Food and drink: An attack of killer tomatoes 

Tomato season is in full bloom – bet your mouth can’t wait

One big, fat, messy tradition occurs on the last Wednesday of every August when thousands of people gather in the little medieval town of Buñol in Spain for the biggest tomato war on earth. La Tomatina it’s called, and this year they threw six truckloads — maybe 100 tons — of juicy, red ripe tomatoes at each other. The town also hauled in 500 showers so everybody could clean up afterwards.

Lillooet cannot lay claim to such an outrageous tomato fest, but they do grow some pretty hot tomatoes there, and though town walls aren’t splattered with drippy red splotches this time of year, we’re still in the thick of the season, so to speak.

“Lillooet has a huge history of tomato growing. We used to have a big, big cannery that hired hundreds of people from all around. All the plateaus, including some of the reservations and so on, used to grow tomatoes,” says Leslie Malm, who helps her parents run Old Airport Garden in Lillooet.

“They would take the kids out of school in early September to pick tomatoes because they had so many and not enough labour to deal with them.”

Now the kids stay in school in early September. The cannery, which was started by Japanese families making a living in the area after the World War II internment camps closed, burnt down in the early 1960s. Local gossip had it that it was arson to force the canning production south to the States.

As for the plateaus lining the valley that once were festooned with tomato plants, it’s now pretty much come down to people growing them in their big backyards and at Old Airport Garden — the only commercial tomato-growing venture left.

But that doesn’t undermine the quality of the tomatoes. They’re still superb, due to the wonderful sunny climate (fewer than 80 days of precipitation annually) and the steadfast soil.

“We grow the best tomatoes in B.C.,” says Sumi Tanaka, who, along with her husband, Bill, have about 100 plants growing in their backyard. Leslie and her family grow good ones, too, she concedes good-naturedly, but the Tanakas just give theirs away.

Meanwhile, down at Old Airport Garden where they have four acres of tomato plants, people are driving in from 100 Mile House, from Vancouver, from Kamloops to get some red-hot tomatoes. Some pick them themselves, maybe 1,500 pounds. Another family, Italian, went for 3,000 pounds. That’s right — 3,000 pounds. I don’t have too many zeroes there.

Readers also liked…

Latest in Glenda Bartosh on Food

More by Glenda Bartosh

© 1994-2019 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation