How’s this for an endorsement: Minutes after fifth-generation Leelanau farmer Bill Walters opens, Ugly Tomato, his fruit and vegetable stand (smack dab between Leland and Glen Arbor on M-22), women slink in still wearing their pajamas to get the first pick of his 80+ varieties of luscious heirloom tomatoes. Walters’s exquisite tomatoes run the gamut from the strawberry-shaped, sugarsweet tomatoberry, to the classic beefsteaks ripe with oldfashioned tomato flavor, to the variegated American heirlooms and the Siberian and Russian black and brown tomatoes.
We had to find out at least some of his secrets so we chatted with Bill. We learned a whole lot about tomatoes and, (no secret), pretty isn’t what you’re going for in tomatoes.
With heirloom tomatoes, the uglier the better. Supermarket tomatoes are all bred for appearance and taste horrible. True to our word, we grow ugly tomatoes that taste really good.
We hear with tomatoes, black is the new red.
We have Cherokee Purple, Purple Calabash, black tomatoes from the Ukraine, Black Sea Man, Blue Fruit. They are very zesty, a little more acidic than red tomatoes. It is curious with the heirlooms, as you work your way across Europe and across into Russia and Siberia they become darker.
Of all your varieties, what are the ones you love the most?
My favorite early tomato is the Matina. It’s a smallish German tomato with a very sweet, intense flavor. Midseason, I like the Big Beef, a 12-ounce beefsteak with excellent flavor; the Costoluto Florentino, a Tuscan heirloom; and the Sioux, a Nebraskan heirloom. The red currant is extremely sweet, but as small as a pea.
Your family has farmed the Leelanau land for quite a while…
We’ve been here since April of 1857. George and Katherine Walters emigrated from Prussia. They had enough of the aftermath of the German Revolution of 1849. The farm I’m living on has been in the family five generations on the maternal side. Anton and Mary Dzandeleske homesteaded it in 1866.
What’s one new tomato people should try this summer?
Ceylon, it is the best. It looks like two bowties that are crossed. People core the center and stuff it.
Find the Tomato Meister at the rustic Ugly Tomato stand, next to Michigan Traders, 7/10 of a mile West of the intersection of M-22 and Lime Lake Road.
Check out this recipe for Tomato Panzanella with Lemon Vinaigrette, and Italian summer salad pairing baguette croutons, tomatoes and the freshest ingredients of summer.
More Food Ideas to Drive For
- Foodie Road Trip #1: Antrim and Charlevoix Farm Country
- Foodie Road Trip #2: Classics at Tip of the Mitt
- Foodie Road Trip #3: The Leelanau and Benzie Coast
- Food Loving Summer
- Northern Michigan Best Eats 2009
Click on the 2009 Digital Leelanau Vacation Guide
Find all kinds of ideas and interactive links to fun, food and activities to pack around your visit to Ugly Tomato.
Quick Links to More Fun in Leelanau County!
- The Leelanau Vacation Directory: Listings to lodging, galleries, restaurants and more along with an interactive map.
- Leelanau Digital Vacation Guide: Browse beautiful pages connecting you to wine tours, great drives, historic Glen Haven, lighthouse tours, canoeing and click to hundreds of websites.
- The Leelanau County "Don’t Miss" List
- The Complete Restaurant Guide for Leelanau County: Just type in any Leelanau County town and browse the wonderful array of restaurant options.
- Video: Sleeping Bear Dunes
- Check out all the music, festivals, arts and events of all kinds happening in Leelanau County: Just pop in the name of the Leelanau County town you’d like to play in and choose amongst hundreds of things to do!
- Plot your day in Leelanau County using this Interactive Map: Choose an activity in "I’d like to find" and choose a Leelanau town for "in a town near." Then click away!
- Rent a cottage in Leelanau County: There are hundreds of cottages to rent in Northern Michigan. Type the town you’re interested in into the Search box and plan your getaway Up North!