Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A (Love) Apple a Day

On Father's Day, the DH and I visited with #1 son, DIL and BabyGrand. We wanted to take them out for lunch and asked them to suggest a restaurant. They chose the Irondale Cafe, better known to movie-goers as the famous Whistle Stop Cafe in the film "Fried Green Tomatoes," which has two of the most memorable lines in movie history: Face it, girls, I'm older and I have more insurance and Towonda! Of course, I chose that famous dish as part of my meal, and my oh my, were they ever good.

I don't know about you, but I'm missing tomatoes. They're reappearing in the stores but they look a little anemic, and some news reports are saying the salmonella scare might not be over yet. Yearning for a big, red, juicy ripe tomato reminded me of something I'd written as a filler article for an online magazine a few years ago. I found the history and facts about tomatoes interesting and hope you do too. I'll never take them for granted again. The tomatoes, not the facts.

It is bright red, plump, juicy and grows in gardens around the world. However you serve it, the tomato is the world’s most popular fruit. Yes, in strictly botanical terms, it is not a vegetable at all. This is because a fruit is defined as the edible part of a plant that contains seeds and well… that’s a tomato. However in 1893, the Supreme Court ruled in NIX v HEDDEN, a case involving import duties, that tomatoes were to be considered vegetables. Regardless, more than sixty million tons of them are produced worldwide each year. And in case you’re wondering, the next most popular fruits are bananas, apples, oranges and watermelons in that order.

The tomato was first cultivated in Central America in 700 A.D. by the Aztecs and Incas. When Cortez and his Conquistadors reached the area in the sixteenth century, they discovered the “tomatl” and took seeds back to Europe where they were quickly assimilated into the cuisine of Spain, Portugal and Italy. The Italians considered the tomato an aphrodisiac and gave it the name “poma amoris” or love apple.

The tomato traveled north on the continent and eventually made its way to England where it was declared poisonous. This same myth held favor in the American colonies as well until Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson stood on the Salem, New Jersey courthouse steps on September 26, 1820 and took a big bite of a love apple. And another and another until he’d eaten an entire basket of them to the astonishment of a shocked crowd. Around this same time, Creoles in New Orleans, many of whom were of Spanish or Portuguese descent, began using the tomato in gumbo and jambalaya. Soon after, the flavorful commodity made its way into seafood dishes in Maine. According to a 1997 study, sixty-eight percent of chefs use canned tomatoes for cooking either for flavor, convenience or quality.

Tomatoes belong to the deadly nightshade family and are a cousin to the eggplant, potato, tobacco and red pepper. The relationship to nightshade gave rise to the rumors of toxicity. Some even claimed they caused conditions such as appendicitis, “brain fever” (commonly known as meningitis) and cancer.

Today scientists all over the world are studying the tomato, and recommending its consumption, for its health benefits. Low in calories, absent of fat and cholesterol, and low on the glycemic index, tomatoes are a rich source of vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium, fiber and lycopene.

A powerful antioxidant, lycopene has been shown to have a multitude of benefits. In Italian studies where participants ate at least seven servings of tomatoes a week, a sixty percent reduction in colon, rectal and stomach cancer was noted. Harvard researchers discovered a forty-five percent reduction in prostate cancer in men who ate ten servings a week and in Israel, scientists have found lycopene to inhibit lung, breast and endometrial cancer cells. Lycopene can also help older people stay active longer.

Tomatoes also contain an alkaloid called tomatine, which may prevent or heal certain fungal skin diseases, and the yellow jelly that surrounds the tomato seeds has been found to contain a substance that prevents the formation of blood clots. According to researchers in Scotland, this “tomato factor” may have a similar effect as aspirin on circulation by interfering with platelet clumping, which can cause circulatory problems, heart attacks or strokes.

Tomato factoids

* California leads the world in the production of processed tomatoes, but Florida has the largest fresh tomato industry. Consumers became acutely aware of this after the 2004 hurricane season decimated the tomato crop in Florida and prices skyrocketed.

