The "Mithato", as it is frequently nicknamed, is a common wild vegetable which seems to be related to the lyth'bel; round, scarlet when fully ripe, and more sharply aceedic in taste, it provides a bright and pungent accent to salats, makes wonderful rich sauces and condiments, can be eaten out of hand with a sprinkle of sea-salt to bring out the flavour, and seems to have medicinal value as well. It grows on sprawling multi-branched 'stalks' and is protected by silvery 'cases' resembling miniature lanterns formed from parchment. Cultivated and bred to its tame state most famously by a Marcoggian-area nobleman's jester-cum-gardener who went by the soubriquet of "Scarlet Tom", it is better known in cities and market gardens as the "Tomato", or "Tom's Mithato". Depending on the region a Mithato might also be known as "Lantern Tomato", or the "Silver Lyth'bel".
|Image description. A delicate plate of sliced Mithatoes, waiting to be served. Picture drawn by Bard Judith.|
Appearance. In the
wild state this plant rarely reaches more than a
handspan or so high. Usually
it may be found sprawling over and crawling across other plants with its weak
stalks, almost more like vines – short, many-branching, and fuzzy. The length
may range from a fore or so to nearly a
ped, though wild varieties
tend to be on the shorter side and tame ones longer. The plant is generally a
uniform greyish-green hue with grain-length silvery hairs along its vines and
the bottom of its multi-lobed, irregular leaves. When cultivated, it is usually
draped over long branches laid over the ground, supported on a network of twigs,
staked up with forked sticks, or in more prosperous holdings, tied to trellises
or tall cones made of long staves and grapevines – anything to keep its produce
off the earth and exposed to the sun more
It flowers early in the year, as soon as frost is out of the ground, or in warmer climes, twice or thrice in four seasons. Small, inconspicuous silver-grey flowers form on finger-length thin stalks along the length of the vines; no matter how the plant tangles itself along the ground or its supports, these slimmer stalks always face upwards towards Injera's rays, helping the fruit to soak in the warmth and energy it emits. These little flowers rapidly turn into small silvery nodules, each only about the size of an onn bean, encased in silver parchment-like 'cases', or husks, shaped like paper lanterns.
The case grows along with the vegetable, which moves through several colour stages, and eventually splits open to reveal the tomato at its orange stage, after which the sun swiftly ripens it to its finished bright red. In its initial incarnation as a little silver nodule, it is inedible, at least by any of the sentient races, most of whom will react with indigestion, belly-gripes, or flux. It has been observed that even the wild birds, who love it at later stages, will not touch the vegetable when it is still mithril-hued. The small green fruit, about the size of a man's thumbnail, is quite sweet - almost cloyingly so - rather like young garden pease, but as it ripens, it becomes increasingly more aceedic and tangy. Yellow can range from thumbnail to goldbard size, and has a pleasant tinge almost of citraure, while the orange has almost reached its mature size, filling the palm of a human hand as comfortably as a child's ball, and has attained the first stages of its uniquely pungent and aromatic flavour.
The bright red and richly tangy Mithato in its full glory is a wonderful thing, savoury, stimulating, and refreshing, all at once. We quote Hubert the Lorehaven chef-hobbit on Mithatoes as follows:
“Aye, the tomato! A glorious expression of Injera's light, made solid in glowing gorgeous flesh – as plump as a hobbitlass's cheeks, as ruddy as her lips, as delectable as.... er, the tomato is indeed a marvelous thing, versatile and delicious and, er, very very tasty!”
When picked at the peak of ripeness, the
vegetable resembles a slightly flattened sphere, indented irregularly around the
stem area in soft subtle bulges that do indeed call to mind the natural curves
of anatomy. The short stem by which it was plucked from the plant juts jauntily
from a little 'cap' of irregular mithril leaflets, sunk into the top's
indentation. It fits sensually into the hand, its thin scarlet skin indenting
easily to the slightest pressure, juicy 'tomato flesh' beneath. It must be cut
with the sharpest of kitchen knives, or it merely splits apart, soft flesh,
juice, and miniature seeds (tiny, soft, edible) spilling out. When sliced
carefully, it resembles a walnut or other patterned nut in its interesting,
segmented cross-section - the thick 'walls' of the internal divisions are the
meat of the Mithato, containing a thick liquid, nearly jelly-like, which in its
turn hold the tiny, flat, silvery seeds. The vegetable can also be juiced,
pulped, cooked whole, rendered for sauces, and so on – see
Different receipts specify at what stage of ripeness the Mithato must be harvested to produce the effect desired, and slowly over the years of its cultivation as a garden vegetable a more-or-less consistent body of terms have arisen to describe the plant and its fruit.
