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Tomatoes: History, Origin, Facts… or Fiction?
Tomato importer John Nix decided to challenge the law after scrutinizing the tariff law. His case was based on the fact that tomatoes are a fruit and not a vegetable and therefore should not be subject to the tariff law. Nix’s objections brought the case to the Supreme Court in 1893. Although Nix had a strong case, the Supreme Court rejected the botanical facts and continued to refer to tomatoes as vegetables.
A family of plants
Tomatoes belong to the genus Lycopersicon, and potatoes to the genus Solanum; Both belong to the same “flowering plant family” Solanaceae. Similarities in leaves and flowers justify this taxonomic classification.
United Kingdom – Introduction of tomato
When the tomato plant was first introduced to the UK, some areas were reluctant to eat the fruit because it was considered poisonous. Other plants that were poisonous and belong to the same family as the tomato, such as henbane, mandrake and deadly nightshade, were causes for concern.
In particular, the deadly nightshade (Atropus belladonna) was most similar to a tomato and was used as a hallucinogenic drug in various parts of Europe, as well as for cosmetic purposes. In Latin, the name “belladonna”; literally means “beautiful woman”. Women in medieval courts applied a drop of the deadly nightshade extract to their eyes to dilate their pupils, which was a fashion statement at the time.
When the deadly nightshade was taken for its hallucinogenic properties, the consumer would experience a visual effect and a feeling of flight or weightlessness. German folklore suggests that it was also used in witchcraft to summon werewolves, a practice known as lycanthropy. The common name for the tomato in Germany means “wolf peach,” which was simply another reason Europeans avoided the plant.
North America – Introduction of the tomato
Tomato plants were transported by colonists from Britain to North America. The plants were most valued for removing pustules (pimples, blisters – purulent, inflamed skin). Peanut butter inventor George Washington Carver strongly urged his poor neighbors in Alabama to eat tomatoes because of their unhealthy diet. However, he failed to convince them that the plants were edible.
The first efforts of traders to sell tomatoes were not very successful. It is said that the fruit was brought to the liberal hamlet of Salem, Massachusetts in 1802 by a painter who also had a hard time getting people to try the fruit. New Orleans cuisine was reported to use tomatoes as early as 1812, but doubts about the fruit have been raised in some areas.
Doubts about the plant’s edibility are thought to have been put to rest when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson announced that he would eat a bush of tomatoes at noon in front of the Boston courthouse on September 26, 1820. Thousands of spectators gathered to watch a man commit suicide (or so they thought) by eating a poisonous fruit. Viewers are said to have been shocked to learn that the colonel would survive after eating many tomatoes. This story is from an old farmer’s journal and may not be very reliable, but it is very entertaining.
The popularity of tomatoes on the rise
Throughout the Western world, tomatoes began to gain popularity. In the 1820s, several cookbooks contained recipes that called for or called for tomatoes. Tomatoes were sold by the dozen in Boston’s Quincy Market in 1835. Thomas Bridgeman’s seed catalog listed 4 tomato varieties: cherry, pear, large yellow, and large squash.
Bruist, a seed dealer, commented on the tomato in 1858: “Looking back over the last eighteen years, there is no vegetable in the catalog which has achieved such popularity in so short a time as the one we are now considering. In the years 1828-29, he was almost hated; within ten years almost every type of pill and medicine was tomato extract. It now occupies as large an area of land as cabbage and is grown all over the country.” – http://www.heirloomseeds.com
That year, Bruits had eight cultivars in its catalog. A few years later, in 1863, a popular seed catalog listed 23 cultivars. One of the cultivars listed was Trophy, the first modern, large, smooth-skinned red variety that sold for $5.00 for a 20-seed packet.
Extensive breeding for desirable traits became common in the 1870s in the US and UK. In fact, by 1880 several hundred cultivars had been named and it was clear that the tomato had grown on Western culture. According to a study conducted at Michigan Agricultural College in the late 1880s, the 171 named cultivars represented only 61 truly unique varieties, many of which differed only slightly.
Although Central America is believed to be the center of domestication, further domestication took place at a more intense level throughout Europe and later in North America. Eastern Europe seems to produce a large number of high quality varieties. Tomatoes are self-pollinated plants that become genetically homozygous after several generations. Tomatoes rarely interbreed and usually produce plants with similar characteristics to their parents.
Due to the natural process of tomato breeding, the early varieties did not change much and were kept in the family or community for a long time, hence the name heirloom. There are varieties more than a hundred years old that are still grown today. Most heirloom varieties vary in color, size and shape. Some varieties are black, red with black shoulders, dark purple, iridescent and green. In terms of size, some cherry sizes range up to larger varieties weighing over 2lb.
Heritage – a story
Some heirloom varieties also have an interesting history; at least that’s what I think. Let’s talk about the story behind the legacy of the Mortgage Lifter name. The owner of a radiator repair shop, Charlie, fell on hard times, as much of the nation did through the Great Depression. For financial reasons, most people ditched their cars, which also hit Ol Charlie’s business hard. He decided to use his four largest fruiting tomato plants to repeatedly cross with each other, creating a plant that produced two kilograms of fruit.
Charlie claimed his plants could feed a family of six, selling the produce for a dollar a plant. Within four years, Charlie had raised enough money to pay off the $4,000 mortgage on his home, earning him the name “Mortgage Lifter.”
Heirlooms – names and origins
In general, the names of heirloom varieties are directly related to their history. For example, the Baptiste family in Remis, Fance grew the First Pick variety. The history of Picardy also goes back to France (1890). Besser came from Freiburg, Germany, while Schellenburg’s Favorite came from the Schellenburg family near Mannheim, Germany.
Elbe was cultivated in 1889 near the Elbe River in Germany. Since 1870, the Amish in Pennsylvania have grown the Amish Paste variety. Brandywine was also grown in 1885 by Amish farmers near Brandywine Creek in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The hills of Virginia are believed to be the origin of the Hillbilly variety. Old Virginia was also grown in Virginia in the early 1900s. In 1953, Campbell Soup Co. introduced the Ace variety, which is still popular for canning. Edgar Allan Poe’s estate grows a cultivar there that bears his mother’s maiden name, Hopkins.
Please note that these heritage stories may be true or false, in part or in whole, and may be inaccurate or exaggerated.
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