Today marked the 24th annual Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Tomato Contest, which is coordinated by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, New England Vegetable and Berry Growers Association and the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers’ Markets. And for the 7th year, our own Bob Heiss has officiated as one of the Tomato Judges, putting forth his taste buds in the pursuit of discovering the best tomatoes grown in our fair commonwealth.
The tomato contest takes place each August in downtown Boston in City Hall Plaza, in conjunction with the City Hall Plaza Farmers’ Market. The contest is the official kickoff to Massachusetts Farmers’ Market Week ( August 17th-23rd.)
Before the judging commences, farmers and contest officials race against the clock to unpack and register all of the entries, and place them on numbered plates on their respective tables. Fast work is made of cutting the tomatoes for the judges. Onlookers on the way to work stop and eye the tomatoes and smile.
Over 70 entries are dispersed into the following categories: slicing, cherry, heirloom and heaviest. Each of the 20 judges is assigned a category, and the tasting of these delectable fruits ( yes, tomatoes are botanically classified as a fruit, not a vegetable ) begins. From the sidelines, the rest of us watch as the Judges eat a little, make notes, eat a little more, etc, as they slowly make their way down the length of the tables.
The tables are blanketed with luscious-looking tomatoes in all stripes and shapes. We all have our untasted but clear favorites. What do the Judges look for, some wonder ?
The criteria is very clear –
Flavor: 10 points possible. The perfect tomato should have a strong tomato taste, be slightly acidic, juicy and fresh tasting with a tender skin.
Firmness/Slicing Quality: 5 points possible. A desirable tomato should have a dense uniform thick wall with many seed cavities, completely filled with a jelly-like mass. The firmness of the tomato should be such that it will bruise if dropped, yet is not over-ripe or soft.
Exterior Color: 5 points possible The winning tomato has a uniform color, is free of green shoulders and has no evidence of blotchy ripening.
Shape: 5 points possible Tomatoes come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the variety. Their shape should be symmetrical, but most important, the tomatoes in each entry should be uniform in size.
In the event of a tie, a show-down over best flavor determines the ultimate winner.
First, second, and third place tomato trophies will be awarded in all four categories. Top 5 certificates will also be given in each category.
Here are this years winners:
Slicing Category: 1st place MacArthur Farm, Holliston; 2nd place Rose’s Farm. Swansea; 3rd place Verrill Farm, Concord
Cherry Category: 1st place Red Fire Farm, Granby; 2nd place Red Fire Farm, Granby; 3rd place Kimball Fruit Farm, Pepperell
Heirloom Category: 1st place Ward’s Berry Farm, Sharon; 2nd place Verrill Farm, Concord; 3rd place Red Fire Farm, Granby
Heaviest: 1st place Ward’s Berry Farm Sharon ( a Striped German 3.23 pounds ); 2nd place Kimball Fruit Farm, Pepperell ( a Giant Belgium 2.53 pounds; 3rd Volante Farm, Needham ( a Striped German 2.52 pounds )