A Tax on the Love Apple

The tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable.  But we are taught from childhood to call it a vegetable.  Why?  Because it’s the law!  Don’t believe it?  Read on.

A Tomato among Chests of Gold

The tomato is native to the mountains of Peru.  The Incas were the first society to cultivate tomatoes, more than a thousand years ago.  They had it to themselves, because for most of human history tomatoes did not exist outside of South America.

The Incas traded their tomatoes with tribes to the north.  Eventually, tomatoes reached the mighty Aztecs of Central Mexico.  The Aztecs eagerly adopted the tomato and pushed it further north.

The first European ever to taste a tomato was Cortes, in 1519, while he was destroying the Aztec Empire.  Cortez was delighted with the tomato and sent a plant back to the king of Spain.

That hardy little plant introduced the tomato to the Old World.  Of all the Aztec gold in the bottom of Spanish ships, the tomato was the most enduring treasure.

Wolf Peach or Love Apple?

The tomato quickly grew in popularity.  It was carried along the Spice Route to the Middle East and Asia.  By the late 1700’s, tomatoes were used in cooking throughout the world; everywhere, that is, except America.

Ironically, back in the English Colonies of North America, tomatoes were thought to be highly poisonous.  Thanks to Indian farmers, tomato plants literally grew wild.  However, colonists cleared the dreaded tomato from their fields before they planted crops.  They believed a tomato, if consumed, would bring rapid agonizing death.  This fear inspired colonists to call the tomato a wolf peach.   

We think of Italians as the early innovators of tomato sauce; not so.  The Incas and Aztecs brewed tomato sauce (with peppers and spices) some 500 years before the Italians.  Italy received tomatoes from Spain, thanks to Cortez.

The French also took the tomato from Spain.  The French believed tomatoes were a red juicy aphrodisiac.  They called them “love apples” and instantly fused the tomato into their cooking.  The French, who need no excuse, will use any excuse.

A French Breakfast

The French served tomatoes for breakfast, to set a tone of passion for the day.  That is why, to this day, a French breakfast is bacon, croissant, and tomato. 

This amorous linkage caused the British to suppress the tomato.  The perennially uptight British would not take any excuse for passion, especially at breakfast.  Besides, England and France had been at war too long for the British to take a love apple.

Jefferson in Paris

In the 1780’s, Thomas Jefferson was the American Ambassador to France.  He was amazed to discover in Paris that tomatoes were not poisonous at all.

Jefferson loved France and all things French.  And he absolutely hated the British.  What better way to honor the French, snub the British, and serve the American people, than to bring home the tomato?  So, he re-introduced the tomato to America.

Jefferson was a statesman, philosopher, and scientist.  He was also one of the great farmers in American history.  He planted tomatoes in his Monticello garden and mailed seeds to leading farmers across the United States.  He promoted the tomato in America for the rest of his life.

What Cortez took away, Jefferson brought home.

The President offers a Love Apple

When Jefferson became president, he routinely served tomatoes in the White House.  Americans at the table would marvel as the president consumed huge quantities of wolf peaches, and lived.

Jefferson loved to tweak the British Ambassador; his rudeness to the ambassador was legendary.  At the first state dinner for the British Ambassador, Jefferson answered the door in his pajamas!

At dinner, Jefferson offered the ambassador’s wife a big, delicious love apple.  And when she refused, he spoke at length about the sumptuous, voluptuous import from France!

The ambassador wrote bitter complaining letters to King George about Jefferson.  He simply couldn’t get over the bathrobe and the love apple.  The outrage!  The scandal!  The Ambassador was eventually recalled.  How can a simple farmer not appreciate Thomas Jefferson?

The Tomato on Trial!

Thanks largely to Jefferson’s private marketing campaign, tomatoes became very popular in the US.   By the 1880’s, demand far outpaced US production, and tomato imports steadily increased.  Ketchup and tomato soup (new foods to America) were becoming popular.  Tomato sales soared.

In the Tariff Act of 1883, Congress dramatically increased taxes on imported vegetables.  President Chester Arthur supported these taxes to protect American business from foreign competition.  However, due to special interest lobbyists, fruit was not taxed at all.

Roma Grape Tomatoes, Four String Farm

A tomato importer named John Nix classified his tomatoes as “fruit”, the appropriate botanical classification, to avoid the tax.  The government insisted on collecting the tax anyway.  Nix sued.  The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Believe it or not, the Court ruled that even though the tomato is in fact a fruit, for purposes of the tax it should be considered a vegetable!  Goodbye love apple, hello tomato tax.

That Supreme Court ruling is the reason we call the tomato a vegetable.  It is the law of the land!

Rockport Love Apples

The good news is that Chester Arthur’s tomato tax is history.  However, Jefferson’s tomato is not.

You may call them love apples.  You may even call them wolf peaches.  You only need to call Four String Farm to have them delivered.  Honor your tomato tax freedom and order a tomato today!

Go to fourstringfarm.com to make an order.

The Three Sisters

Tres Hermanas means “the three sisters”.  The sisters are corn, beans, and squash.

Three sisters gardening is a method of companion planting developed by Native American Indians more than 1,000 years ago.  The method was once, and is now again, a secret.  But the secret should be told, because the sisters are a beautiful gift.

Three Sisters in the Garden:

Three Sisters, early growth

Long ago, Indians learned to clear a patch of ground and mound the dirt into rows.  They planted seeds of corn, beans, and squash in the center of each mound.

As they grew, the beans climbed up the corn stalk while the squash covered the soil as living green mulch.   The beauty of the garden is the simplicity, the density, the ease of maintenance.  Primitive farmers must have such a garden.

Three Sisters as an Organic Method:

Tres Hermanas is an ingenious method of planting.  Beans are a nitrogen fixer; they convert CO2 to nitrogen in the soil.  Simply by growing, the beans fertilize the corn and squash.  The corn provides a trellis for the beans and the squash prevents weeds and regulates soil temperature and moisture.

The root structures do not compete and the plants do not crowd one other.  They strengthen and support each other.

Their compatibility maximizes the impact of organic farming methods.  Native Americans grew a tremendous amount of food on these small patches of ground without any synthetic pesticides or fertilizers for more than 1,000 years.  The Indians survived on these gardens.

Three Sisters in the Body:

Corn is rich in carbohydrates; beans are packed with protein; squash contains large doses of vitamin A and other nutrients.  The three together provide a balanced and nutritious meal.

What’s more, corn, beans, and squash are intended by nature to be eaten together.  Certain vitamin, mineral, and amino compounds in these vegetables are unlocked or enhanced only when eaten together.  The sisters continue to give their gifts, even in the body.

Three Sisters in American History:

Native Americans invented, or innovated, this method of companion planting while Europeans were still in the Dark Age.  Much Indian lore and mythology rose around the sisters.  But I am not so interested in lore.  I care about growing delicious food.

The European settlers in early America cared a great deal about growing food.  The autumn harvest could offer another season of life; or a slow painful death of starvation in the wilds.

Each Thanksgiving, we celebrate the story of Indians providing food to the Pilgrims to nourish them through the winter.  The food the Indians gave was corn, beans, and squash.

However, the real gift, the profound life-saving gift, that Indians shared with the settlers was the secret of the three sisters.  Companion planting enabled pioneer settlements, from Jamestown to Plymouth Rock, to vastly increase their food production.  Tres Hermanas is the untold story of Thanksgiving.

Three Sisters Lost in America:

Four String Wasp, killing caterpillar

Pioneers brought companion planting west (where it had actually existed for a millennium) as they settled the land.  Tres Hermanas was cultivated in America well into the 1900’s.  However, we lost the three sisters when agriculture became ‘agribusiness’.

Why did we lose it?  Machine harvesting is impossible with companion planting.  No combine was ever invented that can separate the sisters.  Also, the sisters ripen over a long period.  While this deliberate ripening process was essential to the survival of Indians and pioneers, it is a cardinal sin in modern agriculture.  In agribusiness, a crop must be efficiently reaped in hours, or minutes.

Further, the sisters must be planted among trees.  Grasshoppers and caterpillars can quickly devastate the harvest.  The birds and wasps that naturally control these pests must have a sanctuary of trees from which to hunt.  Try to find a tree on a conventional farm.

Your Four String farmer has more than 30 popular books on organic farming stacked on the bookshelf.  However, not one book provides any of the details around Tres Hermanas companion planting that you have just read.  The secret of the sisters has been lost.

Three Sisters in Rockport:

Four String Farm, pick of the day

The three sisters still exist, however, here in town, on a patch of ground cleared among the trees.  The sisters provide nourishment to my family every day.

Tres Hermanas can nourish your family as well.  The gifts of the sisters are meant to be shared.

