“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – JRR Tolkien
Personally I value fresh peaches and pears above “hoarded gold,” and have discovered just how easy it is to “hoard” these — and all of spring, summer and fall’s bounty, to enjoy with others long after the garden and trees have gone bare. My grandma “put by” potatoes, my old neighbor “put up” peaches. I simply can — and I love it. Oh, I freeze and dehydrate too, but canning … well that’s a combination of art and science.
The New Putting Food By, by Ruth Hertzberg, Beatrice Vaughan, and Janet Greene, defines the term “put by” as to “save something you don’t have to use now, against the time when you’ll need it.” Well who can argue with that idea? Most of us don’t care to eat a quart of fresh tomatoes and a half a grocery bag of green beans a day, so we give all our extra garden produce away. That’s good too, until your neighbors stop answering the doorbell when they see you coming with another basket of beans. Consider canning that “gold.” It may surprise you to know you don’t have to have a whole day to do it. You can just about can anything in an evening if you have all the ingredients and equipment on hand. In fact, the more you do it, well … the more you’ll do it. (Yogi Berra?)
Here are my top ten reasons to “put by” or “put up” your own food:
- You will always know what you are eating
- You will always have extra hostess and holiday gifts on hand
- You won’t have to buy condiments, pickles or jelly for at least a year
- When you don’t feel like making dinner, there is always something ready-to-eat in your pantry
- Your friends will be amazed at your culinary prowess and consider you mysterious
- You’ll never find cherry mustarda, pumpkin butter, juniper-maple cocktail onions, or pickled cherries in the grocery store
- You’ll always have just the right amount of chicken soup to take to a sick friend
- It’s good to have a secret stash of food in case the Russians or the relatives invade
- It’s a socially acceptable form of hoarding so long as you share
- You can laugh at the days to come and the snow piling up outside your door this winter as you eat stew and apple pie made with canned meats, veggies and apple filling you put up this fall. No trips to the grocery store in a squall!
Essential (or at least helpful) reading: The Joy of Pickling, by Linda Ziedrich; The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry; The Farmer’s Wife Canning and Preserving Cookbook by Lela Nargi; and Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving by Kevin West.
Tomatoes are my favorite vine. Nothing tastes so much like the essence of summer as a vine-ripened tomato. My favorites are the heirlooms with complex flavors, acidic and fruity and sweet all at the same time. Tomatoes come at the end of summer and their taste is bittersweet – the climax of Summer heralds of beginning of Fall. They are a fascinating fruit….Read on if you would like a brief overview of this interesting fruit compiled from a variety of sources…
Latin Name: Solanum lycopersicum
Botanical Family: Solanaceae (same as potatoes, eggplants)
Description: The tomato is the edible fruit of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant. The fruit is often red but can come in a rainbow of colors, including white and black (dark purple). While it is botanically a fruit, it is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes and legally for agricultural tariff purposes which has caused some confusion.
The tomato belongs to the nightshade family. The plant is a vine that typically grows to 3–10 ft in height but can reach 15 ft. It has a weak stem that often sprawls over the ground and vines over other plants. It is a perennial in its native habitat, although often grown outdoors in temperate climates as an annual.
Tomato plants are dicots, and grow as a series of branching stems, with a terminal bud at the tip that does the actual growing. Most tomato plants have compound leaves, and are called regular leaf (RL) plants, but some cultivars have simple leaves known as potato leaf (PL) style because of their resemblance to that particular relative. The leaves are 4–10 in long, odd pinnate, with five to 9 leaflets on petioles. Leaves and stems are hairy. Flowers are yellow on an apical meristem and are self-fertilizing.
Tomato fruit is classified as a berry, a subset of fruit. As a true fruit, it develops from the ovary of the plant after fertilization, its flesh comprising the pericarp walls.
Origin: Both the species, and its use as a food, originated in Mexico, and spread around the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtítlan, now Mexico City, in 1521, although Christopher Columbus, a Genoese working for the Spanish monarchy, may have taken them back to Spain as early as 1493. In the Old World, tomatoes were called “golden apples”.
Tomato is a New World fruit, though it is hard to think of Italian cooking without tomato sauce. It is considered a food that had a great influence on the world. Today the tomato is cultivated around the world and found in most cuisines.
Cultivation (how and where grown): China, the largest producer, accounts for about one quarter of the global output, followed by United States and India. For one variety, plum or processing tomatoes, California accounts for 90% of U.S. production and 35% of world production.
There are over four thousands cultivars of tomatoes. Different varieties have been bred for different regional growing conditions. They hybridise very easily. In general, the tomato is a warm season crop that is grown outside after the danger of frost has past, as well as in greenhouses in temperate climates. It can be planted outside when the soil temperature reaches 70◦F. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and need a nutrient rich soil.
A tomato plant can be planted very deeply because the plant has the ability to form roots along its entire stem. Tomatoes are sometimes planted deeply (1-2 ft laid on side) in a method called ‘trenching’.
