It is said that dogs look like their owners. And I have come to the conclusion that the same can be said for the types of produce a farmer grows and the type of person he or she is. A visit to Leaning Shed Farm’s stand at Green City Market this time of year reveals not just five or six types of tomatoes as you might see at other stands, but 45—yes, 45—types of heirloom tomatoes grown by Dave Dyrek, helped by his wife Denise (when she’s not working her day job).
Much like the type of person who spends hours in a garage tinkering on inventions, Dave likes to experiment with growing different kinds of tomatoes. He’s got that same creative spirit—and the long, unruly hair to match the part. Last year he grew a Black Krim heirloom tomato that I loved, but it was absent this year. Instead, a new heirloom from France, the juicy Jaune Flamme, has become one of my favorites.
And, as I scan Dave’s tables filled with produce and note he has vegetables I’ve never heard of or seen—poona kheera (an heirloom cucumber from India), West Indian gherkin (related to the cucumber), Orient Express cucumbers, and a big Boothby’s blond cucumber—
he replies: “I think a farmer’s market should offer unusual things.” And, true to his words, of all the stands at Green City Market, Leaning Shed Farm (named for an actual shed in that state on their farm) has some of the most unusual produce along with a fabulous assortment of heirloom tomatoes.
Ah, the tomatoes. Figuring out which type to try is made easier by signs in each bin that describe each tomato’s qualities. But a simple approach to buying is this: get some of your favorite standbys, and then try one or two (or more) varieties each time you visit. Some like the red Zebra are firm, some like the Cherokee Purple and Black Tula are meaty, some like the Jaune Flamme are juicy, while others like the Golden Honey Bunch and Brown Berry are splendidly sweet.
Another sweet tomato is the Pineapple Ground Cherry, which does have a pineapple taste! And, as the name implies, the Sweet Pea tomato are pea-size, the tiniest tomatoes I’ve ever seen. Dave describes them as “the best red currant tomato,” but says he won’t grow them again because they take hours to pick. (Hence, the $7 a pint price.) One year this, one year that. You just don’t know what you’re going to get from a creator.
For me, fresh, ripe, local heirloom tomatoes full of flavor and summer sun are one of the biggest reasons to shop at a farmers’ market. They are delicious simply sliced and sprinkled with sea salt. The classic Caprese salad is more impressive using a variety of heirlooms in different colors and textures. And tomatoes are intensely flavorful when roasted, which also is a perfect way to use up extra tomatoes. One of my favorite recipes follows. Roasted tomatoes can even be frozen and enjoyed months later when tomato season is but a memory.
Slow-Roasted Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from a recipe by cookbook author Sally Schneider
Using this method, tomatoes are cooked slowly at very low heat until they lose moisture and their natural sugars and flavor become concentrated.
4 pounds ripe tomatoes, about 30 plum tomatoes (try black plums) or 12 to 16 regular tomatoes*
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar (or less)
½ teaspoon salt (or to your liking)
Freshly ground black pepper
Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise through the stem; larger tomatoes should be quartered through the stem.
In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with 1½ tablespoons of oil, sugar, salt, and pepper to coat. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up on a large baking sheet or jelly roll pan lined with aluminum foil.
Roast the tomatoes in a preheated 325°F oven until they have lost most of their liquid and are beginning to brown and caramelize, about 2½ to 3 hours. They should look like dried apricots and hold their shape when moved.
Cool to room temperature; brush with remaining oil before serving. Makes about 60 roasted tomato halves or quarters. Freeze leftover tomatoes in a plastic container or cover them with olive oil and refrigerate for up to 10 days.
*Any quantity of tomatoes larger or smaller will work; adjust proportions of ingredients accordingly.
Leaning Shed Farm
Berrien Springs, Michigan