CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – With the Italian Heritage Festival set to kick off this week, a native of Clarksburg is growing tomatoes that weigh approximately three pounds each and originated from the Swiss settlement area of the state called Helvetia.
Those Swiss natives brought with them their favorite tomatoes coming from France, Germany, and Italy. As the story goes, told by Clarksburg native, Michael Malfregoet, a man from the settlement in the 1800s cross-pollinated the three tomatoes from each country until he got the best attributes from all three tomatoes. Malfregeot said growing the tomatoes with his wife and sons is something he looks forward to each year and making their favorite Italian dishes.
“From the French he got the dense fruit with the low seeds, from the Germans he got the big robust size, from the Italians he got the flavor and the rich color,” Malfregot said. “So, using his knowledge and again that cross-pollination method back, even back in the late 1800’s he developed what we call today the Mountaineer.”
Malfregeot added this is not a tomato that can be bought in the stores or even one that is found at a farmers market. He stated that the seeds have been passed down from generation to generation. Also, Malfregeot stated that as people moved so did the seeds and they were brought to the Edgewood and Gore area of Harrison County which he estimates could have been in the early 1920s.
“15 years ago or so, I was working at the bank and had a client that had come in we got to talking about tomatoes and come to find out this was the tomato, and this was the tomato that had been passed down generations over generations over in that Edgewood, Gore area,” Malfregeot said.
Most of the tomatoes that Malfregot grows, he gives to his neighbors or uses them in some old-world Italian recipes. He said he likes to take the first tomato off the vine in the season to make a tomato sandwich with his family.
“So, we have a lot of old recipes and family traditions on the Italian side certainly of recipes of making sauce. So, this is a great tomato that we’ll use at the end of the season when we have to too robust. They typically come on at the same so you have to find something to do with them,” Malfregot said. “Tomatoes are the epitome of Italy and we all know tomatoes from pizza and sauces. So, you know, using that aspect and being able to grow it here, here in my own home really makes it feel like your tied back into what the history is of your family.”
As a family, Malfregeot said watching his young sons planting the tomato seeds and watching them grow over the season knowing that they cannot kick balls or play in the garden, that is one thing he learned as a child growing up. His sons help him all season, pulling weeds, trimming and cuttings, as well as working in the compost pile. He stated his four-year-old likes playing in the compost pile digging up worms.
The Malfregeot family said gardening and growing tomatoes is a great experience.