If you’ve ever been to the Pineville Tavern in the summer months, you may have noticed – or even ordered – an appetizer called, “Freddie’s Tomatoes.” It is the quintessential summer dish. Fresh tomatoes, sliced thick, sprinkled with crumbled blue cheese and thin slices of red onion, and finished with a splash or two of red wine vinaigrette.
Of course, the question that begs is, “Who is Freddie?” Easy enough. As you pull out of the Pineville’s parking lot, and come up to the traffic light, instead of turning onto Route 413, go straight onto Township Line Road. A mile will bring you into Wycombe, the pretty little railroad village we call home, but keep going over the small bridge. Drive two plus miles through Forest Grove, an even smaller village that looks like time and real estate developers forgot about it. Just a bit further and you’ll see a big sign shouting, “TOMATOES.” The Slack Farm is on the left. Pull in, get out and buy some of the best tomatoes you’ll eat in Bucks County.
Fred and Evelyn Slack, and now their progeny, have been growing these tomatoes for a long time. They bought the Roselawn Farm – originally a minister’s house – when they married in 1952. Miles Slack, Fred’s brother, lives in the farm next door, just a little down the road. You’ll see his farm’s roadside shack selling a wide variety of vegetables and flowers throughout the growing season (sign says, “The Center Farm”). Miles and his wife live in the old Slack homestead.
I learned all this sitting at the kitchen table with Fred and Evelyn on a warm June afternoon. I guess you could say that Fred Slack is a traditional farmer. He’s got a good thing, and he’s sticking with it. He mostly grows tomatoes, corn, pumpkins and hay on his 76 acres and the 100 or so acres he rents. “Tomatoes and corn,” he says, “just go together, sell well together. Don’t know why. Just do. Seems you have to have both.” His stuff isn’t organic (he does spray when needed), and I didn’t discuss modern farming techniques with him either. You get the feeling that Fred is himself a vanishing breed, one you don’t want to mess with. It is what it is.
Last summer I stopped by the farm to pick up some tomatoes. There was a cute dog in the car next to mine who looked a lot like my Cody. Well, that’s enough to strike up a conversation for me. That’s how I met Chuck Rekemeier. He was picking up some corn from Fred. Turns out Chuck owns and runs Town & Country Greenhouses, on land he rents from Fairview Farm on Pineville Road, about a half mile from the Pineville Tavern. There he grows tomato seedlings for Fred Slack, who gives him his tomato seeds every year. The tomato triangle is completed.
Chuck starts the seeds in February and has the first batch of seven thousand or more plants ready for Fred’s first planting in late April. Fred does two more plantings, one in mid-May and one in mid-June, so that we can all eat delicious tomatoes throughout the summer and early fall. In fact, he’ll have tomatoes to sell into mid-October until the first frost. Along with corn, of course.
So how did Freddie’s Tomatoes come about? For that, we have to go back to the Pineville Tavern and Drew Abruzzese, son of owner Andrew Abruzzese, and general manager of the popular restaurant. The Abruzzeses love the well-known Italian restaurant, Chick and Nello’s Homestead Inn in Trenton, and enjoy their vegetable salads – simple salads made with just a fresh vegetable, red onion, some cheese and red wine vinegar. Once Andrew discovered Fred Slack’s tomatoes, Freddie’s Tomatoes, was born and it’s been a summer staple on the blackboard since Andrew took over the Pineville twenty years ago.
I asked Drew what he likes about the salad. “I don’t,” he shot back, “I don’t like raw tomatoes.” I burst out laughing, at a loss for words. But Drew, the consummate chef and restaurateur came back. “But everyone else loves it.” It’s all about simplicity, he went on to say. “It’s a perfect balance of flavors – the sweetness of the tomatoes, the sharpness of the blue cheese and vinegar… such a simple mix of ingredients, but just perfect.”
And the best part? “It’s the ‘soup’ at the bottom of the plate when it’s all finished,” explains Drew. “People cannot wait to dip bread into it. The best part…is when you are done eating.”
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