TOMATO: the fruit of an annual plant of the Nightshade family—the order which includes also the egg-plant and potato. It was for a long time considered unfit for food by the general public, but it is now highly esteemed as especially wholesome and is marketed in enormous and ever-increasing quantities and in numerous forms—fresh, canned, in etc.
The origin of the tomato is still clouded in uncertainty, but botanists generally name South America as its home. It was probably cultivated in Mexico and Peru for many centuries prior to the advent of the Spaniards. Several varieties were known in England by the end of the sixteenth century, and Gerard, the surgeon and botanist, speaks of it in his "History of Plants," having himself introduced it as an exotic. Dodoens, the Netherlands herbalist, also. mentions it as early as 1583 as a vegetable to be eaten with pepper, salt and oil. Its popular acceptance was, however, slow in arriving, for it is only within the last three generations that it has become a food item of general use.
The United States is the greatest per capita consumer. Next, perhaps, comes Southern Italy, where it is used in the preparation of, or as an accompaniment to, nearly every dish. The Italians call it the "Golden Apple." It was also formerly known as the "Love Apple" in France, England and this country.
In Northern European countries the consumption is largely of the canned prod uct. The plant is grown in England, but sparingly, as it requires hot-beds in the spring and the fruit is consequently high priced.
In this country, the fruit ripens in fields and gardens in various sections from June to November. The winter and spring demand is supplied both by the West Indies and the output of domestic hothouses. The growing of hothouse tomatoes has increased more than 500% during the last five years: due to the demand for a better quality fruit than that shipped from the tropics. The finest ever imported came a few years ago from Spain, but the expenses of transportation were not warranted by market prices.
There are many kinds of tomatoes, ranging from the fancy, generally small, varieties known by their resemblance to other fruits—as the "Currant," acid in flavor and growing, currant-style, in long clusters; the "Cherry" or "Grape," borne in bunches; the "Pear," etc.—to the many sizes of the ordinary tomato, reaching the maximum in the huge "Beefsteaks"—which frequently weigh from two to three pounds each—and varying in color from deep red to yellow. The most generally desirable are those of medium size, smooth, round and of even color, with thick walls and small seed cavities.
One of the most interesting of the numerous kindred fruits of the same general order is that known in many sections as the "Strawberry Tomato" and described under the title of GROUND CHERRY.
Green, but firm and well grown, tomatoes, gathered just before frost, can be ripened in a dry cellar for winter use. They should be wiped dry and placed on racks, the latter preferably straw covered. Any specimens that show signs of decay during the ripening must be at once removed before the trouble spreads to others.
Canned tomatoes are the most widely consumed of all canned vegetables, and this popularity is thoroughly deserved, as for many culinary purposes they are more con venient than, and equally as good as, the fresh fruit. Their acidity is generally more developed than in the fresh fruit, but this is easily reduced by adding a small pinch of bicarbonate of sodium. When a "tinny" flavor is noticeable, it can be avoided by adding a little sliced onion during heating, the average proportion being about half a medium-sized mild onion to the contents of a three-pound can. The quantity named is not sufficient to give any onion taste to the tomatoes.