Wolf Peaches

The Common Tomato

The Common Tomato

It is amazing that human beings have survived 300 generations on a limited selection of raw ingredients that inform each and every one of the world’s cuisines. Although there are more than 20,000 species of edible plants in the world, we rely on fewer than 20 for 90% what we eat. The key is in the cooking, as every culture has its way of taking a simple ingredient and transforming it into something special.

Prior to 1492, there were “no oranges in Florida, no bananas in Ecuador, no paprika in Hungary, no tomatoes in Italy, no potatoes in Germany, no coffee in Colombia, no pineapples in Hawaii, no chili peppers in Thailand and India, and no chocolate in Switzerland.” In spite of all the bad things wrought by the Columbian Exploration (like cultural genocide), the one redeeming aspect was the universal distribution of foods and spices that ultimately benefited every pot on the planet.

Take the tomato.

Native to South and Central America, the Aztecs called it “nahuatl.” When Spanish explorer, Hernando Cortez, found it growing in the gardens of Montezuma (the ninth emperor of the Aztecs), he took some seeds back to Europe. The Spanish transformed the name to “tomatl” and  French botanist, Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, gave it a Latin name “lycopersicon esculentum,” which translates to “wolf peach” — “peach because it was round and luscious and wolf because it was considered poisonous.”

It took a while before people other than indigenous South Americans embraced the tomato into their culinary repertoires. That is understandable when one considers that every part of the tomato plant — except the fruit — is poisonous. Colonial Europeans thought eating one would turn your blood to acid. The tomato was not typically considered a cooking choice until just before the Civil War, although the slaves of founding father, Thomas Jefferson, cultivated it in his gardens as  early as 1781.

Fortunately, once this vividly colored, aggressively growing plant was cultivated and consumed without incident — world cuisine has never been the same!

The tomato is a wonder food that has now achieved primary position in virtually every cuisine. You can slice it, dice it, chop it, crush it. Fry it, stew it, bake it, stuff it. The second most consumed fruit in North America, most of us eat 20 pounds of tomatoes in the course of a year. With nutritional value high in vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, folic acid and more, that is a very good thing.

Here are two very simple tomato recipes that  I absolutely adore. The first resonates with my African heritage in the American South. It is a perfect solution for what to do with an abundance of end of season green tomatoes — which taste sublime as a side dish on a plate of sausage, grits and eggs. The second is a treatment for plum tomatoes that enables you to enjoy summer bounty throughout the winter.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

Ingredients

1 egg
4 tbs milk
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
3 tbs olive oil
3 green tomatoes, sliced

WHISK egg and milk together in a small bowl
In another bowl, MIX cornmeal and flour
HEAT oil in a large skillet over medium heat
DREDGE tomato slices first in egg mixture, then in cornmeal mixture.
PLACE tomato slices in hot oil and cook until browned on both sides

SUN DRIED TOMATOES

Sun Dried Tomatoes

Sun Dried Tomatoes

USE Roma (plum) tomatoes
SLICE tomatoes in half lengthwise and ARRANGE on a cookie sheet, cut side up
SPRINKLE with Kosher salt
BAKE in oven on lowest setting for 6-12 hours
REMOVE done pieces as you go — they will be dry, but soft and pliable
STORE in refrigerator — almost indefinitely

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