Jodi Lea Stewart

Loving and Writing About the Southwest and the South

TJ (Thomas Jefferson) and the Tomatoes


Tomatoes. How we love them. How we need them.

Need them?

Sure. I’ll prove it.

Imagine a plate of spaghetti and meatballs without a  delicious, red spaghetti sauce. Envision always ordering white pizzas with an Alfredo or cheese sauce base.

Red sauce = tomatoes.

Salsa = tomatoes.

Ketchup = tomatoes.

Must I go on?

Yes. Because nothing but tomatoes can make our salads both juicy AND pretty.


Since we admit we need them, what about the tire-tread taste of the tomatoes we buy at the store?

First of all, don’t blame the tomatoes. They’re innocent. Tomatoes grown for commercial purposes can’t luxuriate at the Riviera in the sunshine until they are red and ready. They are harvested from the vine while still green, gassed with ethylene – which turns them pukey pink inside – and shipped off to stores to wind up in your sauces, soups, and salads. That’s why they look sick and have no taste.

Thomas_Jefferson_revDid Thomas Jefferson (TJ) have to tolerate crappy tasteless tomatoes?

What does Thomas Jefferson have to do with tomatoes? Well, he indisputably was the most enthusiastic gardener-president we’ve ever had in office. He kept a garden calendar from 1767 to 1824, and he never failed to plant tomatoes. They appeared often in the Jefferson family recipes.

Naturally, Jefferson loved tomatoes.  And he should have. They were delicious, different “creatures” in those days. Even most home-garden grown tomatoes and organic crops aren’t as good as the ones Thomas Jefferson produced. Why? Because TJ grew them before genetic modification. Genetic modification makes generic seeds and grocery-store vegetables:

1)      more resistant to pesticides and weed killers,

2)      easier to ship,

3)      slower to rot,

4)      tasteless . . . and of dubious nutritional value.

Furtunately, we aren’t stuck with these cardboard versions of formerly delicious vegetables.

I found out about heirloom gardening  from my mother, who found out about heirloom seeds from her sister. They had a farmer dad, you know, and it’s in their blood to care about things growing out of dirt.

What are Heirloom Vegetables?

Heirloom seeds are carefully harvested from strains going back thousands of years. Some descend from seeds sewn into clothes by immigrants coming to America, or from Thomas

Monticello Vegetable Garden

Jefferson’s own garden.

According to Jack Penman in Getting Back to America’s Roots, since these seeds evolved before the age of industrial agriculture, they often grow better under eco-friendly practices.

Did you get that? They’re naturally hardy and disease resistant without chemicals.

Jere Gettle, owner of Baker Creed Heirloom Seeds, sends out two million heirloom seed packets a year and says that number is rising at about thirty percent annually. Who knew? Added bonus: You can buy enough seeds to grow a crop for three years for less than ten dollars. Plus, you won’t have to reorder if you save your seeds. (P.S. You have to click on the Baker Creed link…it’s so cool. And you’ll see vegetables that look surreal!)

So now you know. Choosing pasty, yucky tomatoes or full-bodied delicious ones right out of Thomas Jefferson’s garden is now a matter of choice…and a little sweat o’ the brow!

Want to know more?

The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World’s Most Beautiful Fruit






Heirloom Gardens to see  

What about you?  Do you ever worry about the gases they use to “ripen” our fruits and vegetables? What about hybrids and genetic modification . . . scary or not scary? I’ll say this, I’ve learned that none of us is getting out of this world alive. Therefore, our quality of life while we’re here should be pretty important. Upping the quality of the food we eat may be part of seeking that higher ground.



6 thoughts on “TJ (Thomas Jefferson) and the Tomatoes

  1. It’s funny. I’ve heard about heirloom tomatoes for years but really never thought beyond their being something that “real” gardeners prefer. I usually end up with the tomatoes and other vegetables that my father-in-law can’t fit in his garden, and I’m usually pretty happy with the selection. We end up with tomatoes that are much better than the ones at the store (I refuse to buy tomatoes off-season, which is 10 months of the year here) but probably not up to heirloom quality. Thanks for the info. Maybe next year I will get started before my father in law and offer him some heirloom seeds so both of us (and our families) can benefit. 🙂

  2. I can’t stand the average tomato, thus I ALWAYS request them to be left off anything I order which includes them as “garmish.” Blech! Tasteless, mealy, pink and shriveled… not my idea of what a tomato should taste like.
    I am inspired! I MUST order these heirloom seeds and plant some of my own. GOOD tomatoes are irresistible, especially when thickly sliced and sprinkled with a little sea salt and fresh-cracked pepper alongside some jalapeno strips, avacado, mozzerella and basil or a thick slice of white onion. Mmmm…

    1. You have certainly made me hungry, Sunny! It sounds like you know your tomatoes. Keep us informed about which seeds you choose and how the gardening goes, okay? Thanks for visiting!

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