Tomato – fruit or vegetable?

Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable? It took the Supreme Court of our country to make the final decision.

In 1893 we had a 10% tax on imported vegetables but not fruits in this country. Importer John Nix faithfully paid the taxes on his tomatoes to his tax collector Edward Hedden until the day he came across the botanical definition of a fruit: “the organ that emanates from the ovary of the plant and contains the seeds.”

Nix sued Hedden for a refund of his taxes on the grounds that tomatoes are a fruit and not a vegetable. The case ended up in the Supreme Court where the judges ruled that “the common language of the people” was to be followed rather than the botanical definition. Thus, the tomato was ruled a vegetable, although possibly a mistake; and Nix’s attempt to recoup his unfairly collected taxes was over.

Today, the tomato is one of the most popular “vegetables” in the world. It is an indispensable ingredient in many recipes from many cultures. Whether it is a tomato sauce in Italy, a salsa from Mexico, a vine-ripened addition to a garden salad or a main ingredient to vegetable soup in our own country, the tomato will never lose its popularity.

Tomato Pie

6 Roma tomatoes, peeled and sliced

1 baked pie shell

salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup mayonnaise

3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese

3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup chopped green onions, including tops

2 tsp. dried basil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer tomatoes in baked pie shell. Season with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, combine mayonnaise, cheddar, mozzarella, onions, and basil together. Spread mixture over tomatoes and bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Cut into slices and serve warm.

Scalloped Tomatoes

2 cups chopped tomatoes

4 slices white bread

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 tbsp. bell pepper, chopped

1/2 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese

1/2 stick butter

Toast bread slices. Spread 2 slices with butter after toasting. Cut into cubes. Place in bottom of baking dish. Grate the remaining 2 slices of toast and set aside.

In a saucepan combine tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, sugar, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil. Cook 2-3 minutes and pour over bread cubes in baking dish. Top with grated cheese.

Melt remaining butter in an iron skillet. Toss grated bread crumbs in skillet to coat with butter. Place on top of grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Fried Herb Tomatoes

1 large ripe tomato, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1 1/2 cups crushed herb-seasoned stuffing mix

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 tbsp. (1/2 ounce) shredded Cheddar cheese

Coat tomato slices with stuffing mix; dip in egg; coat again with mix.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet. Add tomato slices; cook until brown, turning once. Immediately transfer to serving dish, and sprinkle with cheese. Yield: 2 servings.

Cheese Balls with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 (8-ounce) jar oil packed, sun-dried tomatoes, drained

2 tsp. dried basil

1 clove garlic, peeled and halved

1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds or pine nuts, toasted

Position knife blade in food processor bowl; add first 4 ingredients. Process until smooth. Cover and chill.

Divide cheese mixture into 6 equal portions; shape each portion into a ball. Sip each ball in almonds, lightly pressing almonds into cheese.

Wrap each cheese ball in plastic wrap; refrigerate up to 5 days. Serve with crackers. Yield: 6 (3-inch) cheese balls.

Herbed Tomato-Cheese Bread

2 cups biscuit mix

2/3 cup milk

3 medium tomatoes, peeled and sliced

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tbsp. butter or margarine, melted

3/4 cup commercial sour cream

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/4 tsp. dried whole oregano

1 cup (4-ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese

Paprika

Combine biscuit mix and milk, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn out onto a floured surface; knead 3 or 4 times. Press into bottom and up sides of a lightly greased 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Top with tomato slices.

Sauté onion in butter until tender; stir in remaining ingredients except paprika. Spoon mixture over tomatoes, and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Yield: about 12 servings.

— Judy O’Daniel’s “Country Gourmet” column appears weekday editions of the Times-Journal.

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