For food lovers, summer brings a bounty of luscious fruits and vegetables: peaches, plums, zucchini, okra, watermelons … the list goes on. But perhaps no hot-weather fruit is more beloved than the tomato (and yes, it is indeed a fruit—though it is generally considered a vegetable for culinary and statistical purposes).
Ripe, juicy tomatoes, with their rainbow colors and sometimes bizarre, bulbous shapes, steal the show at the summer farmers market. And as the season wanes, tomato fans are in a mad rush to enjoy these savory-sweet beauties before they’re gone (because every tomato lover knows out-of-season tomatoes are a pale comparison to their summer cousins).
But the tomato hasn’t always been a crowd pleaser. Many (though certainly not all) Europeans and American colonists thought them poisonous until about the 19th century—a notion that food historian Andrew Smith, author of The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery, attributes in part to the 1597 publication Herball, or General Historie of Plants, by British herbalist and barber John Gerard. The fruit’s classification in the 16th century as a type of nightshade didn’t do it any favors, either.
Luckily, we now know better. More than 150 million tons of tomatoes are produced worldwide each year, to make their way into pizzas, pasta sauces, sandwiches, ketchup, salads, you name it. And every August, Buñol, Spain, does its part: Tens of thousands of people descend on the town to hurl more than 100 tons of tomatoes at each other in the span of just two hours.
You may not want to get that messy, of course, so keep things simple. If the days are getting shorter where you live, head to the market (or your backyard, if you’re lucky enough to have plants of your own), and load up, before it’s too late. And while you’re at it, take a look at some of our favorite shots of tomatoes from around the world, courtesy of our Your Shot community.