samples at the Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival

I went to the Heirloom Tomato Festival at the Kendall-Jackson vineyards this Saturday, courtesy of our generous landlords who had spare tickets. The catch is I went solo. As a residency widow, I confess this happens from time to time. But I tell you, traveling alone can be more entertaining than you think.

I saw a gaggle of tipsy bridesmaids in absurdly large Kentucky Derby-style hats. A couple older broads giggling over their chardonnay and doing the Elaine. A band playing a rousing steel-drums rendition of Guantanamera. A quick-fire competition between Top Chef stars Kevin Gillespie, CJ Jacobson, and Jennifer Carroll—who said she’s opening her own restaurant in Philadelphia, for any of you East Coasters living in the vicinity.

And as the festival name alludes, I saw and sampled more than 120 varieties of heirloom tomatoes grown in the winery gardens for this event. A recipe for acid reflux? You bet. But it was so worth it. Tomatoes of every name and description were organized by color on tables at the center of the festival—from dusky purple to fire-engine red, rusty orange, pale yellow, striped green, and even white.

The crowd

One of 170 heirloom tomato varieties

My childhood obsession with Crayola crayons came rushing back because, like with crayons, the tomato names are half the appeal. Descriptors like Aunt Ginny’s Purple, Uncle Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, and Wolford’s Wonder adorned each plate of diced samples, ready to be skewered on a toothpick and savored for their particular balance of acidity and flavor.

Six seed packets earned a place in our garden next summer. They’ll be hard-pressed to beat this summer’s Sun Gold cherry tomato bush in our backyard. After 120 tomato samples, I’m still smitten.

Roasted tomatoes on polenta

Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Recipe courtesy of Proud Italian Cook

Cherry tomatoes (Sun Gold if you can find them)


Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cherry tomatoes in olive oil, salt, pepper, and thinly sliced garlic and pour them onto a rimmed baking sheet. Cook until the tomatoes pop and are beginning to brown, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Serve the roasted tomatoes and juices over pasta, polenta, pizza—there are endless variations for this impromptu sauce.