Summertime is in full swing and while I enjoy swimming and going to the beach, I am also missing the hills of Tennessee. We try to visit once a year to a small town in Grainger County where my husband’s family comes from. Grainger County’s claim to fame? TOMATOES. These tomatoes are famous throughout the region and also sold to markets in Canada, Mexico, and even Harrods in London! I didn’t understand all the hoopla until I tasted one myself. Wow! The best tomato I have ever had.
What’s so special about a Grainger County tomato? One reason is the agricultural practices used by most of the farmers in Grainger County. Each operation is a vine ripe operation, meaning the tomatoes are picked in a ripe stage and are ready to sell or eat, as opposed to the “gas-green” tomatoes you find in most grocery stores. Another reason the Grainger County tomato is superior in taste is due to the soil in the county. The acid in a tomato gives it a good taste, not the sugar content. High sugar content makes the tomato tastes bland. The decomposition of the limestone rock in the county adds acidity to the soil and gives it a pH that is favorable for growing tomatoes.
Every July, the town of Rutledge hosts the Grainger County Tomato Festival with food, music, dancing, crafts, and “tomato wars”. The festival is a great opportunity to promote the county’s agricultural products as well as local artists and craftsmen. If we’re not in town for the festival, we always make a pit stop at the next best place for Grainger County tomatoes, Ritter Farms.
Owned and operated by my father-in-law’s cousin, the Ritters have grown tomatoes for over 40 years. At first, their big red barn was used to pack and sell their tomatoes to the wholesale market. So many people driving by would see their barn and ask if they could buy tomatoes from them that they decided to open a market and expand their business to include other produce, jams, pickles, and sauces. Around 2006, they opened a small restaurant serving home cooked meals so any overabundance of fruit and vegetables would not go to waste.
After switched access reform filings are completed, I hope to escape to our mountain retreat again and stop by the farm of course. Tomato sandwich, anyone?