Tasty tomatoes everywhere at TomatoFest

Published on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 01:06 - Written by Christine Gardner, food@tylerpaper.com

Saturday was a great day in East Texas with plenty of activities in whatever direction you decided to go. North of Interstate 20 was the Grand Saline Salt Festival, in deep East Texas, the Nacogdoches Blueberrry Festival, down south the Jacksonville TomatoFest and out west, the day ended at Pella Legna Vineyard with a grand party for the American Cancer Society at the Cattle Baron’s Gala.

I made my way to Jacksonville and celebrated my favorite taste of summer – red, delicious, juicy tomatoes.

I was asked to be one of the judges for the homemade salsa contest, so I made sure to stop along the way and purchase a couple of packets of Tums. There were 19 salsas to taste in four different categories: Pico de Gallo, Sweet, Medium and Fire Engine Hot.

My stomach turned a little when I saw the category with the most entries was Fire Engine Hot. It was a good thing I ate an extra slice of toast for breakfast to absorb some of the spice that was headed my way.

Within the individual categories, there was a variety of flavors and preparations. Some were thick, others fresh, many cooked and a few with lots of garlic. My taste buds were singing praises when most of them, even the Ghost Pepper Salsa, were not as spicy as expected.

After declaring a winner in each category we found that two of the salsas we like the best came from the same person. The winning salsa in the sweet and fire engine hot category were made by Aaron Belter, of Frankston, and the hot salsa he made was our overall favorite.

Belter’s sweet salsa was a combination of tomatoes, pineapple, honey, apples, peaches lemons, vinegar, salt, habanero peppers and mango. At first bite, there was lots of great fruit flavor and seasoning, and then the heat gets you on the way down.

His fiery version had a similar combination of flavor, then heat, but the ingredients included tomatoes, habaneros, jalapenos, onions, cilantro, vinegar and garlic. Both of them were so good I would have bought a bottle if it was for sale.

Something good that was for sale was the official Tomatofest salsas made for the Chamber of Commerce by Gourmet Gardens in Rusk. They also had a tomato salad dressing that I served to guests on Father’s Day and everyone loved. All are available, while supplies last, from the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

After the salsa contest there was plenty of fun to be had at the tomato-eating, tomato-peeling and best tomato contests. There was even a tomato drop at the Cherokee County airport where private pilots tried to drop tomatoes out of their plane and hit a bulls-eye on the ground.

On my way back to the car, I stopped for some fried-green tomatoes being prepared by Rob Gowin with Sadler’s Kitchen and a basket of tomatoes to take home from Guinn’s Produce stand.

Wanda Guinn is the matriarch of the family and the entire Guinn family was there with, what seemed like, endless boxes of Guinn’s farm-grown tomatoes.

Their store is located at 1603 S. Jackson. And this time of year is their busiest. Mrs. Guinn oversees the business and her son, Jonathan, does all the growing.

I couldn’t wait to get home and slice one of those beautiful tomatoes, sprinkle it with a little salt and bite into the best flavor of summer.

It was a great week for Jacksonville after winning the tomato throwdown against Crystal Springs, Mississippi, in Shreveport on Tuesday, and then a huge turnout and beautiful day for the festival on Saturday.

If you didn’t make it to the festival, there are still plenty of great Jacksonville tomatoes available at Guinn’s Produce, The Tomato Shed and the Onion Shed in Noonday. Eat as much as you can, while they last, and then mark your calendar for next year’s festival.