Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tomato Week: Reviled to Relished

Historical accounts are unclear precisely when the tomato was transformed from reviled poison to relished staple. Personally, I'd put money on its reputation as a love potion. Other historians suggest that it was considered peasant food, avoided by aristocrats because of its corrosive effect on metal and silver platters on which they ate but safe in wooden bowls.

In the New World, Thomas Jefferson championed the tomato as food, cultivating it in 1781. A French refugee from Santo Domingo supposedly introduced the tomato to Philadelphia  in 1789 but it was not widely accepted until later. An Italian painter brought the tomato to Salem, Massachusetts in 1802, but was challenged to get it onto anyone's table.

It was 1839 before evidence of broader acceptance is conclusive. Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino touted 'vermicelli co le pommodoro' in an early collection of recipes. A mere thirty years later, tomatoes dominated the pages of La Cuciniera Genovese in recipes for purées, soups, distinctly different sauces for meats, chicken, veal and pasta.

Tomatoes had arrived.

Today there are over 4,000 varieties of the tomato. They come in many colors and range in size from grape to apple. The tomato could be the world's most popular summer fruit. Indeed, one is hard-pressed to think of many meals that are not enlivened by the lowly, lovely tomato.

Or do you say to-mah-to?

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