Cases: 'husks' or 'lanterns'
Stalks and leaves: 'mithato vines'
Silver stage: 'mithato-babe', 'mithrilanato' (this stage is inedible)
Green stage: 'emeraud mithato', usually shortened to 'emerato' in chefs' jargon
Yellow stage: ' injeran mithato', often 'injerato', rarely 'golden mithato'
Orange stage: 'ember mithato', sometimes merely 'ember-ripe' or 'embers'
Red stage: 'scarlet tom's mithato', 'tom's mithato', or simply 'tomato'
Naturally, the smaller the fruit, the younger
it must be harvested, the more work it involves (peeling, in the case of the
emeratoes and injeratoes, for example, while the scarlet tomato verily drops
into one's hand when ready), and the more must go into making up a certain
weight – hence in general the earlier stages are more expensive in the average
market than the later, more mature tomatoes. However, if the vegetable is
offered at any stage out of its natural season (such as full-ripe tom's
mithatoes early in the spring, which have been forced in a greenhouse during the
winter, or from vines which were planted in summer to give emerauds in fall) it
is of course considered premium and the prices reflect such desirability. The
Mithato travels well at younger stages, and once off the vine will continue to
ripen to a certain extent as long as it is exposed to
Injèrá's influence, though the flavours are
never quite as rich as when picked at their preferred peak. Hence you will hear
many connoisseurs claim that the tomato is at its absolute best when taken from
the vine and served fresh the same hour, preferably with the sun's warmth still
held in its flesh. The noted gourmet Duke Pelenni Margulf (ruler of the duchy of
that same name) actually demands that his mithatoes be served ON the vine; in
fact, refining it to such a degree of luxuriousness that he has been known to
serve his guests with individually-potted Mithato plants, scattering the
containers along the table with their stems draping between the trenchers and
platters, so that guests can pluck their own fruit as desired!
Territory. The Mithato is a close relative of the lyth'bel, and therefore can be found in most places where that latter plant flourishes. It grows well through most of temperate Sarvonia, though best in warmer climes. It prefers a lot of sunlight to ripen at its richest flavour and colour. Although it dislikes irregular watering (a steady drip is used where the plant is cultivated, and the Greenhouses of the Compendium have produced spectacular specimens by experimenting with various additions to the water drip) it is prone to cracking, splitting, black rot and stem rot in too-damp climates.
|Image description. Some mithato vines, which often use to grow around hedges, thorns, windrows, and the like. Picture drawn by Bard Judith.|
The plant stems are actually vines and so always require support. It will grow
sprawling on the flat or over low hillocks quite readily, but is at its best in
the wild when draped over hedges, thorns, windrows, and the like. When
cultivated, it should be raised from the ground on trellises of twigs or cut
bushes ranged along the ground. This allows the access of air and light on all
sides of the fruit, and prevents rotting and uneven colouration.
It is believed to exist in the wild as far north as Astran (just below the Tandala Highlands), and to the south can be seen thriving in Bardavos, hanging lushly over balconies and terraces there along with the decorative flowers and greenery. It does best in the Temperate, Balmy, and Brightland climates, though coastal areas tend to be too damp. It can be grown in the tropical zone though the fruits tend to be smaller and more concentrated of flavour. Oddly, in the peninsula of Zaramon there is an interesting variant of the Mithato which is consistently small; though it goes through all the colour changes as it ripens, it never enlarges much past its budding stage, ranging from the size of an onn through to a child's marble. These variants make beautiful garnishes, scattered like little rubites and garnets across a platter of cold meats, and are prized in the New-Santhalan markets.
And finally we should note that there is also a northern variant, which is smaller, tougher, and comes in a much thicker 'parchment' husk, finely haired both inside and out, rather like a milkweed pod; the soft hairs seemsto serve as a sort of 'fur coat' for the delicate red gem inside! It seems to be able to survive up to the permanent frost line, and can be found in the climate regions of the Northern Bleaks and Northern Wilds, but primarily in the Kanapan area. This hardy plant is known alternately as "Barbarian Mithato", the "Kanamato", and in the Kuglimz tongue, "Vlukath" (from "Vla'wuk'alth", or "armoured plant").
