Oct 202017
 

Today is the birthday (1819) of the Báb (“the door/gate”), whose birth name was Sayyed ʿAli Muhammad Shirāzi (سيد علی ‌محمد شیرازی‎‎ —  descendant of the prophet Ali Muhammad from Shiraz), the founder of Bábism, and one of the central figures of the Azali and Bahá’í faiths. His birthday is celebrated in the Bahá’í tradition on this date using the Gregorian calendar rather than the Islamic or Bahá’í calendars. He is considered to be a figure rather like John the Baptist in the Christian tradition, that is, a forerunner who prepared the way for Bahá’u’lláh. (see https://www.bookofdaystales.com/ascension-of-bahaullah/ ). He also has followers in his own right. Bahá’ís claim that the Báb was the spiritual return of Elijah and John the Baptist, that he was the saoshyant referred to in Zoroastrianism, and that he was the forerunner of their own religion. Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, was a follower of the Báb and claimed to be the fulfillment of his promise that God would send another messenger. What follows gets a bit detailed and I understand if it is a bit much to digest for a simple daily post. I do think it is important, however, to glimpse the historical evolution of branches of Islam. The average non-Muslim Westerner doesn’t even know the difference between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, let alone the branches of these main denominations.

The Báb was born in Shiraz to a middle-class merchant of the city. His father was Muhammad Ridá, and his mother was Fátimih (1800–1881), a daughter of a prominent merchant in Shiraz. She later became a Bahá’í. His father died while he was quite young and he was raised by his maternal uncle, Hájí Mírzá Siyyid `Alí, who was also a merchant. He claimed to be a descendant from Muhammad (a sayyid) through Husayn ibn Ali through both his parents. When he was in Shiraz his uncle sent him to maktab (primary school) and he was there for 6 to 7 years. Some time between when he was 15 and 20, he joined his uncle in the family business, a trading house, and became a merchant in the city of Bushehr in Iran, near the Persian Gulf. Some of his earlier writings suggest that he did not enjoy the business and instead applied himself to the study of religious literature. One of his contemporary followers described him as,

. . . very taciturn, and  would never utter a word unless it was absolutely necessary. He did not even answer our questions. He was constantly absorbed in his own thoughts, and was preoccupied with repetition of his prayers and verses. He was a handsome man with a thin beard, dressed in clean clothes, wearing a green shawl and a black turban.

An English physician him as a young man by saying: “He was a very mild and delicate-looking man, rather small in stature and very fair for a Persian, with a melodious soft voice, which struck me much.

In 1842 he married Khadíjih-Bagum (1822–1882); he was 23 and she was 20. She was the daughter of a prominent merchant in Shiraz. They had only one child, a boy named Ahmad who died the year he was born (1843). The pregnancy jeopardized Khadijih’s life and she never conceived again. The young couple occupied a modest house in Shiraz along with the Báb’s mother. Later, Khadijih became a Bahá’í.

In the 1790s in Persia, Shaykh Ahmad (1753–1826) began a religious movement within Twelver Shia Islam. His followers, who became known as Shaykhis, were expecting the imminent appearance of the al-Qa’im of the Ahl al-Bayt also called “the Mahdi” (the 12th (hidden) Imam, somewhat akin to a Messiah, whom some Twelver Muslims believe will appear at the second coming of Jesus). After the death of Shaykh Ahmad, leadership was passed on to Kazim Rashti (1793–1843). In 1841 the Báb went on pilgrimage to Iraq, and for seven months stayed mostly in and around Karbala. There he is believed to have met Kazim Rashti, who showed a high regard for him. He is believed to have attended some of Kazim Rashti’s lectures. On his death bed in December 1843, Kazim Rashti counselled his followers to leave their homes to seek the Mahdi, who, according to his prophecies, would soon appear. One of these followers, Mullá Husayn, after keeping vigil for 40 days in a mosque, travelled to Shiraz, where he met the Báb.

