August 22, 2010
The Great Foliot Tomato Contest
Normally I reserve my blog for things related to my work and passion, and the web in general. This however is not one of those postings: instead, it’s a peek into my life.
I am fortunate to be part of a very large and loving family; a family that is creative, “lives large” and understands that “Family” is an important part of life. This past weekend I was thrilled to sneak into Montreal (my folks had no idea I was arriving) to be part of an annual family tradition: The Great Foliot Tomato Contest.
19 years ago, my father, as is his tradition, began a number of seedlings in his garage for future planting in his garden that summer. Like a true Foliot he reasoned why plant 10 seeds when you can just as easily plant 50, with the net result that by early June he had way more tomato seedlings than would be reasonable for a home gardener to plant, and my mother exasperated “whatever are you going to do with all those seedlings?” Dad, ever quick to cook up a scheme, replied “I’ll give them out to the family, and we’ll have a contest at the end of the summer to see who grew the best tomato.” That first summer the “family” was reserved to my immediate siblings and some aunts and uncles who also live in the Montreal area. My brother Georges and his wife, (visiting Montreal, as at the time they were living and working in Japan) were the first judges, and we had a good old BBQ where my Aunt Giselle ‘won’ the first contest, with the tastiest and reddest tomato of the lot.
The following spring, my aunt asked my Dad “are you planning on having the contest again this year?” (I don’t think Dad had really thought more about this prior to her asking) She continued, “If yes, I could host it at our house this year because I won last year, but I’d like to also invite more of the family”. And from there the Great Foliot Tomato Contest was born.
Now, each summer, our expanded family gathers to ‘compete’ in the contest (which has evolved to a complex and creativity taxing event) and this year was no exception. As a bonus, for the very first time we had 5 generations gathered in one place: think about that – 5 generations. The family matriarch (my 103 year old Grandmother) joined my aunts and uncles (5 of my grandmother’s 6 children), 10 of her 18 grandchildren (my generation), 12 of her 30 great-grandchildren, and 1 of her 2 great-great-grandchildren (along with a bunch of wives, husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends) – this year we were 49 of a possible 80 direct relatives and families.
The rules of the contest are simple: each spring, my father continues to plant tomato seeds (each year being a different variety, researched in advance by my dad – this year’s tomato was called “Brag”), and as ‘growing season’ approaches a complicated distribution network is invoked to distribute the seedlings far and wide to each family so that we are all growing the same type of specialty (normally heirloom) tomato. But since growing tomatoes in Canada can be a tricky process (with tomatoes only ripening late in the summer) early contests produced many a green tomato, but hardly any ripe ones. This family however is never stymied by adversity, and so “how” you present your tomato has become as important as how your tomato looks and tastes, and the contest has evolved into a display of creative diorama presentations from various family members, with each diorama featuring a (normally still) green tomato.
At the appointed time, we all file past the displays, “vote” on our favorites (1st, 2nd and 3rd), after which the votes are tabulated and that year’s winner is announced. Winning gets you the trophy (of course there is a trophy!), and the honor and responsibility of hosting the contest the following year. It’s fun (if somewhat corny), it’s a “theme” to hang our family reunion on, and next year it will celebrate its 20th Anniversary. Along the way, it has also become a source of great pride to now multiple generations of Foliots, as how many families today can boast of an Annual Family gathering that has survived 20 years?
Here’s a few more photos of that day: