Let the BLT Games Begin

And make candy from potatoes

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Today we are featuring tomatoes, which got me thinking about only-in-summer foods, which got me thinking:

(You’ll notice that Josh Scherer’s response has the most likes, but that’s because he’s famous, NOT because he’s correct. Truly an outrage.)

I received so many answers there and so many good ideas. Now I want to know exactly how everyone makes their BLTs, all components included. If you want in on this conversation but don’t want to get into it on Twitter, please click here.

Your Salad Might Be Evil

By Richard Pallardy

Humans have been imbuing fruits with meaning for all of existence. But few have inspired as much superstition and needless fear as the tomato — Solanum lycopersicum. Despite its ancient history as a food source in the Americas, these globes of many colors that grace the sandwiches and salads of the Western world were initially greeted with skepticism and even revulsion in Europe. 

To understand why these luscious emblems of summer might have seemed malignant when they were first introduced to Europe, we must trace them to their origins in Ecuador and Peru where their wild ancestors still grow. When they pop up as weeds, indigenous peoples harvest their tiny, pea-sized fruits, but large-scale cultivation and herbicide application make these ur-tomatoes difficult to find. They were first cultivated in their home regions, but recent research suggests that they were not fully domesticated until they made their way to Mexico. There, around 7,000 years ago, the Aztecs selectively bred xitomatls that more closely resemble the fat fruits we are accustomed to now. 

How they made their way to Europe is not entirely clear. It is most probable that Spanish exploiters first brought them across the Atlantic in the 16th century. Initially treated as a curiosity, tomatoes were soon integrated into the cuisines of Spain and then Italy. They worked their way north in the ensuing decades but found a chillier reception than they had in balmy southern Europe. Because of their relation to toxic nightshades such as the mandrake, tomatoes were perceived as poisonous. Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family, whose plants were associated with magic; they were specifically believed to power the brooms of witches. While the Italians dubbed the fruit pomodoro, or golden apple, the English took the formal nomenclature more literally. The species name lycopersicum means “wolf peach” in Latin. Some contemporary gourmets might find that moniker charming, but it had more sinister implications to societies that still believed in the supernatural. Tomatoes were also called devil’s fruit. 

Still, their succulent charms finally seduced even northern chefs. And, when Italians began immigrating to the United States, they brought their affinity for tomatoes with them. Though tomatoes had made their way to the middle parts of North America prior to that point, it was Italian enthusiasm that enshrined this humble berry in the American culinary pantheon. Now, millions of tons are produced each year, and tomatoes are a common ingredient in dishes around the globe. Rich in vitamins A and C, as well as the antioxidant lycopene, the xitomatl of the Aztecs is now an integral part of modern diets. And, bizarrely, due to an 1893 Supreme Court decision, in the U.S. it is officially a vegetable. Because tomatoes were served in savory dishes as part of the main meal, the court reasoned, it ought to be considered a vegetable according to colloquial use. Fruits were reserved for after the meal. Indeed. Even botanical sticklers would likely pass on tomatoes for dessert. 🍅

[Bibliography here.]

Photo: Sugar Spun Run

Swirling Potatoes and Peanuts

By Samantha Davis

My discovery of potato candy came about in the middle of mindless YouTube scrolling, when I stumbled upon a video by Tastemade. Watching the host delicately rolling potato dough, I thought I had gone too far into the internet abyss. But then she said that the candy in question was a southern staple. I was born and raised in Texas and I’d never heard of this before - but plenty of people in the comments had. Thus began my years-long obsession. 

Potato-based candy was brought to the United States by German immigrants: beyond that, there is no way to trace this simple recipe to a source as it was most likely passed down as part of an oral tradition to use up extra potatoes. But it was in the Depression-era Dust Bowl that the peanut butter swirl was added.

The 1930s Dust Bowl provided the conditions for this new variation. Living History Farm says that Nebraska’s rainfall dropped by 27.5% between the years 1930 and 1934. This drier climate led to a 75% drop of the corn crop yield. The white settlers who had brought East Coast crops to the area and over-plowed the land then figured out some crops that could thrive in this climate, including potatoes and peanuts. Leftovers were were combined to create a cheap thrill - even powdered sugar, much less expensive than the granulated sugar usually used in confections, was a purposeful addition to the candy to make it even more affordable.

So, with all this background, I made the candy. It tastes how you would imagine, incredibly sweet with a starchy texture. Basically, you’re making cinnamon rolls with a marzipan-like potato- and sugar-based dough and a peanut butter filling. To make it, peel and boil a potato until fork tender. Mash the potato and when cooled place it in a stand mixer. Slowly mix in powdered sugar until a dough forms. Then you liberally dust a work surface with powdered sugar and roll the potato dough into a rectangle. Spread peanut butter onto the rectangle of dough, leaving a small border, and gently roll into a log. Chill, and slice to make pinwheels. 🥔

This newsletter is edited by Katherine Spiers, host of the podcast Smart Mouth.

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