The Báb’s first religious inspirational experience, witnessed by his wife, is dated to about the evening of 3 April 1844. The Báb’s first public connection with his sense of a mission came with the arrival of Mullá Husayn in Shiraz. On the night of 22 May, Mullá Husayn was invited by the Báb to his home. On that night Mullá Husayn told him that he was searching for the possible successor to Kazim Rashti, the Promised One. The Báb told Mullá Husayn that he was Kazim Rashti’s successor and the bearer of divine knowledge. Mullá Husayn became the first to accept the Báb’s claims to be an inspired figure and a likely successor to Kazim Rashti. The Báb had replied satisfactorily to all of Mullá Husayn’s questions and had written in his presence, with extreme rapidity, a long tafsir (commentary) on surah “Yusuf”, which has come to be known as the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’ and is considered the Báb’s first revealed work.

Mullá Husayn was the Báb’s first disciple. Within five months, seventeen other disciples of Kazim Rashti had accepted the Báb as a Manifestation of God. Among them was one woman, Fátimih Zarrín Táj Baragháni, a poet, who later received the name of Táhirih (the Pure). These 18 disciples were later to be known as the Letters of the Living and were given the task of spreading the new faith across Iran and Iraq. The Báb emphasized the spiritual station of these 18 individuals, who, along with himself, made the first “Unity” of his religion (in Arabic, the term wāhid “unity” has a numerical value of 19 using abjad numerals). The Báb, in his book the Persian Bayán, gives the metaphorical identity of the Letters of the Living as the Fourteen Infallibles of Twelver Shi’i Islam (Muhammad, the Twelve Imams, and Fatimah) and the four archangels. In his early writings, the Báb appears to identify himself as the gate (báb) to the Hidden Twelfth Imam, and later he begins explicitly to proclaim his station as that of the Hidden Imam and a new messenger from God.

In the Báb’s early writings, the exalted identity he was claiming was unmistakable, but because of the skeptical reception of this pronouncement by many people, his writings appear to convey the impression that he is only the gate to the Hidden Twelfth Imam. To his circle of early believers, the Báb was equivocal about his exact status, gradually confiding in them that he was not merely a gate to the Hidden Imam, but the Manifestation of the Hidden Imam and the Qa’im himself. During his early meetings with Mullá Husayn, the Báb described himself as the Master and the Promised One; he did not consider himself to be simply Kazim Rashti’s successor, but claimed a prophetic status, a kind of deputy, delegated not just by the Hidden Imam but through Divine authority.

In the early phase of his declaration to the public, the title báb was emphasized as that of the gate leading to the Hidden Imam, as the Báb had told his early believers not to fully disclose his claims or reveal his name. The approach of laying claim to a lower position was intended to create a sense of anticipation for the appearance of the Hidden Imam, as well to avoid persecution and imprisonment, because a public proclamation of mahdi status could have brought upon the Báb a swift penalty of death. After a couple of months, as the Báb observed further acceptance and readiness among his believers and the public, he gradually shifted his public claim to that of the Hidden Imam. Then in his final years he publicly announced his station as a Manifestation of God.

After the eighteen Letters of the Living had accepted him, the Báb and the eighteenth Letter of the Living, Quddús, left on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. At the Kaaba in Mecca, the Báb publicly declared his claim to be the Qa’im or Mahdi. He also wrote to the Sharif of Mecca, the Custodian of the Kaaba, proclaiming his mission. After their pilgrimage, the Báb and Quddús returned to Bushehr in Iran.

Preaching by the Letters of the Living led to opposition by Islamic clergy, prompting the Governor of Shiraz to order the Báb’s arrest. The Báb, upon hearing of the arrest order, left Bushehr for Shiraz in June 1845 and presented himself to the authorities. He was placed under house arrest at the home of his uncle until a cholera epidemic broke out in the city in September 1846. The Báb was released and departed for Isfahan. There, many came to see him at the house of the imam jum’a, head of the local clergy, who became sympathetic. After an informal gathering where the Báb debated the local clergy and displayed his speed in producing instantaneous verses, his popularity soared. After the death of the governor of Isfahan, Manouchehr Khan Gorji, who had become his supporter, pressure from the clergy of the province led to the Shah, Mohammad Shah Qajar, ordering the Báb to Tehran in January 1847. After spending several months in a camp outside Tehran, and before the Báb could meet the Shah, the Prime Minister sent the Báb to Tabriz in the northwestern corner of the country, where he was imprisoned.

