WhonPhoto_DigIN4285By: Ryan Puckett, August 12, 2014

“There’s nothing like a homegrown Indiana tomato.” At least that’s what my dad has been telling me since I was a kid.

Growing up, I didn’t like tomatoes. While Jimmy Buffet ordered his paradise-inspired cheeseburgers with lettuce, tomato, Heinz 57 and a bunch of other stuff, I ordered mine plain. I avoided anything resembling a salad. But as I entered adulthood, my taste buds matured and I began to pay attention to where my food was from and how it was grown.

I don’t think I really embraced the tomato until I met my wife and visited her family in Long Island. When she and I married, one of our friends jokingly explained, “You have just married into a culture of good food.”

You see, they are Italians and the tomato is as critical to the Italian culinary experience as pasta. How critical you might ask – we have mozzarella caprese as an appetizer at Thanksgiving. Pairing the fruity vegetable with fresh, milky mozzarella has become one of life’s simple pleasures.

I feel like the tomato nicely represents the union of my Indiana upbringing and my wife’s Italian heritage.

The fact is Indiana is one of the top-producing states for tomatoes, mostly for processing as canned tomatoes, sauce and paste. But if you’ve been to a farmers market lately, you know that tomatoes are everywhere and in all shapes, sizes, colors and flavors. As summer heads into its final stretch, tomatoes are ready for primetime and bursting with juicy sweetness.

At this year’s festival on August 17, the famous fruit in vegetable’s clothing will be the centerpiece of Tyler Herald’s (of Napolese) Indiana heirloom tomato panzanella salad and I suspect I’ll find tomatoes in Rook’s shrimp ceviche, Valley Kitchen and Bar’s sweet & spicy chicken tacos, and Brad Gates Catering’s salad with Smoking Goose bacon & goat cheese. If you’re lucky enough to have a VIP ticket, Libertine will be serving a PLT (that’s pork, lettuce and tomato).

Dig IN puts the tastes of Indiana, including the mighty tomato, on full display and offers a feast for the senses. Tickets for Dig IN, A Taste of Indiana are on sale now. Save room to ‘dig in’ on August 17 – see you there!