Come Into the Garden


The Basket of Apples is one of Cézanne’s most famous still-life paintings. Today he might have chosen to paint a basket of colorful heirloom tomatoes.

History of Tomatoes

Tomatoes are native to the Americas and can be traced back to the Aztecs around 700 A.D. Early Aztec writings reveal recipes for a dish that uses tomatoes, peppers, and seasoning. However, it was not until around the 16th century that Europeans were introduced to this fruit. Throughout Southern Europe, the tomato was quickly accepted into the kitchen, but as it moved north, many Europeans feared that the tomato was poisonous, and the tomato’s reputation was ruined.

You can’t keep a good plant down, though, and despite its ill-deserved bad reputation, eventually, the taste of the tomato TRIUMPHED and became popular the world over.

In the 1800s, there was a mass immigration from Europe to America and the traditional blending of cultures. Many Italian-Americans ate tomatoes and brought their love of the food with them. THE INVENTION OF THE PIZZA IN NAPLES IN THE LATE 1880’S ONLY ACCELERATED THE INCREASE IN THE POPULARITY OF THE TOMATO.

Mrs. Robinson’s Kitchen Terrace
Photo by Josh Johnston

During the early years, the Kitchen Garden changed with the season, supplying most of the fresh produce for the Robinson household since there were few markets close by. Today the Kitchen Garden serves as an important component of the Friends Children’s Outreach Program, giving children who may have never seen a garden the opportunity to see their first tomato plant, smell a crushed mint leaf or taste a fresh kumquat.

What Is an Heirloom Tomato?

Heirloom tomatoes are pollinated by the transmission of pollen from one flower to the next, either by hand, wind, or insects. Unlike most hybrid tomatoes, heirloom varieties produce seeds that "come true," germinating and sprouting into plants that look the same as the host plant.

Heirloom tomatoes often have very unusual shapes and can be more flavorful than hybrid tomatoes, which have been selectively bred for their bright red color. Consider heirlooms the party favors of the tomato world.

A Few Tips for Growing Your Own Tomatoes
  1. Late spring through midsummer is the prime planting window for growing tomatoes in Southern California coastal areas.
  2. Plant small bush tomato varieties 24 inches apart and larger varieties, especially sprawling indeterminate plants, 36-48 inches apart in rows 36 inches apart.
  3. Plant transplants deep so that half the plant is underground.
How to Successfully Care for Tomato Plants
  1. Tomatoes grow most easily when they have consistent moisture. If it rains less than 1 inch per week, supplement by watering. In sprinkler terms, that's 20 minutes three times a week.
  2. To prevent diseases, avoid getting the foliage wet. When the tomatoes are about the size of golf balls, fertilize tomato plants with a balanced plant food such as 5-5-5 or organic fertilizers.
  3. While these plants don’t need to be pruned, it's a good idea to remove any shoots growing between the main stem and a branch.

The tomato is the world's most popular fruit with more than 60 million tons produced each year. This is 16 million more tons than the banana, the second most popular. The third most popular are apples (36 million), then oranges (34 million), and watermelons (22 million).

Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad

Recipe by Ina Garten


  • 12 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeds (not cores) removed
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 ounces fresh salted mozzarella
  • 12 fresh basil leaves, julienned


  • Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
  • Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with garlic, sugar, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Roast for 2 hours until the tomatoes are concentrated and begin to caramelize. Allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature.
  • Cut the mozzarella into slices slightly less than ½ inch thick. If the slices of mozzarella are larger than the tomatoes, cut the mozzarella slices in half. Layer the tomatoes alternately with the mozzarella on a platter and scatter the basil on top. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
  • Serve at room temperature.

Tomatoes pack a powerful nutritional punch. A cup of raw tomatoes has more than 2 grams of fiber (Link). They are also a healthy source of vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and manganese. And lycopene, an antioxidant that gives most tomatoes their red color, has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Of course, fresh tomatoes are delicious too (Link)!


Post by Joan Selwyn
Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Member
Founder of the Friends

  1. Patty Elias
    | Reply

    Great article Joan!! Thank you!

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