Posts Tagged Tomato
The world extends far beyond my doorstep. “And you just realize this now?!” you may ask, puzzled (and sorry for poor Granny). Well, no. I have known this all along, but the Holiday Season makes me realize it all the more.
For us New England folks, it is normal to put the garden and gardening tools to rest by at least some time in October and not retrieve them until well into March, maybe April. Thank God for canning! The Christmas season conjures up images of sleigh rides and white-blanketed fields, evenings near the fireplace and dreams of a beach vacation. My environment has an impact on my writing and I am almost forgetting the bigger picture.
Gardening tools do not suddenly retire to the shed as if magically ordered to do so in a gardening version of Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Somewhere, right now, someone is sitting on a garden seat tending to the crop or pushing the lawn mower. Somewhere, right now, a rain barrel is filling with the precious rain that will hydrate vegetables and flowers. Just as there are perhaps hundreds of ways to celebrate the Holiday Season, there are a hundred ways for the gardening cycle to play out at any given moment. This is the mosaic of time and nature and it knows not the limits of backyard, property, state or country.
For those who love to cultivate the land and even for those who enjoy a small, but lovingly cared for, urban roof-top harvest, the life cycle of the garden and the produce we bring to our table marks the seasons far more than the actual passage from Summer to Fall and Winter and Spring. The seasons of the gardener, the farmer, the homesteader, are more subtly defined than the four seasons we name.
If you are not the gardening type (and there is nothing wrong with that), Summer leads into Fall and you find that a warmer sweater is necessary. Then comes the snow. Just like that. Only yesterday, it seems, the sun warmed the earth enough that you could still sit outside with a good book. Where has time gone?
For the gardener however, time has spoken a clear message; one that changes with each passing day and also from sunrise to sunset. In every part of the globe, whether winter means blizzards, as in New England or sunny beaches, as in Australia, the vegetables and plants we tend to recite the story of the changing seasons with the accuracy of the expert mime who can make you see a wall where there is none. They speak with their ever-changing motions, their colors, their rhythms. They speak a language whose every phrase marks the beginning and the end of something. “The days are shorter,” says the tired tomato plant, “I will need to rest now. This is my last tomato for a while. You must wait.”
The changing seasons, wherever we may be, and certainly the ebb and flow of life in the garden, on the land, in the fields and in urban container crops call forth in us a rhythm. As we prepare the soil for a new season, preserve the harvest, seed, cultivate or go about the business of retrieving the tools for the coming season or retiring them for a moment of rest, it is nearly impossible to not be pensive. How shall we plant the crop this year? What if the carrots did better over here? What will we do different next gardening season?
In essence, these are questions about life. How shall we share the gift of our talents and skills this year? What new decisions shall we make about our relationships? What can we improve? Almost without noticing, we watch the ebb and flow of our lives like we watch a garden, taking note of what works and what may be improved. Every year and every new season offers the opportunity to plant a new crop, preserve the memories that are most nourishing and harvest ever richer experiences.
May your New Year bring a rich harvest of joy and fulfillment.
“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato,” once said American writer and humorist Lewis Grizzard. He was born in 1946, one hundred years after another famous writer published “The Young House-Keeper”, which included these words of caution:
“Of the tomato …, I know very little. It is chiefly employed as a sauce or condiment. No one, it is believed, regards it as very nutritious; and it belongs, like the mushroom and the potato, to a family of plants, some of the individuals of which are extremely poisonous. Some persons are even injured, more or less, by the acid of the tomato.” 1846 – William Andrus Alcott.
Indeed, Americans considered tomatoes a poisonous plant well into the mid-1800’s. If consumed, it was typically boiled for hours in an attempt to destroy toxins. In his publication, Alcott referred to the family of plants known as “nightshade”, which indeed has toxic properties. Tomato stems and leaves contain alkaloids that are toxic when ingested. However, these toxins are not present in ripe tomatoes.
In a word association game where one must match a word with the name of a country, most of us would immediately look for Italy to match it to the word tomato. In reality, the tomato was introduced to Mediterranean Europe in the early 1500′s by Spanish colonists returning from South America. Today, the tomato is the most common home garden plant and Americans consume as much as 80 pounds of tomatoes each year.
The acidity of the tomato, the one characteristic that led early Americans to fear its toxicity, is in fact the attribute that makes it one of the easiest fruits to preserve by home canning, either whole or puréed. Granny can see raised eyebrows right now at the sight of the word “fruit” and is aware that ketchup is a vegetable. Let’s have fun with that topic in a future article, shall we? For now, I’d like us to turn our attention to skin care.
You mean I can use tomato slices on my eyes instead of cucumber? Can you picture that? It may be worth trying, but what I mean is that many skin problems can be attributed to poor diet choices. Lycopene, present in abundance in the tomato, is a phytochemical that has been shown to affect health due to its antioxidant and hydration properties. Good skin health begins with nutrition, not in a bottle of skin lotion. Hum! I think I should rename this Blog “Granny Knows Best.” Ha! Ha!
Here are the latest studies and discoveries about the benefits of tomatoes:
Skin – Consuming 1.3 ounces of tomato paste a day reduces sun-related skin damage by 40%, according to a German study.
Heart – Studies have shown that eating 1 ½ cups of tomato sauce or 2.2 pounds of fresh tomatoes a day (equaling about 60 milligrams of lycopene) for three months reduced bad cholesterol by 14%.
Brain – In studies, elderly women with lycopene-rich blood levels were also the most active and alert both physically and mentally.
