Tomatoes are the second most widely consumed vegetable in the U.S., after potatoes. That’s not all sliced tomatoes, mind you, but tomato sauce on pasta and pizza, tomatoes in ketchup and salad.
According to the USDA, Americans consumed 31.1 pounds of tomatoes per capita in 2013, 59% of them in canned form (much of which, presumably, went into tomato sauce).
Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit, but 122 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it, for tax reasons, a vegetable. (Ah, if the enlightened justices of today would just reverse that misguided decision. More about it is below.)
Thanks to Restaurant Hospitality for passing along this recipe from Chef Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen’s Kitchen in Austin, Texas.
Serve it as you would a quiche: in small wedges as a first course, as a main with a salad.
RECIPE: TOMATO BASIL PIE
This pie is filled with sweet summer tomatoes and three types of cheese.
1. SEASON the tomato slices lightly with salt and pepper, and allow them to drain on a paper towel (the salt draws out the water).
2. PREHEAT the oven to 300°F. Combine the cheeses in small bowl.
3. LAYER the tomatoes in the pie shell. Place basil pieces on top of them. Sprinkle the cheese mixture on top of the basil.
Here’s a showier concept—a cherry tomato tart with Gruyère and a crust of pâte brisée. Here’s the recipe. Photo courtesy UnPetitChef.Blogspot.com.
WHY A TOMATO IS CALLED A VEGETABLE INSTEAD OF A FRUIT
Who would think, when looking at the seriousness of the Supreme Court’s docket today, that in 1893 they would take up the argument of whether the tomato should be classified as a vegetable rather than a fruit. The eight or nine cases the Court can adjudicate each year cover Constitutional rights and federal law.
United States Supreme Court decisions have shaped history. So how does the classification of the tomato fit in? It made it onto the docket because of a federal law regarding import taxes.
The Tariff Act of 1883 stipulated that a 10% import tax be paid on imported vegetables, but no tax was levied on imported fruit*. John Nix, an importer of tomatoes, filed the action against Edward L. Hedden, Collector of the Customs House for the Port of New York. Nix wanted to recover back taxes he had paid on tomatoes. His case asserted that he was importing a fruit, but being taxed as if it were a vegetable.
*We’ve tried to research why fruit was exempt, but haven’t yet found the answer. Typically, it involves special interests.
How To Tell If It’s A Fruit
Botanically speaking the tomato is a fruit. A fruit is the ripened ovary, formed together with seeds, from from the flowers of a plant. This how the tomato is formed.
In easier terms, here’s how to think of a fruit:
With science on his side, vendor Nix sued customs collector Hedden, and the case made its way through the court system—all the way to the Supreme Court.
In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that the Tariff Act of 1883 used the ordinary meaning of the words “fruit” and “vegetable,” as people thought of them, instead of the scientific, botanical use. The opinion delivered by Justice Gray stated:
“Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas. But in the common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.” (Source: caselaw.lp.findlaw.com)
Wrong perspective, Justice Gray. The laws of nature should stand as is, not subjected to interpretation to fit cultural norms. Today, you can find tomato desserts (ice cream and sorbet, for starters). There are other crossovers. For example, rhubarb, a vegetable, is often prepared for dessert.
And you should have had better clerks do your research: Beans and pea are legumes, not vegetables.
Politically, the decision also meant more tax revenue for the United States. We guess we’re not going to get the Supreme Court to reverse the decision.