Arts & Entertainment

Bohack Grand Opening. Photo courtesy of The WMHO

Blast from the Past

Bohack’s Grocery Store, headquartered in Maspeth, Queens, was in business for 90 years before filing for bankruptcy in 1977. The chain opened many supermarkets across Long Island during that time. Do you know where and when this ribbon cutting photo was taken? Do you recognize anyone? Email your answers to info@wmho.org. To see more wonderful vintage photographs like these, visit The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s ongoing exhibit, It Takes a Team to Build a Village, at The WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main Street, Stony Brook. For more information, call 631-751-2244.

Stephanie Krasner (Rapunzel) sings “Me, My Hair and I’ with Andrew McCluskey (Prince Brian) in a scene from ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale.‘ Photo byPhoto by Jessie Eppelheimer

By Heidi Sutton

The temperature on the dashboard read a muggy 101 degrees as I parked the car on Main Street in Northport last Saturday morning on my way to review the John W. Engeman Theater’s latest children’s presentation, “Rapunzel: A Tangled Tale.” Stepping into the theater, the air was cool and inviting as Disney princess music drifted through the speakers and little girls in blue dresses and blonde wigs hurried to their seats. The beautiful theater, with its elegant chandelier and giant tapestries on the walls depicting different fairy tales, is the perfect venue for this timeless love story.

The tale of “Rapunzel” can be traced back to the 11th century in some form or another but was made famous by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. With book and lyrics by ”Friends” creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman with music by Michael Skloff, the Engeman’s version combines the traditional tale with Disney’s “Tangled” and makes for great entertainment.

Jennifer Collester Tully skillfully directs a talented cast of four who all play multiple roles in this hilarious musical.

It’s Rapunzel’s 16th birthday and her only birthday wish is to be able to leave the tower for one day and see the world. Her “mother” the witch at first promises to grant her wish but then changes her mind. Meanwhile, Prince Brian, who in his quest to do a heroic deed, is searching the countryside for a damsel in distress and comes upon the tower. “A maiden in a tower and a wicked witch? This is great!” he exclaims and, along with his loyal valet Simon, hatches a plan to save the girl with the longest hair in the world.

Stephanie Krasner as Rapunzel. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer
Stephanie Krasner as Rapunzel. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

Stephanie Krasner gives a fine performance as the beautiful and very naive Rapunzel and the tall and handsome Andrew McCluskey is the perfect prince.

Keith Weiss tackles the role of narrator, Simon the Valet, the witch’s boyfriend, the king and even a cow with boundless energy and enthusiasm and at times seems to be having way too much fun! Weiss draws the most laughs and does a superb job.

TracyLynn Connor is perfectly cast in the role of Gretta the witch. Not too scary, not too sweet and sporting a magic ring that “can do absolutely anything” Connor commands the stage and steals the show.

A nice touch is the occasional interaction with the young audience. At one point the witch misplaces her magic ring and frantically asks the children to help her find it (it’s on her other hand). When Rapunzel and the Prince wander through the forest to the castle, they stroll through the theater’s aisles asking the children what they should have for breakfast once they get there. (Pancakes was the most popular answer.)

Accompanied by electronic feed, the musical numbers are fun and upbeat. Krasner and McCluskey’s duet, “The First Step Is the Hardest” is terrific and Krasner’s solo “Me, My Hair and I” is very sweet. Weiss’ solo,“Wooing a Witch” is delightful and Connor and Weiss’ duet, “Growing Up,” is pure fun.

The costumes, designed by Jess Costagliola, are on point, from Rapunzel’s 10-foot wig to the witch’s black dress, and the play utilizes the amazing set from the evening’s show, “Mamma Mia!” which conveniently features a tower.

Meet the entire cast in the lobby after the show for pictures and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located toward the back of the program.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale” on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through Sept. 11. Running time is 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Up next will be the beloved musical, “The Wizard of Oz” from Oct. 1 to Nov. 6 followed by the theater’s annual production of “Frosty” from Nov. 26 to Dec. 31. The season continues in the new year with Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” from Jan. 28 to March 5, 2017, and ends with “Madagascar — A Musical Adventure!” from March 25 to April 30. Tickets are $15 per person. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Rapunzel-detail-21Did you know?

