Plow Maker Farms
Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) originated in the South America Andes where they still grow wild. Their original botanical name, Lycopersicon esculentum, literally means "wolf peach edible ".
Early wild tomatoes were small and yellow. They were called "tomatl", which means "plump thing with a navel". These tomatoes were first eaten by the Aztecs around 700 AD.
Tomatoes were introduced to the Old World as an ornamental plant in the 1500's. Europeans were convinced that the tomato was distasteful. Most Europeans were aware that other people, such as the French and the Italians, ate tomatoes. However, they considered the tomato fruit vile and common food not even suitable for the hogs.
One reason the tomato was considered undesirable was an unflattering botanical review. In 1597, John Gerard's botanical book Herball described the tomato plant as having no nutritional value and 'of ranke and stinking savour.' As an interesting side note, Gerard is believed to have plagiarized most of his book from the agricultural publications of Dodoens and l'Ecluse (1553), which were also rank with inaccurate statements. It is an uncanny foretelling of what commonly happens on the web today.
It it a myth that tomatoes were considered toxic in most of Europe. Some uneducated Americans did consider them poisonous though...
There is an interesting myth about tomatoes: On September 20, 1820 Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem, New Jersey, bravely defended the tomato against those who believed it to be poisonous. Colonel Johnson had been a big tomato fan since chowing down on some luscious fruits abroad 14 years earlier.
Colonel Johnson announced that he would consume an entire basket of tomatoes on the Salem New Jersey courthouse steps. A crowd of approximately 2,000 people watched as a black clad Johnson bit into the first plump tomato. Local volunteer firefighters played a mournful funeral dirges as Johnson consumed the entire basket. Not to spoil the ending, but he lived. There are several versions of this story but most historians consider it to be a tall tale.
It took a war to really bring tomatoes to the American kitchen. During the Civil War the Union commissioned canned foods. After the Civil War people were hungry and demand for canned food was high. Tomatoes, which grew fast and canned nicely, filled both needs.
Alexander Livingston was the first person to seriously breed tomatoes in the USA. In 1850 Livingston started a Ohio seed company known as Buckeye Garden Seed Company. This company is still in business today as Livingston Seed Company.
Picture: Annabelle holds a very small but still round tomato.
Livingston introduced his first tomato hybrid, the Paragon, in 1870. It was only the first of a series of 35 tomato hybrids he developed (some of these are still available from Victory Seeds). Livingston was not a fan of the lumpy bumpy tomatoes of the 1800's. He said in the 1860's that, "There was not in the United States at the time an acre of tomatoes from which a bushel of uniformly smooth tomatoes could be gathered." These old style tomatoes were ribbed, hard cored, watery and often hollow.
Livingston is largely responsible for breeding those smooth tasty round orbs we know as tomatoes today. For more words of wisdom you can check out his book, Livingston and the Tomato.
Americans eat a lot of tomatoes. We harvest and consume over 15 million tons of tomatoes! There are over 7,000 cultivars of tomatoes grown worldwide. They come in many colors, shapes and flavors.
So why are you still stuck on that boring round red tomato. Try out the variety that you have been missing for so long!