Colonial Cookery and Customs for Kids: Scalloped Tomatoes

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Recipes for Scalloped Tomatoes can be found dating back to the 1820s. A simple dish to prepare, it needs little more than fresh tomatoes, a little onion, salt, pepper, bread crumbs and butter, a thrifty way to handle a bountiful harvest.  Why is it called “scalloped” when there are no scallops involved? There is no clear answer to that question! On Saturday, September 29 from 11:00 – 12:30 the Wilton Historical Society will be holding a Colonial Cookery and Customs Workshop for Kids, in which Museum Educator Lola Chen will be showing the children how to make Scalloped Tomatoes. She will also tell them about the tomato’s reputation, which has evolved from the feared “poison apple” and “love apple” to an essential part of modern cuisine – who can imagine life without pizza, tomato soup, and salsa?

The Colonial Cookery and Customs for Kids workshop at the Wilton Historical Society teaches kids a “reciept” (recipe) used in the Connecticut region.  While the food is prepared, they hear about Colonial manners, morals and way of life.  The monthly workshops feature relatively simple dishes made with local, seasonal ingredients, adapted for modern kitchens.  All participants will sample their own cooking and take home recipe cards – as well as any leftovers! The children will learn how a Colonial kitchen would have operated, in order to appreciate the modern conveniences we take for granted.  Previous sessions have made bannock cakes, pease porridge, pickles, an amulet of green peas, apple tansey, fairy butter, pumpkin bread, cranberry shortbread, New Year’s “cakes”, New England chowder, hand pies, cheese and ramp soufflé, pea and watercress Rappahannock, blackberry maslin, thirded bread, pound cake with “Oranges” juice, maple cup custard and pepper pot soup.

Suggested for ages 6 – 12. Members: $10; Non-members $15. Space is limited — please register by contacting info@wiltonhistorical.org or call 203-762-7257. 

Did You Know?

“In the late 1700s, a large percentage of Europeans feared the tomato.

A nickname for the fruit was the “poison apple” because it was thought that aristocrats got sick and died after eating them . . . The tomato didn’t get blamed just for what was really lead poisoning. Before the fruit made its way to the table in North America, it was classified as a deadly nightshade, a poisonous family of Solanaceae plants that contain toxins called tropane alkaloids. . .

The first known reference to tomato in the British North American Colonies was published in herbalist William Salmon’s Botanologia printed in 1710 which places the tomato in the Carolinas. The tomato became an acceptable edible fruit in many regions, but the United States of America weren’t as united in the 18th and early 19th century. Word of the tomato spread slowly along with plenty of myths and questions from farmers. Many knew how to grow them, but not how to cook the food.

By 1822, hundreds of tomato recipes appeared in local periodicals and newspapers, but fears and rumors of the plant’s potential poison lingered. By the 1830s when the love apple was cultivated in New York, a new concern emerged. The Green Tomato Worm, measuring three to four inches in length with a horn sticking out of its back, began taking over tomato patches across the state.  According to The Illustrated Annual Register of Rural Affairs and Cultivator Almanac (1867) edited by J.J. Thomas, it was believed that a mere brush with such a worm could result in death.  The description is chilling:

The tomato in all of our gardens is infested with a very large thick-bodied green worm, with oblique white sterols along its sides, and a curved thorn-like horn at the end of its back.

According to Smith’s research, even Ralph Waldo Emerson feared the presence of the tomato-loving worms: They were “an object of much terror, it being currently regarded as poisonous and imparting a poisonous quality to the fruit if it should chance to crawl upon it.”

Around the same time period, a man by the name of Dr. Fuller in New York was quoted in The Syracuse Standard, saying he had found a five-inch tomato worm in his garden. He captured the worm in a bottle and said it was “poisonous as a rattlesnake” when it would throw spittle at its prey. According to Fuller’s account, once the skin came into contact with the spittle, it swelled immediately. A few hours later, the victim would seize up and die. It was a “new enemy to human existence,” he said. Luckily, an entomologist by the name of Benjamin Walsh argued that the dreaded tomato worm wouldn’t hurt a flea. Thomas continues:

Now that we have become familiarized with it these fears have all vanished, and we have become quite indifferent towards this creature, knowing it to be merely an ugly-looking worm which eats some of the leaves of the tomato…

The fear, it seems, had subsided. With the rise of agricultural societies, farmers began investigating the tomato’s use and experimented with different varieties. According to Smith, back in the 1850s the name tomato was so highly regarded that it was used to sell other plants at market. By 1897, innovator Joseph Campbell figured out that tomatoes keep well when canned and popularized condensed tomato soup.”   —  Why the Tomato Was Feared in Europe for More Than 200 Years by K. Annabelle Smith, smithsonian.com  June 18, 2013