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Our Friend the Tomato

Friday, April 26, 2013

Our friend the tomato, a staple in many American kitchens, is actually a relative newcomer to the array of vegetables (or fruits, as others would argue) that are used in our everyday lives. In addition to corn, which is also extraordinarily common, the tomato is the major ingredient in many of the foods we Americans have come to know and love.

Although the details are a bit sketchy, the Spanish explorer Cortez, who conquered the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, later to be renamed Mexico City in 1521, is credited as the person who brought the tomato back from the new world. Red tomatoes were said to be introduced to Italy by two Catholic priests many years later. The funny thing about tomatoes is that it took a very long time for people to become comfortable eating them. It was commonly believed that the tomato was meant to be an ornamental piece only, and that eating it could be fatal.

Even in North America, it has been only in the past 150 years that people mustered enough courage to try eating them. Everything changed on the courthouse steps in Salem, New Jersey, at twelve noon on September 26, 1820, when Colonel Robert G. Johnson ate not one, but a basketful of tomatoes. Not only did he survive, he wasn't the least bit ill following his demonstration, which was witnessed by hundreds of people (all of whom came to the courthouse to see the Colonel die a hideous death by poison!)

In order to be technically correct, we must point out that the tomato is not a vegetable but, rather, a fruit. In the U.S., the confusion stems from a Supreme Court ruling back in 1893 which insisted that tomatoes be listed and labeled as a vegetable, since they were most commonly eaten as one. The reason for the fuss and why the decision needed to go to the Supreme Court was that there were different tariffs on fruits than on vegetables, and the tomato importers were interested in getting a favorable tariff. Can anyone say "lobbyist"?

After only a few hundred years, the tomato has become firmly entrenched in European culture and the diets of many nationalities. Italian cooking has become synonymous with tomato sauce; pizza would be lost without it. Where would Mexican restaurants be without salsa? Tomato soup, slices on a burger, and ketchup are mainstream uses for the versatile fruit in American culture.

The Roma Tomato – The real work horse of tomato varieties.

Roma tomatoes are the traditional paste tomatoes. With their dense and meaty flesh, low moisture content and few seeds, they are the ideal tomatoes for processing into sauces and pastes. While the Roma contains less moisture than normal tomatoes, it boasts higher levels of sugar, acids, and pectin. Roma tomatoes have a cylindrical or plum shape, and feel heavy for their size. Their colors range from pink to orange to deep red. Veeroma, La Roma, and Sam Marzano are among the many popular Roma varieties.

First introduced in the U.S. in 1955, the Roma produces a large harvest of thick-walled, meaty, bright red, egg-shaped tomatoes about 3 inches long. This tomato is not juicy. This is not a slicing tomato. Instead, the flesh is thicker and drier so that it will cook down into a heavy sauce. Cooking intensifies flavor, too. If you can tomatoes, make your own spaghetti sauce, or like to chop a tomato into an omelet, this is a great choice. It's not too juicy in the pan compared to slicing tomatoes. The fruit freezes well for later cooking, as well.

Roma Tomatoes are low-calorie, low-fat, very low in sodium, high in vitamin A, high in vitamin C...and they are Cholesterol-free.

Source for facts found in this article came from, The California Tomato Board