First, some messages:
It is time for Yiftah’s bi-weekly baking. Orders for hand baked sprouted spelt bread must be received by this Friday, July 2. (For English-language link, press here.)
In another important step in our efforts to keep non-Hebrew-speakers up-to-date with Chubeza’s activities and to give access to Chubeza-related information, our dedicated translators Melanie and Aliza have prepared an English-language information sheet on Danni and Galit’s “Granula Granola” and other goodies. Just press here!
We will be billing your credit cards for June at the beginning or middle of this week. Please note that this month, there were four Mondays and five Wednesdays.
What’s Round and Juicy and Red All Over….
Over the past week, we have been experiencing a flood of tomatoes. Our bushes are yielding up a storm of these sweet red ‘uns. Last year, as some may recall, our young tomato bushes were gobbled up by pests—at this time last year, we hardly had any tomatoes to include in your deliveries. This year we planted a similar amount, and hoped for the best. To our surprise and delight, our bushes are yielding substantial amounts of red, juicy, fresh tomatoes. And once again, we learn not to despair, but to persevere. In honor of these wonders, we dedicate this newsletter.
Let’s start with the family tree: the tomato belongs to the selenium family, along with fellow family members the eggplants, peppers, potatoes and… tobacco. Of course, there are many others in the extended family, including wild and cultivated ornamental plants totaling over 2,800 different species. The tomato is a tropical plant originating in Central America. The world’s first tomatoes probably grew in today’s Peru and Equador, where they were cultivated before migrating to Mexico to be raised by the Aztecs, who gave them the name tomatel. The habitants of America raised the tomato and realized its value. The Spanish were impressed by its beauty and brought it to Europe in the 16th century. Tomatoes of those times were yellow, thus the origin of the name pomodora– a golden apple in Italian, which became pomo dei Mori– the apple of love. The Arabic name bandora probably derives from the Italian name. We will discuss the Hebrew name soon.
In the beginning, when the tomato was first brought to Europe, it was raised only as an ornamental plant. The women of 16th century haute couture adorned their hair with tomato flowers for special occasions. Health experts of the time warned against the fruit, which they considered toxic. The golden tomato may have been forgotten, if not for two 18th century Italian priests who brought the red variety from South America to grow in their yard. Here, in southern Italy, red tomatoes met their first great success among the peasants (the more I write about vegetables, the more I realize that the peasants were the wisest of them all, ready and willing to try out many new vegetables. Thanks to them, we enjoy great vegetables today). The first tomato sauce mentioned in writing was in 1778 by a Neapolitan abbot who recommended it as a sauce for meat and fish (not pasta or pizza yet). The 19th century belongs to the tomato: it was discovered worldwide and also immigrated to our country, with the help of French monks.
It is hard to imagine a kitchen without tomatoes, specifically the Mediterranean kitchen with its shakshuka, schug, Italian pasta and pizza sauces, as well as being essential for Spanish, Province, Greece and Turkey sea and land foods. It’s hard to believe that history mounted the tomato atop European tables only 200 years ago, and that it was completely unknown in the western world before Columbus made his grand discovery…Even so, the tomato was not so warmly received at its initial debut, and an aura of controversy remains around it till today. Reading about the tomato, you can find mention that it is lofty and exalted, healthy, essential and important, or that it is poisonous, harmful and even dangerous. So… where are we? Are we poisoning you with tomatoes every week or saving your souls? The story of the tomato is neither black nor white. (It is, of course, red.)
So, the tomato belongs to the selenium family. Some of the plants in this family are in fact poisonous and pose a danger to your health. This poison is due to alkaloids that exist in different parts of the plant. Alkaloids are organic compounds of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, the source of which is usually in plants. They are considered to have an influence on the function of nerves, muscles and the digestive system. The problematic alkaloid in the selenium family is the solanium, which gave it its name, and exists in various levels in family members. The quantity of solanium in edible selenium plants is minute, and is reduced by 40-50% with cooking, which is why most of us can consume it without any problem. And yet, macrobiotic nutrition is very cautious of the selenium family, which is considered most problematic when the vegetables are green (green tomatoes, green peppers, etc.) or raw.
