We promised you Heirloom Tomato Preserves. In early Spring, tucked away on one of the very last pages of our catalog, we featured a photo of ten unlabeled jars in shades of orange and red and yellow and green, with a brief caption identifying those jars as Heirloom Tomato Preserves and indicating that they’d be available come Fall. It was a subtle promise, but a promise nonetheless, so we mailed our catalogs and set about keeping it.
Mike Everts, of Blackbird Gardens right here in Petoskey, nearly doubled the size of his tomato patch, planting row after row of Brandywine, Green Zebra, Wapsipinicon Peach and Orange Moonglow tomatoes for us on his beautiful little piece of land overlooking Little Traverse Bay. And then we waited while Mike and his crew of gardeners carefully tended to the tomato patch — transplanting and watering hardy little seedlings, standing guard against cutworms, crafting elaborate structures to support the growing vines, and pruning back suckers to encourage fruiting.
We waited for fruit through the cool, cloudy month of June and the cool, cloudy month of July and the cool, cloudy month of August and then, almost as soon as we’d resigned ourselves to the fact that this was simply not a good year for tomatoes, the sun came out and Mike’s Blackbird gardeners were able to harvest every last one of their Brandywine and Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes for preserving.
Just a few days later, our kitchen staff had peeled, seeded, and cooked down the tomatoes to create the most intriguingly delicious preserves I’ve ever tasted. Actually, the Wapsipinicon Peach preserves were only pretty good, so they were shared among staff. It’s the Brandywine preserves that are so fantastic.
For starters, they smell almost exactly as if you’re standing amid the towering rows of Mike’s tomato patch at the height of summer, surrounded by leafy green vines laden with ripening red orbs. The taste is intensely and distinctly tomato-y; in fact, it took two pounds of tomatoes to create one nine ounce jar of preserves. They’re tangy and sprightly and sweet, all at once. Chef Paul Ramey recommends Heirloom Tomato Preserves on pizza crust with fresh mozzarella and herbs, sandwiched between slices of hearty bread with sharp cheddar and arugula, as an accompaniment to cornbread or in place of fresh tomato on a winter BLT. Of course, having spent the better part of an afternoon sampling small spoonfuls directly from the jar in a selfless effort to accurately describe our Heirloom Tomato Preserves, I can assure you they’re awfully good that way too. We only have 210 jars, and we don’t expect the supply to last long.