Tomato’s botanical name, Lycopersicon esculentum, translates to “edible wolf peach.” The French name for the tomato is “love apple.” Scientifically speaking the tomato is a fruit, but in culinary terms it is considered a vegetable. Native to South and Central America, the tomato was first recorded in Europe in the 16th century. For about 200 years, many feared tomatoes as poisonous — they were classified as a deadly nightshade. Today, health seekers eat tomatoes for the benefits of lycopene and vitamins A, C and B, plus potassium, folic acid, beta-carotene, iron and fiber. First seen in American farm journals in the mid-1800s, tomatoes were introduced to gardeners as “the latest craze,” though some writers dismissed tomatoes as “objects of pity.” Although historically tomatoes have sometimes been vilified, today there is consensus on their popularity— true champions in the American home garden.
Year that tomato plants were brought from the New World to Europe: 1519.
Whose gardens inspired the transport of tomatoes back to Spain? Montezuma.
First Old World country to take a liking to tomatoes: Italy.
Most recent year in which tomatoes were believed harmful to human health, even deadly: 1820.
Date and place when such beliefs about tomatoes were proven incorrect: 1820 in New Jersey.
Event that kicked off a love affair with tomatoes in 1820: Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson is purported to have eaten a bushel of fresh tomatoes in front of a skeptical crowd of 2,000. Having lived, so too did tomatoes in our diet.
First year Burpee sells garden tomato seeds through its catalog: 1876.
What was sold in that catalog that was much more popular than tomatoes in 1876? Flowers and livestock.
Names of popular tomato varieties sold in early Burpee catalogs: Burpee’s Climax, Burpee’s Cardinal, Essex Early Hybrid, Mayflower, Paragon, and Livingston’s Perfection.
Year that great salad companion to tomatoes, Iceberg lettuce, was first introduced by Burpee: 1894.
Year that tasty companion to tomatoes, sweet corn (Golden Bantam), was introduced by Burpee: 1902.
Milestone years and varieties for Burpee tomatoes in the 1900s: 1914 – Matchless; 1949 – Big Boy; 1981 – Supersteak; 1998 – Fourth of July.
First year a Burpee hybrid tomato was bred in the U.S.: 1945 with Fordhook Hybrid.
Year the Fordhook Hybrid was eclipsed in sales and by what variety: 1949 with Big Boy.
Burpee plant breeder credited for both tomato hybrid inventions: Dr. Ovid Shifriss.
Decade when poet Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Tomatoes” was published: 1950s.
Percentage of growth in Burpee tomato seed/plant purchase over past decade since 2004: 259 percent.
Most popular tomato variety sold by Burpee in 2004: Brandy Boy Hybrid.
Most popular tomato variety sold by Burpee in 2013: SuperSauce Hybrid.
Forecasted top-selling tomato in 2014: SteakHouse. Average weight at ripeness: 2.5 pounds.
Average diameter: 5 inches.
Average number of growing days for SteakHouse to reach maturity: 75-80.
Average fruit yield of one SteakHouse plant in pounds: 29.9.
Estimated number of tomato seeds in new SteakHouse packet: 25.
Estimated fruit yield, in pounds, per SteakHouse seed packet: 598.
Cost for SteakHouse seed packet: $6.95.
Estimated cost of 598 pounds of tomatoes in a typical supermarket: $1,345.50.
Based on recent history, what is the top customer service question Burpee will be asked regarding tomatoes? “Is the tomato a GMO?” The answer as always is: “No. We do NOT sell GMO seed, never have in the past, and will not sell it in the future.”
Estimated number of varieties of tomatoes available today: 7,500.
Average number of tomatoes, in pounds, an American consumes annually: 22.
California Tomato Growers Association Inc. http://www.learnaboutag.org/factsheets/pdf/ProcessingTomato.pdf.
Filippone, Peggy Towbridge. “Tomato History — The History of Tomatoes as Food.” About.com.
“Fun Farming Facts. USDA Farm Service Agency. http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/kidsapp?area=home&subject=funf&topic=landing.
“The Tomato Was Feared for 200 YEARS by Europeans Who Called It 'Poison Apple' and Thought It to Be Sinful and Seductive.” Mail Online.
“Tomato.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomato.