Tomatoes in the News… Finally
At last the flavor of tomatoes has reached the forefront of national news… on Monday a story appeared on television which addressed the flavor of current tomatoes. As all of who love them may attest tomato flavor has become more and more lackluster as years progress until they taste... well, blah. The news suggested that two flavorful tomatoes may be genetically combined to create one with true flavor.
Originating in South America, tomatoes were prized by the Aztecs as early as 700 AD. They were brought to Europe from the Americas by Conquistadors in the early 1600’s but were considered poison by the wealthy. Unfortunately, the flatware and plates of that time were made of lead based pewter and the acidic tomato caused the lead to leach from their dinnerware to the fruit. When it was eaten, the victims died of lead poisoning… a very unpleasant way to go. Peasants had no such finery in their kitchens and ate from wooden plates with wooden spoons. Thus the tomato was relegated as a food of the lower classes where it was widely accepted as a staple. Not until the 1800’s did the upper classes begin to embrace the tomato. By the time of the Civil War, the tomato was at last accepted throughout the south as a garden and dietary staple.
As I noted in 2013, ‘for almost a decade now tomato harvests have been lackluster to say the least. I can remember when a tomato plant tossed anywhere in the garden would flourish, producing an over abundance of fruit all summer. There were no requirements or procedures to ‘baby’ fussy plants… they were tough and hardy. Planted in several three week successions, one could expect tomatoes from June until October and first frost.’
Originally it was reported that tomato plants like daytime temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees. In hybridizing the tomato for growers in cooler climates, they have genetically altered the original requirements of the plant... previously tomatoes liked it hot and dry. In altering their genetic makeup, the flavor has not only changed it has been eliminated. It is obvious tomatoes simply were not suited to be grown in New England!
Americans eat over 12 million tons of tomatoes each year, making it one of the most popular items on our menu. Throughout the United States, tomato harvests have been declining and perhaps this too is because of the hybrids. The hybrid tomatoes came with a list of illnesses the tomato plant may have and they seem a bit ridiculous. Included are leaf roll, blossom end rot, sunscald cracks, and cat face and others. Various sites call for a laundry list of exhaustive remedies… all for a plant that was at one time so hardy it originated in Mexico!
In years past if the plants were not producing gardeners went outside and ‘spanked’ the plants with a broom and one of our best yields came the year the cows got into the garden and stomped the plants. Being basically masochistic, they straightened right up and produced a record crop! here is nothing more tasteful to the palate than a fresh tomato… I look forward to them again.
*The blueberries and Strawberries were mentioned as well
*Photo: A typical daily harvest from 20 plants in 1998.