After forty days in Tabriz, the Báb was then transferred to the fortress of Maku in the province of Azerbaijian close to the Turkish border. During his incarceration there, the Báb began his most important work, the Persian Bayán, which he never finished. Because of the Báb’s growing popularity in Maku and the governor of Maku converting, the prime minister transferred him to the fortress of Chehriq in April 1848. In that place as well, the Báb’s popularity grew and his jailors relaxed restrictions on him. It was at this time that Áqa Bálá Big Shíshvání Naqshbandí painted the only known portrait of the Báb. The Prime Minister ordered the Báb back to Tabriz, where the government called on religious authorities to put the Báb on trial for blasphemy and apostasy.

The trial, attended by the Crown Prince, occurred in July 1848 and involved numerous local clergy. They questioned the Báb about the nature of his claims, his teachings, and demanded that he produce miracles to prove his divine authority. They admonished him to recant his claims. There are nine extant eyewitness reports of the trial which vary somewhat in terms of the questions asked and the answers given. Only one answer is found in all nine eyewitness sources, where the Báb states that “I am that person you have been awaiting for one thousand years.”

The trial did not bring a decisive result. Some clergy called for capital punishment, but the government pressured them to issue a lenient judgement because the Báb was popular. The government asked medical experts to declare the Báb insane so that he could not be executed. It is also likely that the government, to appease the religious clergy, spread rumours that the Báb had recanted. The Shaykh al-Islām, a champion of the anti-Bábist campaign, who was not at the Báb’s trial, issued a conditional death sentence if the Báb was found to be sane. A fatwa was issued establishing the Báb’s apostasy which stated, “The repentance of an incorrigible apostate is not accepted, and the only thing which has caused the postponement of your execution is a doubt as to your sanity of mind.”

The crown prince’s physician, William Cormick, examined the Báb and complied with the government’s request to find grounds for clemency. The physician’s opinion saved the Báb from execution for a time, but the clergy insisted that he face corporal punishment instead, so the Báb suffered foot whipping (twenty lashes to the bottoms of his feet). The unsigned and undated official government report states that because of his harsh beating, the Báb (orally and in writing) recanted, apologized, and stated that he would not continue to advance claims of divinity. The document of his alleged recantation was written shortly after his trial in Tabriz. Some authors believe that the assertions were made to embarrass the Báb and undermine his credibility with the public and that the language of this document is very different from the Báb’s usual style, so that it could have been prepared by the authorities.

After the trial, the Báb was ordered back to the fortress of Chehríq. In mid-1850 a new prime-minister, Amir Kabir, ordered the execution of the Báb, probably because various Bábí insurrections had been defeated and the movement’s popularity appeared to be waning. The Báb was brought back to Tabriz from Chehriq for an execution by firing squad. The night before his execution, as he was being conducted to his cell, a young Bábí, Muhammad-Ali “Anis” from Zonuz, threw himself at the feet of the Báb and begged to be killed with him. He was immediately arrested and placed in the same cell as the Báb.

On the morning of July 9, 1850, the Báb was taken to the courtyard of the barracks in which he was being held, where thousands of people had gathered to watch his execution. The Báb and Anís were suspended on a wall and a large firing squad of Christian soldiers prepared to shoot. Numerous eye-witness reports, including those of Western diplomats, recount the result. The order was given to fire and the barracks square filled with musket smoke. When it cleared, the Báb was no longer in the courtyard and his companion stood there unharmed. The bullets apparently had not harmed either man, but had cut the rope suspending them from the wall. There was a great commotion, many in the crowd believing the Báb had ascended to heaven or simply disappeared. But the soldiers subsequently found the Báb in another part of the barracks, completely unharmed, giving his final instructions to his secretary. He and Anis were tied up for execution a second time, a second firing squad of Muslim soldiers was ranged in front of them, and a second order to fire was given. This time, the Báb and his companion were killed. In Bábí and Bahá’í tradition, the failure of the first firing squad to kill the Báb is believed to have been a miracle. Their corpses were dumped outside the gates of the town to be eaten by animals.

