The ups and downs of a tomato

Triumphs and woes: Tomatoes have had a tough season, so celebrate these fruits of the vine at festivals near and far. Courtesy of ASAP
Triumphs and woes: Tomatoes have had a tough season, so celebrate these fruits of the vine at festivals near and far. Courtesy of ASAP


Marvelous 'maters

Tomatoes are one of summer's many delights. One bite of these juicy fruits with their tangy skins and sweet insides is enough to make a veggie-lover swoon. Celebrate this incredible fruit at two free festivals in early August.

ASAP will put the fruits front and center at its annual tomato festival, Saturday, Aug. 10, at the Asheville City Market (event info at http://avl.mx/xd). Activities include a chance to sample and vote on a wide array of tomato varieties from 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

Farmers will also share some of their favorite recipes and the public is invited to submit their own at http://avl.mx/xc. Put your recipe to the test, whether you hold the secret to your grandma's famous sauce or have a modern tomato creation all your own.

William Dissen, executive chef and owner of The Market Place, will cook up tomato concoctions on the spot, such as heirloom tomatoes with hand-pulled mozzarella. Or his menu could include a tomato-and-melon salad with pork belly. Curious tomato-lovers will have to see for themselves.

The town of Canton will also honor the lovable tomato at its very own Materfest. The area's flagship event features a parade, antique cars, music and plenty of tomatoes for everyone. Are you or your gal the most luscious tomato-lover or eater in the land? Prove it at the Mrs. Materfest pageant. The queen of the 'maters will be crowned on Friday, Aug. 2, at 6:30 p.m.

Then see how many tomatoes fit in your belly at a tomato-eating contest on Saturday, Aug. 3, at 6 p.m. The festival is held in downtown Canton. Don't forget a napkin and your appetite. Canton Materfest: Friday, Aug. 2, and Saturday, Aug. 3, (http://www.focusofcanton.com).

Help for tomato troubles

It's been a rough year for tomatoes. Early blight swept through the region and ravaged many tomato plants when they were still young and tender. The crops that made it through the first round face their own set of challenges — late blight and too much rain.

But it can be hard for the beginning gardener to tell the difference between over-watering and late blight. In both cases, the leaves turn yellow and the plant begins to look sickly. "I've seen some gardens that look pretty sad," says Lew Applebaum, Buncombe County Cooperative Extension master gardener volunteer.

He has a few suggestions: The first line of defense is to prune any yellowing leaves, especially from the bottom of the plant. If upper leaves develop dark spots, consider putting down plastic mulch to stop blight from splashing on the bottom of the plant.

If you think your plants can be saved or are looking for a way to prevent blight, you can apply copper as an organic option (this works best before blight sets in).

When all else fails, rip out the entire plant. Late blight travels via rain and can infect your neighbors' tomatoes if not removed. Your neighbors will thank you for destroying the plants and keeping blight at bay. And if you ask nicely, chances are they'll show their appreciation with a few ripe tomatoes to share.

North American fruit hunters

You probably won't see these explorers with pith helmets and machetes, but they are blazing the trail in the fruit world. The Buncombe Fruit and Nut Club will host the next North American Fruit Explorers meeting Thursday, Aug. 8, through Sunday, Aug 11.

The gathering will honor the club's original founders and educate younger members who "want to know what the old farts have to say for themselves," says Orchardist Bill Whipple on the club's website. The meeting will be like "an old camp revival," with plenty of opportunities for people to share ideas and interact with members young and old.

The funds raised by the gathering will go toward supporting the NAFEX library of rare fruit and nut books. $60 includes local food. http://buncombefruitnuts.blogspot.com

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