Carroll County’s master gardeners may soon also be known as master bakers, as they cook up bread recipes featuring their prized heirloom tomatoes as the star ingredient.
The gardeners are preparing this week for the county’s annual Heirloom Tomato Festival to celebrate the summer crop.
The festival will be held 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Aug. 20, at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster, alongside the popular Carroll County Farmers Market.
Visitors can stop by and sample more than 50 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, all grown by master gardeners in their home gardens, according to festival spokesperson and master gardener Marty Hankins.
“We have four different bread recipes, all of which include tomatoes as an ingredient, and we will have samples of those breads for people to taste and take with them,” Hankins said.
One is a corn bread made with zucchini and tomatoes and another is a garlic bread with tomatoes and cheddar.
A heirloom tomato is a variety that has been passed down through generations of a family. To be considered an heirloom, the plants have to be open pollinated by the wind or insects and must have existed for at least 50 years.
From Edgecombe, Yellow Brandywine to Persimmon Orange, Polish Linguisa, Black Krim and Garden Peach, each heirloom tomato has its own distinct flavor, the gardeners say.
Roughly two dozen master gardeners will be present to provide information on how to grow heirloom tomatoes and hand out heirloom seeds for people to take home. There will be recipe cards, T-shirts and other tomato-themed merchandise for sale.
There’s also a raffle and a contest to guess how many tomatoes are in a jar that comes with a $50 gift certificate to a flower shop in Littlestown, Pennsylvania.
The first Carroll County Heirloom Tomato Festival was held in 2003 at the Carroll County Farm Museum, which also houses the heirloom garden. Fewer than a dozen people showed up that year. The festival has grown over the years as the master gardeners add new attractions. A well attended festival has about 500 to 700 people, and they can expect the same great atmosphere, Hankins said.
“We’re not making any major changes this year,” she said. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
Miss Tomato, the festival’s costumed mascot introduced in 2011, will wander through the farmers market throughout the day to let people know about the festival and to hand out tomato-themed activity books and other goodies.
Christa Pusateri, who has served as Miss Tomato for the past several years, said she volunteers to do it because she loves the tomato festival.
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“I wear the costume and I walk around the farm market all day, and I scare little babies and dogs with my costume,” she said, with a chuckle. “But I love to meet and greet people and make sure that they know about the festival.”
The 68-year-old, who became a master gardener in 2009, intends to keep being Miss Tomato for as long as the costume fits, she says: “Tomato for life.”
In recent years, the Saturday festival has been held as a sort of adjunct to the weekly farmers market at the Ag Center. The master gardeners will also have some bugs on display and talk about the differences between beneficial and destructive insects.
“We try to make it as educational about growing heirloom and gardening as possible. The purpose of the master gardeners is educate the public about gardening practices,” Hankins said.
The master gardeners are representatives of the University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener Program, where they learn best practices for gardening. They serve as educators and ambassadors during programs and activities such as Ask a Master Gardener tables at various farmers markets throughout the season.
It takes a village of volunteers to set up the Heirloom Tomato Festival, Hankins said. The planning begins each fall and tomato planting starts in March. Everything leads up to the festival, where the master gardeners can savor the fruits of their labor.
More information on Carroll County Master Gardeners and their programs and events can be found online at http://www.carrollcountymastergardeners.org and on the University of Maryland extension website carroll.umd.edu/mastergardener.cfm.