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Page 191

HOW THE TOMATO SUCCEEDED

To provide perspective on the possible future for the vegetables described in the following section, it is helpful to consider the unusual development of another vegetable with an Andean origin, the tomato.

The tomato derives from a genus of weedy Andean plants with red, orange, or green berries of currant to cherry size. But although ancient graves have yielded remnants of dozens of different native Andean food crops, nothing indicates that tomatoes were ever cultivated for food in their ancient homeland. No samples or pottery depictions have been found.

However, although it was not a food of the Incas, by the time of the Spanish Conquest the cherry tomato had reached Mexico and apparently was being cultivated and eaten there, at least in a small way. Indeed, the plant's common name derives from the Mexican (actually Nahuatl) word “tomatl.

The tomato apparently reached Europe in 1523. However, for at least another century, it remained largely unappreciated. Although by 1600 it had spread throughout Europe, almost everywhere it was regarded as toxic and as a mere curiosity, the “ pomme d'amour” or “love apple.” *

The first tomato seeds to cross the Atlantic undoubtedly went to Spain and were of yellow-fruited varieties. ** It is thought that they were quickly passed on to Italy, probably through the kingdom of Naples, which had come under Spanish rule in 1522. Italians were the first people anywhere to show real enthusiasm for the tomato as a food. It was in Italy that the large-fruited tomatoes of commerce first gained acceptance. Eventually, this “nonfood of the Incas” became synonymous with Italian cuisine—the base for sauces to go on pastas from lasagna to linguine.

Although Italians eagerly accepted the plant, northern Europeans stubbornly resisted. They started consuming tomatoes on a large scale only in the second half of the last century. To them, the smell of the plant's foliage was said to be as revolting as the thought that southern Europeans would eat the fruit.

European voyagers spread the tomato to Southeast Asia before 1650 and to North America by about the time of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson had tomatoes in his garden by 1781. For another


* “The whole plant is of a ranke and stinking savour,” said John Gerard (The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants, 1597; reprinted 1984, Apt. Bks., Inc., New York) under the heading “Apples of Love.” Pierandrea Mattioli described it as mala insansa, “unhealthy apple.”
** In France, Olivier de Serres, agronomist under Henry IV, wrote that “love apples are marvelous and golden.” His enthusiasm, however, was not necessarily for their taste, for, he continued, “they serve commonly to cover outhouses and arbors.”


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