For the Upper Midwest, the process of finding its culinary voice is largely one of connecting the land (mostly rural) with the people (mostly urban). Restaurants are a key way of bridging the gap, but independent entrepreneurs selling artisanal products are doing their part, too.
One such example is SpringTooth Harvest, the brainchild of Vlad Messing, a Minnesota Department of Commerce contractor. Messing sources heirloom tomatoes from Lyons Creek Gardens in Lake Crystal, Minn. and Mohrbacher Farm and Homestead in Hastings. For the past two seasons, Messing has been turning tomatoes into tomato soup, marinara, and Bloody Mary mix sold by the 16-ounce jar at the Fulton Farmers Market and the Winter Market.
“I’m very patient,” Messing said of SpringTooth’s process, which involves a lot of hand slicing, cooking, and processing. “I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, taking my time.” Messing’s appreciation for his fruit of choice fills his discussion. He’s in love with the smell of the vines, the earthiness of heirloom varieties, and the seasonality of what he does.
Of the three products that Messing currently makes under the SpringTooth Harvest label, the tomato soup ($10 for 16 ounces) is the least ready for prime time, although it still has quite a bit of heirloom tomato appeal. It’s a pleasant soup — light, clean, simple, and balanced, with a supporting garlic flavor — but it could use a more robust point of view or additional flavor elements (robust Parmesan and/or cream, for example) to move it from light amuse bouche to stand-alone entree, as its price might suggest.
SpringTooth’s marinara ($10 for 16 ounces) is lovely. It lacks the heavier sugary and/or burnt notes of many mass-marketed sauces and presents an elegant mix of tomato/black pepper/olive oil flavors. It’s robust and uncomplicated.
Best of all is the Bloody Mary mix ($11 for 16 ounces), which is smooth, naturally sweet with a peppery heat, and gently earthy. You can taste a great deal of soulful heirloom tomato flavor, and it’s balanced enough to take readily to your own condiments. We dressed ours up with some Isabel Street Heat and loved the way that the lime/cilantro sauce added to the mix without stepping on its flavor. It works as is for drinkers who like a simple, clean, classic Bloody, but it’s also easily customizable.