Thomas Jefferson’s first written reference to "tomatas" is in his Notes on the State of Virginia: “The gardens yield muskmelons, watermelons, tomatas, okra, pomegranates, figs, and the esculent plants of Europe.”
Although there no references in his writings to the commonly held eigteenth century belief that tomatoes were poisonous, one story holds that during a visit to Lynchburg, Jefferson “terrified one of the locals when he paused to snack on a tomato on the steps of the Miller-Claytor house.”
Whether this incident actually happened is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that Jefferson’s daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph and her daughters recorded numerous recipes for preparing tomatoes in their family cookbooks, including recipes for Cayenne Tomato Soup, Green Tomato Pickles, Tomato Gumbo, Tomato Preserves and Tomato Omelette.
It has been said that tomato soup with fresh herbs was another Jefferson family favorite. If you try this delicious recipe for Tomato Soup with Garlic and Herbs from seriouseats.com, it might just become one of your favorites, too!
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 can (28-ounce) Muir Glen Fire-Roasted diced tomatoes
1 can (28-ounce) Muir Glen Fire-Roasted crushed tomatoes
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
8 cloves roasted garlic (instructions here)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1 or 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
4 tablespoons plain yogurt (optional)
Sauté onion and celery in olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. When onion is translucent (about 7 minutes), add the tomatoes, broth, oregano, basil, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
Transfer half of the soup to the blender, add the roasted garlic, and purée until fairly smooth. If you'd like a chunky soup, add the blended half back to the pot. For a smoother soup, blend the rest of the soup and return it to the pot. Add the parsley and salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Taste the soup, and if it is too acidic, add sugar, just enough to take the edge off. If desired, serve with croutons or a tablespoon of yogurt stirred into each bowl.
Credit: Still Life with Tomatoes, a Bowl of Aubergines, and Onions, painting by Louis Meléndez (c. 1771-1774)