Dock of the Bay
Volume VII Number 19
Real Tomatoes: Plant in May,
Feast in August
photo by Bill Lambrecht Betty Knapp, of Loch Less Farms, sells all the heirloom tomatoes you could want.
It was almost too much of a good thing when tomato propagator extraordinaire Betty Knapp, of Loch Less Farms in Owings, appeared on New Bay Times' doorstep with a case of tomatoes.
Even in a slow year like 1998, tomatoes are in high season by late August. After months of famine, tomato-lovers have stuffed themselves until they're pushing the envelope of tomato possibilities. As in, 'tonight, dear, we're having fresh cream of tomato soup; tomato, mozzarella and basil salad; tomato bruschetta and ziti with fresh peppery tomato sauce -- topped off with tomato cake and tomato sorbet.'
That's when Knapp sprung her tomato challenge. Could we sample some 16 different varieties of tomato and tell her how they taste?
Wouldn't you know it: Knapp, who grows some four dozen varieties of tomato from seed for sale, doesn't eat raw tomatoes. An agriculture journalism grad of the University of Missouri who's been raising all sorts of plants for sale for 30 years, Knapp knows the pedigree and disease resistance and days to harvest of dozens of tomato varieties. But as for taste, Knapp can't tell an Abe Lincoln from a German Johnson. Or a Mortgage Lifter, for that matter.
If Knapp had been offering just any tomato -- Big Boy or Better Boy, for example -- we might have passed on her challenge. But Knapp is one of Chesapeake Country's pioneer growers of heirloom tomatoes -- the old-fashioned favorites bred for taste instead of travel.
"If you want to taste a real tomato, plant heirlooms," cooperative extension service advisor Jon Traunfeld told me some years ago.
We took his advice, and in the half-dozen years we've been growing Knapp's heirloom plants, we've lost our taste for just any tomato. But by harvest we sometimes forget what we planted where 45 or 60 days back, so one great tomato sometimes gets confused with another.
Knapp delivered her tomatoes all neatly labeled and divided. All we had to do was take notes as we ate 'em.
It was a challenge, but everybody pitched in.
photo by Bill Lambrecht Customer Jack Dorsey, of Owings, buys Rutgers and Supersonics.
We ate big and little tomatoes. We ate red, pink, orange, yellow, white and striped tomatoes -- or rather some of us did. One of our first findings is that color makes a difference. Some people just can't bring themselves to eat a white tomato. Or even a yellow or orange tomato. "Yuck!" such sorts said. "You want me to eat that?"
We ate until eating tomatoes got to be a chore. Ah, for those good old days.
We took our notes on little blue cards and stored them away. By November, when we'd eaten our way through the tomato season, we'd look at the cards nostalgically. By January, we were drooling as we read and remembered just how good an August Mr. Stripey tastes.
By March, when we started laying out this year's garden, tomatoes were still months away. Now, when we're eating home-grown mint and lettuce and spinach and spring onions, tomatoes aren't even in the ground yet.
We've finally learned Traunfeld and Knapp's favorite lesson: that it doesn't pay to plant tomatoes while the ground's still cold.
Now our time has come. "Go for it," says Knapp, who is even now releasing thousands of strong, fragrant foot-tall plants -- among them a couple dozen heirloom varieties -- from her greenhouses.
So, just in time for 1999's tomato planting season, here's our scorecard of tomatoes that taste real:
Developed by seedsman R.H. Shumway in 1923, Abe Lincoln is described by the Totally Tomatoes catalogue as producing "beautiful dark red fruits, sweet, solid and meaty, smooth and free from cracks and seams. This large tomato was taster Kathleen Wilson's favorite. She voted Lincoln, with its hint of citrus, the most "flavorable."
This beautiful tomato is as pretty as a peach. We found it nicely solid with just enough juice and not full of seeds. Its rich, mild, slightly earthy flavor made for very good eating.
One of the best all around. First, this deep red tomato is lovely. With a nice, fit-in-the-hand round, flattish shape and no deep core, it's good for slicing.
Contributing Editor M.L. Faunce praised its "thin skin, and juicy, delicious real tomato flavor. It melts in your mouth," said she.
Tasters also found it meaty and firm.
"A must for my garden!" Editor Sandra Martin said.
