The Tomato Essay

1470 words - 6 pages

The Tomato

Tomatoes are members of the Solanaceae, a family that includes such economically important plants as petunias, tobacco, chili peppers, sweet peppers, eggplant and potatoes as well as the mandrake and nightshades. Taxonomically, the tomato genus is closely related to Solanum. The two differ largely by certain minor characteristics of the anthers (Heiser 1969).

Although it is unclear where tomatoes may have been first domesticated, the two main possibilities are Peru and Mexico. The wild forms may have originated in either area, but it was the indigenous peoples of Mexico that first cultivated them. In fact, the common name tomato comes from tomatl, the word for this plant in the Nahuatl language of Mexico (Heiser 1969).

In his 1544 herbal, Matthiolus documents the existence of tomatoes in Italy and also reports that Italians ate them. Vernon Quinn proposes that the Spanish explorers brought it back to Spain from Mexico and that a Moor brought it to Tangiers and, from there, an Italian brought it to Italy where it was called Moor's apple, pomo dei mori, and a name with a similar sound, poma amoris, but a different meaning: love apple. Similarly, the French referred to it as love apple, pomme d'amour (Heiser 1969).

The French and Italian names demonstrate the story of tomato as a reversal of the tale of the Trojan horse. Although Matthiolus includes culinary use of tomatoes by the Italians, it was probably not widespread in the 16th century, as most Europeans were convinced that tomatoes were a lethal poison and/or an aphrodisiac, rendering them a danger both to spiritual and physical health. Their acceptance by Europeans as food was very slow, lasting more than a hundred years in much of Europe. Tomatoes were recognized as members of Solanaceae, whose only European relatives were the poisonous mandrake and nightshades, hence the strong aversion to eating them. It is likely that Italians preceded other non-Americans in cooking with tomatoes. Jack Weatherford (1988) suggests that the Italian diet was quite dull before they began using tomatoes and sweet peppers from the Americas: they had a lot of variety to their pastas, but only a few sauces. They liked the chili peppers from the New World, but these lost much of their flavor in sauces based in cream, butter or oil. Once they began to use tomatoes with sweet and chili peppers, they quickly developed hundreds of sauces from pickled, sliced, chipped, diced, dried and pureed tomatoes.

Tomatoes were introduced to England in the 1570s and remained as a garden curiosity there for many years (Thacker 1979). The building of glasshouses during the 1800s had a great impact on British diet and lifestyle. Many of these glasshouses were built there in that century, especially during the second half, and the most popular items to put in them were flowers or tomatoes. A new truck farming industry sprang up in Britain to feed its burgeoning cities; by 1900, one grower alone had 76...

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