People often assume tomatoes originated in Europe, but the history of tomatoes goes back hundreds of years in Mesoamerica, noted as being consumed by the Aztecs as early as 700 AD where they were called "tomatl." It is thought that around 1493 Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes introduced tomato seeds to southern Europe as they returned from expeditions in Mexico and other parts of Mesoamerica. As early as the 1540s, tomatoes were grown in Spanish fields and became a common food; however, in places like Italy they were only being used as tabletop decoration until the late 17th century by Italian nobility.
The first reference to the tomato in the British Colonies was published in Botanologia by William Salmon in 1710 which places tomatoes in the Carolinas. It was considered an edible fruit and though most knew how to grow them, no one knew how to cook them. It wasn't until the 1800s that recipes began appearing, but there were rumors that tomatoes were poisonous for two reasons. First was because the tomato plant is in the same family as nightshade, an extremely poisonous plant. And then when the "Green Tomato Worms" were discovered people feared their frightful appearance so much that many thought it would impart poisonous qualities to the fruit. It wasn't until entomologist Benjamin Walsh argued that the tomato worm "wouldn't hurt a flea" that the rumors began to fade and farmers soon began learning more about the tomato's use and experimented with different varieties in their crops.
Today, tomatoes are used around the world in many varieties. But here is a look at recipes and techniques that may have been used in the 1890s by the residents at Historic Longstreet Farm and other local areas:
Baked Tomatoes (Plain.)
Peel and slice quarter of an inch thick; place in layers in a pudding dish, seasoning each layer with salt, pepper, butter, and a very little white sugar. Cover with a lid or a large plate, and bake half an hour. Remove the lid and brown for fifteen minutes. Just before taking from the over, pour over the top three or four tablespoons of whipped cream with melted butter.
From "White House Cook Book A Selection of Choice Recipes Original and Selected, during a period of forty years" by Mrs. F.L. Gillette. R.S. Peale & Company, Chicago, 1887.
Scald the tomatoes and pare off all the skin. Line an earthen baking dish, well buttered, with a layer of cracker crumbs and small bits of butter. Then put in a layer of tomatoes with a very little brown sugar sprinkled over them; then another layer of cracker crumbs, seasoned with butter, pepper and salt, and then another layer of tomatoes, until your dish is filled; let the last layer be cracker crumbs; put flakes of butter here and there over this. Bake half an hour. One or two tablespoons of rich cream poured over the top layer is an improvement.
From "Aunt Babette's Cook Book. Foreign and Domestic Receipts for the Household" by Aunt Babette. The Bloch Publishers and Printing Company, Cincinnati and Chicago, 1889.
One quart water, one quart milk, one quart can tomatoes, one teaspoonful soda, two tablespoonfuls cornstarch; cook the tomatoes in the water half an hour, then add soda, then milk which should be hot, cornstarch, a piece of butter half as large as an egg, salt and pepper to taste, strain and serve. I prefer to cook in porcelain. Mrs. B.M. Nichols.
From "The Woman Suffrage Cook Book" edited and published by Mrs. Hattie A. Burr. Copyright, 1886.
1 can tomatoes
1/4 cup sugar
3 slices onion
1 teaspoon salt
Few grains cayenne
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup corn-starch
Cook first four ingredients twenty minutes, rub all through a sieve except seeds, and season with salt and pepper. Melt butter, and when bubbling, add corn-starch and tomato gradually; cook two minutes,, then add egg slightly beaten. Pour into a buttered shallow tin and cool. Turn on a board, cut in squares, diamonds, or strips. Roll in crumbs, eggs, and crumbs again, fry in deep fat, and drain.
From "The Boston Cook-School Cook Book" by Fannie Merritt Farmer, Principal of the Boston Cooking-School. Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, 1896.
Historic Longstreet Farm is currently open to the public, operating on their summer schedule from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. through Labor Day. We ask that visitors continue social distancing and strongly recommend face coverings, especially when interacting with staff. We remind visitors that for both your safety and the safety of our animals, touching or feeding the animals is not permitted. We look forward to seeing you at the farm and be sure to take a walk past the garden to see what's currently growing.
- "History of Tomatoes", Vegetable Facts. http://www.vegetablefacts.net/vegetable-history/history-of-tomatoes/.
- "Tomatoes", New Jersey Department of Agriculture. https://www.nj.gov/agriculture/farmtoschool/documents/seasonality-chart/F2S%20Tomatoes.pdf.
- "Why the Tomato was Feared in Europe for More Than 200 Years" by K. Annabelle Smith. Smithsonianmag.com, July 18, 2013. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-the-tomato-was-feared-in-europe-for-more-than-200-years-863735/.