A model of truth in advertising. "This rich, red juicy tomato is delicious," Martin said.
Martin and editorial advisor Bill Lambrecht have planted German Johnson in their garden for years, rating it as a big producer as well as a great tomato. It's big and beautiful, with -- in the words of Totally Tomatoes -- "12- to 24-ounce fruits with pink skins and yellow shoulders. One of the highest rated pinks for flavor and yield."
Said Faunce: "Delicious and juicy with nice texture and few seeds."
Giant Belgium, Red and Yellow
These are the beefsteaks of heirloom tomatoes: huge and perfect for slicing. They're so big and beautiful that, notes Martin, "my husband gave me his first borne to take as a gift on first meeting of my son's mother-in-law to be."
NBT taster and garden writer Patricia Acton likes its "lightly spicy, rich flavor."
But you only get a few of these giants from each plant.
This red and yellow ridge-shouldered fruit is surely the world's most beautiful tomato. "Taste confirms my good opinion: thick slices of lemony, meaty, sweet flesh," says Martin.
Mr. Stripey has achieved a following. From the heirloom plant specialists, its fame has taken it even to Southern States. Be sure to buy one when you're out shopping.
The name says it. This descendent of German Johnson is good enough to unmortgage the homestead. Our tasters called it "a lovely red giant, meaty and full of flavor."
The deceptively conventional supermarket-shape of Old Brooks conceals a lovely, rich flavor in a firm tomato. "Flesh is of gourmet quality with fine even texture," according to Totally Tomatoes, which notes its light acidity makes it good for canning. One NBT taster found it flavorful but too watery.
Persimmon is gorgeous. With 16 tomatoes to choose from, Martin called it "my first tasting pick. No wonder. Shaped like a peaked, triangular globe and glowing like a jack-o-lantern, it looks just like its namesake, which is one of my favorite fruits."
It's also tasty: light acidity with a sweet, citrus flavor, according to General Manager J. Alex Knoll. There's also a nice balance of meat and juice.
This pink-ribbed fruit is, according to the Cooperative Extension Service, "firm and meaty." We found it big and beautiful, but one taster, Faunce, complained it was lacking in full flavor. Acton disagreed, noting it tasted slightly sweet with tangy, earthy overtones.
White Potato Leaf
With its clear, lemony color, this is a tomato full of surprises. Tasters who got past its looks praised its "very good high flavor with quite a tang: surprisingly high acid for so light a tomato."
"Very flavorful," said Knoll. Acton called it "sweet and nutty."
White Potato Leaf also earned points for a nice, firm texture.
With its almost white skin and flesh, White Wonder was odder still, but "lovely if unconventional," according to Martin, who found it flavorless and watery. Acton reviewed it more favorably, calling it "mild with a slight earthy flavor."
Nobody got fancy describing this big tomato, but it tasted good to Faunce, who called it "tasty and juicy with a good tomato taste."
Super Sweet 100 (Cherry Tomato)
"Produces long strands of 100 or more cherry tomatoes one-inch in diameter and extra high in vitamin C," notes Totally Tomatoes. We called it "Superb! Excellent! Tomato candy!"
Small Fry (Cherry Tomato)
Don't bother with this cherry tomato, which offers neither sweetness or flavor.
Tomato Lovers' Postscript
If you can't wait until July, you might want to visit the Anne Arundel or Jones Station Farmers' Market early one Saturday. Anne Arundel countian Bob Robey is expected with locally grown tomatoes by the second week in May. "But without sustained sunny days, he's running about 10 days behind," says market organizer Tony Evans of the State Department of Agriculture. Robey raises his greenhouse tomatoes in soil, so, says Evans, his tomatoes taste like the real thing.
NBT's Bill Lambrecht: A Three-Time Winner
Reading New Bay Times, you're likely to know Bill Lambrecht as the flummoxed fisherman whose expeditions are jinxed by voodoo curses incurred on his last visit to Haiti. From week to week, Lambrecht's touch is less flamboyant. You seldom see the byline -- though you often read the unsigned writing -- of our founder and man behind the scenes.
That's because Lambrecht works a day job in Washington, D.C., as the investigative environmental reporter in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's national bureau.
The veteran journalist celebrated his 25th year in the business this month by winning his third Raymond Clapper Memorial Award for excellence in reporting.
