A fruit--oh yes, it's a fruit--but in the United States we treat the tomato like a vegetable. Thomas Jefferson grew tomatoes at Monticello back in 1781, but they didn't really start to become popular here until after the Civil War. Now the tomato is the third most popular vegetable in the United States--after potatoes and lettuce.
Once called the Peruvian apple, the tomato is a member of the nightshade family. It originated in South America, and our name for it comes from the ancient Nahuatl name tomatl. The French called it the love apple, and the Italians named it the golden apple because the first tomatoes were small yellow fruits. After the early Spanish explorers sent seeds to Naples, the Italians went crazy for tomatoes, and the rest--all the way down to pasta and pizza sauce--is history.
A really good tomato is sweet, tender, juicy, and except for the yellow varieties, a deep rich red color. When you get one of those hard tomatoes that taste like cardboard, you've got one of the hybrids that started coming onto the market in the 1950's, when the businessmen and scientists got together and produced a tomato that could be shipped from one coasts to the other without bruising. Unfortunately, at the same time they also bred out all the flavor.
A great tomato is worth looking for. And the way you handle it at home is almost as important as what you choose in the first place. The three most important rules to remember about tomatoes are:
Refrigerating kills the flavor, the nutrients, and the texture. It just kills the tomato--period.
When grape tomatoes first hit the market in the late nineties, they were a novelty available only in specialty food stores. But it didn't take long for people to fall in love with these tiny, tasty treats. Grape tomatoes have a sweet flavor, a firm texture, and less juice, so there's no need to worry about any squirting when you bite into one. Averaging between one-half and three-quarters of an inch in length, they're perfect for popping whole into your mouth like candy, which is probably why kids adore them too. They're low in calories and high in vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, and lycopene, so what's not to like? When buying, look for bright, shiny skin and firm flesh.
A grape tomato is a class of tomatoes originally believed to be of Southeast Asian origin, shaped similarly to the oblong plum tomatoes but having the small size and sweetness of cherry tomatoes. Grape tomatoes produce small and typically oblong fruits.
The most well-known and commercially significant variety, the "Santa F1" was introduced into the United States market in 1997 by grower Andrew Chu, who obtained the seeds from Taiwan's Known-You Seed Company. Procacci Brothers Sales Corporation (PBSC) in Philadelphia acquired global exclusivity of this fruit and has aggressively marketed it under its subsidiary Santa Sweets, Inc.
Because the grape tomato is a hybrid, seeds produced directly from the fruit cannot be used to grow more plants. Anyone interested in producing a grape tomato commercially must obtain seeds from the original hybrid strain. This is precisely what a grower from Florida did during the 1990s.
The life cycle of the plants is short in comparison to larger varieties, but the yield during that short period of production is usually ample. Some examples include cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes. One of the best known varieties of tomato plants is the beefsteak tomato plant.
Available year-round they vary in price due to weather conditions. Supply and demand equals price and quality.
We have all kinds of upscale restaurants, and there is a lot of interest in complicated cuisines, but sometimes it's the really simple things that give you the most pleasure. When I was a kid, I had to help my father sell produce out of the back of his truck. At lunchtime he'd stop at some little store and buy a loaf of Italian bread. Then we'd find a place where we could pull off to the side of the road. He'd put down a piece of cardboard for a cutting board, slice the bread, cut up a tomato and an onion, and make tomato sandwiches.
Sometimes when I come home from the store and I'm too bushed to prepare or even eat a full meal, I'll make myself a tomato sandwich. Food brings back memories. You can sit down with the most ordinary things on your mind and eat something good and it will bring back memories - things you haven't thought about in years. Even memories that might not start out being so good seem to improve as time goes by. At the time I hated peddling fruits and vegetables out of that truck with Pop, but now I wish I had the time to pull off to the side of the road they way we did then. We don't have the luxury of slowing down - everything is geared to working and being productive. Produce, produce, produce. Wouldn't I love to be able to take my son and go sit by the side of the road and have a tomato sandwich? With the perfect ripe red tomato and good bread, there's nothing' better.
Fresh Plum Tomato Sauce
Jersey Tomato Salad Italiano
Pop's Tomato Sandwich
Other recipes from Produce Pete.