The tomatoes may
have been a pale variety as they were given the name 'golden apple'
(pomo d'oro) by a Sienese botanist, Pietro Andrea Mattioli. Despite
the poetic name, they were considered to be a noxious food of little
nutritional value. One theory held that tomatoes were poisonous, while
a contradictory theory asserted that they were an aphrodisiac.
were not alone in their suspicions as the tomato was regarded with skepticism
when it traveled from its native home in the southern hemisphere of
the Americas, upward to North America. History moved on.
Today tomato sauce is a worldwide
staple, but the first recipe for tomatoes with pasta wasn't written
until 1839 when Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino, offered a recipe
for 'vermicelli co le pommodoro.' A mere thirty years later, La Cuciniera
Genovese offered recipes for purées, soups, distinctly different
sauces for meats, chicken, veal and pasta. Tomatoes had arrived.
Their arrival was accompanied by
a heated debate questioning whether the tomato was a fruit or a vegetable.
The debate was of such intensity that it was finally sent to the Supreme
Court of the United States for adjudication. The Supreme Court declared
the tomato to be a vegetable, supposedly ending a debate which continues
to this day.
The tomato suffered with disrepute during its history. This once suspicious vegetable is
now considered to be one of our healthiest foods, being a significant
source of vitamins A and C. Additionally, in recent years, the tomato
has been found to be the richest source of lycopene, one of the carotenoids.
In 1995 Harvard University published studies identifying a positive
association between the intake of tomatoes and tomato-based foods, and
the diminished risk of prostate cancer. Additional studies have been
instituted at Ben-Gurion University in Israel and the University of
North Carolina in the US.
The tomato is also distinguished
for its power as a galvanizing force that draws people together. A steaming
bowl of pasta with tomato sauce magnetically pulls groups of people
to the table. Since the tomato is a plant that everyone wants to grow,
those green vines bring neighbors together to share experiences, or
to brag about the resulting size of their prized tomatoes. We understand
the impulse to give in to tomato pride, and forgive the proud gardener
Long live the tomato. May its history continue.