February 14, 2007

Love Apples

How did the French conclude the tomato was the pomme d'amour?

It smacks of more artfulness than scienceness.

How would a Frenchman tease apart the tomato's aphrodisiac tendencies? How would the French know it was the tomato? And not, say, good lighting, copious wine, runny cheese? Or even their reputedly ever ready hormones?

Of course the delectable, sensuous tomato was an ornamental plant for centuries since everyone was sure it was poisonous...

...and the leaves are - as your nose will tell you.

On September 26, 1820, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem, N.J., had had it with the tomato as human killer.

Although no one is sure if this is legend, fact or if Johnson was the best publicist ever.

He is said to have marched to the steps of the Salem County court house at 12:15 (he was 15 minutes late) carrying a basketful of tomatoes - or - Lycopersicon Esculentum, wolf peaches (beautiful on the outside, deadly like a wolf on the inside).

He vowed to eat them...and live to make pasta sauce.

His doctor is said to have said, "The foolish colonel will foam and froth at the mouth and double over with appendicitis. All that oxalic acid, in one dose, and you're dead. If the Wolf Peach is too ripe and warmed by the sun, he'll be exposing himself to brain fever. Should he, by some unlikely chance, survive, I must warn him that the skin...will stick to his stomach and cause cancer."

Times don't change. Two thousand came to see it. The fireman's band came to play (a dirge apparently).

He told the crowd of the tomato's illustrious history and held one up to the crowd.

"The time will come when this luscious golden tomato, rich in nutrition, a delight to the eye, a joy to the palate whether fried, baked, broiled or even eaten raw will form the foundation of a great garden industry”.

"To help dispel the tall tales, the fantastic fables that you have been hearing...And to prove to you that it is not poisonous I am going to eat one right now."

And he did. In fact he ate the whole basket.

There's no evidence this event took place...it got embroidered over the years...but here's what I know. If it were true, it had to be September, certainly not mid-February.

Could you imagine if he'd had to eat a basket of tomatoes in the middle of a New Jersey winter? They'd still be stuck in the corner of a room - ornamenting it, rather than a saucepan or salad.

Nothing would say love today more than a beautifully grown, healthy, ripe tomato. Especially in mid February. My tomato buying days are at low ebb right now.

But imagine...a tomato on the vine, warmed in the sun, plucked and offered as a token of love on this Valentine's Day? Who wouldn't hitch a ride on that wagon?

But as in love, how do you know the tomato is what it says it is? It's from where it says it's from? That it doesn't have its roots in different soil/or hydroponic growing material?

There was a story by Karen Platt yesterday in The Tyee, a fascinating online paper from B.C.

That's British Columbia for those of you far away, the western coast of Canada, known also as the wet coast and the left coast...a story about BC Hot House Tomatoes.

It turns out the tomatoes from BC Hot House, which are grown hydroponically and pesticide free (for the most part) are not from B.C. at all - at least not at this time of year. They're grown in affiliated greenhouses in Mexico and imported. Turns out BC Hot House doesn't mean B.C. hot house...it's just a brand name, not a geography name. Not that they ever claim on their packaging that it means B.C.

As Platt suggested, I went to the website and sure enough in the BC Hot House Company FAQ's there's a section that says:

Why are there occasionally products from Mexico or the USA in the grocery store?
In the winter months it is extremely difficult to grow produce due to the lack of light. Light is the biggest component in producing fruits and vegetables (photosynthesis). Additionally, colder growing conditions mean high heating expenses which drastically increase the cost of the product to the consumer.

During this time, BC Hot House aligns itself with quality greenhouse growers in Mexico and the United States. These growers produce product for our customers to our exact standards (grade standards, quality control, food safety, etc.), keeping the product offering consistent with what we produce locally during our growing season. This is done so our customers receive product that is of the highest level on a consistent year round basis.

Our organization is 100% BC Grower owned, all located in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. Ownership of the company remains with our BC based growers / shareholders.

I think they mean well. I just think it's a long way to travel (as in mining their website) to find out where your toms are coming from.

Like love, something's wrong if you feel the need to dig for clarity...

Seems appropriate...Valentine's is a big day in the world of private investigators...

Enjoy...hope you get to eat with someone you love today...

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