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A grape tomato — well, sort of — earns top prize in produce contest at the O.C. Fair

Colin Woodward was intrigued when he learned he could plant seeds to grow a red tomato resembling a cluster of grapes.

“It ended up looking crazy!” the Santa Ana resident said. “It was pretty unusual.”

It’s called the Reisetomate, and it’s arguably the tomato with the most character.

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It’s essentially a bunch of cherry tomatoes clustered together to form a funky-looking fruit. Nicknamed the “traveler tomato,” it’s an ideal snack that doesn’t require a knife to enjoy, according to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

This particular piece of produce was so outlandish, it won best of show Tuesday in the Orange County Fair’s fruit and vegetable competition.

The honor came after two judges surveyed a score of fruit and vegetable entries submitted earlier that day, including some vying for the other titles up for grabs: “Largest Item” and “Most Unusual Looking.”

Competition at the Costa Mesa fairgrounds was stiff.

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One lime-green pepper looked akin to squiggly, slender snakes. A badly blemished cucumber resembled a banana slug.

An entered beetroot looked far more like a beet blob — with a handful of warped vegetables fused directly together.

Among the several tomato entries, one was so tiny it could’ve passed as a plump jelly bean. The head of one submitted sunflower, on the other hand, was large enough that a cat could comfortably plop down on it and take a nap.

As Joe Ott — a Huntington Beach resident who has judged these competitions for the past five years — held and looked over the various entries, he said Woodward’s tomato remained the clear best choice.

“Growing this stuff takes time,” said Ott, who entered the fair’s contests himself for about 14 years before becoming a judge. “It’s not like a painting or artwork. It’s a living [thing] with constant variables, pests, weather, sometimes bad seeds. But a lot of people put a lot of effort into it.”

Another judge, Brian Danker of Yorba Linda, said he roots for everyone — providing constructive criticism to encourage participants to keep trying.

“This is a friendly show, so we want to encourage backyard growers to come in and enter the fair,” said Danker, who has extensive experience in produce. “I really like to see them bring stuff in. I don’t want to discourage them.”

Fairgoers can look at the extraordinary entries near Centennial Farm — at 88 Fair Drive — through Sunday, the last day of the fair.

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Depending on his tomato’s condition, Woodward said he might cut it open and save the seeds for next year.

Future generations tend to do better, after all.

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