* Every man, woman and child in America eats almost eighty pounds of tomatoes per year, more than half in the form of ketchup.

* The largest tomato on record, grown in Oklahoma in 1986, weighed seven pounds, twelve ounces.

* There are more than ten thousand varieties of tomatoes.

* Tomatoes range in color from yellow, pink, orange and red to deep maroon, purple and bright green. Sizes range from the thumbnail-sized to enormous 3-pound specimens.

* Tomatoes lose their nutritional value when refrigerated. If purchased or picked while green, they will ripen in a few days on your kitchen counter.

Thanks to Cortez (for bringing it back from Mexico) and Colonel Johnson (for his sensational repudiation of the tomato’s ill effects), we now can all enjoy the many uses for tomatoes. They end up in pizza, pasta, mixed drinks, various sauces and my particular favorite, the tomato sandwich. It’s simple: take a ripe tomato straight from the vine, wash and slice. Sprinkle heavily with salt and pepper and put between two slices of your favorite bread, which have been liberally spread with mayonnaise. Take a big bite and relish the flavor as the juice drips down your chin.

Whether you say tomato or you say tomahto, it seems that a love apple a day might keep the doctor away. So enjoy that pizza, douse your eggs with ketchup or just chop one up and sprinkle it on your salad and enjoy the benefits of the world’s most popular fruit. Recipes

And here's the recipe for that famous dish from the Irondale Cafe

Fried Green Tomatoes (from


3-4 green tomatoes sliced ¼ inch thick
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 tsp salt & pepper
vegetable oil

Mix together flour, cornmeal, salt & pepper. Add enough milk to create a thick batter. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large skillet. Batter each tomato slice, and wipe off excess. Carefully place in hot oil, browning on both sides. (may or may not need turning, depending on the amount of oil) To cool, drain in a colander to keep tomatoes from becoming soggy. Salt to taste.

Are you a tomato lover? Or has the tomato shortage not fazed you at all? What foods do you look forward to every summer?

P.S. Dear Muse, Whenever you want to come back home is fine with me. Your room is ready and the pantry is stocked. I've left the porch light on for you.


MaryF said...

I love all fresh fruits and vegetables, my favorites: Berries, and tomatoes. (Ok, I admit Okra and I do not get along at all...)

Thank you for posting that recipe, one of the many things I've adopted since moving to the south is my love for Fried Green Tomatoes.. YUMMM :)

P.S. I hope your Muse comes home! (Mine also keeps going on trips, she hangs out with that bad boy called procrastination....)

Anonymous said...

I love tomatoes - and no I havent stopped eating them.

Nothing like a fresh tomato on a burger, blt or on egg salad.

Also love the fresh nectarines and peaches.

Pat L.

Angel said...

Wow! That was way more than I ever imagined knowing about a tomato. And I'm kind of surprised that guy didn't collapse with stomach pains on the steps of the courthouse after eating a whole basket full. Wouldn't that have made a scene?

I do enjoy tomatoes in salads and on sandwiches, but I'm not dying without them. Mostly because I'm kind of picky about mine. Often when I get them on a sandwich from restaurants, they are slightly green in the middle, which gives them a hard texture. Not all about that, so I usually pick them off.

I've only had fried green tomatoes once, but they were really good. I've seen the movie tons of times and love it just as much as the first time I saw it.


Problem Child said...

Nothing beats a fresh, home-grown tomato. (I wish I was capable of growing them...) I'm going to try out the local farmer's market and see if I can find some there.

And, yes, a tomato sandwich is the best!

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Tomatoes are fabulous! Hubby and I eat a ton of them, and we do it one of two very simple ways. These recipes were picked up from living in Europe (though you really can't call these recipes they're so simple):

Caprese Salad

Fresh tomatoes (very ripe)
Mozzarella (not the sliced kind for sandwiches; the kind in water)

Slice tomatoes; layer with slices of fresh mozzarella; fresh ground salt and pepper; drizzle with olive oil.

