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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise

On the Highest Perch


Includes Recipe Below

Today tomatoes are on our highest perch, but in 1893 they had their day in the highest court of the land. Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable? Ponder that--and that's exactly what the Supreme Court did beginning on April 24, 1893 when tomatoes were elevated to the highest perch in the land, the United States Supreme Court. It's hard to imagine that tomatoes were the subject of a Supreme Court decision that officially labeled them a vegetable.

Under the Schedule G.-Provisions of the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, there were tariffs placed on tomatoes imported from the West Indies because they were considered a vegetable, and imported vegetables were subject to tariffs. The case originated on February 4, 1887 when the Nix Family sued Edward L. Hedden, tax collector of the port of New York to recover back duties collected on their tomatoes.

Webster's Dictionary was consulted, along with Worcester's Dictionary and the Imperial Dictionary for the definitions of "fruit" and "vegetable." The passages from the dictionaries defined "fruit" as the seed of plants, or that part of plants which contains the seed, and especially the juicy, pulpy products of certain plants, covering and containing the seed. According to the court, "These definitions have no tendency to show that tomatoes are 'fruit" as distinguished from 'vegetables,' in common speech, or within the meaning of the tariff act."

The court decision on May 10, 1893 in Nix vs. Hedden stated, "Botanically, tomatoes are considered a fruit of the vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas. But in common language of people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not like fruits generally, as dessert."

Tomato Native to Mexico and Central America, tomatoes were cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas dating back to 700 AD. It was the 16th century conquistadors who introduced them to Spain, where their popularity spread quickly to Portugal and Italy.The French loved them and referred to them as "love apples." In Germany they were revered as "apples of paradise."

On the other hand, the British did not place tomatoes on the highest perch but instead rejected tomatoes because they believed them to be poisonous. The early New England colonists also carried this belief until 1812 when the Creoles of New Orleans happily showed them how tomatoes enhanced their gumbos and jambalayas. By the mid 1800's tomatoes became a popular kitchen garden cultivar in the colonies. Tomatoes were in such demand that when the cold weather of the northern states halted their production, Florida became a burgeoning center for their growth.

This month tomatoes are bursting with flavor fresh from the vines.The very best tasting tomatoes are those that are grown at home in soil rich with compost. Farmers' markets are also an outstanding source for organically grown tomatoes with superb flavor.

Healthwise, tomatoes are on the "highest perch" 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. Another benefit--they're low in calories, about 35 for a medium tomato.

STORAGE: To refrigerate or not to refrigerate is the question.Tomatoes purchased from the supermarkets have been refrigerated, and will not keep well unrefrigerated. However, tomatoes fresh from the garden will keep quite well at room temperature for about a week, as will those organically grown from farmers' markets.

Here's an easy side dish with zesty flavors that features fresh tomatoes.


4 medium tomatoes, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 4-oz. (396 g) can diced green chiles
1/4 t. + 1/8 t. Wright's Hickory Smoke Seasoning (liquid smoke flavoring)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped fresh herbs for garnish (oregano, marjoram, parsley)

    Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and season to taste.
    Garnish top with fresh herbs, and serve as a side dish. Serves 6.

For other tomato recipes click on Recipe Index.

Click here for past On the Highest Perch Features

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