The Trouble with Tomatoes

It’s that time again: the tornado of tomatoes has swirled through the South, saturating the region with overabundance.

Tomato Truffles. Photo Courtesy: Forrest Clonts.

Seeking a solution for the surplus, I took a road trip recently to visit the Palmetto Tasty Tomato Festival in Columbia, S.C. And there at City Roots Urban Farm, I found Erica Gibson and her unique creations: Tomato Chocolate Truffles with Candied Basil, and Tomato Lime Lollipops (recipes below).

“Tomatoes have a natural sweetness,” Gibson explained. “This was my first time at the festival and I wanted to do something completely different.”

An assistant professor of anthropology and women’s and gender studies at USC, Gibson’s been cooking for herself since age 17. Having grown up all across the South, she now mingles the flavors of her traditional youth with her eagerness to experiment.

She found a recipe online for Chocolate Raspberry Jellies, and substituted tomato puree for the berries. The night before the festival she taste-tested the candies on her friends, who approved. “But my mother was horrified,” she said.

Beneath the playfulness of the festival, organizers Sustainable Midlands and Slow Food Columbia have a serious message to share as they work to promote local growers and food that is “good, clean and fair.” City Roots spans only three acres, but farm manager Eric McClam and crew maximize its productivity. Not far from the chicken coop, sunflowers bloom against an aquaponic greenhouse where micro-greens and a large tank of tilapia grow symbiotically, year-round.

Plenty of people visit farms to reconnect with a sense of place, but at tomato festival time, they come to enjoy the Brandywines, Cherokee Purples and German Pinks, transformed into tapenades, basked into casseroles, or simply as sandwiches topped with mayonnaise and a little pepper.

Of course, despite your best efforts, you can still end up with too many tomatoes. And when they turn squishy, buggy – or worst of all, tasteless – what can you do?

The festival folks had that figured out, too. They set up a Skee Ball game and let kids lob those inedible orbs at a target.

Three for a dollar.


Tomato Chocolate Truffles with Candied Basil by Erica Gibson

Tomato Truffles. Photo Courtesy: Forrest Clonts.

For the chocolate layers you will need:

  • 18 oz semi-sweet baker’s chocolate
  • 6 oz Gulf wax
  • 5 T salted butter

For the tomato jelly:

  • 1 cup seedless/skinless tomato puree
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 T powdered ginger
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 6 oz unflavored gelatin (agar agar may be used for vegetarian version)

For the toppings:

  • 2 T flaky sea salt
  • candied basil (about 1/2 cup sugar, 10 – 15 basil leaves, 3 T water)

Line a 9x13x2 baking dish with aluminum foil. Melt 6 oz chocolate, along with 2 T butter and 2 oz Gulf wax over low heat on the stove. Take off heat, let cool for a few minutes then spread evenly in the bottom of the foil lined pan. Put chocolate layer in the refrigerator to chill while working on the tomato jelly layer.

Mix the tomato puree, water, and next four ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Let the mixture come to a boil and stir well to insure all sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and sprinkle 1 oz of gelatin over mixture at a time, stirring to incorporate. Once all 6 oz of gelatin have been mixed into the tomatoes, let mixture cool to room temperature (about 30 minutes).

Pour the tomato mixture over the bottom chocolate layer and place back in the refrigerator to cool for 3 – 4 hours.

If you are making the candied basil, you can use the time while the tomato layer is cooling to prepare the basil. Use 10 – 15 fresh basil leaves depending on their size. Combine 1/2 cup water and a few teaspoons of sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and let syrup cool. Soak basil leaves in syrup for 5 minutes. Preheat oven while waiting to 175 F. Bake sugar-coated leaves until crystallized (approx. 10 minutes) – I used my toaster oven for this and it worked great.

Once the tomato layer is set, remove the entire candy from the pan and peel away the foil at the bottom. Place candy onto chopping board and using a sharp knife, cut candy into bite sized pieces. Melt the rest of the chocolate, butter, and wax over low heat. Working with a few pieces at a time, spoon melted chocolate over the candies and top with either sea salt or candied basil. Chill candies for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before serving.

Time: 5 hours

Servings: 25 – 100 depending on how big the candies are cut


Tomato Lollipops by Erica Gibson

  • 1 cup tomato puree (seedless/skinless)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 T powdered ginger
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • juice of 1 lime
  • fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Mix all ingredients except for cilantro leaves in a saucepan over medium heat. Let come to a boil, stirring continuously. Continue to cook until much of the moisture is released and candy comes to hard crack stage; test with candy thermometer (300 degrees) or using a cup of cold water to look for brittle threads forming. Remove pan from heat. Let cool for a few minutes, then drop by tablespoon full on a silicone baking sheet or greased pan. Insert dowels or lollipop sticks into the candies immediately and top with a cilantro leaf for garnish. Allow to cool before serving.

Time: 30 min

Servings: 20



Filed under Quirky, Recipe, The Foodie's Garden

11 responses to “The Trouble with Tomatoes

  1. I can never have too many tomatoes. The festival would have been a nice place to visit. I will keep it on the list for next summer’s travels 🙂
    Truffles sound very interesting!

  2. GREAT recipes!!! I’m forwarding this to my mom (who is always overrun with tomatoes).

  3. Such interesting flavors she put together! That sounds like it was a fun event.

  4. Dear Amy,
    Your article is delightful and so are you for coming down to Columbia all the way from Charlotte to cover the Palmetto Tasty Tomato Festival for NPR and WFAEats!

    You added a wonderful element to the festival – which was great fun and “Famously Hot,” as are all things in Columbia in August! I’m sure it will increase the interest for next year to have this great story and wonderful recipes online. Your eye for detail is amazing – you caught so many aspects of the festival that most writers would have overlooked.

    You added such zest to the fest! I am sure I share the organizers’ feelings when I thank you again for accepting my invitation to come and give our town and festival your time, attention and boundless talent.

    Clair DeLune
    Blues Moon Radio and Tasty Tomato Festival Supporter

  5. What a delightful article! Thanks so much for coming to cover our “Famously Hot” sustainable food scene in Columbia, SC!!

  6. Pingback: chocolate facts | Feeding My Folks

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