With spring comes the promise of garden tomatoes, if we're patient. Perhaps we needn't be as patient as in the past, though. Bushel Boy Farms in Owatonna, Minn., this week released its newest variety, a beefsteak tomato that comes mighty close in flavor and appearance to what comes off our back-yard vines. "Bushel Boy Bubbas" are grown in special greenhouses, pollinated by bees, then ripened and shipped on the vine to stores within about 24 hours of being picked. They're available in most Twin Cities grocery stores.

New local cookbooks

There's a knack to doubling, much less quadrupling, recipes, as well as serving a large group as efficiently as a small gathering.

Beth Rentz of Rochester learned the ropes as a maritime consultant, creating menus for commercial vessels. She also organized customer receptions and fundraisers for corporations and nonprofits -- not to mention working as a house director for several fraternities and sororities. Bottom line: She knows how to feed a crowd, and shares her knowledge in "Feed Many, for Fun, for Profit: A Guide to Large Quantity Cooking" ($29.95, plus tax and shipping charges). She discusses portions, budgets, working with purveyors and provides recipes. To order, visit www.feedmany.com.

Classic appetizers and cocktails are revisited in "Fancy Sips and Party Dips" (Nodin Press, $19.95), a compilation of recipes by caterer Nancy Lockhart of Burnsville that hark back to the era of cheese logs, spinach dips and chicken liver spreads. Complementing the recipes are directions for egg nog, luau punch, even a hot crème de menthe cocktail. There also are nonalcoholic drinks. For details, visit www.simplyalacarte.com.

So fondue you

Speaking of retro, here's a fresh version of what people such as "Mad Men's" Betty Draper used when entertaining, before chocolate fountains had their moment. Yup, we're talking about chocolate fondue. Now there's a product called Velata, which is a line of small chocolate fondue warmers that use a metal plate (wrapped in silicone) heated by a 25-watt light bulb. It cleans up in the dishwasher. There are four chocolate flavors ($7) and 14 warmer designs ($40). They can be purchased online or through a local consultant. Visit www.velata.com for details.