Mater Matters: Expert Tips for Plantin’, Pickin’, and Preppin’

Whether you call it a fruit or a vegetable, tomatoes reach their peak in summertime. For a Winston-Salem souvenir that is truly Southern (and sun-ripened), you can pick up locally grown tomatoes at several independent grocers and farmer’s markets or even find them on the menu at some of our beloved local restaurants.

We caught up with Natalie Sevin, Winston-Salem native and owner and operator of Sungold Farms, to get some expert advice on growing and harvesting tomatoes, as well as where to enjoy them during your summer visit to our city.

(Plus, get the recipe for the incredible Tomato Basil Soup served at Canteen Market & Bistro. A hip addition to downtown Winston-Salem, Canteen is among the newest to open its doors right in the heart of bustling Fourth Street, often referred to as Restaurant Row. It’s the perfect spot for Al Fresco dining or packing a picnic to enjoy at a nearby park or vineyard!)

Sungold Farms Jay Sinclair

Photo credit: Jay Sinclair

Tell us a little bit about Sungold Farms.

The name of the farm actually comes from Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes, which was the first variety of tomato that I could recognize and name by taste. I’ve been in the sustainable farming industry for more than a decade, and my three-acre farm grows 10 varieties of tomatoes among many other crops, including garlic, eggplant, collard greens, watermelon, okra, leeks, sweet corn, and potatoes.

Where can visitors find your produce when they’re in Winston-Salem?

We sell regularly to Colony Urban Farm (urban market); Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar (restaurant); Rooster’s, a Noble Grille (restaurant); Cobblestone Farmers Market; and Winston-Salem Fairgrounds’ Farmers Market. We also host seasonal open houses at the farm which include live music, farm tours, and a potluck dinner. (You can find upcoming dates on the Sungold Farms website; be on the lookout for a fall open house next!)

What are your top tips on growing tomatoes?

Plant them deep and water them periodically (like once a week) but also thoroughly. Space them far enough apart that the leaves can dry. When the leaves stay wet too long, there’s greater potential for disease to hurt the plant. Also, give them a place to grow up. I use posts and a Florida weave trellis to keep them off the ground.

How do you know when tomatoes are ready to be picked?

Tomatoes make it easy! You know they’re ready when they turn whatever color they’re supposed to be. No guessing involved. Although, there are some green varieties that are supposed to get soft before you pick them.

What’s your favorite tomato variety?

I love Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes. They’re orange in color, and when you bite into them, they have this explosive sweetness. They’re awesome in salad, either sliced up or left whole for the full flavor-burst effect.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy tomatoes at home?

I love to eat them straight. I’ll snack on Sun Golds all day long. Lately I’ve also been slicing larger tomatoes up and eating with fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for a homemade caprese salad. And of course, you can’t go wrong with the classic tomato sandwich: bread, tomato, mayo, and salt.

What restaurant would you tell visitors is a must-try while they’re in Winston-Salem?

The farm-to-table movement has really taken off in Winston-Salem, which as a farmer, is great to see. Spring House does an awesome job of supporting a lot of area farms. When I drop off a delivery, there’s a huge amount of local produce waiting to be incorporated in their dishes. It’s just exciting to be part of that. And it makes for great food.

Is there a tomato variety you’d recommend for people who aren’t typically into tomatoes? A gateway tomato, if you will?

Again, Sun Golds or any kind of cherry tomato are easy to get attached to. They’re very hearty and easy to throw into salads and pasta, or just to snack on.  

What’s your best advice for someone who wants to grow produce at home but doesn’t know how to start?

Definitely make sure you’ve got a sunny spot. That’s really the biggest hindrance to getting started. All I can think of when everyone starts complaining about the heat during summer is we’re lucky to have that sunshine because it’s helping our produce thrive, especially our tomatoes!

Once you grab some fresh-picked tomatoes for yourself during your next visit to Winston-Salem, put them to use at home with this recipe for Tomato Basil Soup, courtesy of Claire Calvin, co-owner of downtown’s Canteen Market & Bistro.

Tomato Bisque Soup (Canteen Market & Bistro)
2 cans (16 oz.) whole peeled tomatoes
8 Roma tomatoes
¾ cups of garlic, minced
¾ cups of sugar
1 ½ cups heavy cream
½ lb butter, cubed
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil

Slice Roma tomatoes into thirds and place in a mixing bowl with ¼ cup garlic and 2 Tbs olive oil. Toss evenly then spread on sheet pan and roast for 20 minutes.
Open the cans of tomatoes.
Place both cans of tomatoes in a 12-quart container.
Blend until smooth with an immersion blender.

Place large pot on stove top, medium heat and add ½ lb of butter, cubed and ½ cup garlic, let simmer for five minutes.

Add 12-quart container of blended tomatoes, increase heat to a medium simmer, stirring frequently.
While stirring, add sugar, salt, pepper, and basil.
Once the liquid is hot, add heavy cream, salt, and pepper to taste.

Heading to Winston-Salem? Stop at Canteen for lunch to try the recipe firsthand, then enjoy a southern-inspired meal at Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar. Here Chef Tim Grandinetti uses Sungold Farms tomatoes in new summer dishes with some Tuscan flare: Panzanella of Candied Tomato and Creamy Burrata, and a savory Eggplant Caponata with Balsamic-Caper Vinaigrette. Delicioso!


Caponata and Chilled Tortellini (Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar)
2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 eggplants, medium Dice
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 anchovy filet
3 tomatoes, cored, peeled, and coarsely chopped
2 Celery, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons capers
12 green olives, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, roasted and thinkly sliced
salt and black pepper, to your taste
2 tablespoons basil
2 tablespoons parsley

Heat 2 tablespoons EVOO in skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and cook until golden brown, 6 – 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to mixing bowl.

Reduce heat to medium-low, add additional 2 tablespoons EVOO. Add onions, anchovies, and sweat until soft, 10 – 12 minutes.

Add chopped tomatoes and celery. Cook an additional 5 minutes.

Add vinegar, sugar, and tomato paste. Cook until thickened, 6 – 8 minutes.

Add the cooked eggplant, raisins, pine nuts, capers, olives, roasted red peppers, and salt and pepper to taste. 

Cook until hot.

Transfer to a mixing bowl and allow to cool. Finish with basil and parsley. 

Serve at room temperature with cooked and chilled tortellini. 

(Feature image above courtesy of Cobblestone Farmers Market.)