September 4, 2009, Posted by Carmen Lopez Marshall at 7:53 pm | No Comments

The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum, syn. Lycopersicon lycopersicum & Lycopersicon esculentum) is a herbaceous, usually sprawling plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family that is typically cultivated for the purpose of harvesting its fruit for human consumption. Savory in flavor (and accordingly termed a vegetable; see section Fruit or vegetable below), the fruit of most varietals ripens to a distinctive red color. Tomato plants typically reach to 1–3 metres (3–10 ft) in height, and have a weak, woody stem that often vines over other plants. The leaves are 10–25 centimetres (4–10 in) long, odd pinnate, with 5–9 leaflets on petioles, each leaflet up to 8 centimetres (3 in) long, with a serrated margin; both the stem and leaves are densely glandular-hairy. The flowers are 1–2 centimetres (0.4–0.8 in) across, yellow, with five pointed lobes on the corolla; they are borne in a cyme of 3–12 together. It is a perennial, often grown outdoors in temperate climates as an annual.

Wild relatives of the tomato originated in the coastal highlands of western South America, leading to their domestication by Mesoamericans such as the Aztec and Mayan. Herman Cortes first encountered organic tomatoes during his conquest of Mexico in 1519.

Sun-dried tomatoes as a foodstuff originated in southern Italy, where tomatoes are split in half, lightly salted, put out in the sun in the morning each day for a few days, and then taken inside every night.

Many of what are now called heirloom tomatoes (Green Zebra, Marvel Stripe, Yellow Pear, etcetera) were not, in fact, varieties available before 1900. However, these heirloom tomatoes have all been bred for cultivation by family farmers and home gardeners — and not for the grace and favor of agribusiness (i.e. ease of handling, canning, and long-distance travel).

Cooked tomatoes are about the best source on the planet of the caretenoid lycopene, an anti-cancer compound (watermelons rank in distant second-place for lycopenes).

Tomatoes should -never- be refrigerated, as refrigeration dehydrates flavor out of what were once called love apples. Commercially-grown, as opposed to locally-grown, tomatoes will always suffer from this mistreatment.

Tomato plants respond fabulously to horse manure, and under certain conditions, do not need to be watered in the final stages of growth (“dry farmed”). This concentrates their flavor wonderfully well. Marigolds grown with tomatoes help keep horned tomato caterpillars away.

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