In 1893 the United States had a 10% tax on imported vegetables but not fruits. John Nix paid his taxes on his tomatoes to a tax collector named Edward Hedden. One day Nix came across the botanical definition of a fruit: the organ that emanates from the ovary of the plant and contains the seeds. Nix then sued Hedden for a refund of his taxes on the grounds that tomatoes are a fruit. The case ended up before the Supreme Court who held that "the common language of the people" was to be followed rather than botanical definitions, and thus, the tomato was erroneously deemed a vegetable. Nix’s attempt to recoup his unfairly collected tax money was nixed. Taxonomy, the science of classifying living organisms, was subverted for financial aims. A taxing blow you could say.
The tomato is a rags to riches story; a twisting trans-Atlantic journey in quest of a culinary identity. Tomatoes are indigenous to South America specifically the region of Peru. They have been grown for food since prehistoric times. Europeans brought them back to the Old World in the 1500’s. However, being a member of the nightshade family, (which does contain some toxic plants), they were considered poisonous and used only for decorations.
Eventually the Italians, (and probably the Spanish as well), got past their irrational fears and began to embrace the tomato. Thus began the tomato’s ascension to the culinary hall of fame. Soon all of Europe had adopted the tomato. This one time “poisonous” fruit was now considered an aphrodisiac by the French who called them pommes d’amour or “love apples.” Ironically, even though the tomato originated in the Americas, it was the Europeans bringing it back to America which triggered its popularity in the US. But it still took until the 1900s for the “fruit” of their efforts to be fully realized. The 20th century saw the tomato become firmly entrenched in American gastronomy.
Today, the tomato is one of the most popular, ahem, “vegetables” in the world. It is an indispensable ingredient in countless preparations from a variety of cuisines. There are dozens of varieties but the most popular remain the beefsteak, a large multi-purpose tomato, the Italian or Plum tomato, the first choice for tomato sauce, and cherry tomatoes, popular in salads, kebabs, and vegetable platters. Sun-dried tomatoes have actually been dried in the sun or by some artificial means. Either way, the process intensifies the flavor and sweetness of the tomato. They add a poignant dimension to salads, sauces, sandwiches, etc.
Choose tomatoes that are heavy for their size and free of any blemishes. Store them at room temperature. Never place tomatoes in the fridge since the cold will reduce their flavor. Tomatoes will continue to ripen after being picked so try to plan your dishes ahead of time to ensure riper specimens. Those that have ripened on the vine taste best. Tomatoes are high in Vitamin C but also contain A and B vitamins, fiber, potassium, iron, and phosphorous.
Tomatoes are one of the few foods that can be canned and actually remain tasty and similar to their fresh counterparts. There’s no reason not to employ them for most tomato based sauces. Canned tomato puree is tomatoes that have been cooked and strained. Tomato paste is made from tomatoes that have undergone extended cooking, thus intensifying their concentration.
Some recipes call for peeled fresh tomatoes. To peel tomatoes make a little X with a knife on their south pole. Then plunge them into boiling water for 30 seconds. The peels should come right off.
3 sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1 small shallot
1 oz. red wine vinegar
One tablespoon of chopped herbs of your choice, (basil, oregano, or parsley)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 oz. extra virgin olive oil
Combine all of the ingredients except the oil in a food processor and process until they are finely blended. Then with the processor running, slowly add the oil in a slow stream until completely incorporated. Try this vinaigrette on salads and grilled vegetables.
4 beefsteak tomatoes
¾ cup breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
Extra virgin olive oil as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375.
Cut the tomatoes horizontally near the top to create an opening. With a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds. Salt the inside of the tomatoes liberally and turn them upside down on paper towels for 15 minutes or so to drain. Mix all of the stuffing ingredients except the olive oil. Once the dry ingredients are combined add the olive oil until the bread crumb mixture is thoroughly moistened. Fill the tomatoes and place them in an oiled baking dish. Drizzle additional oil on the tops of the tomatoes. Bake for 5-10 minutes or until the filling is golden.
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