We deliver farm fresh food to your door in Rockport (minimum $20 order).  Or, look for us at the Rockport Farmer’s Market.  Or come out to the farm and feel the sun and stand in the soil where the sisters offer their gift.

Who Wants to be a Square Tomato?

Cluster of Roma Grape Tomatoes at Four String Farm, almost ripe

What do you want to be when you grow up?  This is a great question, especially if you are a tomato.  

I ask my tomatoes this question from the time they are seeds.  Even before, when I am preparing the soil for the tiny little seed, I think of this question:  what do you want to be?    

My tomatoes always answer the same way:  “I want to be DELICIOUS!”    

But unfortunately, not all tomatoes think this way.  Take the tomatoes you see on the grocery shelf.  These tomatoes, raised by agribusiness, have other priorities.    

Conventionally grown tomatoes are designed to ripen simultaneously and at the same size, for ease of machine harvesting.  They are bred to have a tough skin, to survive rough handling and a long transport.        

They are engineered to withstand the harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides applied to them.  They are picked early to make the average 1,500 mile trip from Mexico or South America all the way to the grocery shelf in Rockport, TX.    

And yes, conventional tomatoes are designed to be roughly square-shaped, to fit more tomatoes in the shipping crate!     

What kind of tomato grows up wanting to be square?  Where does “delicious” even rank on the agribusiness list of priorities?    

Our tomatoes only want to be delicious.  They also happen to be very fresh and very healthy, but they can’t help it—nature made them that way.    

We deliver our farm fresh food to your door in Rockport (minimum $20 order).  Or, look for the Four String Farm booth at the Rockport Farmer’s Market.  Or come out to the farm and pick the tomatoes yourself.  They are red, beautiful, delicious, and round!

A Love Letter to the Onion Man

The tops of our 1015 sweet onions are beginning to lean over.  They are ready to harvest.  These onions are very special.

When I told a chef friend of mine that we have 1015 onions in the garden, she became very excited and demanded exclusive rights to all our 1015 forever.  Then she told me about her love letter to the onion man. 

Commercial onion production in Texas began around 1900.  In those days, the onion seeds were imported from Teneriffe in the Canary Islands.  Soon, Texans began to develop and improve their own onion varieties.  The Grano, known as “the mother of all onions”, was developed by Texans and became the world-class standard for onions.  Today, onions are Texas’ leading agricultural export. 

In the 1960’s, an agricultural scientist from Texas A&M developed his own unique variety of onion.  He named the variety 1015 to remind farmers to plant them on October 15, so they would be ready to harvest in June of the following year.   His name was Dr. Leonard Pike, the onion man.  Dr. Pike created possibly the best onion in the world.

Back to my friend, the chef:  She discovered 1015 onions when she owned a restaurant in Manhattan.  She absolutely loved the 1015–the layers of flavor and sweetness that come alive when these onions are grilled or sautéed.  The sweet onions from Texas were very popular with the sophisticated diners in her New York restaurant.  

The chef loved the onions so much that she sent the professor a love letter!  I didn’t see the letter, but knowing my friend it was a little bit racy (probably very racy).  Sadly, the professor never replied to the beautiful young chef in New York City.  He retired from A&M years ago and is now a part of Texas history.

I’m not sure how much fan mail the professor received, but I suspect he kept the love letter for his 1015.

We planted our 1015 right on time and have nourished them in the Rockport sun and soil for seven long months.  These onions are very special, and they will go fast.  Come try the onions that inspired a love letter!

We deliver our farm fresh food to your door in Rockport (minimum $20 order).  Or, look for the Four String Farm booth at the Rockport Farmer’s Market.  Or come out to the farm and pick the onions yourself!

Delicious Jellyfish!

If you want to get kids interested in eating their vegetables, find veggies that look like jellyfish!

We have begun to harvest our scallopini squash.  These squash are a cross between zucchini and pattypan and are harvested when they are 3 to 6 inches across.  They are very tender with a mild, nutty flavor.  The whole vegetable is edible, skin and all, and you can use it in any recipe that calls for squash or zucchini.  

What’s best, they look like jellyfish!  Scallopini are a great source of vitamin A and vitamin C, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, potassium and iron.  But kids will have too much fun eating them to notice.

We deliver our farm fresh food to your door in Rockport (minimum $20 order).  Or, look for the Four String Farm booth at the Rockport Farmer’s Market or at Rockport Market Days.  Or come out to the farm and pick the jellyfish yourself!

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