Have you ever really wondered about tomatoes? Did you know that there are approximately 7500 varieties of them – most of them you will never see or taste – and that until the 1700s Britain and its colonies believed that they were poisonous? How bizarre does that sound, considering the ubiquity of the fruit today and the wide variety of dishes we use them in! And, yes, technically, it is a fruit and not a vegetable .
The tomato is native to South America. From there, it spread to Mexico where it was grown and eaten by the Aztecs. Early European explorers to South and North America brought the tomato back to Europe. It was widely cultivated in Spain and Italy, before being adopted by the English – of course, this was once the English realized that were not the poisonous fruits they thought they were and were actually quite tasty and nutritious.
Tomatoes are a summer gardening favourite of many across Canada. The plant is a versatile one, and can be grown in containers on a sunny patio or balcony, or in the full sunshine of a home garden plot – apparently they can be grown in planters upside down too! You’ve probably all seen the advertisements in magazines and on TV for the planters. I’ve grown many different varieties myself with varying degrees of success. I had the most success in growing them in Ontario, because generally there are many more hot, humid days in the summer – not so much here in the lower mainland here in BC where the summers are cooler, less humid. By the time things seem to heat up nicely here, it’s almost too late for the tomatoes to ripen properly on the plant. Maybe growing them on a patio or balcony is better here on the coast because the plants would be more protected…warmer.
They are far too many varieties of tomatoes out there to even begin to list. Some of the more popular ones are the Plum tomatoes which are good for canning, Beefsteak for slicing, cherry tomatoes for salads, Roma /San Marzano for making tomato paste/sauce. Heirloom tomatoes are becoming very popular – especially with home gardeners and organic suppliers, as they are more disease resistant and tend to produce a much more interesting flavor. I’ve grown some which are yellow and shaped like pears!
Tomatoes are good for you too, and are a rich source of several nutrients. They are well known for their high vitamin C content, but also contain significant amount of vitamin A, B vitamins including niacin and riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorous and calcium.
There are many other uses for them too!
- Bathing in tomato juice is an effective way to remove the smell if a skunk sprays you or a pet (I would say that this only helps. My Labrador Retriever was sprayed badly by a skunk, and nothing – I mean NOTHING but time removed that smell)
- Wash your hair with them after swimming in a pool in order to remove the chlorine from your hair (I don’t know – I think I’ll take my chances with other methods of getting the chlorine out of my hair, thank you!)
- To tenderize meats; and
- To clean copper pots instead of using harsh or abrasive chemicals.