I’m in Greece and it’s summer – the height of the tomato season. Sweet, delicious, aromatic tomatoes. I couldn’t resist visiting the humble tomato’s history and talking about this every day fruit that can grow anywhere and everywhere.

The fruit that we take for granted as if it has been with us forever. We pride ourselves in Australia on the variety of vegetables and the abundance of everything grown by our humble earth, so why is the tomato in Greece so much tastier then the Aussie one? I buy tomatoes in Melbourne and most of them sit there until they collect green visitors, but when I buy tomatoes in Greece they all get eaten. One thing I know is that buying tomatoes in Greece is like an art, you smell them, make sure they are sun-ripened on the plant and in season (they can also be bought out of season now, unfortunately).

Green tomatoes are picked and made into pickles and spoon sweet (gliko tou koutaliou). Now please don’t imagine that I’m being a nationalist via the humble tomato as, after all, it is neither Greek nor Australian, but South American and it is not a vegetable, but a fruit – and when you eat it in Greece it is as sweet as a fruit. Tomatoes came to Europe with the conquest of the American continent from South and Central America along with many other culinary delights that we enjoy today. At first the tomato was grown as an ornamental plant and then in the 18th century it was moved into culinary use. The tomato arrived in Greece near the end of the 19th century and established itself in our kitchens, yet it did not become naturalised until the early part of the 20th century and it took until the 1950s to spread all over Greece and fuse into the already existing food culture.

To this day, Greek food is very rich in non-tomato based food, using lemon and other acids to enhance taste. The ancient Greeks used berries, pomegranates and grapes if a dish needed acid. Even though Alexander the Great’s armies bought back the citrus from India to Greece, we did not see the sweet version of citrus till about the 13th century. Savoury recipes with fruit have come to the mainland via the Greeks of Asia Minor and I will deal with these recipes in my column in due time, but back to the humble tomato.

The fusion of the tomato created a revolution in the Greek kitchen. It has become the star player in all the kokkinista (red foods), in sauces cooked or fresh in many versions; is the lead player in the most famous salad of all – Horiatiki Salata (Greek salad); the main component in yemista (stuffed vegetables); delicious with feta and bread, grated over a Cretan Dako or any paximadi from other parts of Greece, drizzled with a good olive oil, oregano and pepper and salt. Oh, and how about just eating one like a piece of fruit but sprinkled with salt. In any Greek taverna in the summer you can ask for tomata traintafilo – a tomato cut into a rose shape. The tomato loves herbs – fresh or dried – especially the likes of basil and mint, it has an on going love affair with oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, chives, allspice, verbena, chilli, paprika, and loves to be next to peppers and onions.

It is wise, though, that when using herbs and spices with the tomato, to be minimalist and use one or two herbs at a time so as not to lose the wonderful essence of the fruit. These days we buy tomato paste in the supermarket, but I have memories of women making their own and always using fresh tomatoes to cook with instead of buying tinned ones. I have memories of the women in my family buying two lots of tomatoes on shopping days, the firm red for salad and the very red ripe, slightly soft ones for cooking.

We now have the choice of many varieties but I stick to the classic ones and also love cherry tomatoes for decorating dishes. Whichever variety you prefer, it is rich in vitamin C and A, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and a rich source of calcium. Enjoy the tomati, it’s real name from a South American native dialect, hence tomato or tomata.