Monday, October 5, 2020

Tomato skins

"What is it about tomato skins?" my guest asked.

We were walking around outside. The tour stopped at the part of the garden where I had grown tomatoes. My guest did not like fresh tomatoes but did like tomatoes in soups, pasta and other cooked foods.

I mentioned that Mrs ERJ and I had canned the tomatoes skin-and-all this year.

Culture is path-dependent

Why do people in American view tomatoes canned (preserved) with their skins the same way most people in America view pretty girls with hairy armpits? That is, with something akin to horror.

The answer to both questions is "Because our culture informs us to do so."

County fairs

In today's highly connected world with near-instantaneous communication, it is difficult to visualize how much County Fairs used to shape rural culture.

Starting in about 1800, advances in agricultural productivity, economic pressures of the nascent industrial revolution and the opening up of the American west resulted in increases in farm size. That increase in farm size resulted in larger farms and greater social isolation of rural families, both in Europe and American.

In that environment, County Fairs were the Facebook of rural life.

Like today's social media, County Fairs warped farm life by emphasizing some attributes while discounting others.

For example, economics favor corn that produces the most corn-per-acre with the fewest inputs while the County Fair rewards enormous ears that are completely filled to the tip.

Same for pumpkins. Internal, farm economics favor pumpkins/winter squash that have large amounts of carbohydrates, good flavor and the ability to store while County Fairs reward size, uniformity and bright orange color.

The distaff side

County Fairs also have categories for the domestic arts.

If you baked a pie and took it to the Fair, you would not get a ribbon if you baked a delicious but plain-looking pie.

You had to make a lattice crust and brush it with beaten egg-white to get it an even brown. You put the reddest cherries on top and so on.

If you took canned goods, you would not get a ribbon if you did what any sane, rational person would do. You had to go several steps beyond that.

And it became an arms-race. The judges had to look at smaller graduations in quality to separate out the Blue, Red and Yellow ribbons. The canners stepped up their game. A tiny speck of green anywhere in the quart? No ribbon for you! Skins? Unthinkable!

Thus the image of what canned tomatoes SHOULD look like was formed by the social media of the day. What families in a subsistence environment would view as totally wasted time-and-effort-and-fuel is the unquestioned standard of what canned tomatoes SHOULD look like.


  1. The machine harvestable fruits and vegies that have been developed the past 50 years are also the problem. We had company from downstate suburbia here two weeks ago. I was out in the garden with the woman, in her mid 40s, and I picked up a Roma tomato and offered it to her. She declined saying that she did not like raw tomatoes. I asked her if she ever had one from a garden which she had not. I convinced her to try it and she did and liked it. I explained to her how the farm labor union movement lead by Cesar Chavez had moved produce growers to develop strains that were super hard that could be machine harvested, and flavor and texture were not a consideration. She had no idea about any of that and how things used to taste.---ken

  2. It has been many years since I have tasted a tomato, even the so-called heirloom tomatoes at Sprouts, that taste anything like the flavorful tomatoes that I remember from 50 or 60 years ago.

  3. I hear ya, George. That is something I find also. I think, but cannot attest to , that is because they pick them green and ripen them artificially on the way to the store. I think that you have to pick them off the vine when they are ripe to get the true taste. Also I have doubts about the "heirloom" claims. Like you say, they don't taste like they did 50-60 years ago. ---ken

  4. Call me dumb, but I was not aware that anyone, ever, removed the skin off the tomatoes for any reason, except for maybe some special recipe such as perhaps ketchup. I have helped my Mother in the garden and seen her cook tomatoes many times but never saw her peel a tomato. Must be something the rich folks do. But then no one ever taught me how to cook. I just learned as I went along.

  5. ...Was just wondering about your satisfaction level with the canned tomatoes with the skin on.

    Like you, I have pondered the value of canned tomatoes and the value of all the hot water and ice and time to convert them to skinless.

    Would appreciate your feedback, Joe, whenever you get around to consuming...



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