Because tomatoes are vines, they need to be supported. Supports can range from tomato cages, to A-frame trellises, to the string and pulley systems used in greenhouses.
Tomato plants can be determinate or indeterminate. Determinate plants are bushy and produce all their tomatoes in one flush. These are used often for commercial production. Home gardeners often grow indeterminate varieties that will continue to produce all season. Tomatoes are the number one garden plant for home vegetable gardens.
The poor taste and lack of sugar in modern garden and commercial tomato varieties resulted from breeding tomatoes to ripen uniformly red. This change occurred after discovery of a variety in the mid-20th century that ripened uniformly. This was widely cross-bred to produce red fruit without the typical green ring around the stem on uncross-bred varieties. Prior to general introduction of this trait, most tomatoes produced more sugar during ripening, and were sweeter and more flavorful.
Tomatoes will continue to ripen after they are picked. In fact, most commercial varieties are picked green and ripened on the way to the super market.
Fun Facts: Tomatoes were first grown as ornamental plants in flower gardens in Europe because they were believed to be poisonous. In reality, the entire plant is toxic except for the fruit and the seeds. The Italians called the first tomato pomodoro or “golden apple”. In the Old World, some attributed aphrodisiac properties to the tomato and this is why the French called it “pomme d’amour” (love apple). Today, more tomatoes are produced globally than any other fruit.
Nutrition: Tomatoes are loaded with potassium, vitamins A, C and E. An average tomato contains 30% of the daily requirements of vitamin C, 15% for vitamin A and 12% for vitamin E. Vitamin C is known to reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease (including heart attack and stroke) and diabetes. It lowers the arterial tension and the cholesterol, being an antioxidant. Vitamin A is a major contributor to the health of the skin, hair, mucosae, genital organs and has a role in the low light vision.
Culinary Uses: Tomatoes come in a small sweet form called ‘cherry tomatoes’, large round sizes for fresh eating and slicing like ‘beefsteak’, and elongated, meaty varieties for making sauce called ‘plum’. Though it is botanically a berry, a subset of fruit, tomato is a vegetable for culinary purposes, because of its savory flavor.
The tomato is now grown and eaten around the world. It is used in diverse ways, including raw in salads, and processed into ketchup or tomato soup. Unripe green tomatoes can also be breaded and fried, used to make salsa, or pickled. Tomato juice is sold as a drink, and is used in cocktails such as the Bloody Mary.
Tomatoes are acidic, making them especially easy to preserve in home canning whole, in pieces, as tomato sauce or paste. The fruit is also preserved by drying, often in the sun, and sold either in bags or in jars with oil.
Tomatoes are used extensively in Mediterranean cuisine. They are a key ingredient in pizza, and are commonly used in pasta sauces. They are also used in gazpacho, a cold tomato soup (Spanish cuisine).
Medicinal Uses: The fruit is rich in lycopene, a strong antioxidant, which is believed to have beneficial health effects. Lycopene has been proven to prevent cancer of pancreas, lung and colon and cardiovascular disease. Men consuming 10 or more servings of tomatoes or derived products on a weekly basis have a 34% decreased risk of prostate cancer.
A recent British research showed that 5 tablespoons of tomato paste added daily to your diet improves your skin’s capacity to fight harmful UV radiation by 33%. Lycopene has also been found to increase the absorption of beta-carotene, the plant precursor of vitamin A.
Favorite Varieties: Cherry tomato ‘Sungold’ – it has amazing flavor. We call it the candy tomato. A friend’s daughter does not like tomatoes but she likes ‘Sungold’. The heirloom ‘Green Zebra’ is very fun looking and good tasting and is a favorite for school gardens. I am particularly fond of ‘Purple Calabash’ and the Brandywines.
Impact on Culture: Tomatoes are everywhere in modern cuisines. Without them we would not have spaghetti sauce, ketchup or pizza sauce. The town of Buñol, in Valencia, Spain, annually celebrates La Tomatina, a festival centered on an enormous tomato fight. Several US cities have their own tomato fight with surplus tomatoes at the end of the summer, usually in concert with their tomato festival.
Tomatoes are a popular “nonlethal” throwing weapon in mass protests, and there was a common tradition of throwing rotten tomatoes at bad performers on a stage during the 19th century; today this is usually referenced as a metaphor. Embracing it for this protest connotation, the Dutch Socialist party adopted the tomato as their logo.
The US city of Reynoldsburg, Ohio calls itself “The Birthplace of the Tomato”, claiming the first commercial variety of tomato was bred there in the 19th century. Reynoldsburg of course has a large Tomato Festival each August. Several US states have adopted the tomato as a state fruit or vegetable. New Jersey and Arkansas have declared it both the state fruit and vegetable and Ohio has the tomato as its state fruit.
A derivative of the tomato is ketchup, a signature American condiment and emblem of American culture throughout the world.
Appearance in Literature: Tomatoes appear in title of fiction books and there are many books about their cultivation. One of my favorite children’s books is I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato (Charlie and Lola) by Lauren Child (Author, Illustrator)