Warning! A Tomato Can Kill You!

Ha!  Did I get your attention?

This time of year when tomatoes abound in our gardens, and many of us are canning, freezing and eating the vegetable (or is it a fruit?) in any way, shape or form we can think of, it seems impossible to believe that at one time, tomatoes were very much feared.

It’s true.  

Tomatoes have been traced clear back to 700 AD, which is amazing in itself.  By the 16th century, European adventurers here in the Americas discovered them and brought them home.  At that time, the rich were served their food on pewter dishware.  Unbeknownst to them, when high-acid foods like tomatoes were served on the pewter, the lead leeched out into the food, which resulted in lead poisoning and death.  

The poor, however, used wooden plates and thus did not have the lead poisoning problem.  Notably, many Italians were poor and thrived on the tomatoes.  Wasn’t long before they developed some pretty darn delicious dishes with those tomatoes, and we all know what those are–pizza and spaghetti sauce are only the beginning.

Every year I plant tomatoes.  Usually one plant, sometimes two.  This year is my first for Romas, and my lone plant is a workhorse!  It’s so prolific, I can hardly keep up with its bounty.  Can you see how it’s spilling out of its cage? It can’t be contained.  Enough already!  I’ve preserved three batches of spaghetti sauce, two of salsa, one of plain tomatoes, and that doesn’t include all the tomatoes I’ve used in dinner dishes or eaten plain by the bowlful.  

Ah, well.  Won’t be long, I’ll pull the darn thing up.  Nights are getting shorter and cooler, which means the tomatoes are slowing down.  In the midst of winter, I’ll certainly miss walking out to the garden for a fresh tomato right off the vine.

If you’re drowning in tomatoes, too, I’d love to share my spaghetti sauce recipe with you.  It’s wonderful and easy.  The best part of all, you cook it in the Crockpot, let it cool, then freeze.  (Of course, if you prefer to can in a hot water bath, go for it.  That works just as well.)


Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce

4 onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup vegetable oil

16 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes

2 Tb dried oregano

2 Tb dried basil

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup white sugar

2 Tb salt

3/4 tsp black pepper

6 oz can tomato paste


  1. In a 6 quart slow cooker on high, saute onion, garlic, green pepper and vegetable oil until onion is transparent.
  2. Add chopped tomatoes, oregano, basil, parsley, sugar, salt and pepper.  
  3. Cook for 2 to 3 hours on low heat.  Stir frequently.
  4. Let sauce cool.  Pour sauce into quart size freezer containers.  Store in freezer.
  5. When ready to use sauce, stir in can of tomato paste.

Notes: I start sauteing first while I’m peeling the tomatoes.   Also, I use an immersion blender to smooth the sauce a bit.  

Do you plant tomatoes, too?  What’s your favorite way to cook with them?  If you have a recipe to share, please do!

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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns, but her newest releases are contemporary sweet romances featuring the Blackstone Ranch series published by Tule Publishing. Stay up on the latest at www.pamcrooks.com

29 thoughts on “Warning! A Tomato Can Kill You!”

  1. My recipe is like your except for one ingredient: tomato paste. I used to have a couple of dozen plants so the tomatoes were always cooking down into their own thickness. I may have cooked longer–I don’t recall because I haven’t done it in a long while. I used a variety of kinds of tomatoes, but boy one sure can’t beat a roma, can she?

    I’m lucky in that one half of my family was Italian and my grandmother grew and made everything, and I really mean everything too, including homemade pasta. She was short and would roll out the pasta on the ginormous table, then run up and down making the slices. I never knew better Italian cooking than that.

    My Mom, Dad and I always had big gardens too that we wroked together, and my Mom either canned or froze much of what we ate for the rest of the year. And for many years when I was first married, my husband and I had huge gardens and I put away a half of freezer of frozen spaghetti sauce and the other half vegetables.

    These days I confess to Ragu! Thank you, Pam, for such an interesting post. I didn’t know about the pewter and tomatoes being a no-no. Thanks!

    • Good morning, Eliza. I’m half-Italian, too, but I was raised as if I was full-blooded. Somehow, my mother’s 50% contribution of German got pushed aside. We rarely ate German dishes. My grandmother taught my mother numerous Italian dishes, and Mom learned to make them as good as hers. Ah, such memories!

