Tomato, a predominantly spring and summer fruit, and more specifically a berry!
Solanum lycopersicum, or “wolf peach,” is the most commonly consumed member of the nightshade family.
The exact domestication of tomatoes is not known for sure, but they were in cultivation in Mexico by 500 B.C.E. There have been a great number of superstitions surrounding the tomato, from their ability to transform people into werewolves, to being nicknamed “deadly nightshade” by suspicious early Europeans who believed them to be poisonous!
Tomatoes originated in Central and South America. They were given their name which means “fat water with navel” by the Aztecs who bred them to be bigger and redder than their tomatillo cousins. Early fruit were small like cherry tomatoes and yellow rather than red.
After the Spaniards conquered the region, they exported tomatoes throughout the entire world. The Italians, who would later introduce us to some of the world’s favorite dishes, originally grew tomatoes purely for ornamental purposes, displaying them as tabletop decor. Thank goodness they came to their senses!
There are 7,500 varieties of tomatoes in existence today! These summer favorites grow extremely well in Mediterranean climates (like San Diego and Orange Counties) and often pop up on their own as volunteers year after year.
If you’ve ever grown your own tomatoes, you’ll know there is nothing quite like biting into the first sun-ripened tomato of the season! Tomatoes come in heirloom and hybrid varieties, which both have unique benefits.
Heirloom tomato seeds breed true, meaning you can save their seeds and for future harvests boasting consistent color and flavor. However, heirlooms are more prone to pests and take longer to grow.
Hybrid tomatoes are often heavy producers and have been bred to be more resistant to pests, but the seeds must be replaced each year as they prove to be inconsistent when saved.
Once you’ve harvested your tomatoes, there are infinite culinary possibilities from all over the world! Some of our favorite recipes are below.
Heirloom Tomato & Mango Pico from Love & Lemons
Chili-Lime Clams with Tomatoes and Grilled Bread from Bon Appetit
Chicken Alla Cacciatora from Mario Batali