Pink Tomato Festival honors star vegetable (and fruit!) of the season
Southcentral Arkansas was once the nation’s favorite and most bountiful place to find gorgeous, vine-ripened tomatoes. With more than 80 farms producing, Bradley County became renowned for the savory fruit, and its primary varietal, the Bradley County Pink Tomato, was named Arkansas’ State Fruit and Vegetable.
Whether you choose to put it into the former category or the latter, there’s no doubt that tomatoes are a part of our culinary traditions no matter what part of Arkansas you live in. That is why Warren celebrates tomatoes each year with its Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, now in its 67th year.
The lauded pink tomato begins to come into harvest right about the same time as the event, held each year on the second full weekend of June (June 9th to 10th this year). There’s tomato eating, tomato queen pageants, a steak cook-off (because beef and tomatoes go hand in hand), a full-blown community fête, and the headline event, the All-Tomato Luncheon.
This singular sit-down midday repast is an opportunity to catch up with all the movers and shakers of the region, from the farmers who produce the tomatoes to the government leaders who represent them. All sit shoulder to shoulder within the gymnasium of the First Baptist Church, salivating over plates of prepared tomato feasts, as pastors say grace and politicians speak.
The distinctive dinner features tomatoes in all of its dishes, which change somewhat from year to year. I have been blessed to attend quite a few times and have enjoyed chicken-salad-stuffed tomatoes, tomato crackers, tomato salads, beans with tomatoes, carrots stewed in tomato sauce, BLT sandwiches, green tomato relish and even ketchup-flavored potato chips. It’s the Heavenly Chocolate Tomato Cake, though, that I always look forward to — a rich, iced chocolate cake made with tomato juice. It’s unique and decadent, much like this awesome festival.
For more information on all the activities, visit the Pink Tomato Festival’s website.