The Triumphant Tomato!

JUL 01

There is nothing like being able to harvest fruits and vegetables from your own backyard. My backyard-favorite is the tomato. Tuh-MAY-toh or tuh-MAH-to - proper pronunciation is hardly the first debate this plant has faced.  From its once misunderstood past, the tomato has come a long way in kitchens and gardens across the world.

The tomato's Latin name, Lycopersicon, literally translates to "wolfpeach" - peach because the fruit is round and luscious and wolf because it was once considered deadly. Botanists erroneously mistook the tomato for the "wolfpeach" when Galen referred to a fruit poisonous to wolves in his 3rd century writings. For this reason, even though it was used for centuries in its native home of Mexico, Central and South America, the tomato was regarded with suspicion when Spanish conquistadores brought it to Europe. Initially, the tomato was only grown ornamentally in England until about a century later when it was recorded as being cultivated in France, Spain and Italy. Slowly, Europeans began incorporating tomatoes into their diet. Across the ocean however, only a few pioneer Americans would venture to eat the fruit as it was still believed to be poisonous. It was not until 1835 that tomatoes were finally recognized as useful in America. In 1897, John Campbell first marketed condensed tomato soup setting his company on the road to success as he helped highlight the tomato's strengths and versatility.

Growers also know the strengths and versatility of the tomato in the garden. Tomatoes grow in containers, as part of a vegetable garden, along a trellis, in a cage, or even in a hanging basket. With many varieties available, you can choose to grow different sizes, shapes and colors to meet your harvesting desires.  Here are my top three tips to success with your tomato plants:

  1. Some like it hot, and tomatoes are one of them. They need 6-8 hours of direct sun every day!
  2. Tomatoes are vines, so when you transplant your tomato, you can plant them deep. (The first true leaves should be just above the soil. Leggy and/or leaning plants can be planted with the rootball at a horizontal angle so what is above the ground will be upright). Roots will develop along the buried stem and help strengthen the plant.
  3. Tomatoes like well-drained soil and need a good supply of nutrients. You can use organic matter and 5-10-10 fertilizer to prepare the soil.

Despite it tumultuous past, the tomato has triumphed! Its simplicity in the garden and in the kitchen lends this fruit to be a most loved part of our tradition and culture. From pizza sauce to the classic BLT, I could hardly imagine what life would be like if tomatoes were still considered wolf poison! To jazz up your summer cuisine, here is a simple, family favorite featuring fresh tomatoes:

Baked Parmesan Tomatoes

4 tomatoes, halved horizontally
¼ - ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (we sometimes mix in mozzarella when we want extra cheesy)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (if you don't have oregano, try it with fresh basil)
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 450° F.
Place tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet. Top with Parmesan, oregano, salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and bake until the tomatoes are tender, about 15 minutes