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Looking Back - June 10, 2012

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

For tomato sandwich lovers and those craving fresh fruit, right now is the most wonderful time of the year in South Georgia! Here is a look at some food facts.

Tomatoes

• According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans eat between 22-24 pounds of tomatoes per person, per year. More than half of those tomatoes are ketchup and tomato sauce.

• The tomato is America’s fourth most popular fresh-market vegetable behind potatoes, lettuce, and onions.

• Cousins of the tomato include eggplant, red pepper, potato, and the highly toxic belladonna, a herbaceous perennial, also known as the nightshade, that has historically been used as both a medicine and poison.

• Tomato juice is the official state beverage of Ohio.

• Tomatoes are thought to originate in Peru. The name comes from the Aztec “xitomatl,” which means “plump thing with a navel”.

Potatoes

• The average American eats approximately 126 pounds of potatoes each year.

• The potato is a relative of tobacco and the tomato.

• Potatoes require less water to grow than other staple foods such as wheat, rice and corn.

• The potato is the fourth most important crop in the world after wheat, rice and corn.

• Up until the late 18th century, the French believed that potatoes caused leprosy. Antoine-Auguste Parmentier was an agronomist who convinced the common French people to accept the potato as a safe food. He used reverse psychology by posting guards around potato fields during the day to prevent people from stealing them. He left them unguarded at night. So, every night, the thieves would sneak into the fields and leave with sacks of potatoes.

• It is most likely that all of Europe’s potato crop in the 1800s originated from only two plants brought back to Europe by the Spaniards. This lack of genetic diversity is one of the probable causes of the devastating potato blight of the late 19th century.

• Potatoes and lettuce are the two most popular fresh vegetables in the U.S.

Cantaloupe

• Actually called a muskmelon, this fruit with orange flesh and khaki netted colored skin provides the most beta-carotene in the entire melon family.

• Cantaloupe is typically available year-round, with a June through August peak season.

• A ripe cantaloupe has a coarse and prominent netting on the outside and a smooth stem end. It should smell sweet and yield gently to finger pressure.

• There are six common sizes of cantaloupe. The numbers are 9,12,15,23 and 30. The number is based on the weight of the melon and how many will fit into a 40-pound shipping container. The lower the number, the bigger the fruit.

• Leaving an uncut cantaloupe at room temperature for 2-4 days will make the fruit softer and juicier.

• This fruit is named after Cantalupo, Italy where it was cultivated from Armenian seeds in the 1770s.

Onions

• Onions may well be one of the earliest cultivated crops. They are less perishable than other foods, are transportable, easy to grow, and can be grown in a variety of soils and climates.

• In Egypt, onions were once considered to be an object of worship. The onion symbolized eternity to the Egyptians who buried them along with their Pharaohs.

• Onions were eaten by the Israelites in the Bible. In Numbers 11:5, the children of Israel lament the meager desert diet enforced by the Exodus: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic.”

• Per capita onion consumption has risen over 70 percent in the last two decades, from 12.2 pounds per person in 1982 to 20 pounds per person in 2009.

• Always cut onions as close to cooking or serving time as possible. An onion’s flavor deteriorates and its aroma intensifies over time.

• Sulfuric compounds are what makes a person “cry” when cutting onions. To cut down on the crying, chill the onion and cut into the root end of the onion last.

• According to an old English Rhyme, the thickness of an onion skin can help predict the severity of the coming winter. Thin skins mean a mild winter is coming while thick skins indicate a rough winter ahead.

• A single serving of fresh onion has only 45 calories.

Corn

• In America, corn is the number one field crop. Corn leads all other crops in value and volume of production.

• Corn is grown on every continent except Antarctica.

• One bushel of corn will sweeten more than 400 cans of Coca-Cola.

• The average ear of corn has 500 to 1000 kernels, arranged in an even number of rows, typically 16.

• Corn is cholesterol free. It’s a good source of vitamin C and A, potassium, thiamin and fiber, and it’s very high in antioxidants. Corn on the cob and cut corn is a 100% whole grain.

• Americans consume 16.5 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually, more than anyone else in the world. About 30 percent of that is eaten outside the home - in theaters, ballparks, schools, etc.

• It takes 25 gallons of water to grow one ear of corn.