Kim Henderson – Fruit on the Vine


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, July 20. Hello! This is The world and all in it of WORLD Radio supported by listeners. I am Marie Reichard.

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Now on to tomatoes.

REICHARD: Tomatoes ?!

EICHER: Yes. And if you’ve ever tried growing your own, you know it’s not as easy as it looks. This is Kim Henderson.

KIM HENDERSON, COMMENTATOR: This time of year in my corner of the woods we’re talking about tomatoes. The subject comes as easily as the temperature. “How are your tomatoes doing?” Someone asks. The conversation soon turns to pests and rain conditions and “Did you add lime to your soil?” I can’t add much, but one thing is for sure. I have the most beautiful tomato plants in the area.

Their vines are long and lovely, with delicate green tendrils wrapped around stakes like nobody’s business. The stems protrude 8 inches above my head. And the leaves – well, they clearly stand out when it comes to the leaves. Unfolded, symmetrical, bug-free. So what is the problem?

I didn’t really know there was a problem until my husband told me about it. Maybe he didn’t notice it either, until my stepdad arrived for Sunday lunch with presents.

“Good,” I remarked, feeling the firm, ripe Better Boys sack. They were perfect tomato-icity specimens.

The next day my husband pointed out that mine are not. He managed to do it in a quiet way, but I knew something was going to happen when he spoke to our son and called me “your mother”. It’s never good when they do that.

“So Poppa grew these tomatoes?” Our son asked, stacking a piece of red juice on a plate.

“Of course,” my husband replied. “Your mother only grows decorative tomatoes.

Usually, “decorative” is a pleasant adjective, but I understood its drift. My vines are not bearing much fruit. They are mainly consumers of dirt, space, rain and my infrequent hoeing efforts. But they look good.

In my quest to improve production, I did some research. I wanted to nail something. Fruit or vegetable?

Well, it turns out that no one really knows. It’s such a debate that tomato lovers once took the controversy to the Supreme Court. In 1887, the United States imposed a duty rate of 10 percent on imported vegetables. The fruit, on the other hand, arrived on our shores duty free.

So the tomato identity crisis had financial implications, ultimately leading to the Supreme Court ruling Nix v Hedden which declared the tomato (drum roll, please)… a vegetable.

The honorable assembly came to this conclusion using the popular definition which classifies vegetables by use. Since tomatoes are usually served with dinner and not dessert, they have been labeled as vegetables.

However, the European authorities have deduced it differently. On this continent, the tomato is classified (correctly, botanically speaking) as a fruit. Die-hard botanists go even further. They place tomatoes in a subset of fruits: berries.

So it boils down to that. To determine your position as a tomato, you have to either go botanical or gourmet. I get it?

And I guess this whole decorative tomato plant thing comes down to something else as well. An expectation of good fruit is just and reasonable. Just looking at the piece can mean that an ax is ready at the root.

I am Kim Henderson.

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