Sunday Food: Tomatogeddon
(Picture courtesy of The Library of Congress at flickr.com.)
Anyone who grows tomatoes in the northern states has the problem that due to the long period they take to ripen, planting them all at once in spring means when they ripen, they are really plentiful.
Of course, almost everyone is glad to be gifted with tomatoes, as those who don’t eat them – as the fruit that they are – can make them into some sauces.
Tomatoes originated in Mexico, and spread throughout the world. They’re associated with Spain (which should read Italy) because of the pasta sauces they nearly dominate, but were considered undesirable for a long time.
The recorded history of tomatoes in Italy dates back to October 31, 1548 when the house steward of Cosimo de’ Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany, wrote to the Medici private secretary informing him that the basket of tomatoes sent from the grand duke’s Florentine estate at Torre del Gallo “had arrived safely.” Tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamentals early on after their arrival in Italy. For example, the Florentine aristocrat Giovanvettorio Soderini wrote how they “were to be sought only for their beauty” and were grown only in gardens or flower beds. The tomato’s ability to mutate and create new and different varieties helped contribute to its success and spread throughout Italy. However, even in areas where the climate supported growing tomatoes, their proximity of growing to the ground suggested low status. They were not adopted as a staple of the peasant population because they were not as filling as other fruits already available. Additionally, both toxic and inedible varieties discouraged many people from attempting to consume or prepare them.
The growing of tomatoes requires several kinds of attention, and a cage or fence often keeps the prolific vines from the ground where beasties and rot take a lot of your crop. Other forms of attackers can be fought off with natural means.
Tomatoes serve, or are served by, a large variety of companion plants.
Additionally, the devastating tomato hornworm has a major predator in various parasitic wasps, whose larvae devour the hornworm, but whose adult form drinks nectar from tiny-flowered plants like umbellifers. Several species of umbellifer are therefore often grown with tomato plants, including parsley, queen anne’s lace, and occasionally dill. These also attract predatory flies that attack various tomato pests.
Other plants with strong scents, like alliums (onions, chives, garlic) and mints (basil, oregano, spearmint) are simply thought to mask the scent of the tomato plant, making it harder for pests to locate it, or to provide an alternative landing point, reducing the odds of the pests from attacking the correct plant. These plants may also subtly impact the flavor of tomato fruit.
Ground cover plants, including mints, also stabilize moisture loss around tomato plants and other solaneae, which come from very humid climates, and therefore may prevent moisture-related problems like blossom end rot.
Finally, tap-root plants like dandelions break up dense soil and bring nutrients from down below a tomato plant’s reach, possibly benefiting their companion.
Tomato plants, on the other hand, protect asparagus from asparagus beetles, because they contain solanum that kills this pest, while asparagus plants (as well as marigolds) contain a chemical that repels root nematodes known to attack tomato plants.
Decorative for the table and wonderful to the taste, tomatoes are a wonderful gardening delight.
We’re overwhelmed with our fruit at the moment, but the mail deliverer has already told us neighbors’ chickens devastated their garden so she ought to be happy with the package that went into our mailbox pickup on Saturday.
Rabbit, Rabbit (first day of the month superstition/tradition)