New Tomato Grower Brings Back Forgotten Flavors

There’s only two things that money can’t buy. That’s true love
and home grown tomatoes.

~ Guy Clark,

Home Grown Tomato,

from the album


“There’s only two things that money can’t buy. That’s true love and home grown tomatoes.” ~ Guy Clark, “Home Grown Tomato,” from the album “Keepers.”

If you rely on grocery store tomatoes, you will never know the superior and complex flavors of homegrown heirloom tomatoes. “It’s like wine tasting,” Sherrie Kennedy told me as I tasted the fabulous tomatoes she grows on Holsclaw Road in Gilroy.

Some heirlooms have a peachy flavor, some are plum-shaped and the color of rich chocolate. “Some people think they don’t like tomatoes,” Kennedy says, “but they just haven’t found the right tomato for their taste.” There are more than 500 varieties of heirlooms with names like German Red Strawberry, Pink Ping Pong, Green Zebra, White Wonder, and Cherokee Purple.

When Kennedy stood back and surveyed the trellis system she had created for vining heirloom tomatoes, she was surprised to realize that “Lo and behold, it reminded me of my grandmother’s next door neighbor from Italy, Mrs. Goria, and how her garden looked.”

She had recreated a little piece of 19th century gardening and brought a bit of history back to life. But it was not just about recreating a childhood scene; growing heirlooms is about bringing back flavors that many people have not tasted in a generation.

One variety Kennedy is growing is the Tiger-Like Tomato, a sweet reddish-orange tomato with yellow-green streaks that is about double the size of a cherry tomato. “It’s like eating a tomato with all the flavors of V8 juice,” she describes.

Another variety she decided to try her hand at growing is the Mortgage Lifter Heirloom Tomato. Developed by an auto mechanic who was also a plant breeder, the tomato gets its name from the way it saved his farm when he was able to sell enough to pay off his mortgage. Slices of this richly flavored one-pound pink beefsteak just melt in your mouth.

At first skeptical of this city girl’s green thumb, Kennedy’s quick learning ability and scientific approach have won over her third-generation farming neighbors. Kennedy’s tomatoes meet USDA standards, and she meticulously logs all growing information as she nurtures the plants from germination to full-grown plants.

Kennedy’s neighbors, Dirk Burkser, Tommy Obata, and Eddie Tognetti are part of a tight-knit community that makes up one of the last agricultural greenbelts in the area.

“They look over the fence and say, ‘You got bugs.’ ” When it comes to the next growing hazard Kennedy needs to look out for, they tell her, “We’ll help you watch.”

If you’ve ever wished you could capture summer in a jar, imagine a cold winter night warmed with a plate of pasta flavored with a gourmet tomato sauce.

“I have a dream of one day having a boutique kind of fruit stand here,” she explains. She envisions incorporating her friends’ talents for crafts with her tomato products.

As a former Gilroy High P.E. teacher and coach, the health benefits of tomatoes are important to Kennedy: “Tomatoes are a great source of Lycopene, which has been proven to reduce the risk of many kinds of cancer, as well as heart disease.”

Kennedy observes, “If kids become aware that there is a taste to tomatoes, a variety that really is divinely delicious, they are more willing to eat in healthier ways.”

To try Sherrie Kennedy’s tomatoes, go east on Sixth Street and follow the road until you reach Holsclaw Road, turn right and follow it for about a mile until you see large tomato signs. Or, call 842-9350.

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