Tomato Fiesta!

July 20th, 2009

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‘Tis the season, the plump red tomatoes of Marmande are in the spotlight:  on July 24 and 25th the bastide town overflows with Tomato Fiesta festivities.  One of the most important French fruit growing regions surrounds Marmande in northern Gascony, south east of Bordeaux. Until the nineteenth century’s Phylloxera epidemic wiped out French grape vines, lands sloping down to the Garonne River were a patchwork of vineyards. It took over fifty years of recovery to plant the same hills in fruit and vegetables, primarily strawberries, tomatoes and fruit trees, taking advantage of a fruit-favorable micro-climate. It was only in the latter half of the twentieth century that wine making was revived and the Côtes de Marmande wines were again produced. The perfectly round tomato called the Marmande, developed in this region, is only one variety to be found in the town’s animated Saturday morning market. And this is indeed the season to sniff out other varieties, their heady aromas filling the air. The rosy-pink Coeur de Boeuf (pictured above) is a local favorite, but Romas and San Marinos for super sauces appear on vendors’ stalls as well.

The Tomato Fiesta gets underway  Friday the 24th of July with a late afternoon market and chef Fabrice Biasolo’s cooking workshops. A recipe contest will also be judged (deadline for all recipe-blogger entries is the 23rd!), and tomatoes are featured on Marmande menus all weekend.  At 7:00 on Friday evening, a fanfare parade led by the Confréries Chevalier de la Pomme d’Amour* opens the festivites.  Saturday morning, things get rolling early and an expanded weekly market teases shoppers with tomato tastings. Another chef’s atelier/workshop led by an Italian and a Spanish chef fills the morning; contests, games and music hold sway all day.  And after the choosing, the tasting, the cooking, you will still say:  Some French tomato!

*Brotherhood of the Love Apple

Note:  For details on the tomato recipe contest, see: www. marie-marmande.fr or www.concours.tomatoaquitaine.fr and for other tomato events in France, see index.htmltomodori.com. September’s tomato harvest is celebrated in the Loire valley near Montlouis: visit www.chateaulabourdaisiere.com for more on this major autumn fête.

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