Free Tomato Plant Giveaway at Old Sturbridge Village May 19

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Heirloom tomato plants given to museum visitors while supplies last

(STURBRIDGE, MA) – April 27, 2012:  Visitors to Old Sturbridge Village on Saturday, May 19 will receive a free heirloom tomato plant grown by OSV horticulturists to celebrate the arrival of the spring gardening season. The free tomatoes will include varieties dating back to the 1830s: Brandywine, Yellow Pear, and Large Red. (Free tomatoes will be offered with museum admission, while supplies last, limit one plant per family). Museum visitors will receive a free tomato voucher upon arrival, which can be redeemed from 11:00 – 5:00 p.m. near the OSV Herb Garden.

Other heirloom plants grown by Village horticulturists will be offered for sale from11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and will include flowers like hollyhock, wild foxglove, blackberry lily, and herbs such as basil, thyme, and sage (prices range from $3-$5, depending on size). Museum members can learn how to deter destructive insects while attracting beneficial ones at a special Good Bug / Bad Bug garden workshop. OSV historians will discuss tomato-growing techniques in the Herb Garden, and will demonstrate hearth cooking with tomato catsup at the Freeman Farmhouse. For details: 800-SEE-1830;

"The taste of heirloom tomatoes is far superior to the taste of today's supermarket tomatoes, which are often out of season and picked while they are still green," notes Roberta McQuaid, Old Sturbridge Village staff horticulturist. "Some say the heirloom Brandywine tomato is the world's best-tasting tomato.  The Large Red tomato can grow as big as your fist, and the Yellow Pear tomato is produces large quantities of two-inch-long pear shaped fruit. These are the perfect size to pluck off the vine and pop in your mouth for a tasty snack while gardening."

According to Old Sturbridge Village historians, the tomato originated in South America, and spread to Mexico, where Spaniards associated the Aztec word tomatl, meaning "plump fruit" with the edible tomato, which the Aztecs called miltomatl. From Mexico, tomatoes traveled to Spain, Italy, England, and the rest of Europe. They were first imported into New England from the Mediterranean.

Although tomatoes are prized today, they were a foreign addition to early American cuisine. At first, people did not know how to prepare tomatoes and they often did not like the taste. New Englanders began to enjoy tomatoes after famous domestic advice author Lydia Maria Child recommended them in her book, American Frugal Housewife, writing, "This is a delicious vegetable. It is easily cultivated, and yields a most abundant crop." She went on to give a recipes for tomato pie and encouraged the use of tomato catsup as a flavoring in beef soup, curried fowl, chicken fricassee, and even in fish chowder. By the end of the 1830s, catsup, or "ketchup," was well on its way to becoming America's national condiment.

Much of the historical interpretation at Old Sturbridge Village is centered around the museum's many gardens, which include an extensive Herb Garden and formal exhibit area showcasing 400 heirloom plants in terraced beds; a farm kitchen garden with vegetables, herbs and fruits; the Parsonage kitchen garden showing more scientific and experimental gardening techniques of the day (including the cultivation of tomatoes); a “pleasure garden” of period flowers in formal design; and a children’s garden to encourage gardening curiosity among young people.

OSV horticulturists are dedicated not only to preserving heirloom plants but also to demonstrating how they were cultivated in early New England.  They rely on a number of research sources, including period letters, diaries, reminiscences, vintage seed and nursery catalogs, and early garden advice books.

Old Sturbridge Village, one of the largest living history museums in the country, celebrates New England life in the 1830s and is open daily 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. seven days a week.   Admission: adults $24; seniors $22; children 3-17, $8; children 2 and under, free. All programs are subject to change. Each admission includes free parking and a free second-day visit within 10 days. Woo Card subscribers get $5 off adult daytime admission; college Woo cardholders receive $12 off adult daytime admission. For times and details of all OSV activities visit: or call 1-800-SEE-1830.

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Ann Lindblad
VP Communications
Old Sturbridge Village


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