And if you've ever grown tomatoes you've probably considered growing them from seed. And if you've considered growing them from seed, you've contemplated trying your hand with an heirloom variety or two because honestly, there has to be something more tasty than those cookie-cutter hybrids.
Tim Stark's Heirloom is not a how-to book. It doesn't deliver tips and tricks. What Tim has written is a Kitchen Confidential for the supply-side of the modern foodie revolution. It is a book you need to buy and read and not lend out.
It is an important book because it describes the slow but inevitable process of becoming so many of us encounter in our lives. Living as a freelance writer in Brooklyn, the story begins with Mr. Stark deciding to start 3,000 heirloom tomato seedlings in his apartment and then transplanting them into the shaley ground of his run-down family farm in eastern Pennsylvania.
Reading Heirloom you can experience that same relentless arc that Tony Bourdain described in his first (and best) book - it's no surprise that Tim became a farmer the same way it was no surprise that Tony became a cook. He exposes his rookie mistakes, the odd personalities of his pickers, the petty cruelties of his fellow farmers, the manic drives across I-78 to the City, and above all, his love for what he does.
The scene of Tim at the farm auction is especially poignant, as is his description of the caretaker who kept his family property from sliding into weedy ruin during his childhood. You experience the life of someone who shows up at the back door of the restaurant with baskets of impossibly fresh produce, the same raw materials that make celebrity chefs possible in the first place.
You get the real sense that this is not a guy with a fat bank account and a rock-solid roadmap; he made it up as he went along, learning and persevering and ultimately succeeding.
And all for tomatoes.
A terrific interview with Tim Stark can be found here. Thanks Kevin!
Last night (8/17/08) at 7:16pm eastern time I got a visit from a viewer from Saylorsburg, PA through a "heirloom, tim stark reviews" Google search. This morning around 8:30 I had a nearly 30 minute visit from someone at Random House who went directly to this page. Connected? I hope so! Who knows, ack/nak readers, this could be my big chance at stardom. Or more likely, I brought a smile to the author and his publisher. I'd be very happy with the latter, they deserve it.
And if you want to see what his Eckerton Hill Farm does in addition to tomatoes, check out this video: