The Beloved Tomato - Part II

Sue Williams
Adams County Master Gardener

"You say tuh-MAY-toe, I say tuh-MAH-toe." A favorite Gershwin jazz tune dances in my head as I gently pluck the very first, red Early Girl from the vine. It will sit on our kitchen windowsill (not for long) and be joined by its sisters and brothers all summer long.

Fruit or vegetable?

In 1883, the United States Congress passed the Tariff Act, a piece of legislation requiring a 10% tax on imported vegetables in response to the growing international trade. A tomato importer named John Nix decided to challenge the law on the botanical grounds that a tomato was in fact technically a fruit, not a vegetable, and should therefore be exempt from said tax. John Nixís case was argued before the Supreme Court in 1893 (Nix vs. Hedden) where Justice Gray wrote, "Botanically speaking, tomatoes are fruits of a vine as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas. But in the common language of the people . . . all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner, in, with or after soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert."

The court rejected the botanical truth that the tomato is a giant berry and deferred to the culinary description to settle the matter.

Tomatoes Love Herbs

So, what can you do with a bountiful harvest of summer garden vegetables?

You may think: tomatoes and basil. No, tomatoes and oregano, or perhaps tomatoes and parsley. Then some favor tomatoes and dill. Core tomatoes and cut in half crosswise, mince 1 garlic clove and place on tomato slices with a dab of butter. Combine Ĺ cup plain yogurt, 2 T dillweed, a few minced scallions, ľ cup mayonnaise and refrigerate. Broil tomato slices for 5 minutes and serve with the chilled yogurt mixture. (Did you know that "dill" is derived from the Norse word "dill" which means "to lull." )

A rustic tomato sauce is so simple and delicioso: Chop Roma or Plum tomatoes- skin, seeds, and all- toss with lots of extra virgin olive oil, fresh chopped garlic, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Cook over medium heat until the tomatoes have softened. Toss with hot cooked pasta, fresh basil and serve with parmigiano-reggiano cheese.

The classic summer soup is Gazpacho: Use copious amounts of very ripe tomatoes, yellow, red, or green peppers, chopped onions, garlic, cucumbers, a touch of wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and tomato juice. Leave some of the vegetable chunky or diced and puree the others with the tomato juice. Chill and serve with crostini or bread cubes put directly into the soup a la Barcelona.

Benefits

The latest buzz surrounding tomatoes is the purported benefit of lycopene, an anti-oxidant that protects cells from oxidants that have been linked to cancer. Home grown tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, and numerous studies have confirmed that people who consume increased amounts of tomato products experience marked reductions in cancer risk. (Cancer Institute Study 87 1995) A University of California at Davis survey ranked the tomato as the single most important fruit or vegetable of western diets in terms of overall vitamins and minerals.

The Downside

Garden tomatoes do have a downside: They spoil you! After eating them almost every day from early July well into September- sometimes right in the garden from the Sweet 100 vines, warm from the sun- it is a bit difficult to face even those expensive clusters in the supermarket. What we tomato lovers want is tender skin, plenty of juice, and that touch of sweetness that comes from being ripened by the July and August sun. Ruth Bass, author of "Tomatoes Love Herbs" describes how she is pulled into tomatoland each year, plants way too many tomato varieties, and yet admits, "Itís a sweet place to be."

Share the Bounty

Whatever your pleasure, enjoy your tomato crop today, tomorrow, and tomorrow. Eat off the vine, include some in a recipe for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and do share with your neighbors. Please donate your produce to the Soup Kitchen, Food Banks, visit Seeds for Success and our wonderful Gettysburg Farmerís Market on Saturday mornings on the Square.

Read Sue's Husband's (Frank Williams): Behold the Beloved Tomato

Read other articles on growing herbs or vegetables

Read other gardening articles by Sue Williams