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Supersized: A Columbus grower's garden shows off at summer's end

 

Columbus gardener Benny Yarbrough holds a Mountain Majesty tomato that tipped the scales at almost one-and-a-half pounds. He harvested it from his garden last week. Read on for recipes to jazz up the season’s remaining tomato harvest.

Columbus gardener Benny Yarbrough holds a Mountain Majesty tomato that tipped the scales at almost one-and-a-half pounds. He harvested it from his garden last week. Read on for recipes to jazz up the season’s remaining tomato harvest. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

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Yarbrough’s tomato weighed in at 1.44 pounds.

Yarbrough’s tomato weighed in at 1.44 pounds.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

A couple of days ago, an email came my way with a photo of Benny Yarbrough holding a brag-worthy tomato. Yarbrough wasn't looking for attention, but had shared the picture because it was the largest tomato he's harvested in all his years of gardening. The fruit picked last week in his east Columbus plot tipped the scale at 1.44 pounds. Your everyday medium tomato usually weighs in at about 4 ounces, so the photo commemoration was understandable -- and it gives us a chance to talk tomatoes. 

 

Yarbrough didn't set out to grow a whopper.  

 

"I didn't do anything different, didn't give it any extra fertilizer," said the grower who uses rabbit manure and a sub-surface watering system for his one-third-acre garden. The sub-surface method minimizes the water he needs to use to nourish the peas, butter beans, string beans, peppers, cantaloupe, cucumbers, squash and more he grows to feed his family and sell at his Yarbrough's Produce booth at the Hitching Lot Farmers' Market. 

 

The Noxapater native grew up on a dairy farm where he learned all about work ethic and developed a deep affinity for the land. 

 

"All of my life has been about agriculture to some degree," the Mississippi State University alumnus said. "My dad had extra space and had a pick-your-own operation for many years; my family knew what work was like." 

 

Yarbrough went on to work at MSU for more than 21 years, specializing in landscape management; he retired four years ago. It gave him the opportunity to get back to some serious gardening. He serves as a substitute teacher locally as well.  

 

"I didn't retire to quit work," he laughed.  

 

 

 

Variety, the spice of life 

 

Yarbrough prefers the simple approach when it comes to gardening.  

 

"My most expensive tool at this point is a tiller," he smiled. He uses as many organic practices as possible, doing all he can to replenish and improve the nutrients in the soil, which suits his 280 or so tomato plants representing about 20 varieties.  

 

He grew five new varieties this year, and has been quite impressed with at least three of them -- the Mountain Majesty, the Blue Ribbon and the Heritage. ("We ate a Heritage tomato Sunday morning with our biscuits and mmm, it was some kinda good!" he said.)  

 

Yarbrough and his former boss at MSU, Rob Rice, enjoy sharing varieties and gardening information. It was Rice who initially came across the Mountain Majesty variety, developed by North Carolina State University. 

 

Which brings us back to the big tomato. 

 

"I knew for two or three weeks that it was going to be nice," Yarbrough said of the noteworthy fruit. "And I ate every bit of it!" The final slice, in fact, overlapped the bread of a tasty tomato sandwich.  

 

If you have an itch to grow a monster tomato, start with good genetics and select a variety known for size. The world record tomato -- at 7 pounds, 12 ounces, grown in 1986 by Gordon Graham of Oklahoma (Guinness Book of World Records) -- was a variety called Delicious. Others recommended often include Big Zac, Supersteak, Beefsteak and Giant Belgium. Full sun, well-drained soil and generous amounts of organic matter to make the soil rich are must-haves.  

 

As summer begins to wane, check out recipes below for ways to use the fresh tomatoes still to come to the farmers' markets. Then read Anne Freeze's take on cherry tomatoes, the petites at the opposite end of the spectrum from Yarbrough's supersized fruit. Here's to good eatin'. 

 

 

 

SPICY-SWEET TOMATO JAM 

 

Start to finish: 1 hour, plus cooling 

 

Makes 3 cups 

 

 

 

8 large tomatoes, diced 

 

2 large yellow onions, diced 

 

1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes 

 

3/4 cup packed brown sugar 

 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

 

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 

 

2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary 

 

2 cloves garlic, minced 

 

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar 

 

 

 

  • In a large saute pan, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for one hour, or until thick and jammy. Allow to cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. 

     

    Nutrition information per 1/4 cup: 90 calories; 5 calories from fat (6 percent of total calories); 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 22 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 18 g sugar; 1 g protein; 170 mg sodium. 

     

    (Source: Alison Ladman, for The Associated Press) 

     

     

     

    CHEESE-STUFFED TOMATOES 

     

    Start to finish: 30 minutes 

     

    Makes 4 servings 

     

     

     

    1 tablespoon olive oil 

     

    1 medium yellow onion, diced 

     

    2 cloves garlic, minced 

     

    1 teaspoon ground coriander 

     

    1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (about 3 slices bread, finely chopped in a food processor) 

     

    1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese 

     

    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 

     

    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 

     

    2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro 

     

    4 large tomatoes 

     

     

     

  • Heat the oven to 400 F. Coat a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. 

     

  • In a medium skillet over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the onion, garlic and coriander. Cook for five minutes, or just until tender. Stir in the breadcrumbs, cheese, salt, pepper and cilantro. 

     

  • Cut a 1/2 inch slice off the top of each tomato. Use a melon baller to scoop out the insides of the tomato, leaving the outer flesh intact. Spoon a quarter of the cheese mixture into each tomato. Arrange the filled tomatoes in the prepared pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until tender and bubbly. 

     

    Nutrition information per serving: 210 calories; 110 calories from fat (52 percent of total calories); 13 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 10 g protein; 360 mg sodium. 

     

    (Source: Alison Ladman, for The Associated Press) 

     

     

  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

     

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