Tomatoes are Solidified Sunbeams

Ivan Baker (London)

Discusses this Fruit


                “There were also Tomatoes, a great sappy and sovouriegraine.” Thus wrote a gentleman in 1604, describing strange things seen in the Indies. This is the earliest reference in English literature to the now popular tomato. Some two hundred years later there were “plenty of tomaté (now written with an accented ‘e’), which being produced in many British gardens I will not attempt to describe.” They still remained, like pineapples and melons, a luxury for the rich, though we read in works dated 1750 that “they were eaten either stewed or raw by Spaniards and Italians, and by the Jew families in England”; Jews from Spain, no doubt, for it was the Spaniards who brought the tomato seed from South America.

Tomatoes Were Used by Cannibals

Tomatoes were formerly known as “love apples,” from their supposed aphrodisiac qualities, an interesting fact probably related to their high vitamin content. The cannibals of the Fiji Islands seem to have noticed something of the sort, for we are assured that they ate tomatoes at their feasts of human flesh, and the name “cannibal’s tomatoes” lingered on into the last century. Such names, however, as currant tomato, cherry tomato, and pear tomato are descriptive of actual horticultural varieties of which are there many, all being members of a genus of plants to which the potato, aubergine and tobacco belong.

The composition of tomatoes is a little disappointing at first, for, it appears, upon analysis, that a hundred pounds of tomatoes contained rather more than ninety pounds of water! As for calories, one pound of tomatoes yields only 105. But the situation is dramatically relieved by the universal Maytime favorite: the tomato sandwich. Our sandwich loaf contains potential calories at the rate of eleven hundred and twenty-eight to the pound, and the same amount of butter, saving accidents of digestion and metabolism, will generate no fewer than three thousand five hundred and seventy-seven.

Protein problems may be solved along similar lines, for although Nature has not quite overlooked this body-building element, she has granted the tomato but 1.3% of it; but tomatoes, as the Fiji Islanders found, are an ideal accompaniment to all concentrated protein foods, fish, flesh, fowl, eggs, cheese, nuts, and the baked beans which, in recent years, have become so popular. A little fat, too, enters into the composition of the tomato, a tiny proportion, it is true, but the enterprising Italians, who have so many tomatoes, have succeeded in pressing tomato seed oil in quantities sufficient for the manufacture of soap. There remain the mineral matters and vitamins, trivial as noticeable amount but so highly important as to effect that most welfare clinics recommend a daily teaspoon of ripe tomato juice for their infant charges. It is these peculiarly health-promoting attributes of the tomato that constitutes its value. Its pleasantly sharp flavor is derived from wholesome citric and malic acids, and the very water not only holds the valuable elements in ideal solution, but gives the tomato its refreshing quality.

Vast quantities of tomatoes and tomato products are imported each year to meet the popular demand. Concentrated tomato paste, so useful in cookery, from Italy and Spain, canned tomatoes from the same countries, as well from Canada and the U.S.A., and the increasingly popular tomato juice in tins and bottles. It is principally from Spanish territory that we import the bulk of our “winter tomatoes,: and movement is afoot to limit or restrict such imports in favor of English tomato growers. That our English growers deserve every possible encouragement none will deny, for tomato culture follows the sun, and all our commercial home-grown fruit must be produced under glass. But it would be deplorable if supplies of tomatoes at such very economical process as have obtained during recent winters were held up. For the poorer classes are among the best customers for inexpensive foreign tomatoes, which do much to balance the inadequacy of the white bread, margarine and tea diet.

Springtime and Sunshine Brings Tomatoes

Home-grown tomatoes are in season in May. Their most welcome appearance after the long season of foreign tomatoes at once establishes their superiority. The earliest arrivals are from Guernsey. These are followed by supplies from the Lea Valley estates, where tomato houses occupy a thousand acres. Worthing fruit, with a flavor delightfully reminiscent of the tang of the sea, is third in the time sequence of production, and about the same time supplies from sunny Blackpool become available. It is seen at once that our sunniest places are most suitable for the cultivation of tomatoes. Sunshine and tomatoes are inevitably related, and those whose concern it is to cultivate and study the growth of tomato vines arrive, in the course of time, at the conclusion that tomatoes are solidified sunbeams.

New Health (Lond.)