We’ve all heard of the horrific Salem Witch Trials – where more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft between 1692 and 1693 – with over 20 being executed.
Eventually, the town’s leadership admitted the trials were a mistake and compensated the families of the convicted – although no compensation could ever make up for having a loved one ripped from this world.
It’s no wonder the Salem Witch Trials gathered so much notoriety. It’s one of mankind’s biggest blunders, letting fear and hysteria cloud reason and logic.
However, one Salem Trial that is rarely mentioned is the Salem Tomato Trial. Yes, tomato, those juicy red things people put on your burgers or in your salads.
They held a trial against tomatoes.
Tomatoes, shortly after their introduction to the western world, were long considered to be a poisonous fruit. After all, red in nature usually means danger.
Also considered to be a “sinful” food due to its mild aphrodisiac properties, the tomato didn’t get much love between the 1500’s – 1800’s.
John Gerard, a barber/surgeon and one of the fruit’s earliest cultivators stateside, believed them to be poisonous because they contained low levels of a toxin called tomatine. Whilst tomatoes do contain very low levels of toxins, we today know they are far from harmful.
Safe to say, Gerard’s views went old-timey viral and for centuries the red fruits were widely considered to be unfit for human consumption.
The Tomato Trial
So, with all that backdrop, and full-well knowing how much the people of Salem love a crazy trial, it should come as no surprise that tomatoes were put on trial in the town’s courthouse in 1820, to answer for their toxicity.
One man, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, refused to believe the tomato was poisonous. In fact, he’d been holding competitions to see who could grow the biggest tomatoes every year. The good Colonel even offered a prize to the winner.
Not only that but he’d even been eating them regularly – what a madman!
Be that as it may, the general public still believed Colonel Johnson to be a lunatic, and they still believed the tomato to be an ornamental plant rather than one for eating.
A Point to Prove
Knowing something drastic had to be done to calm the fear in the courthouse, Colonel Johnson walked in front of the gathered crowd with a basket of tomatoes in his hand.
With steely determination and steadfast nerve, Johnson – much to the horror of the spectators – proceeded to munch his way through the deadly fruit. One after one, he made his way through the basket of tomatoes, very much enjoying himself by all accounts.
For those who came to see blood, there was a lot of disappoint to be had. Johnson, against all scientific and religious belief, stood firm after his healthy afternoon snack.
After this theatrical turning point, the tomato’s supposed toxicity was wholly disregarded. The food then went on to become something grown in nearly every garden, and served with nearly every meal across the continent.
A tip of the hat to you, Colonel Johnson.