Usages. The vegetables are used, of course, in cooking: fresh, in salats, as garnishes, in soups/stews/sauces, etc. A variety of receipts exist to make full use of the Mithato at different ripenesses. As an emerato or injerato, it is sometimes added to fruit dishes, to give more colour and subtlety, or incorporated into sweets, while embers and tomatoes are generally preferred in savory receipts. The yellow and orange are often juiced - mixed with a bit of the more expensive kitrauhre or citron fruit, and some sweetener such as foridite, sweet-bean extract, or sweetsip nectar, they make a refreshing and delicious drink. Of course, any stage except the first, silver, can be eaten directly from the plant as a fresh vegetable – a source of wonderful energy, our alchemists and gardeners both agree. Master Hubert is not alone in his identification of the Mithato as a storehouse of Injèrán rays!
The dried cases, or husks, burn very well and are often incorporated into the tinder supply for flint-and-tinder boxes. They are also considered excellent reagents for Fire - specifically Light - spells due to their lantern-like shape, their high inflammability, and the plant's close association with the sun. At least one paper-maker in Ximax, the famous company of 'Nib & Deckle', produces specialty sheets with Mithato husks incorporated into the other fibers, which is quite popular with the many Volrek-Oshra Fire Mages in the city.
Children enjoy picking the wild Mithato and eating the unripe, sweet nugget inside, then playing with the lantern husks. Girls tend to enjoy decorating miniature 'fairy houses' made from sticks and moss, or putting the toy lanterns into the hands of their home-made poppets and dolls. Boys sometimes seal the split through which they got the fruit with tree resin, then carefully fill up the resulting little 'pocket' of parchment with water, and hurl the missiles at each other or drop them on passerbys' heads when possible. Elven children coax fireflies into the larger husks to create actual natural miniature lanterns (with a stunningly lovely effect, glowing softly with a pale greenish light), then twine them into wreaths for their hair or bouquets to garnish tables and archways.
Younger stalks can be peeled or scraped of their hairs and chopped into a stew or sauce as filler. They have, when cooked, a less tangy but still aceedic, refreshing taste. The scraped stems are also used along with grapes and other produce to make vinaigre or 'soured wine' for cooking. We almost hesitate to mention here that children – and jealous rival courtesans – have also used the scraped hairs as an itching power to drop down each others’ backs or to sprinkle in certain pieces of apparel, but we are sure that our well-read compendiumists will have already encountered the recent gossip dealing with the competition between Ma’lady Marinia and the Marchioness of Ryethwain...
The fresh juice (whether pure or mixed) is considered both as a skin toner and purifier when used externally, and as an aphrodisiac when imbibed. It is held to lighten and brighten the skin, remove freckles and age spots, stimulate etherian desires, and encourage propagation.
Thergerim of the mountains love this little vegetable as it can be gathered for much of the year wild, but strangely, other dwarven clans tend to dislike it. It is a particular favourite with the Mitharim dwarves, who deny that the name has anything more to do with their clan than the common silver hue of the mithril ore, but who nonetheless love to incorporate it into many of their dishes, particularly the spicy djellhees and ak-ak (pickled compotes) that they enjoy to give their food savour.
Birds, from the barnyard taenish to the forest warblers, like the fruit at the yellow or orange stage, before they become too aceedic, so if the plant is cultivated it must be protected with birdlime or netting for this reason. They also flourish in greenhouses, and many a noblewoman or peasant girl may have a plant or two on her windowsill to provide her fresh Mithatoes through the summer and fall!
Mixed with weeproot, pears, nuts, cinna, sea-salt, vinaigre (often made from its own stalks, mixed with old wine or new grapes) and other flavourings, the Mithato may be cooked down and 'distilled' into a thick, spiced paste known variously as 'chutney', 'chumney', 'catch-up' or 'pick-up', depending on the region. Even a half-ladle of the stuff goes a long way towards adding taste and complexity to a gravy or other savoury food, complements hams and roasts, and can even be spread on bread as a tangy snack. It is considered a concentrate which not only travels well and provides new energy to tired limbs, but can make unfamiliar or bland foods tasty. Some even claim that generously applied it will protect one from tainted food - venison which has become too high, old sausages, past-its-prime cheese, or eggs that were not properly candled. With all these virtues, it is no wonder that a small wax-sealed vial or coated squeeze-sack of 'catch-up' is often a popular inclusion in travellers' haversacks!
