Before I get into my trip to California that involved tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes, I want to remind you about the canning and preserving giveaway that ends today. To enter, all you need to do is make sure you're a fan of Mother Nature Network on Facebook. If you're already a fan, you're automatically entered. Okay, on to the tomatoes.

I spent the middle of my week in Sacramento on a trip sponsored by Muir Glen. I joined other food writers from around the country to learn how Muir Glen does things organically. It was quick, but eventful trip. I arrived home late last night, and I'm jet lagged and oddly still a little air sick, but it was worth it. Muir Glen brought in Lynn Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift from The Splendid Table radio program to join us, and we had a great time eating in the tomato fields and the fabulous farm-to-fork venues that hosted our tomato-centric meals over two days. 

I thought I'd show you some of the highlights and tell you just a little about each one.

These beauties are organic tomatoes grown exclusively for Muir Glen. The compnay uses only tomatoes that were ripened on the vine during the growing season in California. They go from being picked on the farm to BPA-free cans in eight hours. That's impressive.

Our group was driven to one of the handful of large, organic farms that grow tomatoes for Muir Glen. Once there, we were let loose in the field to pick and taste the fresh tomatoes ripe from the vine. That's me, taking a bite of a field-warm tomato just like I was biting into an apple.

This has been my summer of selfies (started so I could embarrass my kids who think I'm too old to take selfies), and when I had a chance to take one with Lynn from The Splendid Table, I couldn't pass it up. We hammed it up for the camera while enjoying vine ripened tomatoes. One thing we both observed was that the end of the tomato that had been closest to the vine was sweeter when bitten into than it's opposite end. Lynn joked that Muir Glen should start canning just the vine ends of tomatoes.

We had a chance to create a Caprese salad right there in the field with tomatoes we picked ourselves. Talk about farm-to-fork!

After our farm trip, we went to Mulvaney's Building and Loan in Sacramento for a tomato tasting followed by a lunch of seasonal goodness. The photo at the top of the page is a closeup of various heirlooms that we sampled while Lynn gave us information about each one and some suggestions on how to best use them. "Tomatoes," said Lynn, "make everything else taste better." She is convinced the popularity of Italian food is due to the tomato. It turns out, she was the perfect person to educate us on this trip; she's obsessed with tomatoes.

She's also skeptical about the need to peel and seed tomatoes in many recipes. She says flavor is lost when seeding because most of the gell is discarded with the seeds, and the gell has tons of flavor. Lynn has done experiments with tomato sauce using tomatoes that are seeded and peeled and those that aren't (on the same day using tomatoes from the same source), and says the latter was much better. I now feel totally vindicated that I never take the time to seed the tomatoes when I make my fresh salsa

Tomato cocktails are trendy right now, and this Caprese Martini we were served at a Harvest Dinner in a vineyard was a tasty, spicy example. It contains Bombay Saphire gin, Cocchi Americano wine, Muir Fire Roasted Tomato Water, basil oil, balsamic, and orange bitters, finished with a skewer with tomato and mozzarella. 

Lynn and Sally planned the menu for the evening, and it was executed by the chef at Windmill Farm & Vineyards. This Ripe Tomato Stack with Pine Nuts & Mozzarella was a take on the classic Caprese. Quite different than what we had created earlier in the day in the tomato fields but equally as satisfying.

 

Our setting for dinner was absolutely beautiful. A three-piece band played as the sunset over the vineyards and we were served course after course of soup, salad, pasta, entree and dessert (a tomato and sweet cheese tart) - all made with fresh ripe tomatoes.

I am now a little obsessed with tomatoes myself and inspired to snatch up as many end-of-summer vine-ripened ones I can. The first thing I plan to make when I get back from my family vacation in a little over a week will be the Summer Tomato Pudding from Lynn and Sally's "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Weekends" cookbook. 

I hope you enjoyed the pictorial of my trip. I want to thank Muir Glen for the education and the experience. I've been using their products for quite some time now, and it was great to learn about how committed the company is to organics, sustainability (they have an amazing composting program for all their tomato waste), and the quality of their products.

More tomato recipes on MNN for inspiration

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