Fresh from the Farm: Tomato Throwdown!

This year marked my third judging the Broome Count Legislature and Cornell Cooperative Extension's youth cook-off. I've told you about the experience before - what a thrill it is to see these kids get fired up about local produce and ways to use it - and this year's event was no exception.

Three groups of wonderful kids threw down:

- VINES' Grow Binghamton group: Chris, Kareen, Trenashia and Gabby
- CCE's CITIZEN U: Nye, Danielle, Idasia and Mikayla
- Girl Scout Troop 30075: Miah, Autumn and Sarah

The Grow Bignhamton team made us salsa, straight from the VINE (get it?) with tomatoes from their very own urban farm, plus Chroma's excellent wheat bread jammed with shredded zucchini, garlic, butter and cheese, and then baked up until it was something mellow and savory and delicious. If you use Pinterest, you might call it pull-apart bread, if not, just call it yummy. The salsa was piquant and well seasoned, so good I wanted to drink the liquid out of the bottom.

To the Grow Binghamton squad, we awarded Most Local Products and Best Taste.

Team 2/CITIZEN U made tomato bisque with a twist and bruschetta, made with tomatoes from Lone Maple Farm. The soup's twist was sherry, and it was big, complex, creamy, sweet, savory and so very, very delectable. Because these kids just don't quit, their bruschetta was no mere diced tomato piled on bread - the tiny rounds of baguette were toasted, there was some nice red onion in there for sharpness, and mellow, sweet balsamic glaze made the big finish, the sugary flavor of the bruschetta setting off all the acidity in the soup with perfection.

CITIZEN U garnered the People's Couce and Best Overall awards.

Our friends at Troop 30075 laid it down with dehydrated tomato chips and a wonderful veggie dip served in a tomato cup, flavored with about a million vegetables plus honey and fresh basil. The chips were chewy, robust with sweet, cooked-down tomato flavor. Very concentrated and addictive, and unstoppable with the terrific dip. By unstoppable, I mean I couldn't stop shoving them into my greedy maw. This group's produce came from the Catskill Cattle Company, in Deposit.

Troop 30075 won Best Presentation and Most Creative.

I always find the enthusiasm of the contest's participants infectious. Their pride is evident and comprised of pure joy. But what I'm always surprised by is how good the food is at this thing. I am sure there's an Italian grandmother to be counted somewhere in each one of these groups, but no Sunday sauce here. These kids stretched. Heck, the CCE group's soup was sophisticated enough to be on a restaurant menu, and I would have gladly brought home jars of both VINES' salsa and that veggie dip.

We think kids don't know that French fries come from potatoes or that pickles start as cucumbers, and some don't, which is why progrMs like this one are so important. In many households, Mom and Dad aren't home to cook, so how wonderful it is to hope that these kids will learn about real food in absentia of the lessons from Mom and Grandma each evening. Their energy is evidence that there is, in fact, hope. I also hope they aren't sneaking nips of the sherry.

And I can't miss being thankful to the Broome County Legislature and Cornell Ooperative Extension for encouraging learning with a program that recognizes the participants along the way. My fellow judges Paul Savage, STIR secretary, and Kristen Cox Roby, Southern Tier Eats reporter for the Press and Sun Bulletin, deserve some love, too. It's so fun judging with these two who love food and are as knowledgeable about it as I hope I am.

This week, in recognition of the Tomato Throwdown, I'm going to make Carolina Tomato Pie. I'll post the recipe once I perfect it. Congratulations to all the winners, and thank you for feeding us so well! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

A couple of PSs: 

- my beloved Booker's Backyard in Ithaca, closed last month. I can't tell you how upset I am. They made one of the best lobster rolls I've ever had, and it was a splendid date night spot. I only got to eat there twice! If any Big Hungries has the scoop on what happened or if the owner or chef is planning a curtain call, please report out in the comments!
- we procured a birthday cake for my mother-in-law Stephie last weekend from Chrissy Beanz, in Sackets Harbor. I am feasting on a piece as I write this. It is moist, rich, deep and utterly fantastic. You need a cake from Chrissy Beanz in your life, if you know what's good for you.

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