The corpses, however, were clandestinely rescued by a handful of Bábis and were hidden. Over time the remains were secretly transported according to instructions of Bahá’u’lláh and then `Abdu’l-Bahá by way of Isfahan, Kirmanshah, Baghdad and Damascus, to Beirut and thence by sea to Acre on the plain below Mount Carmel in 1899. On March 21, 1909, the remains were then interred in a special tomb, the Shrine of the Báb, erected for this purpose by `Abdu’l-Bahá, on Mount Carmel in present-day Haifa in Israel. The Bahá’í World Centre is located close to this site.

Bahá’ís and Bábis treat today as a holy day, ceasing work and holding festive gatherings. Something Persian/Iranian is suitable and I have chosen an eggplant and tomato stew, Khoresh Bademjan, which is very popular. It usually contains meat of some sort – lamb or beef – but I am giving a vegan version here because many Bahá’ís and Bábis (not all), refrain from eating meat. Given that the dish’s main ingredients are eggplants and tomatoes, which are New World cultigens, it’s not an ancient dish by any means. But, given that the Báb lived in the 19th century an ancient dish is not called for. One of the main ingredients is pomegranate molasses. I give a recipe for here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/cyrus-the-great/  or you can buy it online. The dish is normally accompanied by a yoghurt sauce, and should be served with rice.

Khoresh Bademjan

Ingredients

For the Eggplant and Tomato Stew:

1 ½ pounds eggplant, stemmed, peeled, and cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled, and finely sliced
3 large cloves garlic, peeled, and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp sea salt (plus extra for salting the eggplant)
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, drained
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
1 pinch saffron

For the Yogurt Herb Sauce:

6 oz plain yogurt
¼ cup fresh, chopped dill
2 or 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
salt

Instructions

Place the eggplant in a large colander set over a bowl. Sprinkle generously with sea or kosher salt and set aside. For 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Heat the ¼ cup of olive oil over medium high heat in a Dutch oven or deep, heavy skillet. Add the onions and sauté until they are soft and translucent, and beginning to brown in spots. Add the garlic, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and salt, and sauté about a minute longer, stirring until the onions are coated and the spices are aromatic.

Press the eggplant well in the colander to release trapped fluid, and then turn it out on to paper towels and pat dry.    Add the eggplant to the pan. Drizzle the pan with the extra 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté, turning to coat the eggplant in the onion and spice mixture. Continue until the eggplant is tender and shrinks in volume (about 10 15 minutes).

Stir in the tomatoes, using a wooden spoon to break them into chunks. Add ½ cup of water, pomegranate molasses, and saffron. Stir well. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and cook covered for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To make the yogurt sauce mix together the yogurt, dill, garlic, and salt to taste in a small bowl. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve. The sauce can be made several hours ahead.

To serve top with the yogurt sauce, and extra fresh chopped herbs, if desired.

Apr 092016
 

pr1

Today is the birthday (1898) of Paul Leroy Robeson, U.S.  singer and actor, and activist with the Civil Rights Movement. At Rutgers College, he was an outstanding football player, then had an international career in singing, with a distinctive, powerful, deep bass voice, as well as acting in theater and movies. He became politically involved in response to the Spanish Civil War, fascism, and social injustices. His advocacy of anti-imperialism, affiliation with communism, and criticism of the United States government caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Ill health forced him into retirement from his career.

pr6

Robeson won an academic scholarship to Rutgers College, where he became a football All-American and the class valedictorian. He received his LL.B. from Columbia Law School, while playing in the National Football League (NFL). At Columbia, he sang and acted in off-campus productions; and, after graduating, he became a participant in the Harlem Renaissance with performances in The Emperor Jones and All God’s Chillun Got Wings. Robeson initiated his international artistic résumé with a theatrical role in Great Britain, settling in London for the next several years with his wife Essie.

pr4

Robeson next appeared as Othello at the Savoy Theatre before becoming an international cinema star through roles in Show Boat and Sanders of the River. As he traveled he became increasingly aware of the sufferings of other cultures and peoples due to global imperialism. Although he was warned of his economic ruin if he became politically active, he set aside his theatrical career to advocate for the cause of the Republican forces of the Spanish Civil War. He then became active in the Council on African Affairs (CAA).

pr3

During World War II, he supported the U.S. war efforts and won accolades for his portrayal of Othello on Broadway. However, his history of supporting pro-Soviet policies brought scrutiny from the FBI. After the war ended, the CAA was placed on the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations and Robeson was investigated during the age of McCarthyism. Due to his decision not to recant his public advocacy of pro-Soviet policies, he was denied a passport by the U.S. State Department, and his income, consequently, plummeted. He moved to Harlem where he published a periodical critical of United States policies. His right to travel was eventually restored by the 1958 United States Supreme Court decision, Kent v. Dulles, but his health broke down. He retired and he lived out the remaining years of his life privately in Philadelphia.

