July 27th-29th 2022 – Cherry Baby

The tomato holds a proud place in your boxes all year long, but in summertime she’s in full glory and flavor. As a bonus in this hot season, she is joined by her sweet little cousin, the cherry tomato. Sometimes her banality makes us take the tomato for granted. So, this newsletter will be devoted to this fruit of love.

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Let’s start with the family tree: the tomato belongs to the Solanaceae family (AKA the nightshades), 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 Ecuador, where they were cultivated before migrating to Mexico to be raised by the Aztecs, who gave them the name tomatel. The first wild tomato was probably very small and sweet. As it was cultivated, other species were raised, among them larger fruit.

But the Aztecs and Incas raised tiny cherry tomatoes before they were able to raise big tomatoes. 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 its name pomodora – a golden apple in Italian, which became pomo dei Mori – the apple of the Moors, a name later corrupted by the French to become pomme d’amour – the apple of love. The Arabic name bandora probably derives from the Italian name. We will discuss the Hebrew name/s soon.

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 blossoms for special occasions. Yet 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. Thanks to their courage and willingness to try out many new vegetables that the aristocracy shied away from, we enjoy great vegetables today. The first mention in writing of tomato sauce was a recommendation by a Neapolitan abbot in 1778 for using this as a sauce for meat and fish (not yet pasta or pizza). However, the 19th century firmly belonged to the tomato: by then it was discovered worldwide – including via its immigration to our country, with a little help from some French monks.

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It is hard to imagine a kitchen without tomatoes, specifically the Mediterranean kitchen with its shakshuka, s’chug, Italian pasta and pizza sauces, as well as being an essential for Spanish, Provence, 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 not without reason: as mentioned, the tomato belongs to the selenium family. Some of the plants in this family are in fact poisonous and pose a health danger. This poison is due to alkaloids that exist in different parts of the plant. Alkaloids are organic compounds of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, usually plant-based in origin. 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 solanium content 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.

Tomatoes contain lycopene, the pigment that gives them (as well as watermelons) their red color, considered to be a hue that piques appetite and desire. Lycopene is a very potent 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 prostate, lung and pancreatic cancer. Together with other components of the tomato, it also reduces the danger of heart disease and stroke. Lycopene’s ability to act as an antioxidant also contributes to the healthy function of eyes, to brain cognition and protection against harmful sun rays. The tomato is rich in Vitamin C, which protects against heart disease, stroke, cancer and probably cataracts and complications of diabetes.

Yehiel Mikhal Pines, who worked with Eliezer Ben-Yehuda to revive the spoken Hebrew language, translated Liebesapfel (love apple) from the German to agvaniah, from the root ע.ג.ב- “to love, desire.” Rav Kook preferred a “pure and clean” Hebrew name for the vegetable. Prompted by the red color of the tomato, the venerable rabbi suggested admonia as an alternative. The Ben-Yehuda household was also not particularly pleased with the immodest agvaniah title, and thus suggested the name badura, Hebraizing the Arabic bandura. Over various decades, the agvaniah and badura co-existed, each with its own fan club. 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 slim variety of tomatoes are grown, but there are organizations and individuals who work to uphold the heritage of the multitude of varieties of tomatoes (as well as other plants and vegetables). Several decades ago, most of the tomatoes in the market were big tomatoes, while cherry tomatoes were rare and hardly available in fields, markets or kitchens. Like their older cousin, the big tomato, cherry tomatoes were once used mostly as ornaments and not for consumption. The change occurred when the British chain Marks and Spencer used cherry tomatoes for decorations in the stores, but there were those who thought it might be nice to sell them for consumption as well. However, they would need to improve the taste over that which was then currently available. (Tomatoes grown with the intention of prolonging their shelf life, which was why they were harvested too early and their peeling was thick and annoying.) Marks and Spencer approached one of the farmers who grew tomatoes for them, Bernard Sparks, with the request to develop better-tasting cherry tomatoes for them, the old-fashioned kind. Mr. Sparks made numerous attempts to create various hybrids of cherry tomatoes until reaching satisfactory results at last.

In the 1980’s, the chain began marketing Spencer’s first cherry tomato species in Europe and overseas. At the same time, a senior member of the chain, Natan Goldenberg, turned to two professors from the Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot, Professor Nachum Kedar and Professor Chaim Rabinowitz, who at the time were researching the compatibility of tomatoes with the growing conditions in Israel and the goal of prolonging their shelf life. Their research led to tomatoes that ripen slower on the plant, arrive at the ultimate level of sugar at ripening, and survive shipping. Goldenberg, a British Jewish Zionist and food technologist who kept a close eye on agricultural developments in Israel, suggested they apply their developments to cherry tomatoes as well. They began working together, creating excellent species that arrived in the markets in the 90’s. Thus, over the past forty years, the sweet cherry tomatoes are proud “regulars” in almost all kitchens and salad bowls.

Cherry tomatoes also sport a vast array of colors, shapes and sizes, and their names correspond to those traits (like the cherry tomato that received its title because of the resemblance to the cherry). Here, take a look for yourselves:

 May everyone enjoy a week of slow ripening, maximal sweetness and longevity!

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Orin and the entire Chubeza team

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

This year marks the first time that we’re growing hot peppers (pleasantly spicy, from the Lapid “Torch” variety). We thought to enable you to add the new pepper to your boxes as an additional product, and not include it as a vegetable portion. So, if desired, you may add this amazing pepper via the Ordering System under the heading: Chubeza Vegetables and Fruits.

Monday: Cherry tomatoes, zucchini/yellow beans, parsley/coriander/dill, potatoes, beets/carrots, eggplant/slice of pumpkin, lettuce, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers/fakus, melon/watermelon. SPECIAL GIFT: Swiss chard/ New Zealand spinach/basil.

Large box, in addition: Green peppers/onions, butternut squash/acorn squash, garlic/parsley root/scallions.

FRUIT BOXES:  Apples, bananas, avocados, grapes. Large Box, in addition: Nectarines.

Wednesday: Cherry tomatoes, parsley/coriander/dill, potatoes, beets/carrots, eggplant/garlc, lettuce, acorn squash/corn, tomatoes, cucumbers/fakus, melon/watermelon, leeks/scallions/onions. SPECIAL GIFT: Swiss chard/ New Zealand spinach/basil.

Large box, in addition: Green peppers/parsley root, butternut squash/spaghetti squash/slice of pumpkin, zucchini/yellow beans/grren soy (edamame)

FRUIT BOXES:  Apples/plums, avocados, grapes. Small Box: Nectarines/bananas. Large boxes: mango.