The Rapunzel plant was once widely grown in Europe for its leaves, which were used like spinach, and its parsnip-like root, which was used like a radish. In the Brothers Grimm tale, the witch chose to name the child Rapunzel after this plant, which was stolen from her garden by Rapunzel’s parents.

From left, Hannes Holm, Delaney Ruston, Tessa Small, Kai Nordberg, Manolo Cruz and Alan Inkles at the Closing Night ceremonies. Photo by Jasna Boudard

The 21st Stony Brook Film Festival, presented by Island Federal Credit Union, wrapped up with a Closing Night Awards Reception on July 30, recognizing the outstanding new independent films screened at the festival, which was held at Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University from July 21 to 30. Film critic John Anderson hosted the evening and Alan Inkles, founder and director of the festival, welcomed the winning filmmakers, the public and Ed Arentz of Music Box Films. Music Box Films in this year’s festival included “The Innocents” and the 2016 Closing Night film, “A Man Called Ove.” And the winners are:

2016 Jury Award: Best Feature

“The Fencer” — The screening, which was held on July 27, had a sold-out house of over 900 patrons. The film had its East Coast premiere on Wednesday, July 27, and had been Finland’s entry into this year’s Academy Awards. In Estonian and Russian with subtitles. Directed by Klaus Härö. From Matterhorn International. Producer Kai Nordberg accepted the award.

2016 Audience Choice: Best Feature

“Between Sea and Land” — Manolo Cruz, writer, director, actor and co-producer accepted the award. Cruz received a standing ovation from the full house before his Q-and-A. A Global Screen Film. In Spanish with subtitles.

2016 Jury Award: Best Short

“Italian Miracle” — Directed by Francesco Gabriele.

2016 Audience Award: Best Short

A tie: “Jewish Blind Date” — Directed by Anaelle Morf and “Venice” — Directed by Venetia Taylor.

2016 Special Jury Awards

Achievement in Filmmaking

“No Pay, Nudity” — Directed by Lee Wilkof, and written by Ethan Sandler. Nathan Lane, who stars in the film, attended the World Premiere screening of “No Pay, Nudity” on July 26 and participated in a Q-and-A with Loudon Wainwright III, Zoe Perry and Lee Wilkof — one of the festival’s highlights.

Spirit of Independent Filmmaking

“The Father and the Bear” ­— World premiere, United States. Written and directed by John Putch. From Putchfilms.

Timely Social Commentary

“Screenagers” — A documentary about finding a healthy balance between social media, video games, academics and the internet. Filmed by Dr. Delaney Ruston, local physician and mother of two, this fascinating documentary explores the question of how much screen time is too much.

2016 Opening Night Film Award

“The Carer” — Directed by János Edelényi. East Coast premiere. From Yellow Affair and the Hungarian National Film Fund. A Corinth Films Release.

2016 Closing Night Film Award

“A Man Called Ove” — U.S. premiere. From Sweden. Directed by Hannes Holm. Written by Hannes Holm, Fredrik Backman. From Nordisk Film, Tre Vänner Produktion AB. A Music Box Films release. Closing Night was sold out. Holm attended the Closing Night screening’s premiere.

Career Achievement Award

Brian Cox (“The Carer”) was presented the Career Achievement Award at the film’s East Coast premiere on July 21.

For more information, visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

LEGO. Stock photo

Do you love building with LEGOs? Want to show off your most creative creations? The Ward Melville Heritage Organization will present its 4th annual LEGO Building Block Contest & Exhibit at the organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook, from Sept. 17 to Oct. 16.

Grab your family, friends, Scout troop, church group or school club and start building! Teams may be individuals or groups up to five members. Prizes will be awarded at a celebration on Oct. 16. All submissions must be original creations. Predesigned kits or projects found online will not be accepted. Entry fee is $20. Deadline for submissions is Sept. 5.

For an official entry form, visit www.wmho.org. For more information, call 631-751-2244.

