Tomato Grower’s Passion Brings Back Forgotten Flavor

The federal government has sponsored research that has produced
a tomato that is perfect in every respect, except that you can’t
eat it.

– Andy Rooney
“The federal government has sponsored research that has produced a tomato that is perfect in every respect, except that you can’t eat it.” – Andy Rooney

“An ugly bottom is delicious!” Sherrie Kennedy says as she shows me her latest harvest of heirloom tomatoes. “It’s true,” she explains as she turns one over to reveal the long scar running across the red underside. “I look at the bottoms of the tomatoes because the uglier ones are the sweetest.”

“If you rely on grocery store tomatoes, you will never know the superior and complex flavors of homegrown heirloom tomatoes,” Kennedy explains to me as I sample the fabulous tomatoes she is growing and selling on Holsclaw Road in Gilroy.

“It’s like wine tasting. There are over 500 varieties of heirlooms with names like Brandywine, Pink Ping Pong, Green Zebra, White Wonder, Indian Moon, and Cherokee Purple. Some people think they don’t like tomatoes,” Kennedy continues, “But they just haven’t found the right tomato for their taste.”

One variety Kennedy is growing is the Tiger-Like, 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 that is Kennedy’s specialty 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.

Kennedy and her farming neighbors are part of a tight-knit community that makes up one of our city’s remaining undeveloped greenbelt areas. It has just the right amount of wind and rich soil necessary for growing the most delicious fruits and vegetables.

“I wish I could do a brain drain and take in all the knowledge these guys have,” Kennedy says of neighbors Dirk Burkser, Tommy Obata, Jack Sterla, and Eddie Tognetti.

Tognetti made sure the new dirt road for Kennedy’s tomato customers was graded just right before she opened her tomato stand for a second season. “They look out for me,” Kennedy says with a smile. After all the rain delayed the growing season this spring, Carmen Patane, Sr., reassured her, “Don’t worry, my tomatoes are late too.” Sterla brought seeds to her in a little medicine bottle for a hybrid tomato called “Emma,” and she is giving them a try. The “Emma” tomato is named for Emma Frassetti, a member of the long-time farming Frassetti family of Gilroy.

Just back from Italy, Carmen Patane, Jr., stopped by the tomato stand and commented, “These are just as good as anything I had there.”

Kennedy implements improvements each season. She has voluntarily gone all-organic in her fertilization methods, and she keeps pests away by spraying her tomato plants with organic cedar spray. She cleans the tomatoes using organic products, and dries them with white towels so that she can see that no soil is left behind on them.

As a former coach at Gilroy High who holds a Master’s Degree in Health, Kennedy stresses the health benefits of tomatoes: “Tomatoes are a great source of Lycopene, an antioxidant which has been proven to reduce the risk of many kinds of cancer, and it is particularly active against skin cancer.”

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.”

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.

“You can take one of these one and a half pound tomatoes and slice it, stew it, sauce it, or freeze it,” she says, “And it will taste just as good this winter.”

To try Sherrie Kennedy’s tomatoes, go east on 6th 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. Call 408-842-9350.

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