Amazing, Historical Ways To Use Tomatoes! Part 3
Since the vast majority of the first American colonists were from the northern part of the European continent, it is hardly surprising that they were equally concerned about the tomato's edibility. Like their English kin, they believed the plant to be poisonous. Additionally, a belief by some Americans that they caused cancer persisted until the early 20th century! English colonists brought seeds to the new world but, most grew the plant solely as an ornamental. The fruits were sometimes used as an external remedy for pustules. But, they were rarely eaten.
Thomas Jefferson, who always seemed to be on the cutting edge of agricultural experimentation, first planted tomatoes in his gardens at Monticello in 1781. In time, a few other adventurous individuals also championed the tomato. An Italian painter brought them to Salem, Massachusetts in 1802 and they were introduced in New Orleans in 1812. And, this seems to be the way most Americans became acquainted with the tomato. They were introduced gradually over the next few decades by many different sources. According to one 19th century seed merchant, the popularity of the tomato increased dramatically between 1828 and 1858.
Although many people still harbored fears that they were poisonous, or that eating them would cause cancer, there were undoubtedly many others who thought differently. Besides being included in seed catalogs in increasing frequency, they were mentioned in several American cookbooks and gardening books. Eliza Leslie's Directions for Cookery, published in 1828, included several recipes for which tomatoes were used alone, in soups, and in ketchup. The book even included instructions for preserving them. Another cookbook, by J. Chadwick entitled, Home Cookery (1853), included similar recipes. The authors of these and similar publications make no mention of any of the purported negative aspects of the tomato.
As the popularity of the tomato increased, so did efforts to improve it. The number of different varieties offered by seed merchants rose dramatically during the middle of the 19thcentury. By the time of the Civil War, at least two dozen different cultivars were available. One of those, a cultivar named Trophy, was the first tomato similar in appearance to those most familiar to us today. It had smooth red skin and was larger than most tomatoes available at that time. In the 1870's, breeding programs were carried out to develop varieties with desirable traits. Within a decade, hundreds of different cultivars existed. Hybrid varieties were also developed about that time, and with them came increased yield and disease resistance.
The development of the canning process extended the availability of tomatoes beyond the normal growing season. In the middle of the 19th century many advances were made in this area. Tomatoes, along with corn and beans were the most desired canned products at the time. Early on, all stages of processing were done by hand. Increasing demand necessitated improvements and eventually, the canning process became mechanized. In 1898, John T. Dorrance began marketing a variety of concentrated soups, one of which was tomato. This company was later acquired by Joseph Campbell, and became the Campbell Soup Company. Today, Campbell's sells hundreds of millions of cans of tomato soup annually. Another entrepreneur, Henry Heinz began marketing his famous ketchup in 1876. Heinz ketchup is now the top selling brand in North America.