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The Tomato-A Once Forbidden Fruit
by Carol Ann Kates

            Up until the end of the eighteenth century, most Americans believed the tomato was poisonous. Doctors forbade eating this fruit fearing it caused appendicitis and stomach cancer and believing tomato skins adhered to the lining of the stomach. This myth no doubt developed because the tomato is a member of the Nightshade family, which includes many poisonous species.

            In 1808, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem, New Jersey, brought tomato plants home from abroad.  He offered a yearly prize for the largest fruit grown, but most Americans considered the tomato only an ornamental plant and not fit for human consumption. 

            On September 26, 1820, Colonel Johnson decided to prove once and for all that tomatoes were safe for consumption.  He stood on the steps of the Salem courthouse and bravely consumed an entire basket of tomatoes.  A crowd of over 2,000 people watched in horror, believing Johnson was committing public suicide.  Much to their surprise, Johnson survived and America began its love affair with the tomato. 

            Here's one of my favorite recipes using this once forbidden fruit. On our last night of a romantic weeklong vacation in Maui, my husband and I dined on the beach, watching whales splash playfully in the ocean while the sun blushed a flamingo fan across the horizon.  This is my version of the salad we ate that night. 

Maui Onion and Tomato Salad
Serves 4

For the dressing:

            3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
            ½ teaspoon salt
            1 teaspoon large grind black pepper
            1 teaspoon minced garlic
            1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
            3 tablespoons olive oil

In a small bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, and Dijon mustard.  Whisk to blend.  While continuing to whisk, slowly add olive oil.  Set aside.

For the salad:

            1 head leaf lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces
            6 ripe tomatoes, sliced
            1 to 2 medium Maui onion, peeled and thinly sliced
            4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

Cover 4 salad plates with leaf lettuce.  In a circular pattern, place a layer of onion rings on top of lettuce.  Repeat the same pattern with a layer of 5 to 6 slices of tomato.  Sprinkle each salad with blue cheese.  Drizzle dressing over salad.  Do not toss.  Serve immediately. 

Note:  Substituting Corner Market Secret Recipe Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar in the salad dressing really pops the flavors of juicy ripe tomatoes and blue cheese.   

Shopping:  Select firm, plump tomatoes.  Do not buy pale, spotted, or mushy fruit.  Avoid tomatoes with blemishes or cracks.  Color is a good indicator of freshness.  Pick brightly colored tomatoes.  My father taught me to shop with my nose.  Smell the stem end of the tomato.  It it's ripe, it will smell like a tomato.  When ripe, this fruit should give slightly when pressed. 

Storing:  Always treat tomatoes gently.  Only place ripened tomatoes in the refrigerator.  Cool temperatures slow the ripening process.  To ripen this fruit, place it at room temperature stem side down.  If you need to ripen your tomatoes quickly, place them in a paper bag at room temperature. 

Carol Ann Kates is the author of award-winning cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market, selected as one of the top ten favorite cookbooks by the Denver Post.  




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