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Exploring Tomatoes: Perhaps the Original Forbidden Fruit?


Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Today, tomatoes are a normal part of life. We don't think much about them. But, in the past, they were a big deal. Read on to learn why.

Today, tomatoes are a normal part of life. We don't think much about them. But, in the past, they were a big deal. Read on to learn why.

Were Tomatoes the Forbidden Fruit in the Garden of Eden?

From where did the idea originate that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was an apple? Let's review the story.

We are told in Genesis that Adam and Eve are living the perfect life in Eden. They may eat fruit from any tree except one, "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." Guess what? They eat the forbidden fruit and are expelled from paradise.

The original Hebrew says only "fruit," but in latter-day Western art, ranging from serious religious paintings to about a million cartoons, the item in question is invariably depicted as an apple. I don't think so. My vote is that it was a tomato.

Think about it. On a summer day is there anything more fragrant, sweet, or (dare I say) Heavenly than a plump ripe tomato, warmed by the sun? If you have grown your own tomatoes, or are fortunate enough to be the BFF of someone else who does, I'm sure you'll agree with me.

So, if Not in the Garden of Eden, Where Did the Tomato Come From?

Historians believe that the Aztecs cultivated the tomato plant as early as 700 A.D. Cortez conquered the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan (now named Mexico City) in 1521, and it is assumed that he and his explorers carried seeds back to Europe

Are Tomatoes Deadly?

Tomatoes are beautiful plants, but their fruits were not just overlooked, they were feared which brings this question. If tomatoes didn't actually lead Adam and Eve to commit the original sin, why did they have such a bad reputation?

Clearly, the poor, lowly tomato needed a public relations manager. In the 16th-century aristocrats who dined on tomatoes were becoming ill and dying. As a result, the tomato was nicknamed “poison apple.” However, no one noticed that peasants who ate tomatoes were not affected.

So what was the problem? Wealthy Europeans ate on pewter plates, which have high lead content. The high acid level of tomatoes leached lead from the plates, so the prosperous were perishing not from consuming tomatoes but from lead poisoning!

jasmine-flowered nightshade

jasmine-flowered nightshade

No, but We Still Don't Trust You

Tomatoes traveled back across the Atlantic with American colonists in the 17th century but were used more as an ornamental plant (and named the Love Apple) rather than as a source of food.

Since the tomato is a member of the Solanaceae family (which includes deadly nightshade), it was once again looked upon with skepticism and painted with guilt by association.

The War Made Us Friends

The American Civil War changed the life of the tomato. Tomatoes grow quickly and hold up well under the canning process and so canned tomatoes were fed to the Union army. And the troops didn’t die (at least from eating canned tomatoes). As a result, after the war the demand for canned products (including tomatoes) grew. This meant that more farmers were needed.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Well, almost. The only tomatoes that were common at the time were the small cherry- and pear-shaped tomatoes. Larger tomatoes were lumpy and misshapen. This too changed when a gentleman named Alexander Livingston became interested in the tomato. The first one he ever saw was growing wild, and his mother cautioned him not to eat it. “Even the hogs will not eat them” she is reported to have said. In his book Livingston and the Tomato, he wrote:

“There was not in the United States at the time an acre of tomatoes from which a bushel of uniformly smooth tomatoes could be gathered.”

After much trial and error he was able to successfully develop a hybrid, which he named the Paragon, in 1870. The release of the Paragon, claimed Livingston, caused tomato production to

“increase phenomenally, and rival the potato as a crop to grow…With these, tomato culture began at once to be one of the great enterprises of the country.”

And They Are Still Here

The Livingston tomatoes (about 20) are still available today in seed form as heirlooms. The Livingston Seed Company is still in existence, and Reynoldsburg, his birthplace, still holds an annual Tomato Festival.

I Don't Grow My Own

I gave up growing my own "forbidden fruits" two decades ago when I moved to deer country. But I can still find just-picked tomatoes at my weekly Farmers Market and at my local produce stand which is open year-round.