On the other hand, tomatoes contain lycopene, the pigment that gives them (as well as watermelons) their red color, considered to be a color that induces appetite and desire. Lycopene is a very strong antioxidant. Scientists claim that it is one of the “predators” of free radicals which are very active in nature (free radicals are the harmful substances that accelerate the processes of aging and disease). Lycopene is beneficial in battling various types of cancer, particularly cancer of the prostate, lungs and pancreas. Together with other components of the tomato, it also lessens the danger of heart disease and stroke. Lycopene’s ability to act as an antioxidant also contributes to the health of eyes, brain cognition and protection against sun damage. The tomato is rich in vitamin C, which protects against heart disease, stroke, cancer and probably cataract and complications of diabetes.
It was the red color that prompted Rav Kook to suggest a “pure and clean” Hebrew name for the vegetable: admonia, in an attempt to find an alternative to the name suggested by Yechiel Michel Pines, who worked with Eliezer Ben Yehuda. He had suggested translating Liebesapfel (love apple) from the German to agvaniah, from the root ע.ג.ב- “to love, desire.” Ben Yehuda, too, was not particularly pleased with the immodest title, and suggested the name badura, Hebraizing the Arabic bandura. Over various decades, the agvaniah and badura co-existed, each with its own fan club, when in the end, love and desire won out, and agvaniah it was.
Most of the tomatoes we know are indeed red, but the full picture shows a colorful, wide, rich range of varieties. In most agricultural farms, a narrow variety of tomatoes are grown, but there are organizations and people who work to uphold the heritage of the many varieties of tomatoes (as well as other plants and vegetables). See this Mandala from the French Kokopelli Foundation website (thank you, Yiftah, for the link):
In Israel, the tomato suffers from some maladies for which remedies have not yet been found. First and foremost, it is attacked by the yellow leaf curl virus, which is transferred by tobacco moth aphids and destroys the plants at their peak. The disease dries up the plant, preventing it from growing and bearing fruit. In an open area like ours, this is a real problem–we are supposed to plant several rounds of bush tomatoes, instead of enjoying the benefits of raising tomatoes in trellising over long months, as done in hothouses. Originally the tomato is an annual plant, and in places clean of disease, some tomato plants can grow and produce fruit for over more than a year. This is also one of the main reasons that most of the tomato growth in the country (as is common across the globe) takes place in closed areas, enabling farmers to protect the plant from disease. In our open space, we try to find varieties that have resistance to the yellow leaf curl virus, and this year we are taking part in various experiments to examine the ability of new species to deal with this disease in an open area. Right now we’re experimenting with six different species of round and “date” tomatoes. Hopefully we’ll be lucky!
During these weeks of red riches, we will be feeding you with this yummy delicacy, and in honor of the quantities expected in your box, we are including some recipes for preserving tomatoes: drying them, making sauces, and even tomato jam. Bon appetite!
We are undergoing some transitions in Chubeza. Lobsang, who has been with us over three years, will be leaving us for his other great love: cooking, and we wish him luck. We will miss him greatly. Shacham, who worked with us over a few months, is departing as well. They will be replaced by Yossi, who has worked with us in the past, and in perfect timing called to ask if we had work, and Poom, a relative of Suwet’s from Thailand, who arrived last Thursday. Welcome to the newcomers, farewell to those who leave, and hearty wishes for the best of luck!
Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team.
Not only tomatoes in the boxes this week…
Monday: cucumbers & fakus, zucchini, corn, potatoes, acorn squash, tomatoes, cilantro, leek, lettuce, green onions, Musquee de Provence pumpkin
In the large box, in addition: Swiss chard, eggplants, cherry tomatoes, Soyo long Asian cucumbers
Wednesday: cucumbers & fakus, zucchini, corn, potatoes, acorn or butternut squash, tomatoes, cilantro or dill or basil, eggplant, lettuce, green onions, parsley
In the large box, in addition: Swiss chard, leek, cherry tomatoes
Preserving tomatoes (if you’d like to get 10kg of canning tomatoes from us, just ask, it cost 25 shekels, and we’ll be happy to send you a box, or two…)
There are sooo many recipes for canning tomatoes sauce. I chose this one because of the photos…