The author of Epic Tomatoes looks back at the twists and turns of two years on the road.

It’s hard to believe, but my first book, Epic Tomatoes, is almost two years old already. Thinking back on the time that has passed since its publication, I don’t think I could have predicted that a book about growing the best tomatoes would serve as a magical passport for interesting destinations and experiences.

To say it’s been fun, exciting, and meaningful would be an understatement. Some of the trips my wife Susan and I have taken to share the book with the world have required some creative scheduling and a sense of adventure. Along the way, my circle of tomato friends has grown exponentially and I’ve been thinking a lot about the lengths we tomato lovers will go to, to share our passion for our favorite summer crop.

Summer in the Dead of Winter

Audience in Asheville

Audiences in Ashville, NC, bundled up and braved a chilly day to talk about the fruits of summer.

As I write this, it’s mid-July in Raleigh and time for the long-anticipated tomato harvest. Many of my book-related activities, however, meant navigating weather no tomato would be caught dead in. Thankfully, tomato lovers are hardier than the summer fruit they adore. Cold rain in Seattle, ice in Richmond, and snow banks in Philadelphia and Baltimore didn’t deter the crowds, and winter weather only created perfect environments for talking to large, avid groups of enthusiasts hungry for tomato days to come.

Talking about Tomatoes…Where?

Craig LeHoullier Television studio

Craig talks tomatoes on North Carolina local television.

That a first-time author of a book about growing tomatoes would travel to garden centers, botanical gardens, and bookstores will come as no surprise. But talking about tomatoes on television, or to groups in a Baltimore coffee shop, or at the Flower Shuttle (a Raleigh-based organization that delivers flower bouquets to those suffering from chronic diseases), or for an adult continuing education class? Clearly, tomato lovers exist in unexpected places.

Have Tomatoes, Will Travel

Tomatoes at Seed Savers Exchange campout

These tomatoes made the trip from North Carolina to Iowa in Craig’s carryon luggage (and tasted all the better for it).

Giving a keynote at the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE)’s annual campout in Decorah, Iowa, was a true bucket-list entry for me. Not only has the SSE provided us with the ability to keep our botanical heritage alive and thriving, but joining the organization in 1986 was life-changing for me. How could I make the event really special? By picking as many unique tomatoes as would fit into my carryon luggage and fly them there, of course!

Suffice it to say, tomatoes in luggage have a distinctive aroma. They survived the trip and made the evening’s tomato tasting event that much more notable.

Food as Art: Elevating the Humble Tomato

Craig LeHoullier and Chef Kevin Callagahan

Craig (l.) and Chef Kevin Callaghan of Carrboro, Nort Carolina, talk about cooking with tomatoes.

Susan and I do a pretty good job with our tomato plethora each year. But put great heirloom tomatoes into the hands of chefs like Ashley Christensen or Sarig Agassi of Raleigh or Kevin Callaghan of Carrboro and something truly special happens. To be invited to attend multi-course, tomato-themed dinners, enjoy masterfully prepared food, and act as guide to the histories and characteristics of tomato varieties for fellow diners is a very special privilege, indeed.

Tomato, Tomahto: Keeping the Conversation Alive

Craig and young fan

Craig signs a copy of Epic Tomatoes for a young fan at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania.

Talking tomatoes with enthusiastic audiences of gardeners is fun and inspiring. Meeting young gardeners such as a delightful little girl at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania, during a book signing, or being called back on stage to receive a special family heirloom variety of tomato called “Uncle Joe” from my hosts in Leesburg, Virginia, or getting to chat tomatoes with Lynne Rossetto Kasper on The Splendid Table from the NPR studio in Durham, North Carolina, are indelible memories indeed.

Photos courtesy of the author.

Craig LeHoullier

Craig LeHoullier is the author of Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales and Epic Tomatoes and the tomato adviser for Seed Savers Exchange. In the last… See Bio

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