Robeson’s performance of “Ol’ Man River” is now iconic, and is the yardstick by which all other performances are judged:

The Paul Robeson tomato is an heirloom varietal that originated in the Soviet Union and named in his honor. It’s a dark, large, oblate, robust tomato with a strong slightly smoky flavor. You won’t find it for sale but you can get the seeds online if you are a home grower.  For example: http://www.rareseeds.com/paul-robeson-tomato/

pr8

The Paul Robeson tomato is perfect for tomato sandwiches. For the absolute purist, a tomato sandwich consists of slices of ripe juicy tomato between two slices of bread, with a sprinkling of salt as the only seasoning. You have to eat a good one over the sink to avoid making a mess. I’ve had to launder countless shirts as witness to this. I love tomato sandwiches as a quick lunch, but there was also a period in China last year when I practically lived on them because they were cheap to make and I didn’t have a kitchen.

For variety I added some extras once in a while, such as tomato ketchup, or a slice of cheese. You are on your own here – bacon, avocado, mayonnaise . . . whatever. The main point to remember is that you are making a TOMATO sandwich. The tomato is the main event. You’re not making a sandwich that INCLUDES tomato – such as the BLT. Tomato is the star. Treat it that way.

 

May 102014
 

tom1

Before I get into a discussion of tomatoes I would like to wish this blog a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY. On 10 May 2013, I wrote my first post which you can find here:

https://www.bookofdaystales.com/micronesia-day/

You will note that my posts were very short in the early days, and it took me a few months to hit my stride. Now that I am into a new year I want to reassure you all that for the most part there will not be any repeats. Once in a while I might approach the same topic from a different angle, particularly if I am stuck for choice. Every day of the year has multiple feasts, birthdays, events and so forth associated with it. But I choose my daily topic very carefully, and I filter out a great many topics. For example, I try not to celebrate famous battles, unless they have transformed into national holidays and the like. I also try to avoid tyrants and other infamous types, although I make exceptions. Add to the mix the fact that I like to have a great deal of variety; I don’t want to post a succession of saints’ days or focus on one region of the globe for extended periods. And, course, the subject has to interest me. It all makes my labors challenging. On this day, in particular, I would especially welcome comments on how I am doing so far. Now . . . tomatoes.

tom2

On this date in 1893 in the case of Nix v. Hedden the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the decision that, under U.S. customs regulations, the tomato should be classified as a vegetable rather than a fruit. The Court’s unanimous opinion held that the Tariff Act of 1883 used the ordinary meaning of the words “fruit” and “vegetable,” instead of the technical botanical meaning. The Tariff Act of 3 March, 1883 required a tax to be paid on imported vegetables, but not fruit. The case was filed as an action by John Nix, John W. Nix, George W. Nix, and Frank W. Nix against Edward L. Hedden, Collector of the Port of New York, to recover back duties paid under protest.

Botanically, a tomato is a fruit: the enlarged ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant. However, the tomato has a much lower sugar content than other edible fruits, and is therefore not as sweet. Because it is typically served as part of a salad or cooked in the main course of a meal, rather than as dessert, it is considered a vegetable for most culinary uses. One exception is that tomatoes are treated as a fruit in home canning practices; they are acidic enough to process in a water bath rather than a pressure cooker as vegetables require. Tomatoes are not the only food source with this ambiguity: green beans, eggplants, cucumbers, and squashes of all kinds (such as zucchini and pumpkins) are all botanically fruits, yet cooked as vegetables.

