Hidden greenhouses in the Icelandic countryside grow and serve tomatoes
REYKHOLT, Iceland — The Golden Circle is a scenic drive straight out of science fiction: a 185-mile loop of two-lane road meanders through the countryside, passing frozen fields dotted with wind-hewed stones, pitch-black volcanic ruins, geothermal pools spilling over with steam, tectonic divides with highland rivers, a massive glacier-fed waterfall, and Geysir, the original hot spring from which all other geysers get their name.
And there, in the middle of it all, sits Fridheimar farm with its quaint little rows of glass greenhouses, an idyllic seed nestled in an otherworldly landscape, growing tomatoes for the small population here. In a land famously known for its inhospitable terrain, the last thing you would expect to grow is a tomato. But thanks to Fridheimar's greenhouses, and the use of the natural geothermic environment, the farm is able to produce four varieties, along with cucumbers, year round.
Fridheimar is owned and operated by husband and wife Knutur Rafn Armann and Helena Hermundardottir, who live nearby. In 1995, they happened upon two vacant neighboring farms and decided to put their expertise in horse breeding and horticulture to good use. Fridheimar, an Icelandic word which roughly translates to "world peace," began with two old greenhouses and a few varieties of tomatoes and sweet bell peppers.
The Icelandic climate is not conducive to traditional agricultural methods, so much of the country's produce is shipped in from growing regions in Italy or Britain, or cultivated in state-of-the-art greenhouses like those used at Fridheimar. The tomato is one of a handful of plants that thrives in this environment, lending to its popularity in the arctic nation.
The farm quickly shifted operations to suit the demand for tomatoes and added several other varieties to the crop rotation. The smallest, a dainty gem-like piccolo about the size of a cherry tomato, is the most popular variety and Fridheimar was the first to cultivate it.
Now the farm has expanded to accommodate larger greenhouses with the most advanced horticultural systems, including hives of bees that help pollinate the plants and a year-round staff of 16. They average one ton of produce a day, also managing a small adjoining plot where the owners raise and train the iconic Icelandic horse. Fridheimar celebrates the long, warmer days of summer and the famous midnight sun by welcoming the public to the farm with tomato festivals and horse shows.
In the last few years, the farm has opened up the greenhouses for group tours to educate the public on gardening and greenhouse agriculture. One greenhouse was converted into a cafe and bar, which serves lunch every day, spearheaded by well-known Icelandic chef and farm neighbor Jon K.B. Sigfusson. It also houses a little shop that sells bottles of its famous tomato soup (and a card printed with the recipe), freshly picked tomatoes, and jars of tomato jam, sauces, and preserves (all also available online). Half the building still functions as a working greenhouse with long, tall vines of green and red tomatoes. A sign reads "Please do not touch," and the air is filled with the farm scent of the fruits while diners sit nearby.
The menu is simple and lacks the typical Icelandic staples of cured fish and heavy meats, instead revolving around the greenhouse's staple. While specials change throughout the year, tomato soup with creme fraiche and cucumber salsa, served with fresh bread, is always available. Desserts include a green-tomato and apple pie, tomato ice cream, cheese cake with green-tomato sauce made with cinnamon and lime, and freshly baked waffles (an Icelandic favorite) with two types of tomato jam and whipped cream.
Even drinks are part of the experience: Small tomatoes are hollowed out to serve as edible shot glasses, then filled with Icelandic liquor. Cucumbers go into a refreshing gin and tonic. Fridheimar rounds out the drink selection with a handful of Bloody Mary variations, including the virgin Healthy Mary with green tomatoes, lime, honey, ginger, and sparkling water. The aptly named Happy Mary pairs those ingredients with gin.
Considering the alien terrain that surrounds Fridheimar, it's easy to see why tourists might pass by this little gem. But it's the perfect stop for warm soup and a tomato cocktail or two to counter the Icelandic chill.
FRIDHEIMAR IS-801 Selfoss, Blaskogabyggd, Reykholt, Iceland, 354-486-8894, www.fridheimar.is