French Market Creole Tomato Festival resumes one year after COVID-19 pandemic

(Photo: Creole Tomato Festival in 2011. | Reading Tom | CC Flickr)
The 2021 Creole Tomato Festival kicked-off Saturday for a one-day free event in the French Quarter with second line parades, live music and vendors.

Now in its 35th year, the festival began 11 a.m. at the French Market located in the 1000 block of North Peters Street and ends at 4 p.m.

Last year’s festival was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s festival included a blend of in-person and virtual events.

The festival started Saturday with a the Ripe & Ready Secondline parade, which started at Washington Artillery Park and proceeded to the French Market, and included performances by the Yellow Pochahontas Black Masking Indians Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Club, the Black Storyville Baby Dolls, New Orleans Brass Band and the NOLA Chorus Girls.

The festival recognizes the “Creole tomato”, which is technically not a single kind of tomato, but is more akin to a branding term.

Farmers in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes would let their tomatoes vine-ripen and grow in a rich alluvial soil, which created a unique flavor distinguished from other Louisiana- and U.S.-grown tomatoes, according to Kathryn Fontenot, writing for the Louisiana State University AgCenter.

The farmers planted several varieties, but labeled them “Creole” tomatoes despite the inconsistency, Fontenot added. Saving the seeds was a common practice among farmers and gardeners, who’d pass on the seeds to other people.

To make things even more confusing, LSU researcher Teme Hernandez developed a variety in 1969, which he named the Creole tomato and was not commonly grown in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, according to Fontenot.

The variety is described as medium-sized, deep-red with some resistance to fusarium wilt, or a fungal vascular disease that infects certain plants, including tomatoes and eggplants, turning their leaves brown and necrotic.

The AgCenter, however, did not maintain a seed stock of Creole tomato and so now the term generally describes any tomato grown in Louisiana, according to Fontenot.

At the time of this writing, one hour of the festival remains. In addition to the second line and music performances, George’s Produce will be selling fresh Creole tomatoes.

Official festival t-shirts, Bloody Marys and art will be available to buy from vendors located in Dutch Alley located in the 900 block of North Peters Street.

In addition, the New Orleans Jazz Museum located at 400 Esplanade Ave. is hosting the NOLA Zydeco Fest.