The needles of the dawn redwood darken over the summer and turn reddish-brown in fall. Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden

By Ellen Barcel

Heritage Park in Mount Sinai has many unique plantings. One really interesting section is the walkway lined with trees representing each of the 50 states. New York’s state tree, along with Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin, is the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). A tree native to Long Island, the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is the state tree of Missouri and Virginia. Both maple and dogwood do well here. Oak, which also grows well on Long Island in one variety or another, is the state tree of Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

But, in planning this interesting homage to the 50 states, it became clear that not every tree that represents each state would be able to grow in Long Island’s climate or was suitable for the walkway. Hawaii’s state tree, the candlenut, (Aleurites moluccanus, also known as kukui), wouldn’t survive in Long Island’s cold climate, for example. So, Fred Drewes, who planned out the walkway, needed to make substitutions. One was the tree for California.

The dawn redwood has been planted at Heritage Park to represent the state of California. It was chosen since the giant redwood, California’s state tree, is not an ideal tree for the walkway. The giant redwood becomes an enormous tree, overwhelming the surrounding area with an extensive root system. It produces a tremendous amount of shade so very little will grow under it. Its shallow roots mean that the tree can be easily damaged by wind. Hence the decision to plant the related tree.

The dawn redwood (Metasequoisa glyptostroboides) is sometimes called a living fossil. Scientists believed that the tree had gone extinct until it was “rediscovered” in 1941 in China. The fossils of the tree have been found in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere as well going back to the Mesozoic Era. The Mesozoic Era (the time of the dinosaurs) ended approximately 66 million years ago. Since its rediscovery, the tree has become a popular ornamental due to its attractive pyramidal shape and rapid growth.

A conifer, it has another distinction — it’s deciduous. Usually we expect conifers (cone-bearing plants) to be evergreens, keeping their needles through the winter. Dawn redwood, the smallest of the redwoods is still potentially a large tree. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, it is fast growing and can easily reach 100 feet or more. It does well in zones 5 to 8 with Long Island being zone 7. It prefers full sun and moist, well-drained soil but even tolerates clay soil. While it is widely adaptable, it does best in a soil pH of 4.5 (that’s very acidic), great for Long Island’s soil. It’s pretty much maintenance and disease free.

One of the advantages of a deciduous tree is that with the leaves (or needles in this case) gone in winter, the sun can warm a nearby house. But come the heat of summer, the tree provides shade to cool the area. Needles appear in the spring as light green, darken over the summer and turn reddish-brown in fall. Since it’s fast growing, it can provide privacy fairly quickly. It is somewhat deer resistant (we know that no plant is completely deer proof if the deer are hungry enough) and tolerates pollution; so it can be planted near roadways or in cities. Its deeply grooved bark and branches give the tree winter interest.

The small female cones are uniquely shaped and are on the same tree as the male ones. If you’re really interested in growing one or more dawn redwood, the website www.dawnredwood.org will provide more detailed information.

Take a walk around Heritage Park and look at the various trees planted there. This will give you a good idea of what trees you may want to plant in your own garden. If you decide to plant a dawn redwood, remember that this is a big tree. Give it plenty of room and don’t make the mistake of planting it too close to your house.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

By Heidi Sutton

Arcadia Publishing recently released “Whaling on Long Island” as part of its Images of America series. Written by Nomi Dayan, the executive director of the Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor, the book explores the impact that the whaling industry had in shaping Long Island’s maritime heritage. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dayan about her new book and her view on the future of whales.

What made you write this book? Any more books on the horizon?

One objective in our museum’s strategic plan is to become more involved with research projects. When we were approached by Arcadia, the publisher, to put together a whaling-themed pictorial book, we jumped on the idea. I was surprised to find that there has not been a book published about Long Island’s whaling history in 50 years! There are good articles, journals and sections in other books, but no all-encompassing source for this incredible story of Long Island’s heritage. When I discussed this lack of information over dinner with my husband, he said, “Why don’t you do it?” Perhaps now is the time when we can document and share the full story of our whaling history, especially because Arcadia’s Images of America series is template-based — I was constrained by the set number of pictures and text on each page. So, I saw this book more as a beginning than as an end.

What surprised you, if anything, during the making of this book?

Finding useful photographs is, of course, a treasure, but what surprised me most was connecting with other individuals across Long Island (and beyond!) who were genuinely eager to help me tell this story — people I would likely not have met if I didn’t put this book together. Forming that network was a surprise gift! Other surprises [included] how far back whaling really goes on the Island, both with the Native Americans, as well as settlers, who started whaling almost immediately after arriving. The first commercial whaling in the New World happened on our shores! And after farming, whaling was Long Island’s first industry. I also didn’t realize how exploited Native Americans were in the beginning stages of commercial shore whaling. The Shinnecock, Montaukett and Unkechaug tribes played a fundamental role in the development of shore whaling, and it was so disheartening for me to see how quickly they became tied into seasonal cycles of exploitation and debt.

