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Exploring Tomatoes: Perhaps the Original Forbidden Fruit?

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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, 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 them 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

Warm cioppino salad

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 of mushrooms
  • 2 cups 1/4-inch thick slices of zucchini
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh tomato
  • 1 1/2 cups drained pitted ripe black 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; often stir on medium-high heat until zucchini is tender-crisp to bite, about 3 minutes.
  3. Return shrimp to pan; add tomatoes, olives, and dressing; often stir 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 of dried basil and oregano and minced garlic.

Slow-roasted tomato tart

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 have 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 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 resembles 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 a medium-sized sauté pan. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the 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 for 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