Even in high tomato season, cherry tomatoes are less of a crapshoot than the big ones — too fleshy, too seedy, unevenly ripe? — as you can pop one like a bonbon to find out, either in your kitchen or at the market.
At the Studio City market, Sunrise Organic Farm — a relatively new entrant into the game of fruit and vegetable musical chairs that is the Southern California farmers market system — has had tables loaded with cherry toms like a bijouterie counter.
Established four years ago in the Lompoc foothills by farmers Chuy Salas and Andrew Gibson, Sunrise grows 217 organic vegetables, including eight types of specialty melon, 14 types of peppers and heirloom tomatoes with happily silly names like Pork Chop.
Sunrise uses its own seeds and sources others. When I asked about the practices that helped them grow such perfect specimens, Gibson texted me from his tractor: “We are reactive farmers, so we’re low intervention. We let the plants tell us what they need.”
Cherry tomatoes are enormously fun to play with. You can lob them whole into a salad bowl or — if you hate chopping tomatoes as much as I do — you can make a damn fine sauce (or confit, technically) by cooking down a few baskets of the little ones, unchopped, with some smashed garlic cloves, a pinch of salt and a few cups of olive oil in a Dutch oven (Cover, cook until jam, ladle over spaghetti with a surfeit of herbed ricotta.) Or just eat them like popcorn.
What: Red, yellow, orange and black cherry tomatoes; yellow and red grape tomatoes; blush tomatoes, Sungolds and artisan stripe tomatoes of all different colors.
Where: Sunrise Organic is at the Saturday farmers market in La Cañada Flintridge and the Sunday markets in Studio City, Larchmont, Westlake Village and Mar Vista. It also distributes to Whole Foods, Gelson’s and Erewhon.
When: Sunrise will have its tiny toms for the next two months, weather-contingent. “It’s been a really late season,” Gibson said, with unseasonably low temperatures at night. “Cold nights are bad for all summer crops,” he said. “The basis of growing is soil temperatures, and the longer the soil temperature has to rise after a cold night, the less growth you get during the day.”
Tip: Pick up some flowering thyme and black basil to add to your dinner. Adventurous? Check out Sunrise’s mini watermelon gherkins, odd and gorgeous things that are also called mouse melons.