Chow Town

Anticipating the sweet taste of summer heirloom tomatoes

The Kurlbaum family plants many varieties of heirloom tomatoes on Mother’s Day.
The Kurlbaum family plants many varieties of heirloom tomatoes on Mother’s Day.

There are so many things that I love about mid-spring time in Kansas. Like many others, I love the beautiful flowers, the smell of fresh cut grass, The rabbits running through the yard and so much more.

I also know that tomato season in Kansas City is only six weeks away and for this chef, it’s all about local heirloom tomatoes.

This past weekend, I caught up with local heirloom tomato growers Liz and Sky Kurlbaum from Kurlbaum Heirloom Tomato Farm. Mother’s Day has become the traditional day for the Kurlbaum family to plant 3000 heirloom tomato plants that were started as seeds on Easter Sunday.

Heirloom plants such as Black pineapple, Arkansas traveler, black Krim, Cherokee purple, Aunt Ruby’s green, gold medal, mortgage lifter, Italian heirloom and Dr. Wyche Will be among the heirlooms this year.

Sky Kurlbaum explained his planting method.

“As we gain experience from year to year we learn from our successes and mistakes. We will continue the modified lasagna method of placing newspaper under each plant. This provides an environment the earth worms love. Mulch with old hay or straw. Use the lantern method of caging (suspending the cage above the plants from a guy wire). Respect the land by using sustainable farming methods and organic products for the pests.”

In 2015, Kurlbaum started using the Florida weave to hold up the plants. They also built a new 30 x 70 hoop house to help accelerate and then extend the growing seasons.

Liz Kurlbaum explained to me that if everything goes right this year, they should harvest around 18,000 pounds of heirloom tomatoes for local restaurants, chefs and customers. But she still has one thing on her mind and that’s keeping the deer and insects at bay. Hopefully she will succeed.

Sky Kurlbaum explained to me a few years back that all his life he has enjoyed growing and eating delicious home grown tomatoes. But not just any tomatoes! They had to taste like the ones grown over 35 years ago on his family’s farm in Sandoval, Ill. We are very fortunate in the Kansas City area to have the Kurlbaum family growing heirloom tomatoes on their farm in Wyandotte County.

I can’t wait until the first week of July to experience these tomatoes again.

Watch out for some heirloom tomato dinners at local Kansas City restaurants and heirloom tomato dinners on the farm with myself and Chef Michael Smith. Just thinking about this makes this spring day even better.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.