At the trial, the plaintiffs’ counsel, after reading in evidence definitions of the words ‘fruit’ and ‘vegetables’ from Webster’s Dictionary, Worcester’s Dictionary, and the Imperial Dictionary, called two witnesses, who had been in the business of selling fruit and vegetables for 30 years, and asked them, after hearing these definitions, to say whether these words had “any special meaning in trade or commerce, different from those read.”

During testimony, one witness testified that in regard to the dictionary definition:

[the dictionary] does not classify all things there, but they are correct as far as they go. It does not take all kinds of fruit or vegetables; it takes a portion of them. I think the words ‘fruit’ and ‘vegetable’ have the same meaning in trade today that they had on March 1, 1883. I understand that the term ‘fruit’ is applied in trade only to such plants or parts of plants as contain the seeds. There are more vegetables than those in the enumeration given in Webster’s Dictionary under the term ‘vegetable,’ as ‘cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes, peas, beans, and the like,’ probably covered by the words ‘and the like.’

Another witness testified: “I don’t think the term ‘fruit’ or the term ‘vegetables’ had, in March 1883, and prior thereto, any special meaning in trade and commerce in this country different from that which I have read here from the dictionaries.”

Both the plaintiffs’ counsel and the defendant’s counsel made use of the dictionaries. The plaintiffs’ counsel read in evidence from the same dictionaries the definitions of the word tomato, while the defendant’s counsel then read in evidence from Webster’s Dictionary the definitions of the words pea, eggplant, cucumber, squash, and pepper. Countering this, the plaintiff then read in evidence from Webster’s and Worcester’s dictionaries the definitions of potato, turnip, parsnip, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot and bean.

The court unanimously decided in favor of the defense and found that the tomato should be classified under the customs regulations as a vegetable, based on the ways in which it is used, and the popular perception to this end. Justice Horace Gray, writing the opinion for the Court, stated that:

The passages cited from the dictionaries define the word ‘fruit’ as the seed of plants, or that part of plants which contains the seed, and especially the juicy, pulpy products of certain plants, covering and containing the seed. These definitions have no tendency to show that tomatoes are ‘fruit,’ as distinguished from ‘vegetables,’ in common speech, or within the meaning of the tariff act.

Justice Gray, citing several Supreme Court cases (Brown v. Piper, 91 U.S. 37, 42, and Jones v. U.S., 137 U.S. 202, 216) stated that when words have acquired no special meaning in trade or commerce, the ordinary meaning must be used by the court. In this case dictionaries cannot be admitted as evidence, but only as aids to the memory and understanding of the court. Gray acknowledged that botanically, tomatoes are classified as a “fruit of the vine.” Nevertheless, they are seen as vegetables because they are usually eaten as a main course instead of being eaten as a dessert. In making his decision, Justice Gray mentioned another case where it had been claimed that beans were seeds — Justice Bradley, in Robertson v. Salomon, 130 U.S. 412, 414, similarly found that though a bean is botanically a seed, in common parlance a bean is seen as a vegetable. While on the subject, Gray clarified the status of the cucumber, squash, pea, and bean.

Nix has been cited in three Supreme Court decisions as a precedent for court interpretation of common meanings, especially dictionary definitions. (Sonn v. Maggone, 159 U.S. 417 (1895); Saltonstall v. Wiebusch & Hilger, 156 U.S. 601 (1895); and Cadwalder v. Zeh, 151 U.S. 171 (1894)). Additionally, in JSG Trading Corp. v. Tray-Wrap, Inc., 917 F.2d 75 (2d Cir. 1990), a case unrelated to Nix aside from the shared focus on tomatoes, a judge wrote the following paragraph citing the case:

In common parlance tomatoes are vegetables, as the Supreme Court observed long ago, see Nix v. Hedden 149 U.S. 304, 307, 13 S.Ct. 881, 882, 37 L.Ed. 745 (1893), although botanically speaking they are actually a fruit. 26 Encyclopedia Americana 832 (Int’l. ed. 1981). Regardless of classification, people have been enjoying tomatoes for centuries, even Mr. Pickwick, as Dickens relates, ate his chops in ‘tomata’ sauce.

