With times being what they are, many of us planted gardens this year. Whether to mitigate possible shortages or increased prices at the grocery, growing your own food always is a win/win scenario.
Vegetables grown in your own garden – or patio pot – are far superior in taste and nutrition than their grocery store cousins. Garden favorites such as tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, corn, zucchini and okra are easy to grow and packed with nutrients.
Botanically a fruit, tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes and colors, the tomato is believed to have originated in South America and carried into Mexico and cultivated by the Aztecs. By the 16th century, the conquistadors of Spain had introduced them to Europe. Known as the tomatl by the Aztecs, the first record of tomatoes describes them as being yellow and for this reason, Italians called them the pomodoro or golden apple.
In France, it was believed to be an aphrodisiac and was known as the “love apple.”
In England, the tomato was called “devil’s apple” as it was believed to be poison.Because of a chemical reaction with the acidity of the tomato and the lead in the pewter plates, commonly use by the well-to-do of that time, several people became sick and some died, likely from lead poisoning. The poor ate off wooden plates known as trenchers and weren’t affected.
Happily, the Italians were the first to embrace the tomato and brought to America their love of the fruit as immigrants. Canned foods were invented during the Civil War and tomatoes fit right in as one of the first vegetables to be canned. Its popularity increased after the war, so much so a man named Campbell started selling tomato soup in cans and a fellow named Heinz tried his hand at ketchup.
Today tomatoes can, and are, used for just about any culinary application you can imagine. As a side dish, in or as a salad, a sauce for pastas, soups, breads, biscuits, pizza pie, tarts, tomato “candy” and even wine – think pink rose. Tomatoes can be canned for winter, bagged and frozen, or made into sauce or salsas so you can enjoy them long into the winter months.
We also owe our Italian friends for the zucchini as well as the tomato. This ubiquitous veggie was developed around Milan in the 19th century and gets its name from the Italian word for squash, “zucca.”
Again, botanically a fruit, and originating in south America and Mexico, zucchinis are nevertheless used as a vegetable by cooks the world over. Zucchinis can be made into fritters, side dishes such as ratatouille, and even breads, muffins or cakes. If you’ve never had a chocolate zucchini cake, you’re missing one of the best cakes you’ve ever put a tooth on. The zucchini adds moisture to the cake as well as nutritional value and virtually disappears during baking.
One of the zucchini’s poor cousins, the serpente de Sicilia or “snake of Sicily” was and is a long light green squash brought by Italian homesteaders into the Appalachian Mountains. Because of its versatility, prolificness, ease of growth and winter storage, it fast became a staple of many mountain families.
Known as the “snake gourd” it often was paired with tomatoes, used in soups, stews or just sliced and fried. I’ve included a couple recipes here to help you take advantage of the summer’s bounty and beat the grocery stores at their own game, I hope you give them a try.
Eric Metcalf is a beekeeper, an outdoor enthusiast and is executive chef at Hardin Memorial Health and Morrison Healthcare. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.