Reproduction. If left too long on the vine, the skin of the fruit begins to wrinkle and bulge ominously, and in short order begins to split along long vertical gashes which appear here and there running from the stem. Juice and already-decaying, liquifying flesh oozes out, black spots appear, and within a day or so that particular Mithato will drop from the vine, dissolving on the earth beneath, and self-seeding. In nature, this means of propagation ensures a wild tangle of spreading vines, each a separate plant having sprung from wherever a 'Seeder Mithato' has fallen (of course, many more than one, for there are a good twenty to fifty seeds in any one of the vegetables, as Jeyriall's profligate design would have it – but the demands of competing plants and vegetation around them often reduce the baby seedings to manageable numbers. And of course, the fruit has already been picked through by the various birds and animals who enjoy it at various stages, so only a few of the original crop of each year survive to become seeders for the next. Generally this results in a very aceedic, almost sour-flavoured vegetable, with a consistent wild overtone, a sort of bitter but appetite-provoking scent.
When gardened, generally the farmer is quick to harvest his fruit at the various stages called for by the market, and rarely does a Mithato reach the splitting stage unnoted. Rather, a few vegetables from plants with particularly prime flavours, healthy vines, and good producers, are culled from near the end of the harvest year and left to ripen that last little amount into 'seeders' on 'seeding trays', set in the sun and protected by individual horsehair sieves. As soon as they begin to split open, they are pulped in icy water and strained in those same sieves to separate the seeds from the liquified flesh. The seeds are then set back on the seeding trays to dry briefly and finally are stored in small parchment bags that, ironically, almost resemble the material of the lanterns they were cradled in as first fruits. And so the cycle continues from year to year.
Some other favoured mithrato receipts:
Spring Salat of Mithribel & Banegasse – a savoury
The Mithato was originally, and still is, a wild vegetable, its haired vines
tangling where they please in wastelands, covering fallen trees and dead bushes,
or growing in amorous clutches up ruined walls. Its present cultivated form we
owe to one man in particular, who by careful - indeed, meticulous if not
obsessive - observation and subsequent selection, gave us the 'tamed' Mithril
We know him only as “Scarlet Tom”, and the distancing of history makes it unclear whether his nickname came from the vegetable or the reverse, but the most commonly accepted story goes something like this... (as a Bard of Marcogg would have us believe...)
Scarlet Tom. Scarlet Tom was both the gardener and the jester of one of the less-well-to-do Markgravens of Keep Mistrash. An odd combination, to be sure, but then so was Tom. Some accident of birthing had left him hunched, in addition to the red stain, as bright as strong port wine, that spread across half his scalp and down his face in a gaudy splash. We know nothing of his childhood, though it seems his choice was to respond to the inevitable mockery of his peers – ah, children are cruel – with comic parody of his own, rather than let himself sink into dour bitterness. As a man, he could deftly turn away the jeers, even back upon their originator, with clever tongue and japery, raising a storm of laughter with rather than at him. His face, with the ever-present scarlet birthmark, also always wore a wry grin, twisted to the same side as the crook of his shoulders. But as he more and more immersed himself in the unjudging, unquestioning, relatively simple life of the green and growing things of Caelereth, it seemed to give him more comfort, more protection than he could summon for himself with words and wit. Who knows how he came to the Markgraven's service, or how that profligate son of a once-wealthy family kept him there? Be that as may, he was able to perform both the duties of a jester and entertainer, making merry at the (sadly-reduced) dinners or keeping his lord's spirits up, and that of the kitchen gardener. The Gravioness, a far more practical person than her spouse, had found that she could much reduce expense by having land cleared next the manor and her own vegetables grown, rather than send to the market each day, and when Tom's abilities with plants came to be known, he was swiftly – and, one presumes, contentedly – co-opted by the lady from her spendthrift husband. The wild Mithato was a well-known though scarce, and thus expensive vegetable at the time (and which time this was we cannot specify, save that it was longer ago than the last three or four centuries, but more recent than the time of the House of Kasiri) . Possibly it was for that very reason, and perhaps prompted by the needs of the Gravioness, that Tom began to experiment with growing and taming the plant – if he could not only produce food for his household, but create a surplus of this luxury that could be sold, the fortunes of the house might once again rise. And so it came to pass.
Scarlet Tom was the first to record for us the separate stages of the vegetable's growth, to carefully describe its reproductive cycle, and to select for larger and tastier fruit. His observations, copied and recopied (for alas, we have none of his original notes) have come down to us and are as accurate and thorough as any made today. His memory is embedded, as surely as Injèrá's rays, in the flesh of every richly red Mithato. The next time you see a wild vine spangled with silvery lanterns spreading its stalks over an old hedgerow, or relish a splash of 'chutney' with your cold ham slice of a luncheon's noon, send a prayer of thanks and memory to the soul of Scarlet Tom and his 'tomatoes'.