Raymond Clapper, a Washington correspondent and columnist for Scripps Howard Newspapers, was killed in an airplane crash while covering the invasion of the Marshall Islands in the closing days of Pacific action during World War II.
The award was established in 1944 to recognize a Washington-based newspaper writer whose work "most clearly approximated the ideals of fair and painstaking reporting and good craftsmanship that were characteristic of Raymond Clapper."
Lambrecht won the 55th annual Clapper for a series of Post-Dispatch articles examining how the world is reacting to a little-heralded revolution: the introduction of genetically engineered seeds and crops.
"I feel fortunate to have had that opportunity. I also feel proud to have contributed as Raymond Clapper did, 'to public enlightenment and a sound democracy'," Lambrecht noted.
His series took him to Brazil, Belgium, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Ireland, India, Panama, Peru and Switzerland. He reported on mass suicides of despairing farmers in India, bioprospecting in the high mountains of Ecuador and sabotage of sugar beets in Ireland.
"I had the opportunity in 1998 to do something that no other American reporter was doing: Cover genetic changes in the building blocks of food and a profound shift in control of what we eat from farm gate to dinner plate," said Lambrecht.
But he brought back no hexes -- at least none that's shown up so far. Although he's not yet wet his line this fishing season.
Lambrecht won his first Clapper Award in 1989 for another international series, Trashing the Earth, documenting the flow of hazardous wastes to dumps in Third World countries without the means to contain such human and environmental poisons. He won again in 1991 for a related series, Broken Trust, documenting how toxic dumpers were next trying to make deals to bury their poisons on Indian reservations.
We wish he could afford to retire and do his full-time digging in Chesapeake Country. But as any graveyard-shift NBT writer will tell you, you can't live on a moonlighting salary. Lambrecht will continue to treat NBT readers to the writing he does for fun, so you're likely to learn whether a third Clapper fixes his fishing jinx.
The Killer Bee: Despite Otter
Brilliance, NBT's News Mongers Got Stung
photos by Mark Burns The Press at Work: NBT's Newsmongers: from left, Bill Lambrecht, Carol Glover, Mary Catherine Ball and Alex Knoll.
That's the word Gradient Construction's Ground Bees won on in the Calvert County Literacy Council's third annual BEE for Literacy.
Typically, it's the thousands of youths throughout the nation who are called to microphones, one by one, to demonstrate their facilities as pertains to the orthography, or spelling, of lengthy, brainy, multisyllabic words under the intimidating scrutiny of grumpy judges empowered with dictionaries almost as big as the nervous lump in Timmy's throat. And we adult types, long ago corrupted by Spell Check, are all too content to sit back and spectate from the shadows of unlit auditorium seats.
But the universe has ways of correcting itself.
Thus it came to pass on Friday, May 7, that the kids stayed home when 52 grown-ups sat at the front of the hall at American Legion Post 206 in Chesapeake Beach to be grilled on proper spelling for three and a half hours.
"The more they went, the more uptight we got," said Carol Glover, contributing editor and speller on New Bay Times' News Mongers team.
Glover and three more of New Bay Times' keenest minds -- general manager Alex Knoll, publisher Bill Lambrecht and intern Mary Catherine Ball -- sat among a field of 13 four-member teams. Spellers included a construction family, bankers, museum staffers, educators (three with PhDs), librarians, lawyers, dentists, politicians and -- of course -- journalists.
Lurking behind these varied contestants were the timekeeper and a pair of judges, poised on a raised platform and illuminated by bright fluorescent light. The gavel pounded with each errant spelling, followed by morbid music and the appearance of a mysterious mustached man, a grim Charon dressed in a black, hooded robe and toting a big stick ready to ferry the dead over the River Styx.
"It gets pretty intense," noted judge Jay Erly before the bee.
But that's not to say it was serious or stuffy like the much more formal student events. This bee began with a Darth Vader in black jeans flashing his plastic light saber and wresting the spelling trophy from the paws of a six-foot otter (the mascot for Calvert Marine Museum's team Otter Brilliance, last year's champs). Joe Rooney and his team, Spellcheck.calm, won small trophies for their beach-bum duds and zinc oxide-covered noses. Librarians dressed to their stereotype, dentist Mark Frazer's team bandaged their jaws and our Mongers dressed like reporters.
