Tomatoes by Ernest Benary
It was the Incas and the Aztecs who first harvested and consumed the wild forms of tomato that grew in the valleys of the Peruvian Andes. By around 500CE, Native Americans were cultivating and domesticating the plant. Not until the 16th century were the Europeans able to sample the delights of this most delicious vegetable, when returning Spanish conquistadores introduced the seeds from Mexico and Central America. The Spanish, Portuguese and Indians were the first to fully appreciate this new arrival. Other nations were much slower to try them, often distrusting the brightly coloured tomatoes and treating them as ornamental, instead of edible vegetables.
Surprisingly impassioned battles have raged in past times over the exact definition of the tomato: Is it a fruit or a vegetable? The U.S. Supreme Court finally settled the vexing question in 1893, ruling that it is indeed a vegetable.
The home gardener really has the advantage over commercial growers when it comes to tomatoes, because so many exciting and tasty varieties can easily be sown from seeds. Shapes range from the round, to heart, pear or plum, while colours include red, pink, orange, yellow, white, green, purple and bicoloured or striped. They may be large and heavy, such as beefsteak types, or bite-size, such as cherries. In addition to the numerous ways in which tomatoes can be prepared in the kitchen, their nutritional value and disease-preventive qualities are virtually unrivaled.
Scott Tampin, Heritage Gardening Trainee, Skills for the Future