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Summer Staples: Tomato and Corn 101

July 15, 2013 Think THF, Archive Insight

History on the vine: all about the tomato

It might sound funny to say, but historically tomatoes have had a bad rap. The classic staple condiment in today’s salads and hamburgers was once a mysterious food to many and couldn’t be found in the diets of early settlers.

Thanks to Thomas Jefferson and his adventurous palate, tomatoes were being introduced into the White House’s kitchen at the beginning of the 19th century, according to old menus. However, it would be several years before Americans truly began experimenting with this versatile fruit.

Around the 1840s, tomatoes really started to become part of Americans’ diets. Depending on where you lived in the United States, your approach to using and caring for the tomato in your kitchen varied. In southern states, a pine straw bed was used for growing plants, while other parts of the country used a trellis to stake for growing. East-coast states were first to experiment with the tomato in recipes as it arrived in the U.S., as evident from mentions in “The Virginia Housewife.” African-Americas also adopted the use of the tomato in their cooking early on, utilizing them for low-country cooking.

Tomatoes at Firestone Farm

About the same time the tomato began gaining popularity, American horticulturists began experimenting with breeding new types of tomatoes. Seed house catalogs provided countless species varieties, but most gardens tended to focus on one variety at a time. Unfortunately today, close to 99 percent of these historic, heirloom varieties are now extinct.

Moving on to the 1850s, the tomato starts to become an important ingredient and sauces, like catsup. As Americans learned how to preserve their produce through canning, the tomato was a natural choice for preservation. The following years saw recipe after recipe with baking ideas for tomatoes.

Here at The Henry Ford, tomatoes are an important of our gardens and food preparation. From Eagle Tavern entrees to appetizers at weddings inside Lovett Hall, our menus are a fan of tomatoes. Varieties like yellow pear and pink brandywine are just two of the tomatoes you can see growing at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village.

FMC Tomato Harvester, 1969: This massive machine, with 10 to 12 workers on it, performed the task of picking tomatoes off the stems of each plant in the field. Picking tomatoes by hand is a back-breaking, tedious job. Tomato harvesters, first introduced in 1959, reduced the time it took harvesting crews to pick one ton of tomatoes -- from 113 hours to 61 hours. (Object ID: 91.142.1, http://bit.ly/14WFP8k)

Today Americans have a plethora of resources to choose from when setting up their gardens and getting their tomato plants ready. Seed houses concentrating on heirloom seed options help preserve surviving varieties; looking for the latest tomato news? There’s most likely a unique magazine to suit your needs.

If you’re a tomato lover like we are, try this favorite recipe from The Henry Ford - Escaloped Tomatoes and Baked Tomatoes. Want even more tomato-based recipes? Check out our Historic Recipe Bank for recipes to make Fried Tomatoes and Tomato Soup.

Escaloped Tomates

(Escaloped Tomatoes recipe found on p. 344 of the "Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping", edited by Estelle Woods Wilcox, 1880)

Modern adaptation may need additional adjustments as measurements and temperatures are estimates.

  • Bread crumbs
  • Butter, cut into small pieces
  • Salt, pepper and sugar
  • Onions, if desired
  • Grease a 2 qt. casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle a layer of bread crumbs, dot with few butter pieces. Then place a single layer of tomatoes on top of the bread crumbs. Season the tomatoes as desired. Top with a layer of bread crumbs and butter as before. Continue making layers of bread crumbs and tomatoes until the dish is full, finishing with the bread crumbs. Bake 45 to 60 minutes in a 350-oven.

    If desired, a layer of sliced, browned onions may be added on top of each layer of tomatoes. Slice the onions ½" thick and brown slices in butter over medium heat until light brown on each side. Place browned onion slices on top of tomato layers.

    Baked Tomatoes

    (Baked Tomatoes recipe found on page 272 of "The Original Boston Cooking School Cook Book" by Fannie Merritt Farmer, 1896)

    Wipe and remove a thin slice from the stem end of six medium-sized tomatoes. Take out seeds and pulp, and drain off most of the liquid. Add an equal quantity of cracker crumbs, season with salt, pepper, and a few drops onion juice, and refill tomatoes with mixture. Place in a buttered pan, sprinkle with buttered crumbs, and bake twenty minutes in a hot oven.

    Modern adaptation may need additional adjustments as measurements and temperatures are estimates.

  • 6 medium sized tomatoes
  • Cracker crumbs
  • Few drops onion juice (hard to find, but available online)
  • 2 T butter, melted
  • ¾ c bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Clean tomatoes. Cut a thin slice off the stem end of the tomatoes. Take out the seeds, pulp and most of the liquid. Reserve ½ of the pulp and chop fine. To the chopped pulp, add an equal amount of cracker crumbs, salt and pepper to taste, and a few drops of onion juice. Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture and bake 20 minutes in a preheated 375° oven.

