Thursday, September 10, 2009

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato. Tomato, Tomato, Tomato, Tomato – The Word Has Lost All Meaning

(Photos courtesy of the Lovely Larry. Thanks Dad!)

Other than the towns I have lived in, I think Leamington, Ontario is the town where I've spent the most time. My maternal grandparents lived there, and I still have aunts, uncles and cousins to the umpteenth degree living there. A visit back to Ontario isn't complete without a trip or two to Leamington. It's a town I hold close to my heart.

Imagine my delight a few weeks ago when Leamington got a shout-out on Letterman. Of course, I already knew that Leamington was the Tomato Capital of Canada. It would be impossible to spend any time in Leamington and not know that. The mayor lives in a giant tomato for crying out loud. Ok, that's not true. The giant tomato is actually the tourist information booth. It's just my family's weird sense of humour that requires one of us to announce, "Look, there's the mayor's house", every time we drive by. The mayor does farm tomatoes though. Seriously. One-hundred-and-sixty-five acres of them. That's a lot of ketchup.

And that’s likely where the mayor’s tomatoes will end up. Leamington is home to the second largest Heinz factory in the world. My grandparent’s house was so close to the plant that we could hear the whistle that signaled the end of the shifts. We knew it was time to head home from the playground when the 5 o’clock whistle blew.

The whistle is an audible reminder that you're in Canada's tomato capital, but if you spend any time in Leamington you'll notice other signs as well. In the late summer the roads are littered with tomatoes. The closer you get to Heinz the more you see. Sometimes the roads are slippery with crushed, road-kill tomatoes. This is because tomatoes are shipped for processing in large, open trucks. When the trucks hit a bump, stray tomatoes hit the road. Literally. I seem to remember signs warning that the roads were slippery during tomato season. I could be imagining that, though if there weren't signs there should have been.
If the sights and sounds aren't enough to clue you in to Leamington's ripe, red claim-to-fame, the smells should do it for you. The aroma of processing tomatoes permeates the town in the summer months. It's a pleasant aroma, but I haven't had to live there. I'm sure residents can get quite tired of breathing ketchup-y air. I love it, and risk hyperventilating when we drive by Heinz during the busy season. I get so caught up in inhaling the tomato-y goodness that I have to remind myself to exhale.

It's not just process tomatoes that are grown in Leamington. Acres of greenhouses provide fresh tomatoes to supermarkets year-round. You can buy local tomatoes almost any time of year, often by the honour system from a roadside stand. Anyone with a vegetable garden will likely grow their own tomatoes, and in the summer someone is apt to offer you some from their garden free of charge. Tomatoes tend to grow like zucchini in that part of the world.

Tomatoes don't grow with the same ease here on Vancouver Island. People don't share their garden-grown tomatoes with the same abandon. You'd never see road-kill tomatoes, as they're too valuable to waste when they do grow successfully. It takes a lot to coax a decent crop of tomatoes in our wet, west climate. I was thrilled when the weather co-operated this year and there was an abundance of tomatoes. At one point I had about 50 pounds of fresh, red tomatoes in my house. Some were from L at Sleeping Cougar, the rest were from a farm where I was able to get 20 pounds of tomatoes for $10.

Mind you 50 pounds of tomatoes makes for a lot of work. We canned salsa, and prepared tomato sauce, pureed tomatoes and whole tomatoes for freezing. You'd think I'd have enough, but yesterday at the Farmer's Market I bought another couple of pounds. I feel like I gotta buy them while I can get them.

Ironically, in spite of my ties to Canada's Tomato Capital, my ability to identify a tomato plant was recently doubted. Please. I will admit that I may have misidentified the exotic plant in question, but I know it wasn't a tomato!


  1. In Ontario and didn't call? :( Do you know the Gay family? Was on Lana Gay's CBCRadio3 show yesterday. We went to university together but her whole family is from Leamington- feel like you should know each other somehow.

  2. i was salivating through the entire read! (if) i ever go back to onterrible, i think i'll make a detour to leamington!


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