How did you go about compiling all the photographs and material for the book?

Research was like a treasure hunt! Yankee whaling and photography essentially missed each other, so I had to piece together this story in the best visual way that I could. Many of the photographs were sourced directly from the museum’s collection of 6,000 objects — and there were more images that didn’t make it in the book! Other photographs were taken from the collections of other museums and historical societies, as well as local history collections in libraries and their very helpful staff, particularly at the East End.

The cover of Nomi Dayan's book, 'Whaling on Long Island.' Image from Nomi Dayan
The cover of Nomi Dayan’s book, ‘Whaling on Long Island.’ Image from Nomi Dayan

Did you get to choose the cover photo? If so, why did you choose this one?

Yes, I chose the cover photo. I felt this photo, taken by one of the museum’s founders, Robert Cushman Murphy (perhaps the foremost scientist to come out of Long Island) while aboard the Daisy [from] 1912 to 1913, showed a moment in time which was a mix of history and art. The overhead view shows the iconic image of human vs. whale, and captures the excitement, courage and drive behind venturing into the dangerous ocean to catch the largest animals on Earth. I wanted to show the whaleboat — a brilliant innovation — with its harpoons aimed forward. Will those harpoons catch a whale? Will the whale get away? Will the men return in the same shape they set out? … All we know is how hard these whalers will try, and they will risk their lives doing so. I liked how the photo shows men of color, as whaling was our country’s first integrated industry, and this photo shows how physically laborious their job was. You almost feel your arms hurt looking at them!

What kind of future do whales face? Which ones are in danger of extinction?

Whaling was one of our country’s — and planet’s — most lucrative businesses. Whale products changed the course of history. But in this process, people nearly wiped whales off the face of the Earth. Many whale species are endangered or show low population numbers, some critically, such as the North Atlantic right whale — there are only approximately 500 left! This means we have a great responsibility today — a responsibility to reflect on the repercussions of our actions, and to apply our knowledge to future decisions affecting the marine environment. Advocating for cleaner and quieter waters is saying “welcome back!” to these whales. The museum is currently installing a new exhibit, Thar She Blows!: Whaling History on Long Island which will open Oct. 2 (the opening event is called SeaFaire and is a family-friendly celebration of our maritime heritage). One aspect of this exhibit will discuss modern threats whales face, and visitors will be invited to take a pledge to help whales. One pledge will be not releasing balloons, which often end up in the ocean and can be devastating when ingested by whales and marine life. Another pledge for people who eat fish will be ensuring seafood is sustainably caught to protect healthy fish populations.

What is the whale’s biggest threat right now?

In one word — humans! Whales are facing new human-caused threats today. While commercial whaling is still a threat (Norway, Japan and Iceland defiantly kill thousands of whales annually, primarily for dietary reasons) on a global scale, there are larger threats, such as entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes, which are serious concerns, as well as pollution — particularly plastic pollution. Many whales who are found beached have plastic in their stomachs. The ocean is also becoming noisier and noisier, which affects whale communication. Climate change, and its effect on the marine food chain, is one of the most important concerns today — changes in sea temperature, changes in food sources. Cumulatively, it’s getting harder to be a whale!

What can we do to help them?

Reducing pollution and reducing greenhouse emissions is very important. I know we may feel our actions are removed from the lives of whales, but collectively, our actions really are changing the Earth. When I went whale watching two weeks ago out of Montauk, I was so disheartened to see the floating Poland Spring plastic bottles bobbing in the ocean. We can do better. Consider using a reusable bottle! Readers should also consider the needs of the marine environment in their decision in our upcoming election. While it can take a while for populations to recover, it can happen. Humpback whales and gray whales are showing remarkable signs of population recovery, which is encouraging and inspiring. As our country’s energy needs continue to grow today, and we continue to exploit natural resources, whaling offers the timely lesson that nature is not infinite and will one day run out. We have the responsibility of applying our knowledge of whaling history to current and future decisions affecting the marine environment.