So, what do you do with fresh tomatoes? Of course, you can chop and toss them into a fresh green salad, cut a thick slice and place atop a juicy burger hot off the grill, or simply eat them just as they are. But, if you want to do something more, here are a few ideas:

Warm Cioppino Salad


Years ago Sunset Magazine published one of my recipes—a spin on cioppino and another type of "surf and turf". This seems a perfect opportunity to share that recipe with you:


  • 1/2 lb. extra large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups 1/4-inch thick slices mushrooms
  • 2 cups 1/4-inch thick slices zucchini
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh tomato
  • 1 1/2 cups drained pitted black ripe olives
  • Dressing (recipe follows)
  • 3 quarts lightly packed, and crisped fresh spinach leaves
  • 1/2 pound cooked crab


  1. In a 12-inch skillet over medium heat stir shrimp in oil until pink, about 2 minutes. Lift out and set aside.
  2. Add mushrooms and zucchini to pan; stir often on medium-high heat until zucchini is tender-crisp to bite, about 3 minutes.
  3. Return shrimp to pan; add tomatoes, olives, and dressing; stir often until hot. Put spinach in a wide bowl; pour hot mixture over greens, top with crab, and mix gently. Serves 6.


Mix 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire, and 1 teaspoon each dried basil and oregano and minced garlic.

Slow-Roasted Tomato Tart


I love a good bargain, and today was one of those wonderful days. It all started with a trip to the grocery store to buy a quart of milk...

Have you ever noticed that in all grocery stores (no exception), the milk is in the back of the store? Do you know why? It's because the one thing that is purchased most often at a grocery store is milk, and placing the milk at the back of the store forces us to walk past the colorful displays in the remainder of the store. Displays promising "buy one, get one free", "limited edition", "on sale this week only."

Today, it was tomatoes. And not just any tomato. Roma tomatoes--rich, meaty, flavorful Roma tomatoes. The stuff of which the best homemade Italian gravy (spaghetti sauce) is made.

Last year my younger daughter had a bumper crop of fresh tomatoes and attempted to bake a tomato tart. The concept was spot-on, but the end result was a bit disappointing--tomatoes are approximately 80 percent water, and so the bottom crust became terribly soggy.

I've had a year to consider how to remedy that problem—and roasting the tomatoes prior to baking them in the tart seems to me the best way to forestall that problem.


  • 2 pounds of Roma tomatoes (not too large), cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • fresh thyme sprigs (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees F.
  2. Place the tomatoes, cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet (a jelly-roll pan works great for this!).
  3. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper (and thyme, if using)
  4. Bake until the tomatoes are no longer exuding juice, but still feel plump (this will take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on the size of your tomatoes).

Prepare the Pastry

Now that the tomatoes have given up their excess juices (and in doing so all of their amazing flavors has been concentrated into a cute little bundle), we need to construct the tart shell.

An internet search will reveal many "tomato tart bakers" who use pre-made puff pastry to line their baking pans. Others will opt for a pre-form galette made with a traditional pie dough. I prefer to use an easy (and very forgiving) pastry recipe that allows one to roll out the pastry directly into the pan.


  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup shortening


  1. In a small bowl combine the 2 tablespoons of flour and the water; mix with a spoon until smooth. Set aside.
  2. In another (medium-sized) bowl combine the remaining (1 cup) flour and salt. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembled coarse crumbs. Add the reserved flour/water mixture. Stir until it forms a ball.
  3. Press the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 9-inch pie pan.

