November 06, 2007

Tomato Trivia

In the beginning, tomatoes grew as wild, cherry-size berries in the South American Andes, but the fruit, as we know it today, was developed in Mexico where it was known as tomatil & traveled to Europe by boat with the returning conquistadors.

Upon arrival in Italy, the heart-shaped tomato was considered an aphrodisiac, thus tomato in Italian, poma amoris, means "love apple." Before modern canning methods were available, Italians dried tomatoes on their tile roofs for use in winter. Nowadays, sundried tomatoes (pomodori secchi in Italian) are not as popular in Italy as they are in the US where they have quickly become a favorite of home cooks.

Up until the end of the 18th century, physicians warned against eating tomatoes, fearing they caused not only appendicitis but also stomach cancer from tomato skins adhering to the lining of the stomach. On September 26, 1820 Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson proved tomatoes non-poisonous & safe for consumption when he stood on the steps of the Salem courthouse & bravely consumed an entire basket of tomatoes with no adverse effects. His grandstanding attracted a crowd over over 2,000 people who were certain he was committing public suicide. North America's love affair with the tomato was off & running.

Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit & can be further classified as a berry since it is pulpy & has edible seeds. In 1893, an importer claimed the tomato as a fruit in order to avoid vegetable import tariffs imposed by the US. This dispute led to the Supreme Court ruling for taxation purposes that the tomato be classified as a vegetable, since it was primarily consumed in the manner of a vegetable rather than that of a fruit.

No other vegetable or fruit is more widely used nor consumed than the tomato. The tomato is the fruit of choice for 85 percent of the 30 million home gardeners. Each man, woman & child in America consumes almost 80 pounds of tomatoes every year.

California is clearly number one nationally in processed tomato production, growing 9 out of every 10 tomatoes processed in the US. California's tomato season is in its peak from July through September when harvesters run 24 hours a day. The season, however, actually runs a full 6 months, beginning in June and running all the way through November.

California sun-dried tomatoes are the ultimate ingredient. Tomatoes are washed, sorted, cut & placed on redwood trays to dry naturally under the California sun. The result is a brilliant red, intensely flavored ingredient. Sixteen pounds of fresh tomatoes are used to produce one pound of sun-dried tomatoes! Imported or dehydrated tomatoes cannot deliver the exceptional flavor perfected under the California sun.