“Whaling on Long Island” is available for purchase at The Whaling Museum & Educational Center’s gift shop, Barnes & Noble and www.amazon.com.

Spiced Green Tea Smoothie

Between balancing work with family and friends, squeezing in a healthy meal can be hard, and finding time for a workout can be even harder. A busy lifestyle demands quick, portable and convenient foods that let you refuel your body with better health in mind. A cool and refreshing superfood smoothie can give you a much-needed boost when your energy is dragging. Staying properly hydrated doesn’t have to be difficult. Try these delicious smoothies for a refreshing and delicious way to hydrate.

Superfood Smoothie

Superfood Smoothie
Superfood Smoothie

YIELD: Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries

1 cup low-fat or fat-free milk

1 banana, sliced

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 cup ice

DIRECTIONS: In blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour into two glasses and serve.

 

Almond Cherry Smoothie

Almond Cherry Smoothie
Almond Cherry Smoothie

YIELD: Makes 1 serving

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 tablespoon chia seeds

1/2 frozen banana

1 cup frozen dark cherries

1 tablespoon almond butter

DIRECTIONS: In blender, combine almond milk, chia seeds, banana, cherries and almond butter, and mix until smooth.

Recipe courtesy of Natalie Coughlin

 

Spiced Green Tea Smoothie

Spiced Green Tea Smoothie
Spiced Green Tea Smoothie

YIELD: Makes 1 serving

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup strong green tea, chilled

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons agave nectar

1 small pear, skin on, cut into pieces

2 tablespoons fat-free plain yogurt

6-8 ice cubes

DIRECTIONS: Blend all the ingredients until smooth.

 

Rosy Red Superfood Smoothie

Rosy Red Superfood Smoothie
Rosy Red Superfood Smoothie

YIELD: Makes 3 servings (1 cup each)

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups cubed watermelon

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries

1 cup raspberry kefir

2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate

2 tablespoons hemp seeds

2 tablespoons agave syrup ice (optional)

DIRECTIONS: Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

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Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) in the Uniform of the New York Artillery (oil on canvas) by Chappel, Alonzo (1828-87). Photo from Michael Tessler

By Michael Tessler

The “Culper Spy Adventure,” a special presentation by TBR News Media, is an immersive digital attraction that will allow locals and tourists alike to be recruited into the ranks of General Washington’s secret Setauket spy ring. Accessed by scanning a special QR code on a panel of the Three Village map or visiting www.TBRNewsMedia.com/Culper, you will begin an interactive 45-minute journey that puts you into the starring role of your very own secret spy adventure!

Become a time traveler as you arrive in the year 1780, crossing paths with legends and heroes: Abraham Woodhull, Anna Smith Strong, Caleb Brewster, George Washington himself! Enjoy interactive games between each episode that are filled to the brim with intrigue, action and fun!

Created with the whole family in mind, the “Culper Spy Adventure” is great for all ages.

 Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) in the Uniform of the New York Artillery (oil on canvas) by Chappel, Alonzo (1828-87). Photo from Michael Tessler
Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) in the Uniform of the New York Artillery (oil on canvas) by Chappel, Alonzo (1828-87). Photo from Michael Tessler

Long before we started production on the “Culper Spy Adventure,” and long before I listened to the sound track of the musical, Alexander Hamilton was my favorite founding father. He embodied America: brave, innovative, steadfast, flawed yet relentlessly moving toward progress. He was an immigrant who moved to a country that did not yet exist and still adopted it as his own and fought for it both before and after the war. He was perhaps the most famous New Yorker of the 18th century and his brilliant system of banking and government are still alive and thriving today. Our wealth, our luxury, our mantle of “global superpower” can very well be attributed to his foresight and vision.

“Hamilton: The Musical” has ingeniously provided a whole new generation with an incredible medium to learn and love history. Using show-stopping numbers, dancing, and elements of hip-hop, the show’s creator Lin Manuel-Miranda has successfully made history accessible to everyone (or those who can get tickets that is, I’m still waiting for mine!)

Some two centuries after his death, Alexander Hamilton is again providing America with a great gift, a refreshing glimpse into our nation’s founding and the ideals that make America great.