Greek tomatoes (for want of a better name)

Fresh sliced tomatoes
Feta cheese
Greek olives
Thinly sliced onions optional

Lay tomatoes on platter; sprinkle with crumbled feta and whole black Greek olives with the pits in; add thin slices of onion if you want; fresh ground S&P; drizzle with olive oil.

Oh, and I should mention I mean Extra Virgin Olive Oil -- a good quality one. We eat this several times a week! (You can get the mozzarella already sliced at Costco for $7 for a big package.)

The best mozzarella to use is made from water buffalo milk -- it's called Bufala Mozzarella in Italy -- but I haven't seen Bufala around here yet.

Oh, and I love fried green tomatoes too. :)

Sherry W. said...

Nope, the tomato scare hasn't stopped me either. I visit a small fruit stand in town but he didn't have any green ones on my last visit. :( I use the same batter mix for fried eggplant and onion rings.

Cantaloupe and watermelon are on my list so it looks like a trip to the market today.

Thanks for the tomato info and if I hear from your muse or if he comes home..see if he has a friend for me. : )

Liza said...

I love home-grown tomatoes. My dad always has 20 plants, so I usually don't have to go to the store for mine. I love a BLT in the summer with fresh tomatoes.

Smarty Pants said...

I love tomatoes, but like Angel, I usually end up picking them off things because they'll serve them no matter what shape they're in. I had a tomato plant as a kid and I liked to eat them off the vine. They were so good - actually had flavor, in contrast to most the stuff you get at the store.

At least grape tomatoes weren't included in the salmonella thing. I can eat those for now.

Instigator said...

I'm in the minority. I'm not a tomato fan. There's something about the texture of them that gets me. Wouldn't mind trying them fried though. Can't really go wrong with it battered and dipped in oil :-)


Barbara Vey said...

I grew up up tomato sandwiches on which bread with lots of mayo Miracle Whip). Tomatoes were still warm and fresh off the vine.

Excuse me while I'll wipe the drool from my mouth.

Playground Monitor said...

Anyone else love corn on the cob too? I got some last week that was a mix of yellow and white corn. We always called it "Peaches and Cream" corn. It was SOOOOOO good. I even bought extra ears to put in the freezer for later when corn isn't plentiful.

Now I'm craving a vegetable plate.


catslady said...

Anything fired is good :)
I love homegrown tomatoes and could just eat them 3 meals a day in the summer. Unfortunately, the tomatoes we get year round aren't anything like the real deal. Since what we get are picked totally green, I think they're pretty tasteless. Local farmers will have them soon and I'm actually trying to grow my own this year. We have let our neighbors use some of our property to grow things for years and would get some tomatoes and lettuce in return but each year we got less and less until we got them once last year (sigh).

Anonymous said...

I love fried green tomatoes. And a tomato sandwith with lettuce, a baloney and mayo, yum!!!!!! And some potato chips on the side with a BIG glass of iced tea. Time for lunch....gotta go.

CrystalGB said...

I love tomatoes; especially the home grown variety. Those fried green tomatoes look delicious. Every year when we grown our garden, I make some and my husband eats them as fast as I can fry them. :)

Liza said...

I love the "peaches and cream" corn on the cob. I haven't had any yet this year, but really need a veggie plate after reading about them today.

Anonymous said...

Dear Child of Mine,

Check your facts! "Fried Green Tomatoes" was filmed in Juliette, GA where the original Whistle Stop Cafe was brought up to snuff for filming. (IMBd) I've been there and the fried green tomatoes are delicious.

You don't need all that crap for fried green tomatoes. Simply dredge them in seasoned flour (salt and pepper) and saute both sides in a little bit of hot oil.

I miss my BLT's. Those itty bitty grape tomatoes don't slice well.

Your Mother