by Stef Jantz, Food Columnist

Believed to have originated in Mexico, these edible berries are considered a very famous fruit that we’ve all come to love and grow ourselves.  They are acidic, sweet, juicy, and are enjoyed in many different ways. 

What are these berries?  Tomatoes! 

The Aztecs used tomatoes in their dishes during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire and eventually, the Spanish were introduced and took them home to Europe, thus introducing them in the Columbian exchange that went further around the world.  

Did you know that it was once thought that tomatoes were poisonous?  Books were written about the opinions on how tomatoes could be poisonous, and drama and intrigue ensued the population rather than basing it on facts. 

In 1852, a doctor named Neil Lewis made a presentation in Cincinnati and criticized the fruit.  After his presentation, the crowd came forward with their thoughts and stories.  Some complained of stomach issues and tender, bleeding gums followed by losing teeth just from eating a large quantity of tomatoes. 

However, the earliest American story is of public consumption by Robert Johnson of Salem, NJ.  Johnson grew tomatoes from seeds that came from South America and planned to consume them in front of the public. 

Since tomatoes were thought to be poisonous, this created a crowd of onlookers that came from all around.  Rumor has it, once Johnson took a bite out of the first tomato, some people fainted but turns out, he had no negative effects from eating them and the industry of the tomato began.  

Tomatoes are packed with lycopene.  Lycopene is a natural red pigment in plants that could prevent certain diseases. 

There was a recent study shown that lycopene can improve bone density too.  Other benefits are to help reduce cancer by preventing damage to DNA and cell structures and possibly reduce your risk of stroke. 

Back to tomatoes, they’re a great source of vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin K.  Tomatoes are 95% water and 5% carbs and fiber.

No wonder they’re so juicy.

Now, on to the best part!  You got salsa, salads, soup, cocktails, sauces, jams, fried green tomatoes, and I’m sure there’s more we don’t even know about. 

One thing we all know and love are those yummy tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches, oh my goodness that sounds so good right now, but one thing I did teach myself to make was tomato pesto. 

I’m a pesto fanatic and I had no idea this even existed, and I was very happy to have found it.  Once I started making it, I started seeing it in stores sold in jars and thought I was an idiot for never seeing it.  Tomato pesto goes wonderful with many recipes such as spread on grilled toast, sandwiches, chicken recipes, pasta, and pizza. 

If you’re a tomato lover, thank me later, but it’s great to always keep on hand and tastes even better when made in your kitchen.  


4 cups peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped tomatoes 

5 cloves minced garlic

30 large fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan 

Combine the tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper, to taste, in a blender and puree until smooth. Add the cheese and blend briefly just to mix. Transfer to a bowl and adjust the seasoning.