Spectators, on the other hand, had their security blanket of non-participation ripped away during breaks in the bee when peers paid to have friends called up front to spell. If the surprised spellers did well, the kindly Doobie Fairy awarded them with small door prizes and silver stickers saying "excellent reader." Otherwise the Punishment Pixie -- a bearded man in tights, a short pink dress and matching curly wig -- tossed silver glitter.
"I was too scared to bring the microphone to my mouth, so I squeaked out a little d-e-n-t-i-s-t," says Betsy Kehne, NBT's production manager, who got a sticker and eluded the pixie dust.
But the real action was in the bee. After the sixth round -- the first to feature advanced words -- four teams had felt the sting; by the end of round seven only the Ground Bees and Calvert Bank's Stinger Bees remained. Several minutes of standoff in the championship round exhausted the original word list, so the judges slackened the rules of winning and began the round anew; the Ground Bees eventually triumphed shortly after 11pm to a hail of cheers from the tiring onlookers.
"I have it on my back porch," said Martha Grahame of the prized trophy, a few days after her team won it. "We'll keep it one week, put the plate with our name on it and then take it in to the Gradient Construction office." Grahame, secretary of the Calvert Literary Council and captain of the Ground Bees, played for the team her son's company sponsored. "I started reading the book they gave us to study with but it put me to sleep," she said, defaulting much of the credit to her teammates.
And what of New Bay Times' noble News Mongers? After a strong start, the team lost footing in round six when they used the only pass to escape "denier," then fell from contention in round seven with an unsuccessful orthographic interpretation of "bouquiniste." That's an antique book seller.
The Calvert County Literary Council repeated last year's fund-raising success by pulling in an estimated net total of $10,000 toward its quest to educate adults in reading, writing and speaking English plus basic math. "People were really very, very generous," said Kathleen Branch, executive director of the Council. But fund-raising and fun had are only a part of the bee's purpose.
Noted Branch, "If this helps us let people know what we do and that we're out there, that's what makes it really successful."
A Lily for Our Lady, Anne Arundell
photos by Mark Burns Homestead Gardens' president Don Riddle and Annapolis mayor Dean Johnson plant the Lady Anne Arundell daylily at City Dock.
Lady Anne Arundell, for whom our county was named, never got to see the fair shores of Chesapeake Bay country back in the early 1600s, though we're told she longed to voyage to the New World. But the wife of Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, has now been given the honor of a special daylily named after her to help us celebrate the 350th anniversary of the founding of Anne Arundel County.
Don Riddle, president of Homestead Gardens, traveled to Holland in search of a unique, unnamed daylily to commemorate the year-long anniversary celebration. The bulbs were "brought back here last January, where they were babied and nurtured in our facility, and grown on site," says Cindy Edson, spokeswoman for Homestead.
Riddle and Annapolis Mayor Dean Johnson have already planted 100 of the specially chosen Hemerocallis at Market House at Annapolis' City Dock. The planting and cleanup of the triangular garden near the waterfront was courtesy of Homestead, which is celebrating its own anniversary this year, its 25th year in business in this area.
Beyond Market Square, Homestead Gardens is giving careful consideration to where the limited edition lilies will bloom. Riddle plans on sharing the plants with area elementary schools to teach children about history and gardening. Some of the hardy perennials may also brighten county roads this summer, but Edson says Homestead is "eager to discuss other charitable opportunities and suggestions for planting the Lady Anne Arundell daylily."
Because when the 5,000 Burgundy wine- colored plants are gone, they're gone. Once all are planted, to get one, you'll have to talk a friend into dividing an existing clump.
A limited number will go on sale May 22 at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville. The May debut was timed for when the plants would bloom.
Lilies have a long history in Chesapeake Country. The six-petaled blossoms that brightened colonial American gardens were first brought here by English settlers.
These carefree plants grow to about two feet, most varieties producing blooms from early spring till fall. But each blossom is as fleeting as youth. Their scientific name -- the Greek hemero and callis -- means beautiful for a day.
Homestead calls the daylily already a "hot item."
The one and one-half gallon size plants will sell for $14.99. A portion of all sales will go to the Celebrate 350th Anniversary website.
In Hollywood, Star Wars fans turned out in force a month in advance to line up for tickets to the new Star Wars movie. A galaxy away from the Evil Empire, we'll see how Marylanders line up to honor the fair Lady Anne Arundell.
