, is partial to sandwiches made with pineapple tomatoes, bulging yellow-and-red heirlooms. He sells tomatoes to 15 Birmingham-area restaurants and markets, including Southside’s Hot and Hot Fish Club, home of a great heirloom tomato salad. (Find them at Murphree’s Market and Garden Center in Cahaba Heights in Vestavia Hills, Homewood Farmer’s Market [pdf], Pepper Place Saturday Market in Lakeview and Urban Cookhouse in Homewood.)

• Donald and Kelly Warren of Greenwood Farms grow 20 varieties of tomatoes in their back yard in Homewood. Their favorite, the black plum tomato, goes on Pizza Margherita that Donald grills on his Big Green Egg. (Find them at Pepper Place Saturday Market in Lakeview.)

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Shaun ChavisShaun Chavis (@shaunchavis) is the co-founder of Birmingham’s Foodie Book Club, and a food journalist whose work has appeared in “Cornbread Nation 4: The Best of Southern Food Writing,” eGullet and Friends Journal. In the fall, she will teach a course on food and literature at Samford University’s Samford After Sundown.

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Hungry for more? Check out the menu of Birmingham’s Best Eats!

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