Tuesday, May 10, 2011

You say to-may-toe, I say to-mah-toe

Everyday we receive an email with the day's Writer's Almanac, edited by Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame.

Today's edition contained a fascinating discourse on whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable.  Did you know that even the U. S. Supreme Court has weighed in?


It was on this day in 1893 that the Supreme Court ruled that the tomato was a vegetable, not a fruit.
Their ruling was in light of a 10-year-old piece of legislation called the Tariff Act of 1883, which ruled that a 10 percent tax had to be paid on all imported vegetables. The case, known as Nix vs. Hedden, was filed by John Nix and several other tomato importers against Edward Hedden, the Collector of Customs at the Port of New York. The case wound up in the Supreme Court, where Webster’s Dictionary was heavily cited. The plaintiffs argued that according to the dictionary definition of fruit — the structure that grows from the flower of the plant and holds the seeds — a tomato was a fruit. They called two witnesses, both of whom heard the definitions of "fruit" and "vegetable" out of the dictionary and were asked whether those definitions were any different in the world of trade and commerce. Both talked for a while but said no, the definitions were no different. The counsel for the plaintiff then read the definition of tomato.
Each side then proceeded to read a series of Webster’s Dictionary definitions. The counsel for the defense read "egg plant," "squash," "pepper," and "cucumber" — all of which, like tomato, are fruits in the botanical sense — but which are widely considered vegetables. In response, the counsel for the plaintiff read the definitions of "potato," "turnip," "parsnip," "cauliflower," "cabbage," and "carrot," none of them botanical fruits but all considered vegetables.
Justice Gray delivered the opinion of the Court, and he said: "Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas. But in the common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert."
Nix v. Hedden has been referenced in numerous cases since, including a 1990 Second Circuit Court of Appeals case about a delay in a tomato shipment. The judge wrote: "In common parlance tomatoes are vegetables, as the Supreme Court observed long ago, see Nix v. Hedden, although botanically speaking they are actually a fruit. Regardless of classification, people have been enjoying tomatoes for centuries, even Mr. Pickwick, as Dickens relates, ate his chops in ‘tomata’ sauce."
The debate has continued, but the problem is that "vegetable" has no actual scientific or botanical definition — it is a culinary term. In 1987, the state of Arkansas designated the Vine Ripe Pink Tomato as their official state fruit and vegetable.
Tomatoes were slow to catch on in the United States — in 1845, the editor of the Boston Courier wrote that tomatoes were "the mere fungus of an offensive plant, which one cannot touch without an immediate application of soap and water with an infusion of eau de cologne ... deliver us, O ye caterers of luxuries, ye gods and goddesses of the science of cookery! deliver us from tomatoes!" This opinion was echoed over and over again by journalists, agricultural experts, farmers, and gardeners across the country.
The poem "To Preserve Tomatoes" by "A.B." was published in the "Ladies’ Department" of the American Agriculturist in July of 1849, the first known tomato poem to appear in America:
"Six pounds of tomatoes first carefully wipe,
Not fluted nor green, but round, ruddy, and ripe;
After scalding, and peeling, and rinsing them nice —
With dext’rous fingers ‘tis done in a trice —
Add three pounds of sugar, (Orleans will suit)
In layers alternate of sugar and fruit.
In a deep earthen dish, let them stand for a night,
Allowing the sugar and juice to unite!
Boil the sirup next day in a very clean kettle,
(Not iron, but copper, zinc, brass or bell-metal)
Which having well skimmed, ‘till you think ‘twil suffice
Throw in the tomatoes, first adding some spice —
Cloves, cinnamon, mace, or whate’er you like best —
‘Twill add to the flavor, and give them a zest,
Boil slowly together until the begin
To shrink at the sides, and appear to fall in,
Then take them up lightly, and lay them to cool,
Still boiling the sirup, according to rule,
Until it is perfectly clear and translucent —
Your skill will direct you, or else there’s no use in’t —
Then into the jars, where the fruit is placed proper,
Pour boiling the sirup, direct from the copper.
After standing till cold, dip some paper in brandy,
Or rum, or in whisky, if that is more handy,
Lay it over the fruit with attention and care,
And run on mutton suet to keep out the air,
Then tie a strong paper well over the top —
And, ‘now that I think on’t the story may stop.’
If you’ll follow these rules, your preserves, never fear,
Will keep in good order till this time next year."
Pablo Neruda wrote "Ode to Tomatoes"
"The street
filled with tomatoes,
midday,
summer,
light is
halved
like
a
tomato,
its juice
runs
through the streets.
In December,
unabated,
the tomato
invades
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
takes
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
sinks
into living flesh,
red
viscera
a cool
sun,
profound,
inexhaustible,
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
we
pour
oil,
essential
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
pepper
adds
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
parsley
hoists
its flag,
potatoes
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
knocks
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
star,
displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness." 

1 comment:

  1. Such a great information and I've been looking for this..

    ReplyDelete

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