Chesapeake Country's Last Great 20th Century Land Campaign: The Missing Link
Synapses sizzled as a roomful of good minds brainstormed on how to recover the Patuxent Greenway's Missing Link, 622 riverfront, tidal and upland acres teetering between asphalt and nature. Of all the ideas, Del. Virginia Clagett's took the cake.
She'd bring Gov. Parris Glendening, "who has a record here," to see the precious acreage for himself. As the Anne Arundel delegate - who has a record herself in preserving precious Patuxent property -- was hatching her plan, a memory flashed. Back in the mid-1970s when the land that is now Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary hung in its own balance, she brought County Executive Robert Pascal and his wife down to take a look from the water.
"We were in a small, flat-bottomed boat when the tide went out," Clagett remembered, and the party went nowhere until they could unstick themselves from the mud.
"This time we'll go out on the high tide," the delegate pledged. Then, clearly seeing a better logic, she revised her plan. "Or maybe low is better," Clagett said.
Thus the governor would be stranded high and dry until he promised to buy the Missing Link in the Patuxent Greenway property.
If Clagett's plan didn't carry the day, there were plenty of others in the wings.
The Missing Link was simply too valuable to lose. Geographically, historically, culturally, environmentally and ecologically, supporter after supporter proclaimed it a treasure. "The crown jewel in this particular ecosystem," said Dr. Dennis F. Whigham, a scientist at the nearby Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
Saved, the 622 acres would -- in Whigham's words -- provide a "lock on the land to preserve the integrity of the ecosystem."
Only 19 miles from the U. S. capitol, the land, literally, is the missing link in a vast preserved greenway stretching along both the Prince George's and Anne Arundel shores of the Patuxent River.
Lost, it would fragment this unique East Coast ecosystem. "The landscape is an integral unit. A lot of creatures need space or they won't be in the area," Whigham said.
Salvation seems at hand. The property's developer is open to preservation offers, reports Debra Osborne of the Trust for Public Land. But loss is a possibility just as real. The bulk of the land, the Genstar property, had been intended as a gravel quarry. That plan failed and the property went up for sale, slipping narrowly out of public hands. It was then combined with the 189-acre Door property in another development plan. Zoning apparently blocked that development. But zoning laws change. Lost now, the Missing Link might be lost forever.
At $3 million, it's a bargain: about what Glendening and Anne Arundel County have just paid for Franklin Point on Chesapeake Bay. And far less than the $23.5 million the state committed last year to save Chapman's Landing on the Potomac River. But, as in those campaigns, the Missing Link won't get bought unless citizens drive the bargain.
While Del. Clagett is arranging the governor's boat trip, Anne Arundel County officials said County Executive Janet Owens would prefer citizens speaking for the Missing Link in the forum of the South County Small Area Planning committee.
The committee meets between 6 and 8pm on second and fourth Tuesdays at Southern High School in Harwood.
Way Downstream ...
In Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation says that officials are not being up front about the dangers of mercury contamination in fish from the Shenandoah River. The state says you should eat no more than one serving per week of Shenandoah-caught fish. The CBF hired Old Dominion University's Applied Marine Research Laboratory to conduct studies that suggested no more than three or four servings yearly ...
In Minnesota, Voyageurs National Park announced last week that personal watercraft now are banned. In a public comment period, those wanting to ban jet skis vastly outnumbered those who wanted them legal in the northeastern Minnesota park ...
In Washington State, a new pro-recycling ad campaign features five garbage men known as The Collectors, dressed in blue coveralls and performing "trashy" covers of popular songs. The Collectors sound kinda goofy but they are credited with tripling the amount of recycling in Tacoma ...
Our Creature Feature comes to us from California, where even the birds are hanging out at the Starbucks. The Sacramento Bee reports that four barn owls for some reason perch near the Starbucks in a Sacramento food mall.
It's not known whether the rare and usually secretive owls enjoy the bouquet of coffee wafting in the air or why they showed up. Starbucks employee Cassidy Houchens didn't sound overly impressed: "It's great they live here; it's great they can survive and everything. But they don't do anything particularly interesting."
| Issue 19 |
Volume VII Number 19
May 13-19, 1999
New Bay Times
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