Is there anything that screams "summer" more than picking and eating a red, ripe homegrown tomato? It's something I finally got to experience Monday after last week's column complaining about how long it was taking my tomatoes to ripen.
It seems like every backyard in northeast Ohio has at least one tomato plant growing during the summer, and local garden centers agree that tomatoes are one of the most popular plants sold during the summer.
"I couldn't even hazard a guess," said Jerry Miskolcze of Blue Jean Farms in Warren when asked how many tomato plants are sold during the summer. "Thousands and thousands of them. We just keep planting."
At long last, my tomatoes are ripening and ready to eat.
Miskolcze said that at Blue Jean Farms, they typically do three plantings during the season to keep up with demand. "I'm guessing about 20,000 just in the first planting."
Jamie Airhart at Gilmore's Greenhouse in Warren said that they planted about 13,400 tomato plants this year, and they sell 42 varieties of tomatoes.
Not bad for a veggie that people once thought was toxic.
One legend I found while doing some online research involved a soldier who, despite dire warnings of the horrific death that awaited him, offered to eat an entire basket of tomatoes in front of a crowd of spectators. To the shock (and implied disappointment) of the crowd, the soldier ate his tomatoes and lived to tell the tale.
Apparently, it was the smell of the leaves - something I actually enjoy - that led people to believe that the tomato might be hazardous to their health.
On the contrary, tomatoes are chock-full of lycopene, which is an antioxidant. According to the American Cancer Society, some studies suggest that a diet rich in tomatoes may prevent certain types of cancer. The results aren't conclusive, and there's no evidence that tomatoes are a miracle cure for cancer, but the ACS notes that a diet full of veggies, including tomatoes, isn't going to do any harm.
"Based on today's evidence, the foods you eat are likely to play a greater role in preventing cancer than in treating it," the ACS's information sheet on lycopene states.
As for that ongoing debate about whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, that was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893 - though it may be a fruit by botanical standards, the tomato is a vegetable for tax and tariff purposes. The judges based their decision on the fact that tomatoes are most often served with the main course at dinner and not as dessert.
Fruit or vegetable, toh-may-toe, toh-mah-toe, I still look forward to that first, tart bite each summer.
But when it comes to home gardens, tomatoes may not be leading the popularity contest, at least around here.
Miskolcze said that because more home gardeners try to start their tomato plants indoors (and I'm guilty as charged), he's noticed that peppers, which take longer to germinate, edge out tomatoes as far as sales.
Airhart agreed. "It seems like we grow a lot more peppers than tomatoes," she said. "I just think we have a lot more people coming in looking for peppers."
"All the veggies play real heavily the past couple of years," Miskolcze said.
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