There are many stories about where tomatoes originated, and their early history wasn’t always positive.
Early on, tomatoes gained the nickname the “poison apple” because it was thought that aristocrats got sick and died after eating them, but the truth of the matter was that wealthy Europeans used pewter plates, which were high in lead content. Because tomatoes are so high in acidity, when placed on this pewter dinnerware, the fruit would leach lead from the plate, resulting in many deaths from lead poisoning. No one made this connection between plate and poison at the time; the tomato was picked as the culprit.
The tomato didn’t get blamed just for what was found to be lead poisoning. Before the fruit made its way to the table in North America, it was classified as a deadly nightshade, a poisonous family of Solanaceae plants that contain toxins called tropane alkaloids. Due to the thought of tomatoes being poisonous, they were used as decoration, similar to how we use gourds around Halloween and Thanksgiving.
The Civil War was a tomato game-changer. Canneries boomed, filling contracts to feed the Union army. Tomatoes, which grew quickly and held up well during the canning process, rose to the occasion. After the war, demand for canned products grew, with more tomatoes being canned than any other vegetable. And this meant more farmers needed to grow them. And grow they did.
In my view, the Civil War civilized the tomato.
Whatever history you choose to believe about tomatoes, there is no denying the nutritional value of the tomato.
Tomatoes are high in fiber and a good source of vitamin A, C, B2, B9, and chromium. The vitamins act as antioxidants, and minerals play essential roles in ensuring the body functions properly.
There are also various carotenoids (including lycopene and beta-carotene), the phytonutrients that are thought to play a role in chronic disease prevention.
Lycopene is thought to reduce the risk of heart disease and has been shown to result in lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Beta carotene may improve your cognitive function, promote eye health, lung health, and skin health, to name a few.
This year I have 16 tomato plants; those phytonutrients are blooming all over my garden. They were a gift from a friend who usually takes me to Salty’s for my birthday. Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused closures of restaurants, Mertens thought tomatoes would be the next best gift. He was right. My tomato plants this year are off the hook! I’ve always had tomato envy when comparing my crops to his. He shed some light onto the tomato harvesting, and I’ve learned a lot.
I am enjoying all the goodness from the tomatoes in my garden. I eat them both raw and cooked. They are in every dish I make, and my mom is in tomato heaven.
I’m also roasting tomatoes a few times a week, as they freeze well. There is nothing like having a good winter stock to take out as needed for sauces, stews, and soup.
Here is a link to my Tomato Basil Soup
It’s always a hit when I make it.
You can use the roasting process to get tomatoes ready to freeze or use in any dish that calls for roasted tomatoes.
If you try the soup, let me know what you think of it.