In 2005, supporters in the New Jersey legislature cited Nix as a basis for a bill designating the tomato as the official state vegetable. Arkansas, to be safe, designates the South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato as the state fruit AND the state vegetable.

tom3

The word “tomato” comes from the Spanish tomate, which in turn comes from the Nahuatl word tomatotl. It first appeared in print in 1595. Because the tomato is a member of the (deadly) nightshade family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous by Europeans who were suspicious of their bright, shiny fruit. Native versions were small, like cherry tomatoes, and most likely yellow rather than red. The tomato is native to western South America and Central America. Aztecs and other peoples in Mesoamerica used the fruit in their cooking. The exact date of domestication is unknown, but by 500 BCE, it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico and probably other areas. The large, lumpy tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica, and is probably the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is probably the first person to have taken the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, in 1521, although Christopher Columbus may have taken them back as early as 1493. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in an herbal written in 1544 by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, an Italian physician and botanist, who suggested that a new type of eggplant had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden color when mature and could be divided into segments and eaten like an eggplant—that is, cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil. However it wasn’t until ten years later that tomatoes were named in print by Mattioli as pomi d’oro, or “golden apple.”

tom4

The poor taste and lack of sugar in modern garden and commercial tomato varieties resulted from breeding tomatoes to ripen uniformly red. This change occurred after discovery of a variety in the mid-20th century that ripened uniformly. This was widely cross-bred to produce red fruit without the typical green ring around the stem on uncross-bred varieties. Prior to general introduction of this trait, most tomatoes produced more sugar during ripening, and were sweeter and more flavorful.

New World cultigens transformed Old World cuisine immeasurably, and arguably the tomato, because of its versatility, had the greatest impact of them all. Imagine southern Italian cooking without the tomato, for example. Think of all of the tomato’s uses as juice, paste, cooked, and raw – Bloody Mary, gazpacho, ketchup, chutneys . . . If you are stuck for a party game try reciting the alphabet naming foods using tomatoes.

You may notice that in my recipes I often specify canned tomatoes for stews and sauces. This is a special case where a canned product is to be preferred over the fresh or frozen version. Fresh tomatoes do not provide the richness that canned ones do in most instances. This is not to say that you cannot use fresh ones, but the taste will be different. When I make chili, for example, I use either fresh or canned depending on what I have on hand. Both are good, but I prefer the version made with canned. I am not entirely sure why canned (commercial or homemade) tomatoes have this effect, but I suspect it is because they are double cooked – once in the cooking process, and second in the dish – thus giving time for the flavors to develop.

I had to think long and hard before selecting a recipe for today. I’ve created my own gazpacho sorbet which is really refreshing as a starter for a summer meal which I really like, and I thought might be a winner. But in the end I decided to thwart the findings of Nix v Hedden and give you a recipe for tomatoes used in a dessert. Chefs have experimented with using tomatoes in sweet dishes for some time. You’ll find recipes for tomato ice creams, sorbets, and granitas, for example. However, the flavor of red tomatoes is not especially conducive to heavy sweetening, and a large number of such recipes incorporate other fruits, such as plums or strawberries (botanically NOT a fruit!), to add flavor. Green tomatoes are a different matter. They can easily be incorporated into cooked dessert dishes as in the traditional Southern green tomato pie. This pie is no more than a standard apple pie recipe replacing the apples with green tomatoes. Gardeners are always trying to figure out uses for end of season green tomatoes and often end up pickling or frying them. Here’s your chance to widen your horizons. You can use your favorite apple pie recipe. Here is just one example from North Carolina. You will find an excellent recipe for the pastry under my Hints tab.

tom5

Green Tomato Pie

Ingredients

1 ½ cups sugar
5 tbsps all purpose flour
2 tsps ground cinnamon
pinch salt
3 cups thinly sliced green tomatoes
1 tbsp cider vinegar
pastry for double-crust pie (9 inches)
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten

Instructions

Mix the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes and vinegar, and toss so that the tomatoes are evenly coated.

Line a pie plate with a bottom crust. Add the filling and dot it evenly with butter.

Roll out the remaining pastry and cut it into strips to make a lattice top crust (or you can simply top the pie with a regular crust).

Brush the crust with egg, and bake in a 350°/175°C oven for 1 hour.

Cool on a wire rack to room temperature.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.