I'm on vacation this week, but I just received some incredibly sad news that I need to share with you.
Harold Politano of Deer Park, the reigning Tomato King who won the 2009 challenge on August 28, has passed away. His daughter, Kim, told me this morning that Harold died yesterday from pancreatic cancer.
"I just wanted you to know one of my dad's proudest moments was winning the tomato challenge," Kim told me in an email written hours after his death.
My heart aches as I write this, as Harold, 58, was such an enthusiastic participant. He really put his heart and soul into his garden and emailed me every few days with updates and photos of his progress. He even bought a "Tomato King" t-shirt before he won, and enjoyed a friendly competition with other contestants, exchanging good-natured barbs with them throughout the summer on the Garden Detective blog. He beamed when he won.
Harold's porterhouse tomato weighed in at 4 pounds 9 ounces, which was an all-time Tomato Challenge record. I felt strongly that it also could very well be a New York State record and called several federal and state agencies, the agricultural extension headquarters in Ithaca, and farming bureaus and organizations in Albany, as well as several growers clubs. I kept at it for months, but hard as I tried, I could not locate any official records of any larger tomato grown in New York State. There aren't even any records of any same-sized tomatoes. Or any that come close.
So now, in honor of Harold's well-deserved accomplishment, I'm claiming the record for him:
Harold Politano's 4 pound, 9 ounce porterhouse tomato now holds the record for the largest tomato grown in New York State.
As I send Harold his well-earned title, I'm sending his family and friends my thoughts and prayers, and asking you to do the same. He will be sorely missed.