History of Tomatoes in the United States Part 2

About the history of tomatoes in the United States, how Col. Robert Gibbon Johnson, Puritan beliefs of the dangers of tomatoes.


Johnson, an imposing figure dressed in his usual black suit and tricorne hat, ascended the courthouse steps at high noon as the local firemen's band played a dirgelike tune. Selecting a tomato from his basket, he held it aloft and launched into his spiel: "The time will come when this luscious, scarlet apple, rich in nourishment, a delight to the eye, a joy to the palate . . . will form the foundation of a great garden industry, and will be recognized, eaten, and enjoyed as an edible food. . . . And to help speed that enlightened day, to help dispel the tall tales, the fantastic fables that you have been hearing about the thing, to show you that it is not poisonous, that it will not strike you dead, I am going to eat one right now!"

Colonel Johnson took a big bite, and his 1st bite could be heard through the silence, and then he bit again and again and again. At least one spectator screamed or fainted with each successive chomp. As he devoured tomato after tomato, the crowd was amazed to see him still on his feet, hale and hearty. He was finally able to convince the onlookers that the tomato was safe and civilized food. Not until the entire basket was consumed did Dr. Van Meeter slink away and the band strike up a victory march and the crowd begin to cheer.

Colonel Johnson's heroic bites were to be heard around the republic, if not the world. His heroic efforts turned the tide for the tomato, which began appearing regularly in U.S. markets by 1835. But prejudices lingered, and still do. As late as 1860, the popular Godey's Lady's Book warned its readers that tomatoes "should always be cooked for 3 hours" before eating, and the myth yet persists that tomatoes make the blood acid.

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