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BACK TO ISSUE SEVENTEEN

The Most Misunderstood Fruit in the World:
The Wolf Peach

By Uncle Paul

Today I would like to take you on a journey to a unique place where dense jungles meet white sandy beaches and active volcanoes rise up out of cloud forests filled with waterfalls, toucans, and wild monkeys. A country filled with a laid-back culture, friendly atmosphere, and sleepy little towns. And all of this surrounded by an ocean filled with an abundance of aquatic life but best known for its sea turtles. This is where Cortez came ashore and first discovered the wolf peach in the year 1519, in the gardens of Montezuma in Costa Rica. He took its seeds back to Europe where they were planted as ornamental curiosities, but not eaten.

It is thought the first variety to reach Europe was yellow in color, since in Spain and Italy they were known as pomi d’oro, meaning yellow apples. The French referred to the them as pommes d’amour, or love apples, as they thought them to have stimulating aphrodisiacal properties. Italy was the first to embrace and cultivate them outside South America. The wolf peach today is referred to as the wonderful but mysterious tomato. The tomato originated high in the Andes mountains. It was initially cultivated by Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 A.D.

Why do I consider the wolf peach so misunderstood? The wolf peach, love apple, or devil apple, as it is sometimes called, is a perennial plant treated like an annual, thought to be either poisonous or medicinal, and debated on whether it is a fruit or a vegetable (it has been called both). It has over 4,000 varieties and many shapes and colors. Botanists claim that a fruit is any fleshy material that covers a seed or seeds, while a horticulturist would claim that the tomato is a vegetable plant. Until the late 1800s the tomato was classified as a fruit to avoid taxation, but this was changed after a Supreme Court ruling that the tomato is a vegetable and should be taxed accordingly. Today the tomato is the most popular vegetable in America and enjoyed by millions all over the world.

Throughout northern Europe, tomatoes were considered to be poisonous. Rich people often had plates and flatware made of pewter, and the acid in the tomatoes would leach out the lead in the pewter, resulting in lead poisoning and death. Poor people, who ate from plates made of wood, didn’t get sick or die, so tomatoes became a poor man’s food.

Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem, NJ, brought the tomato home to America from abroad in 1808. As the story is told, it was Johnson who, on September 26, 1820, once and for all proved tomatoes non-poisonous and safe for consumption. He stood on the steps of the Salem courthouse and bravely consumed an entire bushel of tomatoes without keeling over or suffering any ill effects whatsoever. His grandstanding attracted a crowd of over 2,000 people who were certain he was committing public suicide. This would have been the first reality TV show if they had had television back then. The local firemen’s band even played a mournful song, adding to the perceived morbid display of courage. Before consuming the bushel of tomatoes, Johnson said, “The time will come when this luscious, scarlet apple... will form the foundation of a great garden industry, and will be... eaten, and enjoyed as an edible food... and to help speed that enlightened day, to prove that it will not strike you dead — I am going to eat one right now!”

Colonel Johnson’s physician, Dr. James Van Meter, supposedly warned that “The foolish colonel will foam and froth at the mouth and double over with appendicitis, and with all that oxalic acid, in one dose, he would be dead.”

Johnson’s grandstanding garnered a lot of attention, and North America’s love affair with the tomato was off and running.

As far as good health is concerned, tomatoes are outstanding because they contain the antioxidant lycopene, noted for its ability to reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men who consume 10 servings a week. Tomatoes also contain vitamin C and carotenoids, beta carotene being one of the most familiar, which are antioxidants. These offer protection from free radicals that cause premature aging, cancer, heart disease, and cataracts. Loaded with antioxidants and high in potassium, tomatoes are one of the healthiest “vegetables” around. They’re also low in calories: about 35 for a medium tomato.

Of all the tomato varieties, I would recommend you try the heirloom varieties. They are not rubbery like the long-lasting store-bought tomatoes and now are becoming more available. They have incredible taste and hundreds of shapes and colors. With names like Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Banana Legs, Box Car Willie, Nebraska Wedding, Indian Moon, and Tartor of Mongolstan, you have a whole new world to choose from. I love Brandywine and Cherokee Purple.

So grab that jar of mayonnaise, bake that homemade bread, slice that Cherokee Purple, shred that lettuce, add a touch of salt, and enjoy a little bit of heaven on Earth.

Uncle Paul, along with his wife Calla, owns Uncle Paul’s
European Style Open Air Produce Market,
2310 SE Hawthorne,
503-484-8612 or visit www.unclepaulsproduce.com.

 

Right Lib



Walk About Magazine, is a northwest walking and hiking publication in Portland, Oregon.


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