The Tomato

Aug 27, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Contributors, Food Fun, Margaret Mendel

by Margaret Mendel

There is a recipe for the Reedley Sandwich Shop at the end of this article.

The tomato offers year round enjoyment. In the summer, the tomato helps to cool the weary chef on hot sweltering days when it is freshly sliced and put into a crisp salad or lightly sautéed with garlic and mushrooms and folded into prepared pasta.

When cooks return once again to the stoves in the fall, they might begin making dishes that require longer simmering and it is then that the tomato is likely to be stewed with eggplant and zucchini to make a hearty ratatouille.

Full body tomato sauces are frequently favorites during the winter weather. Spring brings a freshness back into the cook’s kitchen with whiffs of newly arrived basil, a perfect mate for sliced tomatoes drizzled with a good olive oil.

The tomato, indigenous to the Andes, was domesticated in Mexico and brought to Europe in 1500. By the end of the 16th century, the tomato was used only for ornamentation because it was thought to be poisonous. The foliage of the tomato is poisonous, but the vegetable itself has a high concentration of vitamin A and C, particularly in the jellylike material surrounding the seeds.

In Victorian England it was known as “love apples” and was thought to be an aphrodisiac. For better than two centuries the tomato was only widely used as food in Italy. Not until the middle of the 19th century was the tomato fully appreciated as a food. Today the tomato is eaten in quantities second only to the potato.

For some people the question still remains: is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

The Latin word for fruit originally meant any plant used as food. Gradually the word “fruit” grew to mean the edible layer that surrounds seeds. According to botanists, a fruit is the seed-bearing portion of a plant and tomatoes certainly fit into that category.

In the 18th century the word ‘vegetable’ made its first appearance meaning a plant food that is eaten along with meat and other parts of the meal. Until that time vegetable simply meant plant, distinguishing it from an animal or an inanimate object.

Then in 1893, a New York food importer claimed duty-free status for a shipment of tomatoes from the West Indies. He argued that the tomato was a fruit, and therefore was not subject to the 10% import fees that were imposed on vegetables.

The case went to the United States Supreme Court and was decided on the grounds of linguistic custom. It was decided that since tomatoes were usually served at dinner, with or after the soup, fish or meat, which constitutes the principle part of the repast, and not, like fruits, generally at dessert, that the tomato was therefore determined by decree of the courts to be a vegetable, and the importer had to pay the 10% duty on his cargo.

Tomatoes are difficult to ship when they are ripe therefore they are picked while still green and then treated with ethylene gas (a natural plant hormone) to promote ripening. This process can be duplicated in the home if you are tired of waiting for your garden tomatoes to ripen. Apples give off ethylene gas and if ripe apples and green tomatoes are placed in a paper bag that has been poked with a few air holes, the ripening process will be sped up.

There is usually an abundance of good quality plum tomatoes at the end of the summer. For many years I used to buy a crate of these tomatoes to make my sauce for the winter. I would spend all day peeling tomatoes, cooking up the sauce, sterilizing jars, and then can the sauce. In the spring my family could always tell when my canned sauce was finished and that I had begun to use the commercially canned tomatoes from the store.

No matter what anyone says, there is a difference between store bought and homemade food. But canning is time consuming and tedious, and it became more difficult for me to find enough time to do the canning, not to mention the energy that is required to stand at the stove all day tending to the task. I still make large batches of sauce but now instead of canning I freeze the sauce. If I double bag the sauce it stays fresh longer.

Here are a few of my favorite tomato salad recipes.


This is a quick and easy appetizer or a fun item when added to a salad. Use 4 to 5 cherry tomatoes per person. Slice a cross the top section of the tomatoes where the stem has been removed. Cut small cubes, about one quarter the size of the tomatoes from a block of provolone, Monterey jack or mozzarella. Slip one cube into each of the tomatoes.

There is no end to the variation of this recipe. Here are a few more ideas for these tasty bites: Add a piece of basil leaf along with the cheese; dip the cheese into a pesto sauce first then slide the cube into the tomato; chop and mash a clove of garlic on a clean cutting board, gently rub the cheese across the garlic before poking the cheese into the tomato; a half of Kalamata olive, or other strong flavored olive will go nicely with the cheese and tomato, also. Or perhaps even a small section of bacon will add a wonderful flavor treat. Have fun with this, but the idea is to keep it simple.


6 large firm ripe tomatoes
¼ pound sliced raw mushrooms
25 pitted olives (any variety of your choice)
2 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons green peas (a good quality canned green peas works fine)
¾ cup cooked small white beans (canned beans are fine)
¾ cup mayonnaise
Pepper to taste

Wash tomatoes and cut off their tops. Scoop out the seeds and sprinkle the insides with salt. Turn tomatoes upside down to drain.

Coarsely chop mushrooms and olives and mix with capers, green peas and small white beans. Add mayonnaise and mix gently.

Fill the tomato shells with the mayonnaise vegetable mixture. Serve and be happy.


¾ cup salad oil (vegetable oil or a light oil like safflower, canola or soybean oil is fine)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
2 cups crusty bread that has been cut into small cubes
1 pound of vine ripened tomatoes cut into small wedges
¼ cup pitted olives (your preference)
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, washed, thoroughly toweled dry and chopped fine

Combine oil, white wine vinegar in a blender and mix for 10 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and let stand for about a half hour to let the flavors blend, giving the dressing a good whisking just before serving.

Mix together in a bowl the bread, tomatoes, and olives. Drizzle a small amount of the dressing over the salad and mix well. Taste to see if more dressing is needed. Adjust this to your personal taste or dietary needs.

When the salad is to your liking, add the chopped basil leaves and gently toss into the salad.

Print this coupon and take to the Reedley Sandwich Shop:

Margaret Mendel was born in San Jose and has a Master’s degree in Counseling from the University of San Francisco & a Master’s of Fine Arts in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Currently residing in New York, she has had several short stories and articles published.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting and thanks again for the recipe ideas


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