1820 or 1830? - In September of either 1820 or 1830 (the year varies with different accounts), legend has it that Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson (1771-1850) purportedly introduced the tomato to Salem County, New Jersey. Despite warnings that the tomato's poison would turn his blood to acid, he told the cheering spectators that he planned to eat the entire basket and survive. The story goes that thousands of eager spectators turned out to watch Johnson die after eating the poisonous fruits, and were shocked when he lived. Supposedly Colonel Johnson recited this speech:
The time will come when this luscious, scarlet apple...will form the foundation of a great garden industry, and will be ... eaten, and enjoyed as an edible food...and to help speed that enlightened day, to prove that it will not strike you dead - I am going to eat one right now!
Colonel Johnson's physician, Dr. James Van Meter, supposedly warned that:
The foolish colonel will foam and froth at the mouth and double over with appendicitis. All that oxalic acid, in one dose, and you're dead. If the Wolf Peach [tomato] is too ripe and warmed by the sun, he'll be exposing himself to brain fever. Should he, by some unlikely chance, survive, I must warn him that the skin...will stick to his stomach and cause cancer.
False Memories: The Invention of Culinary Fakelore and Food Fallacies, Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2000, by Andrew F. Smith:
Robert Gibbon Johnson was a prominent Salemite and much was written about him. Unfortunately, I found no evidence connecting him to the tomato. The first version of the story appeared in print 86 years after the purported event. All it said was the Johnson ate a tomato in 1820. Subsequent authors embellished the story adding extraneous information and the purported event was dramatized on national radio in 1949. Subsequently versions have appeared in numerous professional and scholarly journals, newspapers, and popular magazines.