      My spaghetti sauce does call for tomato paste, but added when the sauce is thawed and simmering before serving.

      A dozen tomato plants? I canNOT imagine the bounty of tomatoes you must have had!! Yowza! And here I am, a bit overwhelmed by my one. LOL.

  2. Oh I love tomatoes, my plants are very healthy and hearty this year. They are slow turning red so I’ve been able to pick the red ones and eat them with salt & pepper with every meal.
    Before the 1st freezevi will go pick every tomato off the vine and put them in flat boxes in my basement. Let them slowly turn read. I do this every year and I’ll have fresh tomatoes through Christmas.
    Thanks for the recipe.
    I live to put cheese on bread and a slice of tomato w/ salt & pepper on top and broil. Make a great snack, thanks for sharing this bountiful topic with us.

    • I pull my green tomatoes off, too, Tonya! And yes, it’s nice to be able to have one long after the garden has been cleared. I can’t say they last until Christmas, though. Lucky you!

      Mmm! I am going to try your broiled cheese bread. A great snack, yes!

  3. Yes I plant tomatoes but its been a very hot summer in my neck of the woods in Texas and I plant in pots so I didn’t have very many this year. I’m going to try harder in the future though. I had never heard about pewter and tomatoes before thanks for the great history lesson. There isn’t much that can compare to a ripe fresh tomato off the vine. When my step-mom was young she had horrible acne issues and it turned out it was because she ate entirely too many tomatoes. It was the acid causes it.

    • I forgot to say thanks for the recipe. I’m fixing to save it. I’ve yet to read one of your books, I’m a virtual newbie compared to most reader’s though. I love the opportunity to read one of your books and a giveaway is an awesome way to find a new author to add to my go to authors list!

      • You’ve become a familiar name here at Petticoats & Pistols, Stephanie. We’re always glad you stop by even if you don’t have time to read our books. I’ll have two new westerns coming out in January–one contemporary, one historical–and I’ll be doing some giveaways then.

        I agree–with so many books and authors out there, a giveaway is just about the best way to try someone new and come to love her work.

    • At least here in Nebraska, Stephanie, tomatoes love the heat. I don’t have much luck planting in pots. My plants tend to get so big that they need lots of ground to spread and grow.

      Interesting about the acne issues. I’ve never heard that . . . I must be lucky that I was spared because I ate alot of tomatoes growing up, too.

    • I have a friend who despises tomatoes. She can’t really say why except for the texture. She just doesn’t like the way they feel in her mouth. 🙂

      Tomatoes are in so many dishes, it’s a bummer you have a reaction to them. My dad used to stay clear of onions, which was a bit exasperating for my mother to cook for him. Like tomatoes, onions are in ALOT of dishes.

  4. I don’t plant anything because it’s just too hot where I live and I won’t go outside to water the plants. But I sure do love a good tomato. I have no idea they could cause lead poisoning if eaten on pewter. That is definitely an interesting fact.

    • The difference between a store-bought tomato and a home-grown one is like black and white. I don’t even eat the ones from the store plain . . . they’re tasteless to me.

      Maybe some day you’ll live in a bit cooler climate and can grow a plant or two. They really are worth the effort. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. We love tomatoes here. Growing up with an Italian Mama and 2 Italian grandmother that made for awesome food and great desserts :). None of them had measurements. I wanted to write. it all down but all I ever heard was a pinch of this and toss of that lol.I just quit asking and winged it. To this day I have never been able to imitate my paternal grandmother’s meatballs. To die for, they were so amazing. My dad had told me that besides the 3 types of chopped meat she grated parmesean,reggiano cheese into the mixture. Thank you for sharing your sauce recipe. I have a side dish we always enjoy. Nothing special, just quartered tomatoes, sliced red onion some diced fresh garlic, toss with olive oil and a little shake of oregano . We dip Italian bread into the oil and it’s really tasty.Just eyeball the oil and suit yourself with how much.

  6. I never saw my Italian grandmother use a cookbook, either, Carol. Lucky for my family, my aunt managed to write down some of my grandmother’s best recipes, and we put them all into a family cookbook. I treasure it!