When we started writing the “Culper Spy Adventure” it was very clear that we wanted to include Hamilton in the story. He was just a young man when the Declaration of Independence was signed, not yet a founding father, but one of America’s sons fighting on the frontline for liberty. Though he came from nothing, he used his brilliant tactical mind to achieve the title of war hero. His superiors took note and he was offered various promotions by officers in the Continental Army. He refused them all, that was until General George Washington offered him a position as his “right hand man” as an aide-de-camp and that’s when our stories intertwine.

Hamilton was one of the very few individuals who knew of the Culper Spy Ring and its operations throughout the war. Being one of Washington’s most trusted advisers, Hamilton was tasked with reading many of the intelligence reports created by Townsend, Woodhull, Strong, Brewster and Tallmadge. Though he didn’t know their real names, he knew of their tremendous sacrifice and bravery in delivering those secret messages.

One of Hamilton’s best friends was Hercules Mulligan, another star from the musical. This tailor’s apprentice stayed behind in New York after the British occupation and would gather intelligence for the Continental Army. He and his slave Cato reportedly saved Washington’s life twice and would occasionally work directly with the Culper Spy Ring.

All of this coalesces in 1780 when Hercules Mulligan informs Culper spy Robert Townsend (a.k.a. Culper Jr.) of the British plans to attack the French in Rhode Island. This piece of intelligence drastically altered the course of the war and very well saved the revolution. We serialize this mission in the “Culper Spy Adventure” as you race against time to deliver that message to George Washington at his headquarters, along the way meeting and interacting with Setauket’s spies and some great historical figures.

Though I don’t want to spoil anything, you do get to meet Lt. Colonel Alexander Hamilton in one of the film’s best sequences. So don’t “throw away your shot.” Begin your “Culper Spy Adventure” today!

Most market tomatoes are recent varieties created in university and commercial farms since 1940. Stock photo

By Elof Axel Carlson

The tomato is botanically a fruit or more specifically a berry. We think of it as a vegetable because of its use in pasta sauces, soups and stews. The Supreme Court in 1893 ruled that for taxing and tariff purposes, it is a vegetable because of its usage in cooking.

The tomato belongs to the species Solanum lycopersicum. Thus, it belongs to a family of some 3,000 species worldwide. But tomatoes arose and were cultivated in the Andes and made their way to Mexico where they were domesticated. From there they were imported to Europe in the 15th century.

Because they are classified as members of the Solonaceae family, which includes the deadly nightshade, they were sometimes regarded as poisonous. But the domesticated tomato varieties began appearing in Spain, Italy and England and soon spread as far as China, which is now the world’s largest consumer and producer of tomatoes.

The tomato gets its name from the Aztec word “tomatl.” Until 1940 the domesticated tomatoes throughout the world came from the Mexican varieties the Spanish brought back in the late 1400s and early 1500s.

The tomato plant cell has a total of 24 chromosomes, and its pollen or ovules have a chromosome number of 12. Their genome was not worked out until 2009, and a comparative study of 360 varieties and species of tomatoes was published in 2014. The pre-1940 tomato varieties for food had very few of the mutant gene varieties found in the wild species in South America (less than 10 percent).

Thus, most market tomatoes are recent varieties created in university and commercial farms since 1940.

The farmers buy hybrid seed, and tomato seed companies make sure that their seeds are hybrid to keep farmers from planting crops from the tomatoes that are harvested. This was a policy first started by agribusiness for hybrid corn beginning in 1908.

The genomic analysis of tomatoes and their related species give an evolutionary history of tobacco, then peppers, then eggplants, then potatoes and finally tomatoes as the sequence of species emergence. The molecular insights into plant genomes, by sequencing their genes, have led to a controversial field of genetically modified foods.

One of the first was short lived. I remember buying “Flavr Savr” tomatoes in a supermarket in Setauket. The manufacturer had inserted a gene for delayed ripening and thus longer shelf life in stores. I could not tell any difference in taste or texture from those manufactured by inserting genes from other varieties of tomato plants.

Just as people in the 1500s feared tomatoes when first introduced into Europe as likely to be poisonous (they weren’t), the fear of genetically modified foods led to their quick demise in the market. Today it is almost impossible to buy foods (grains, vegetables, fruits, fish, fowl, or livestock) that are guaranteed to be free of genetic modification.

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

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