Archive for Thursday, August 28, 2008

You say tomato, I say let’s eat

August 28, 2008

My husband, who normally eschews all contact with green living things, decided to grow tomatoes this year. He has done this a time or two before with my prodding, but this year he got into the whole project with enthusiasm.

I'm not able to traverse the hill and lean over and pull and shovel and irrigate as I once could, so the garden has been his baby. He overturned the earth, added peat moss and fertilized the little tomato plants with solicitude. He has watered and watched them grow most of the summer, but it has only been in the past few weeks ripe tomatoes have presented themselves for harvest. They have been overwhelmingly welcome. My daughter and her family have shared in our bounty as we slice tomatoes for salads, to eat with cottage cheese or to just eat sliced, in their naked glory.

I can't imagine life without tomatoes in all their forms. With tomato sauce a key component of everything from salsa, to ketchup, to spaghetti sauce, most of us consume a lot of tomatoes in one form or another. The glorious thing about tomatoes is that cooking brings out the lycopene and enhances their nutrive value.

I love them on bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches or with balsamic vinegar and lemon pepper sprinkled over them.

However, there are people who not only dislike tomatoes, but actually believe them to be poisonous. This view of tomatoes probably isn't widely held these days, but it was pretty common in our grandparents' generation. My husband's grandfather wouldn't touch them because he considered them poison. I don't know how he reconciled the survival of those around him who loved the juicy red fruit, but he refused to eat them. Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family that includes belladonna, a poison, and potatoes, which are a food staple.

Since tomatoes were not known in Europe and Asia before their discovery in the New World, I always wonder what Italians put on their pizzas and use for pasta sauce before they discovered tomatoes. Life must not have been as saucy for them without the wonderful tang of tomatoes. Of course, Italian cuisine can stand easily on its own without tomatoes, but the fruit makes a difference.

Now as the growing season comes to a close, we're making sure to keep all of our tomatoes picked and consumed so that none goes to waste. My mother used to can her tomatoes and make relishes and pickles with them, using even the green ones in piccallili and other relishes. Her chili sauce was to be prized above all. It was good to eat by the spoonful, but when poured into other foods, it added flavor and goodness. One of my husband's great aunts didn't like raw tomatoes, but grew a good-sized patch just to make chili sauce.

My husband isn't into making chili sauce yet, and he doesn't enjoy flower gardening or growing grass. However, growing tomatoes has been a wonderfully beneficial hobby that paid off this fall in some tasty and nutritious vegetables/fruits. I just hope that next year he plans a larger patch.

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