Eyes – University of Maryland research suggests that tomatoes may benefit the eyes since there is evidence of high levels of lycopene in eye tissue.
Lungs – In a University of North Carolina test, subjects (human) who drank a can of tomato juice daily for three weeks showed 20% less DNA damage to lung cells than those who did not consume tomato juice.
According to many studies, and Granny has also heard many great chefs point this out in interviews, you can get the most benefits from concentrated tomato product such as tomato sauce or paste, canned tomatoes, juice, soup and yes, ketchup, because the heating process in the preparation of such products releases lycopene. Ohio State University conducted a two-week test that resulted in a 192% rise in blood lycopene for subjects who had consumed a daily serving of tomato sauce, 122% for tomato soup and 92% for V-8 juice.
We all have a favorite tomato sauce recipe. If you have the good fortune of making yours with home-grown tomatoes, then you know exactly what the Lewis Grizzard quote at the beginning of this article means and you do not need studies to know that tomatoes are simply good for you. For indeed, “A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins,” said Laurie Colwin in “Home Cooking” – 1988.
Necessity truly is the mother of invention, though Napoleon might suggest we rephrase this to say, “the mother of revolution”.
Speaking of revolution, it appears we owe the Emperor some great measure of appreciation for the initiative, and necessity, that led to one of today’s most wide-spread and trusted form of food preservation: canning.
The year is 1795. Napoleon is 26 years old. He is infantry commandant to an army that is engaged in a civil war in a region in west-central France, on the Atlantic Ocean. During this time, he offers a 12,000 franc cash prize (roughly $2,456 or 1,470 one-quart jars today) to anyone who will develop a means to preserve food for his army. It would be too easy to simply claim that the rest is history. It is more complicated than that. Let it suffice to say that Napoleon probably did not give any further thought to this, other than securing a means to keep his men fed. He was a conqueror, after all, not an inventor… or so he thought.
His idea had merit, of course. Creative minds of the time continued to develop it. In 1809, while Napoleon assumed command of his troupes on the shores of the Danube, Frenchman Nicholas Appert realized that food would not spoil if sufficiently heated and sealed in an airtight vessel, much like a wine bottle.
Meanwhile, the demand for canned provisions grew along with increased exploration of the world and migrations to the Americas. In New York City, British immigrant Thomas Kensett, established the first U.S. meat, fruit, vegetable and oyster canning facility. The year is 1812.
A year later, Peter Durand, a British merchant, is credited with obtaining the first patent for preserving food using unbreakable containers: tin cans. The first commercial canning factory was subsequently established in 1813, in England.
Though it was clear by now that heating food was a key element in preservation, it took another 50 years before an explanation for canning’s effectiveness could be established, by none other than Louis Pasteur.
What was understood early on, also, was the importance of establishing canning facilities within a very short distance of the point of harvest. This ensured that foods were packed at the peak of freshness. It also served more practical purposes; namely, to minimize cost by reducing transportation and to ensure freshness.
Furthermore, it appears that canning may actually enhance the nutritional value of some foods. For example, according to a 1997 University of Illinois study, corroborated by many subsequent observations, a 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin contains more than 600% of the Recommended Daily Intake of vitamin A. Conversely, the same amount of fresh pumpkin has only 143%. Canned tomatoes, for their part, contain significantly higher levels of lycopene, a recognized antioxidant, than fresh tomatoes and canned green beans were shown to have a higher fiber content than beans consumed directly upon harvest.
Home canning was introduced in 1858, when Philadelphia tinsmith John Mason invented a practical glass jar for this purpose. These are commonly known as “Ball” jars, named after the early manufacturer, Ball Corporation. Napoleon had passed away 37 years earlier, perhaps unaware of the great conquests he had led by merely seeking to resolve a common problem.
Thus, the one who is generally recognized as the greatest military commander of all time, also happens to be “the father of canning”. Somehow, this accomplishment has not made it to history books, but in truth it offers further evidence of the scope of his abilities as a commander, for isn’t the command of one’s sustenance half the battle?
Here are the ripple effects of Napoleon’s bright idea:
1795 — Napoleon offers 12,000 francs to anyone who can develop a means to preserve food for his army and navy.
1809 — Nicolas Appert, of France, wins prize for devising a way to preserve food by sterilization.
1810 — Englishman Peter Durand obtains a patent for the use of pottery, glass and tin-plated iron in canning.
1812 — A small canning plant opens in New York. It cans meats, oysters, fruits and vegetables in hermetically sealed containers.
1818 — Peter Durand’s tin-plated can is introduced in America.
1819 — Thomas Kensett and Ezra Warner begin to sell products in canned tinplate cans.
1830 — Huntly and Palmer sell cakes and biscuits in decorated cans.
1849 — Henry Evans begins making cans by machine. Production increases from 5-6 cans per hour to 50-60 per hour.
1856 — Gail Borden granted a patent for canned condensed milk.
1858 — Home canning is born. American John Mason invents a practical glass jar for home canning.
1870 — William Lyman patents an opener with a rotating wheel that cuts the top rim of the can.
1909 — Tuna canning starts in California.
1921 — Canned citrus juice begins in Florida.
1926 — Canned ham, SPAM begins.
1931 — Electric can opener is introduced.
1933 — Motor oil is canned.
1940 — Carbonated soft drink canning begins.
1957 — First all-aluminum beer can appears on the market.
1962 — Pull-tabs on beverage cans appear.
1973 — The six-pack is introduced.