Get a Taste of Food History with Heirloom Events

Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival

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Get a Taste of Food History with Heirloom Events

Before the industrialization of agriculture in the United States, a much wider variety of fruit and vegetables were grown, using natural seeds, mostly natural fertilizers, and non-mechanical harvesting techniques.

Flavor was prized over beauty, and lumpy-faced tomatoes and random colored apples were cherished because they tasted so delicious.

Today, most food crops are grown in large fields or orchards, with just a few varieties of each type of crop grown. Varieties are selected for their high yield, vigorousness in difficult growing conditions, and toughness against mechanical picking and cross-country shipping. Heirloom supporters feel that too often now, flavor falls by the wayside.

The same theory holds true for meats, fish, dairy, cheeses, breads, and virtually anything edible.

Anyone who eats at most good Sonoma County restaurants or shops in good Sonoma County stores enjoys an abundance of heirloom foods, because such products are grown, raised and crafted here. Yet for an even richer understanding of the joys of heirloom foods, visitors can attend several events showcasing the all-natural goodness.

National Heirloom Festival, Sept. 10-12, 2013

Passion for the pure food movement and heirloom eating is the theme of the third annual National Heirloom Exposition at Santa Rosa's Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The message is simple: rather than applying too much chemical science to our cuisine, we should be eating simply and cleanly, the way Earth intended.

And apparently, we want to listen: last year's exposition drew more than 20,000 attendees, gathering for the more than 100 speakers, 300 natural food vendors, and displays of 3,000-plus heirloom varieties of produce and livestock.

Here's what to look forward to this year:

  • Besides amazing food, vendors will offer everything from heirloom plants and produce to art, photography, ceramics, jewelry, books, and handcrafted linens.
  • Award winning chef and Master Culinary Artist Ray Duey will hand carve fruits and vegetables into culinary sculptures.
  • Chefs in the local food hall will prepare gourmet dishes featuring heirloom vegetables, all-natural ingredients, and organic free range meat, ranging from Asian to European flavors.
  • Visitors can stock up on homemade canned goods, herb-infused cooking oils, spices, artisan cheeses and breads, teas and many other all-natural snacks and cooking essentials.
  • It's an opportunity to meet interesting people, like worm farmers, tomato grower and supplier to top Bay area restaurants Brad Gates, and The Great Pumpkin Patch and Homestead Seeds owner Mac Condill.
  • An on-site farmers market brims with locally grown heirloom vegetables, with demonstrations hosted by the farmers themselves. You can also but the heirloom plants and seeds to grow your own, and learn about garden tools, organic fertilizers and pest control.

Details: National Heirloom Exposition, Sept. 10-Sept. 12, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. At the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Rd., Santa Rosa. Single-day ticket, $10; multiday ticket, $25. Children 17 and under free. Tickets can be purchased online, and at the gate.


Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, Sept. 28, 2013

At this 13th annual tomato celebration, nearly 50 of Sonoma's top chefs will gather to present endless edibles centered around the more than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes that are grown in every size, shape and color imaginable in the culinary garden of K-J's Wine Center in Santa Rosa.

Tomatoes can be tasted raw, or in chef's creations, like tomato snow cones, tomato cotton candy, tomato macaroons, tomato crème brulee, a bevy of BLTs, Pop Rock-tomato ceviche, and sparkling tomato water glittering with cucumber "pearls." Guests vote for their favorite, and the winning is chef is deemed tomato king or queen.

The sheer sumptuousness of the tomatoes themselves give the chefs an inspirational edge. With names ranging from elegant (Brandywine, Blue Fruit) to precious (God Love, Peace Vine) to bizarre (Ding Wall Scotty, Mortgage Lifter, Olga's Round Yellow Chicken, Pink Ping Pong), the tomatoes offer a virtual candy box of ravishing flavors and textures. Guests can browse the parade of display tables and nibble the fruit out-of-hand like apples.

Plan on making a day of tomatoes. With the event running from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., there are also wine and garden seminars, wine tastings, a tomato growing contest, live entertainment, and tours of K-J's 2-1/2-acre sensory garden with plantings that mimic the flavors of wines.

Details: Tickets for the perennial sell-out are $95 and can be purchased at 800-769-3649, or at the Kendall-Jackson Tasting Room in Healdsburg (337 Healdsburg Avenue), or at

Find more info on Things to Do, Wineries & Wine, Hotels & Lodging, and Restaurants in Sonoma County.

Carey Sweet