Finish the Tomato Tart


  • 1 large yellow onion, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups grated cheese (see suggestions below)
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Place onion and olive oil in medium-sized sauté pan. Cook over medium heat about 10 minutes or until onion is softened and is beginning to get golden in color. Set aside to cool.
  3. Place one half of the cheese in the pastry-lined pan.
  4. Stir the sour cream into the cooled sautéed onions. Dollop spoonful's of this mixture evenly over the cheese.
  5. Top with the roasted tomatoes, and then the remaining cheese.
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven and let rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

Suggestions for Cheese

  • Irish Cheddar (my favorite)
  • feta cheese
  • Swiss or Gruyere
  • sharp cheddar and/or cheddar/Jack

© 2015 Linda Lum


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 06, 2019:

Indeed, cherry tomatoes are a special treat. They are so uniquely sweet. Your sandwich sounds wonderful. But as I write this it has begun to snow once again. {sad face.}

Most tomatoes in my stores right now are not worth carrying home; they are mealy and tasteless. I'll have my tomato sandwich in August when the fresh/local produce comes to the Farmers' Markets.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on March 06, 2019:

How fascinating. Today at my corner store, she had roma tomatoes in among all the others. I may go back and get some for the seeds.

I tend to eat cherry tomatoes straight off the plant. It's my treat after a weeding session.

Is there anything better than a tomato sandwich? Bread, mayo, salt and black pepper and home grown tomatoes. Yum!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 24, 2015:

DzyMsLizzy - thank you for visiting and for your comments. Poor Bill and Mr. Lizzy--they don't know what they are missing. (But, that leaves more for the rest of us, doesn't it?)

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on July 24, 2015:

Fascinating article and great thinking points as well.

LOL @ billybuc. Sounds like my husband. He can't stand tomatoes, and will only condescend to eat them when disguised as ketchup or spaghetti sauce. ;)

For myself, however, I do like tomatoes, and a single plant provides more than I can possibly eat, so I give away lots of tomatoes all summer. I don't can them because I don't like canned tomatoes. I want them fresh.

And, to settle the matter of fruit vs. vegetable, botanically speaking, because of the type and distribution of seeds, it is, technically, a berry, so yes, a fruit. Anyone who hails from New England, or who has family or heritage there, will be familiar with tomato slices served in a dish and sprinkled with sugar, as you might with any other berry, rather than salt and pepper.

Personally, I don't like tomatoes 'hot off the vine.' I prefer mine chilled.

Voted up, +++

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 24, 2015:

Thank you poetryman. I appreciate your support.

poetryman6969 on July 24, 2015:

Some very interesting tomato history. Voted up!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 23, 2015:

Flourish - Praise from you I do not take lightly. Thank you so much and glad you enjoyed.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 23, 2015:

I don't eat raw tomatoes but cook them in sauces. This is an excellent hub with great historical information. Much enjoyed and voted accordingly.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on July 21, 2015:

For me it was bad as I'm virtually addicted to them. This year I'll probably just put some cherry tomatoes in....BUT WELL AWAY FROM THE FENCE!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 21, 2015:

Lawrence - How sad is that? A summer with no tomatoes is akin to a day without sunshine. I hope this year you have better luck.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on July 21, 2015:


Last summer I had six plants in (two cherry and four money maker) but put them too near our fence. When our neighbor sprayed weedkiller on his fence it killed the plants so it was the first time in about ten years I didn't get many tomatoes! (Ahh well, can't have everything!!)

Great hub


Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on July 10, 2015:

Hi Carb Diva. I didn't know that the tomato wasn't popular until the Civil War. You are right about the apple not being mentioned in the

Bible. I often wondered how it became the apple in that story. lol The roasted tomato tart sounds really good, I'll have to save that one. Thanks for sharing, voted up and useful.

Blessings to you.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 09, 2015:

Jackie - I agree, there is nothing like a ripe from the vine tomato. The ones in the store never taste as wonderful.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on July 09, 2015:

I love tomatoes and crave them when I am more than a few days without them. They may have been the forbidden fruit, who knows and even twined around an apple tree hanging ripe and delicious. I hope Eve had her salt shaker with her though! I always took mine as a child! My mouth waters thinking about it.


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 09, 2015:

Good morning Bill. I don't think I've ever met anyone who didn't like tomatoes. Well, I've always known that you are someone special. Thanks for the compliment, and have a great day. It's getting cooler out there (thank goodness!).

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 09, 2015:

I don't eat them...don't like them...won't eat them....but I will grow them...and I will say "excellent article." :)

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