Well, here it is August and gardens everywhere are beginning to fill with the reds, oranges, and yellows of tomatoes ripening on the vine. That means it is probably time to buy stock in pork bellies as the demand for bacon will likely go through the roof with everyone making those BLT’s. Every roadside stand and farmer’s market will soon be brimming with baskets and boxes of plump, ripe tomatoes, the premier garden vegetable that is actually a fruit. Don’t you hate it when someone says that? Like it really matters, especially when you’re eating one!
The tomato has a very unique history (don’t we all?) and wasn’t always America’s most loved garden delight. The earliest mention of the tomato was in 1519 when Cortez discovered tomatoes in central South America growing in Montezuma’s gardens. He brought some seeds back to Europe but failed to mention if the red fruits could be eaten, so they were raised as ornamentals. Somewhere in the mix of things, someone decided that the tomato was actually poisonous and that anyone who ate one would keel over dead. Of course, these were the same Europeans who decided that smoking tobacco was good for a person because it cleared the head and improved digestion.
In 1808, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, an American gentleman farmer, historian, horticulturalist, judge, soldier and statesman who lived in Salem, New Jersey, brought the tomato to the United States. Again, people feared eating the red fruit because the tart juice just had to be poisonous. This from the same people who didn’t have enough common sense to put the outhouse a good distance from their water supply; I often wonder just how the United States became the most technologically advanced society in the world.
On September 26, 1820, Col. Johnson decided to prove to the world just how wrong they had been about the tomato. He came out of his mansion, dressed in his best attire, with a crowd of 2000 people cheering him on as he walked to the courthouse square. He stood on the steps and began telling people about history of the tomato.
He picked a choice one from a basket on the steps and held it up so that it glistened in the sun.
"To help dispel the tall tales, the fantastic fables that you have been hearing and to prove to you that it is not poisonous I am going to eat one right now"
There was not a sound as the Col. dramatically brought the tomato to his lips and took a bite. A woman in the crowd screamed and fainted but no one paid her any attention as the people watched in anticipation of getting to see the good Colonel drop dead right there on the courthouse steps. The fireman’s band even played a mournful tune to add to the excitement of watching this old fool commit public suicide.
And people think that watching NASCAR is stupid?
Well, of course, Colonel Johnson didn’t die. At one point though, doctors agreed that the tomato could cause stomach cancer because the skin would stick to the walls of the stomach. Of course, modern medicine today agrees that the tomato which contains lycopene is beneficial in the prevention of cancer. I did have a tomato give me a really bad bruise on my shoulder once, but that was because my high school chum, Terryl Kron, hit me with a slightly green tomato during a tomato fight in the tobacco patch while we were supposed to be cutting tobacco. I am probably one of only a handful of people who can say they were hit by a ninety-five mile-an-hour fast-tomato! They wanted Terryl to pitch in the minor leagues but he went to work for the government instead. Go figure!
By the mid 1800’s, the tomato was a part of American food culture and eventually helped to make one man rich. In 1897, Joseph Campbell introduced a new soup, Condensed Tomato Bisque. It was a move that helped to make him a millionaire and a household name. The tomato also proved to be financially beneficial for a few other folks like J. R. Heinz, Del Monte, and the Hunt Brothers.
Today, tomatoes are one of the most popular of all garden goodies and are used to make everything from ketchup and salsa to spaghetti sauce and pizza.
Tomato Basil Mozzarella Bread is one of our favorite ways to enjoy fresh from the garden cherry tomatoes and just picked basil from Aunt Carolyn's herb garden.
You can use any type of bread you like. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the bread, place in oven to lightly toast it. Remove from oven. Sprinkle bread with Italian seasoning. Top the bread with sliced cherry tomatoes, mozzarella bits, and fresh chopped basil. Drizzle a little more olive oil on top, then return to oven until the cheese just begins to melt. ENJOY!
With a little care and preparation, fresh tomatoes can be enjoyed long after the frost and cold weather make going out to the garden to grab a few for a salad impossible. Green and pink fruits can be harvested just before the killing frost and individually wrapped in newspaper and stored at a slightly cool room temperature until they have ripened. My mom once prepared some in this fashion and we had fresh tomatoes until Christmas day!
If you decide to can tomatoes to enjoy throughout the year, make sure to first wash the fruit and remove the stems. Dip into boiling water for 30 seconds or so to loosen the skin. Once the skin has been removed, leave whole, halve, or quarter. Pack into jars and add boiling water to cover. Secure lids according to directions and then bring water bath to a boil for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool and seal. Then store in a cool, dark place, preferably on a lower shelf. These tomatoes can be eaten right out of the jar or used in any of your favorite dishes.
I like using canned tomatoes to prepare Country Steak and Tomato Gravy.
1 lb. of tenderized beef round steak, cut into portions
1 Cup of flour seasoned with salt, pepper, and meat tenderizer
1 Cup of cooking oil
1 medium diced onion
4 Medium Tomatoes-cut into wedges
½ Cup of flour (for gravy)
2 Cups Cold Water
1 Cup Milk
Preheat large skillet with 1 Cup Cooking oil.
Coat steak pieces on both sides in seasoned flour, place in hot oil.
Cook until golden brown on both sides.
Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels.
Place diced onion in hot skillet. Cook until over medium heat until clear.
Remove from skillet.
Using grease and drippings from steak, brown ½ cup of flour in skillet.
Add cold water and milk, stirring until smooth.
Add cooked onions, then place browned steak pieces into skillet with gravy.
Add the tomato wedges and season lightly with salt & pepper.
Cover and reduce heat to a low simmer for twenty minutes.
Because the tomato is technically a fruit because it is an ever-bearing plant, it can be used to make jelly and even ice cream! I am not sure why Baskin-Robbins hasn’t added tomato to its list of 31 wonderful flavors, but for those of you who want to try something different, here is a recipe for tomato ice cream:
16 ounces of fresh tomato juice, strained
16 ounces of whole cream
3 egg yolks
1-1/2 cups of sugar
3tsp. Thai Sweet Chili sauce
Pour the tomato juice into a large saucepan and heat to simmering point. Allow to simmer until it has reduced to half of its original volume. Once the juice has reduced place in a cold container and place in the freezer until cold (if it is too warm it may curdle the egg yolks). While the juice is cooling, place the egg yolks cream, castor sugar and chili sauce into a glass bowl and whisk until thickened and almost white in color. Set aside in the fridge until ready. Once cooled, pour tomato juice into the egg mixture and lightly whisk to combine. Pour into the ice cream machine. Process as you would any other homemade ice cream. Serve with a sweet pepper jelly as a topping sauce.
The Tail End
One day momma tomato was hanging around the garden with the baby tomatoes, when she noticed one of them wasn't staying up with the bunch; she leaned down to the tomato, smacked it and said, "Catch-up."