Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gregori's Altai Beefsteak Tomato

A fellow named Robert Gibbon Johnson, a prominent citizen of Salem, New Jersey, is credited with being the first to eat the tomato in pubic and surviving!  That would have been in 1820, a time in which the folks of that region believed the fruit of the tomato to be poison.  The tomato had been very well known as a non-poisonous fruit in South America and had been exported in seed form to Spain where it quickly moved throughout the entire Mediterranean region.  Soon it could be found from Great Britain to Siberia, but it made its way slowly to the Eastern United States.
If you would like to know more abut the history of the tomato in the US, check out THE TOMATO IN AMERICA by Andrew F. Smith.  It's not exactly a page turner, but it's got a lot of good information including some early recipes for tomato soup, ketchup,and instructions in making tomato pills, useful in treating 'derangements of the liver'.
Today, over 12 million tons of tomatoes are grown commercially in the US and that does not count the vast private harvests.  Many varieties that are grown in this country were developed elsewhere.  The Roma is a classic example.
Another variety of tomato that we start now for our fearless early gardeners is the Gregori's Altai.  This beefsteak type tomato from this plant can reach 8 - 12 oz.  Gregori's Altai originated in the Altai Mountains of Russia (Siberia) near the Chinese border, which explains the tolerance this plant has for cooler weather.  The jury is still out on the length of time it takes for it to produce in our coastal climate.  The TomatoFest website says 90 days.  The catalog where we purchase the seed says 67 days.  Other sites range everywhere in between.  We start it early because it puts up with the cold days of early spring and always comes in first with a big slicing tomato.  And it is productive - you should expect a lot more tomatoes from it than from a Brandywine or other long season beefsteak type tomato.
A final note:  The tomato plant is indigenous to South America but had to wait for those fast paced sailors from Spain to move it north of the equator.  If you are really interested in learning more abut the migration of various food producing plants that satisfied the needs of early farming cultures, I strongly recommend GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL by Jared Diamond.  It all comes down to latitude, dude!

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