Sunday, August 17, 2008

review: heirloom by tim stark UPDATED

If you have ever grown tomatoes in your garden, you know the heartbreaks of blossom-end rot, of wilt, of bugs, of too much and too little rain, of weeds and critters. You've endured and persevered because you know that there is no taste in the world like a fresh-picked tomato, and you'll put up with no end of misery for that brief moment of bliss you experience when you bite into a real one.

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:


Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,
I agree Heirloom is an important book. I met Tim Stark last month when he stopped into to drop off tomatoes at a local cafe in Kutztown, PA. He also dropped off copies of Heirloom for sale. I picked up the book and wrote a review. I was so impressed, I asked him if I could interview him for a monthly online journal,
The journal is the year-old labor of love of Chuck Brown, who runs the used bookstore, oddly enough. next door to the Uptown Cafe.

Well, Tim Stark let me join him on a trip to the Hunt's Point Market in the Bronx. There's a link to my story with a picture of Tim Stark near the bottom of the cover of the Sept issue:

By the way, Commonsense2, is free to subscribe to, and always has something worthwhile to read. After September, readers will need to do a search for Tim Stark in the archives.

All the best
-Kevin McCloskey

bob said...


Thanks for the comment. I'll post a direct link to your terrific interview back in the body of my article.