“So, what’s your favorite tomato?”
I imagine Dan Waber gets this question every five minutes during the harvest season. Because I asked the exact same thing just five minutes before two women arrived and asked it again as they sidled up to the farm stand at Rainbow Tomatoes Garden in East Greenville, where the counter was covered with dozens of heirloom tomato varieties.
”The last one I ate,” says Waber with a practiced reply, the former chef turned tomato evangelist resplendently on theme in billowy batik pants and a T-shirt that reads: “Haters Gonna Hate, Tomatoes Gonna Tomate.”
”Feel free to taste any one you’d like,” he says, nodding to the day’s harvest sorted into cartons clipped with name cards drawn from his kingdom of 320 varieties, all dry-farmed in the open field beneath tented bamboo tripods. They usually sell out by 5 p.m. each day during the season, which lasts through August before tapering off quickly in September. Always call ahead to check supplies before making the trip, Waber says.
”The official name for my agricultural method is ‘CRAZY,’ ” says Waber who, with wife Jenny Hill, has owned this 6-acre slice of Montgomery County agricultural paradise since 2019. They also raise 15 ducks, several goats and host occasional performances there in the attached Wunderbarn, where Hill puts her background as a circus artist to use.
At the counter, I eagerly indulge in Waber’s tasting prompt, popping golden Barry’s Crazy Cherries into my mouth, then teeny yellow Coyotes that burst with vanilla sweetness, then Clackamas Blueberries and then a curious slice of eggplant-purple Gargamels. I grabbed a Cow’s Tit for my sauce pot with some other oblong paste tomatoes like Polish Linguisa, Opalka, and Casady’s Folly. The ruffle-skinned Delta Dawns gave me a current event pause on the name, but I decided to take those mottled orange-yellow beauties home, too.
» READ MORE: Philly food pros serve up 5 easy recipes
With tangy sweet buffalo mozzarella from New Jersey’s Lioni Latticini purchased from the farm stand fridge, they all came together in one of the most fascinating Caprese salads I’ve ever made, each colorful tomato slice so different and full of distinctive character.
But. That’s. Not. All!
Just behind the farm stand is a shed where Waber sells what he believes is the largest selection of tinned fish in the world.
“I put that out on the internet and the world will tell me quickly if I’m wrong,” he says. So far, so good.
”He’s got 214. I’ve got 317 — not including the six high-end anchovies I keep in my fridge,” says Waber, not at all competitive. Not at all.
I can only shrug as I load an armful of cans and two bulging brown paper bags of tomatoes into my car. The best part of this competition is that we all win.
— Craig LaBan
Rainbow Tomatoes Garden, heirloom tomatoes $5 a pound, 2979 Kutztown Rd, East Greenville, 570-762-6140; rainbowtomatoesgarden.com