Photo by Kiriakos Verros / Unsplash

Everybody loves tomatoes.

Ninety-three percent of all American gardening households grow their own tomatoes.

Tomatoes didn’t arrive in the United States until the 1820s, but they were thought to be poisonous and originally grown only as ornamentals.

In fact, they are part of the nightshade family which does include deadly belladonna. But, as we know, tomatoes are edible, thankfully.

Tomatoes come in all shapes and colors. There are the well-known, red globe tomatoes like Celebrity. But have you tried Yellow Pear, the chili pepper-like Opalka or the Cherokee Chocolate? You can also find pink with green shoulders, crimson, orange, light green with dark green stripes, blue, ivory, white, black, and purple tomatoes, as well, among the estimated 25,000 varieties worldwide.

Tomatoes range in size from the pea-size Red Currant to the giant Beefsteak. The largest tomato ever recorded was grown in 2019 in Clinton, New York, according to Guinness World Records. Weighing in at a whopping 9 lb. 10 oz., it was grown by Steve and Jeanne Marley.

Biologically, tomatoes are a fruit; a mature ovary containing eggs (seeds). But legally, tomatoes are a vegetable. That was decided in an 1893 Supreme Court case. At that time there was a 10% tariff on imported vegetables, but not on fruits. The plaintiff wanted reimbursement on tariffs paid on tomatoes, claiming them as a biological fruit. But the Court ruled tomatoes are a vegetable based on their function and use (as in salads, soups and main dishes).

Tomatoes are highly beneficial. They are high in Vitamins A and C, provide a good source of potassium and contain antioxidants to increase protection from the aging effects of the sun. Tomatoes also contain lycopene, a proven cancer preventative, which is best absorbed in processed form such as tomato sauce or canned tomatoes.

Unfortunately, the Master Gardener group in Maricopa will not hold its annual plant sale in March due to public health concerns. But be assured we are testing some exciting new tomato varieties in our greenhouse to offer next year.

Rita Bricker is a Master Gardener.

This column was published in the February issue of InMaricopa magazine.