A Quick Lesson in our History of Tomatoes

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European exploration led to a quick lesson in our history of tomatoes. Shortly after Jean Ribault claimed Amelia Island for the French and raised our first of eight flags, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sailed a fleet of ships to Florida in 1565.  The ships were stocked with supplies necessary for establishing a colony, including food, tools, and weapons. The cargo onboard would have included provisions for the journey and materials for building and sustaining the new settlers into Florida, including livestock and crops. Tomato seeds or plants were likely introduced to the area. Tomatoes thrive in Florida’s climate and soil. By the year 1825, tomatoes, seeds, or plants would have been readily available to trade or barter for other goods at a 200-year-old community market or trading post in coastal Fernandina.

In Fernandina Beach, tomatoes have been cultivated for centuries, with local farmers growing various types. Tomatoes are a rich source of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium. They also contain antioxidants such as lycopene, which is associated with several health benefits.

Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family of plants, along with potatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Technically fruits, in botanical terms, these plants are often thought of as vegetables in culinary contexts. They are classified as fruits botanically because they develop from the flower of the plant and contain seeds.

There are thousands of tomato varieties, ranging in size, shape, color, and flavor. The next time you savor a delicious tomato, remember to thank our Spanish influence for the introduction. And that, was a quick lesson in our history of tomatoes.

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