    World War I Poster, "Wholesome - Nutritious Foods from Corn, " 1918: During the First World War, all of the national governments of the warring nations used poster campaigns to encourage civilian and military support of the war effort. Artists widely used an innovative advertising technique for these posters that moved away from a factual depiction of a product’s material or event’s subject to an emphasis on appealing to the viewer’s emotions.
    (Object ID: 53.5.26.2, http://bit.ly/15KUh4e)

    History in the field: corn 101

    When you think of your favorite summer meal, what’s one dish you can’t live without? Does it happen to be corn on the cob? Chances are it might be, as corn is synonymous with summer dinners and fun.

    As a new American crop hundreds of years ago, the Spanish quickly adopted corn into their diets. In the early 18th and 19th centuries, recipes called for “green” corn (pre-ripe corn) to be roasted for optimal taste and palpability.

    Do you know the difference between different types of corn? Flint is a meal corn, not sweet and was often ground into flour. Dent has medium moisture content, so it was grown for animal consumption as feed, a perfect choice for hungry hogs. Gourd seed has soft kernels and high moisture content.

    Much like tomatoes, corn was a favorite of horticulturists in the 1840s as they discovered sweeter offerings and started breeding for them. The corn you’d find on the dinner table was white, not yellow, and for fancier homes was never eaten off the cob in front of mixed company! The proper serving suggestion was to roast it, boil it, dress it, and serve it at the table in the 1880s.

    Label, "Shoe Peg Country Gentleman Fancy Corn," circa 1918: Manufacturers of similar products sought ways to make their company's goods stand out on store shelves. Attractive labels, like this elegant design for President Brand "Shoe Peg Country Gentleman Fancy Corn," helped catch the attention of potential customers--hopefully encouraging them to purchase the company's product rather than that of a competitor. (Object ID: 89.311.68, http://bit.ly/12DOkWg)

    In 1910, golden bantam is introduced. As a small, very sweet corn variety, its popularity was hard to beat. Today there are numerous corn varieties to choose from and depend on the season and location you’re in.

    Growing corn might be a pastime for today’s amateur gardener, but for farmers and those needing to feed large families, corn is grown as a row crop for higher yields. Many of the same techniques to plant corn hundreds of years ago are still used today. When it comes to food technology, corn was one of the last foodstuffs to see big advancements in planting and care.

    Can all corn pop? You bet! Whether you eat it plain or drizzle it with butter, popcorn is a long-stranding snack favorite.

    At The Henry Ford, corn is all around. To try a favorite recipe of ours, try these tonight and make sure to tell us what you think. Need more inspiration? Try the "vegetables" category over at our Historic Recipe Bank.

    Corn Fritters

    (Corn Fritters recipe found on pages 222 - 223 pf "Kentucky Housewife" by Lettice Bryan, 1839)

    Having removed the shucks and silks from a dozen young tender ears of corn, grate or scrape the grains fine from the cobs, mix with it the beaten yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, a salt-spoonful of salt, and a teaspoonful of pepper; mix the whole together, stirring it till it is well intermingled; then drop it by spoonfuls into a pan of boiling butter or lard, making them all as nearly the same shape and size as possible; turn them over once, and when both sides are of a light brown, serve them up. It is a breakfast dish, and is quite an agreeable relish.

    Modern adaptation may need additional adjustments as measurements and temperatures are estimates.

  • 1 doz. ears of corn
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 T flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil or butter for frying
  • Remove the shucks and silks from a dozen ears of corn. Using a sharp knife cut the kernels off the cob. Place kernels in a large bowl. Add beaten eggs and flour to corn kernels and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. In large frying pan heat the oil or butter until hot. Carefully drop mixture by spoonfuls into hot oil. Fritters should be the same size for even cooking. Turn them once. Fritters are done when both sides are nicely browned.

    Green Corn Pudding

    (Green Corn Pudding found on page 329 of "Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping," edited by Estelle Woods Wilcox, 1880)

    Draw a sharp knife through each row of corn lengthwise, then scrape out the pulp; to one pint of corn add one quart milk, three eggs, a little suet, sugar to taste, and a few lumps of butter; stir it occasionally until thick, and bake about two hours.

    Modern adaptation may need additional adjustments as measurements and temperatures are estimates.

  • 2 c fresh or frozen corn, cooked
  • 4 c milk
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 4 T sugar (more/less to taste)
  • 3 T butter, melted
  • Mix all ingredients well. Pout into a greased 2 qt. baking dish. Bake in preheated 300° oven. Stir occasionally and bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

    Pick up everything you need to make these recipes at Meijer

    Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

    corn, Food, tomatoes

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