If tomatoes are the gateway drug for backyard gardeners, Tomatomania is the dispensary that will get you hooked. The organization will host 16 seedling sales across California this spring, but the main event is this weekend at Tapia Brothers Farm in Encino. The three-day event is legitimately the world’s largest tomato seedling sale. It attracts thousands of so-called Tomatomaniacs (’maniacs for short) looking for the latest heirloom and hybrid varieties.
Scott Daigre, who began the sale as a side project in the early ’90s, says they have cultivated more than 50,000 seedlings so far this year. More than 200 varieties will show up at Tapia Brothers Farm with names as exotic as they look. You’ll find bestsellers like Cherokee Purple and Yellow Pineapple and lesser-known options like Missouri Pink Love Apple and Captain Lucky. Daigre refuses to pick favorites, but admits that he is still fascinated by blue tomatoes that carry the same anthocyanin gene blueberries have.
Daigre’s tomato wisdom has been documented in the new Tomatomania! A Fresh Approach to Celebrating Tomatoes in the Garden and in the Kitchen. The book, which he co-authored with Jenn Garbee, is part gardening guide and part cookbook. The how-to portion contains serious information on planting, watering, staking, and tying, as well as punny sidebars like “Feed Me, Seymour,” which describes what a tomato’s well-balanced diet should look like.
The last quarter of the book lays out 20 recipes, including Daigre’s personal favorite:
Wash it. (Or not.)
Cut it. (Or not.)
Salt it. (Or not.)
Eat it. (Best done outdoors.)
There are tomato martini tips and recipes for tomato marmalades and upside-down cakes. Plus, stern instructions to never refrigerate tomatoes, “even in the softest hours.”
My personal favorite tip? “When in doubt, freeze.”
Whether you’re growing your own or bought too many at the farmers’ market, slip ripe tomatoes in a Ziploc bag and throw them in the freezer. When it comes time to cook them, run the fruit under cold water and the skins will slip right off. It’s easier than blanching them for sauce.
If you can’t make it to Encino this weekend, here is a list of all the Tomatomania events happening this spring.