Creole tomatoes are beginning to turn up at local farmers markets and celebrations are afoot to welcome the short season for this beloved fruit.
The term "Creole tomato" generally means any tomato grown in southeast Louisiana, but it's more than just a matter of pride in local produce. Some farmers and aficionados talk about the influence the area's alluvial soils and climate have on these tomatoes in the same way winemakers discuss terroir. Most of all, the tag Creole tomato suggests freshness. Since they don't need to travel very far to market, Creole tomatoes can ripen on the vine longer and likely won't spend long periods in chilled storage — refrigeration being a sure way to stanch a tomato's flavor.
This weekend, June 8 and 9, the French Market (1008 N. Peters St., 504-522-2621; www.frenchmarket.org) hosts its annual Creole Tomato Festival to celebrate the harvest. Food vendors and restaurants set up booths around the market and offer their own tomato-based creations. Produce is available from farmers market vendors. The Creole Tomato Festival is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, and admission is free. Throughout the weekend there's also the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival (www.jazzandheritage.org), which is held on the grounds of the Old U.S. Mint (see p.49).
As the season progresses, Creole tomatoes will be highlighted on menus at restaurants around town. At Muriel's Jackson Square (801 Chartres St., 504-568-1885; www.muriels.com), they are the inspiration for an entire Creole tomato menu, which is available throughout June. The local tomatoes are worked into a ragout served with grilled shrimp, paired with jumbo lump crabmeat in a salad, used in sauces for either a soft-shell crab or pork tenderloin entree and engineered into dessert — a Creole tomato tarte tatin with caramel ice cream. The four-course menu is $45 and items are available individually as well.