Monday, June 29, 2015

Saga of the Humble Tomato

Digging into the soil, pulling weeds, planting seeds and seedlings, watering a parched earth, impatiently watching plants peek out from the soil and reach toward the sun, eventually producing beautiful, colorful flowers and delicious edibles create a spring and summer delight.
Not from my garden, but the local farmer's market. 
Why did the tomato blush?
Because he saw the salad dressing.

This year our tiny patch contains mainly tomato plants, a summertime favorite. I cannot wait to enjoy the juicy, wonderfully tasting varieties.

Commercially grown tomatoes, especially those found in stores during the dark, dreary winter months and purchased for a dear price, are usually tasteless letdowns. Every year I make a pledge not to buy tomatoes during the winter, but perusing colorful produce displays, occasionally a large, red, juicy looking specimen beckons. I buy, but am always disappointed.

Marketing wins, my taste buds and pocketbook lose.

The humble tomato made its way to North American shores in a circuitous way. Native to Peru, the plant traveled North through Central America into Mexico. Spanish conquistadors introduced the plant to Europe, initially for ornamental purposes.

The plant generated a dark, negative history. Botanists believed the plant similar to a poisonous one called nightshade, and the tomato’s reputation was stained for centuries. The tomato was also considered an aphrodisiac, adding to the dangerous side effects of the round red fruit if consumed.

Europeans dubbed the fruit ‘poison apple’. By the 18th century European aristocrats dined on pewter tableware. The plates contained a high lead content. When a tomato, high in acidity, sat on a pewter plate for any length of time it would leach lead from the plate. The unknowing diner ate the tomato and died of lead poisoning.

At the time people believed the tomato was the culprit.

And although the tomato is not poisonous, the leaves are toxic.

European immigrants introduced the plant into North America, and our Colonial ancestors believed tomatoes poisonous. Legend say Thomas Jefferson grew tomatoes on his plantation and used them in cooking, spreading their popularity throughout the colonies. Originally a cooked vegetable – although actually a fruit – tomatoes were consumed in soups and sauces long before gracing salads.

The invention of the modern pizza in the 1880’s in Naples, Italy, sealed the tomato’s international popularity. A poor man’s ‘peasant bread’, the main ingredient typically leftover dough, toppings included tomato, cheese and whatever else was available.

The introduction of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup in 1897 secured the tomato an honored position as an American food staple.

My tomato plants.
The tomato’s negative reputation still at times haunts the plant. In the 1978 movie Attack of the Killer Tomatoes giant red tomatoes terrorize the nation.

My tomatoes never get that big.

Green tomatoes appear on my plants every day, and I cannot wait until they turn ripe red, ready for picking and eating, the perfect summer food. 
How do you fix a sliced tomato?
Use tomato paste.