Trophy-Worthy Tomatoes: Leyden Farmer’s Cherry Varieties Take Top Spots in Statewide Contest

The Recorder, August 21st, 2015, by Aviva Luttrell

You may see more spring in the step of Dancing Bear Farm’s Tom Ashley at the Bernardston Farmers Market now that two of his cherry tomato varieties have won top spots in the state’s 31st annual tomato contest.

Ashley, who won both first and second place for his husk and sungold varieties in the cherry tomato category, said he felt “ecstatic” after hearing the news. Designed to increase awareness of locally grown produce, this year’s contest drew 92 entries from 18 farms, according to a news release.

“My tomatoes are the best,” Ashley said. “That’s my goal. I strive to have the best flavor. I think the hills and the soil up in Leyden contribute to that.”

He said both winning varieties have been a specialty of the farm for years and was proud to be recognized at a state level.

Ashley, who said he’d participated in the contest years ago, decided to enter this year after learning the western Massachusetts drop-off location had been moved closer to his farm — from Ludlow to Amherst.

The husk tomatoes, which ended up taking first place, almost didn’t make it into the contest because they don’t really look or taste like tomatoes, Ashley said. But in the end, he decided to risk it and it paid off.

He described the variety as “tropical fruit-tasting,” adding they’re also referred to as “ground cherries” because they’re usually harvested after falling off the vine. Ashley said when biting into a husk tomato, the flavor ranges from pineapple to grape and then a little bit of acidic tomato flavor at the end.

“It goes through a whole lot of different flavors in your mouth,” he said. “The same is almost true of the sungold cherry tomato, which won the second prize.”

Ashley said it’s one of the few hybrid varieties he grows, which, like the husk tomato, has a tropical fruit flavor.

“(It’s) been one of our favorite tomatoes for a long, long time,” he said.

The tomatoes were judged on their flavor, firmness, color and shape.

Ashley said he’ll be getting two trophies for the wins, which he plans to bring with him to the farmers market he attends on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The trophy, he said, is “a big, round, red tomato on top of a pedestal, and off to one side it says either ‘First,’ ‘Second’ or ‘Third.’

“It seems like a reward for 34 years of hard work, plus the trophy is really cool,” he said.