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The tangy, sweet taste of summer — tomatoes

Is it not true that our passions in life often lead us to great learning? My eagerness for art and visiting art museums has proven this point more than once. While living in Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to visit several art museums from East to West – such as on Nantucket Island and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. The following gem, however, I gleaned from the Peabody Museum in Salem, Mass.

While visiting this welcoming museum, I became interested in the artwork of Michele Felice Corne. Many of his works relate to life in New England and the sea. Although Corne has not gone down in history as a great painter, his works are beautiful – often fetching not only for the eye, but for thought as well. It is for these reasons that his paintings are favorites of mine.

Corne was born to a noble family on the island of Elba, in 1752. He was drafted by the Neapolitan Army to help the brief French occupation of Naples in 1799. He earned the rank of captain, but soon became disgusted with war and sought liberation on the ship, Mount Vernon, bound for Salem. His artistic talents had him brushing with the high society circles, where his gifts as an artist were appreciated.

It was, however, his introduction of a fruit – the tomato – which made him the buzz in all social circles. Rumor has it that in the summer of 1831, Corne took a bag of tomatoes and consumed the entire amount before a disbelieving public in a courtroom in Newport, R.I. In his homeland, these were called “apples of gold” and used daily in their cookery. It was probably his steady diet of tomatoes that helped Corne reach the age 93.

Tomatoes seem to have originated in Central or South America. The plant of green with fiery balls of charms was grown by the Indians in Mexico and Peru long before the time of Columbus. The plant made the journey to Italy, where it was met with indulgence. Another name attached to the tomato was “love apple.” There were many other names, as well, but by 1695, the name “tomato” had come into general use.

The first written mention of tomatoes in the United States was made by Thomas Jefferson in 1781. He was probably introduced to them while he was purchasing some of his fine French dishware. Later is it noted that the secretary of the Connecticut Board of Agriculture wrote: “We raised our first tomatoes about 1832. There are concerns about eating them as some consider them poisonous.” (It is interesting to note this was a year after Corne had publicly consumed a horde of tomatoes!) The secretary also noted that the French were eating them, and by 1835, culinary use was increasing. This just proves that there is nothing wrong with indulging in some of the French habits!

Raising your own tomatoes is a fun-and-flavor

adventure. This spring, when Janice Knutson invited us to plant a few tomatoes in her sunny garden patch, we dug right in. Currently we are starting to enjoy the harvest of our majestic jewels which are pleasurable to pick in the afternoon sunlight. Anxious hands grasp the warmth of these red heads as they are removed from the vines. As our hands encounter the tomato foliage, their apparent aroma of earthy spices amuses our smell and attaches to our skin. In a sense, it is our napkin to gratification. Soon their meaty, vitamin-filled vastness will be displayed as they are simply sliced and arranged on a platter. Oh, this is one of the greatest delights of summer – fresh garden tomatoes.

Here are a few tips I have learned over the years about tomatoes. To ripen: Put solid tomatoes together in a brown paper bag. Leave for three for four days where it is dark, but not damp. The result will be quick ripening, but still solid tomatoes. Do not place green tomatoes in the hot sun, as this softens them. Sliced tomatoes, slightly spread with honey, and more than a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper are delicious and will have you singing. Green tomatoes sliced thick, seasoned and sauteed, are perfect with steak or chops. Dust with sugar before frying and your taste buds will be dancing.

To peel tomatoes easily, drop them into boiling water, for just a minute or so, and then into cold water. Using a small sharp knife, remove the skins, then chill if not using right away.

Scalloped Tomatoes with Onions

2 cups sliced and thinly sliced onions

4 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups canned or fresh tomatoes (from which the skin has been removed)

1/2 cup of soft bread crumbs

1/2 cup of butter bread crumbs

1/4 to 1/2 cup grated American cheese

Peel and slice onions. Melt butter in a saucepan, stir in onions, and sprinkle with sugar, salt and cover. Cook gently over a low heat for 14 to 15 minutes, shaking the pan frequently. Do not brown. Arrange the onions in greased a baking dish, add tomatoes mixed with soft bread crumbs, and mix well with the onions. Season with pepper as you like; sprinkle buttered bread crumbs on top, then grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until brown. This makes an excellent side dish to serve with any kind of meat of fish.

Cherry Tomatoes, With an Impression

I enjoyed this at an art show and found it to be very unique.

48 cherry tomatoes

3/4 cup fine vodka chilled

Vegetable salt in an attractive shaker

Wash and stem cherry tomatoes and chill in crisper.

Arrange tomatoes on an impressive platter, with the icy vodka in a glass bowl in the center of the platter. Invite guests to dip a tomato in the vodka, sprinkle with vegetable salt, and proceed to savor a unique combination.