    My grandmother’s meatballs are to die for! Maybe I’ll do a blog on them sometime, too. Your grandmother used three kinds of meat? Mine used two, and she included an entire dozen of eggs in the mix (based on four pounds of meat). I think the eggs are what make the meatballs moist and the perfect texture!

    Ah, I have had the tomato and onion salad you mentioned, but oh, it’s been years! Thanks for the reminder. I have the ingredients in my ‘fridge as we speak. I’ll make some today!!!!

    Thanks, Carol!

  7. I have a few tomatoes in pots here they don’t do well in the ground around here to much water. This year was really bad for water and heat. Even in the pots my tomatoes are just about gone already. A lot of people lost their gardens to the rain and heat this year. Yes rain is good for them but not flooding type rains.

  8. Ugh, Quilt Lady. It has been quite the year for rain, hasn’t it? I swear, I don’t remember having so much of it. Luckily, where we live, the ground is well drained, so our gardens don’t suffer in a deluge, but I sure can see how that would happen in other areas.

    Ah, well. There’s always next year, right?

  9. I just was given a whole bunch of tomatoes and I love making spaghetti sauce! Thanks for your recipe, I will be using it. 🙂 I’m not a fan of regular tomatoes but I adore them IN stuff and what you can make out of them.

    • You’re going to love the sauce, Susan. It’s healthy and fresh. The best thing about the recipe is that it takes so much pressure off while making it. You don’t have that rush to get the sauce into jars and into a water bath.

      You can prepare the ingredients in the crockpot, then go about your day. Once the sauce is done, take the lid off the crockpot and go about your day some more. Once all is cooled, filling the freezer containers goes fast, and then you’re done!

  10. Hi Pam, I am a tomato lover and I grow tomatoes every year. I can just eat tomatoes and crackers if I am by myself at lunch. I make a lot of soup and chili during the fall and winter months so I use a lot of tomatoes. Usually I make tomato juice and can tomatoes but this year I have only had enough to enjoy with my meals. Thanks for sharing your sauce recipe.

    • Yes, Connie, soup and chili made with canned homegrown tomatoes are soooooo good! I have yet to come up with a good tomato juice recipe, though – tried one a few years back and found it so-so and decided it wasn’t worth my trouble.

      I love adding feta cheese or fresh mozzarella to a bowl of diced tomatoes. Mmmm. The best lunch!

  11. Boy, are you ever right, Pam, about the big difference between a store-bought and a homegrown tomato fresh from the garden. So many of our store fruits and vegetables are picked before being ripe so they can (1) make the shipment time from wherever in the world they’re coming, (2) they last longer. Of course many folks pick for appearance anyway instead of for taste. Some folks know though because some grocers will note “locally grown” tomatoes.

    My dad was the Italian but his mother must have taught my mom well because I grew up eating a lot of Italian meals! My mom’s side is English & Scottish and from the South, so those family gatherings are all about cornbread, beans and chili! 🙂 I’ve learned to eat them, but my Italian genes must be strongly Italian because I’m an Italian food freak. Especially tomatoes.

    Thanks again for a fun topic!

    • Oh, sounds like whenever your family gets together, lots of good food abounds!

      Another reason about tomatoes not being as good in the store is that I think they’re bred to be more pest tolerant and definitely more shipping time tolerant. I think they’ve genetically altered all the good flavor and juiciness out!!

  12. As most know tomato’s are a fruit and because I have a slight allergy to them I eat very small amounts of sauce on pasta.

    • Well, phooey, Kim! A tomato allergy would be tough. Tomatoes are in so many forms in so many dishes, but it sounds as if you at least get to eat a little bit at a time. Maybe you’ll outgrow the allergy, eh? 🙂

  13. Hi Pam, great blog with lots of information about tomatoes I didn’t know. We’ve planted them during our days of veggy gardens, but haven’t in years. It’s so funny, but when I was expecting our oldest daughter I craved them. I’d eat them raw and enjoyed the heck out of them. Since then I found out I’m allergic to raw tomatoes, but like so many allergies, cooking makes a difference, so I enjoy sauces, salsa, and the like. Thanks for a great blog. I enjoyed it and man I won’t serve tomatoes on a silver platter … pun intended!

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