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updated: 8/23/2011 2:03 PM

Heirloom tomatoes star of weekend at botanic garden

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  • Learn about heirloom tomatoes at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

    Learn about heirloom tomatoes at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
    Associated Press file photo

  • Courtesy of Southern Sister Spirits

  • Courtesy of KiolbassaKiolbassa sausage hails from Texas.

    Courtesy of KiolbassaKiolbassa sausage hails from Texas.


Today's Page 1 Food story just brushed the top of the iceberg when it comes to understanding tomatoes, but you can use that knowledge as a starting point when you head to the Chicago Botanic Garden for the annual Heirloom Tomato Weekend.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, and Sunday, Aug. 28, visitors to the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden can browse information displays, ask experts about tomato problems (can I still eat that Roma in spite of the black spot on the bloom end?) and participate in tours, learn how to save seeds and do other activities like potting herbs and taking a tomato test (one more time, is it a fruit or a vegetable?).

As part of the Garden Chef Series, Paul Fehribach of big jones will prepare a dish with heirloom tomatoes at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. in the Kitchen Amphitheater. Cooking demonstrations also will take place on Sunday with a chef to be determined.

Admission to the Chicago Botanic Garden is free; select event fees apply. Parking costs $20 per car; free for Garden members. More at (847) 835-5440 or

Spotlight on Vignoles: The Vignoles wine grape takes center stage during a Labor Day weekend tasting event in downstate Shawnee Hills wine country that blends wine, spirits, food and music.

The Among the Stars tasting on Friday, Sept. 2, showcases Vignoles products made within the Shawnee Hills American Viticultural Area, a federally designated wine region in deep southern Illinois. Vignoles is one of the seven "star" grapes of Shawnee Hills. Appetizers made with locally produced foods and crafted specifically to pair with the evening's beverages will be offered. Tasting tickets cost $30 a person.

The tasting kicks off the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail Fall Festival on Saturday, Sept. 3, and Sunday, Sept. 4, in downtown Cobden, the heart of the wine trail. During the festival visitors can get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the new Harvest Moon Vineyard in rural Makanda. Tickets for the festival and the tasting cost $30 each per person and are available only at Sales are limited. More at (618) 534-0614.

Lone Star State sausages: The suburban Chicago area boasts a large Polish population and along with that comes some top-notch Polish sausages. So I was understandably skeptical when a guy from Texas called to pitch his Polish sausage. Texas is the land of brisket and Fritos, after all. What could folks at Kiolbassa know about such a Chicago favorite?

Plenty, it turns out.

The company founded by Rufus and Juanita Kiolbassa has been producing sausages since 1949. In recent years, Kiolbassa products have been featured on Food Network and in Gourmet magazine. But does this pork and beef blend stand up to a Chicago Maxwell Street sausage?

Yes, yes it does. I loved the "snap" that the natural pork casing got after some time on the grill and how well that casing held in the juices until it got into my mouth. The texture of the meat was pleasantly coarse and the flavor outstanding.

Kiolbassa is still new to the area, but you can find 2- to 3-pound packages at suburban Costco and Sam's Club locations for less than $10. Try some for yourself this Labor Day weekend. You won't be disappointed.

• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at or follow her on Twitter @PankeysPlate.