The Dinette Teller – 14. The Tomato

The tomato is a popular vegetable, which figures in the cuisine of many countries around the world.

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It is particularly prominent in Italian cooking, but it was unknown in Europe until Spanish explorers brought it from the Americas.

The tomato originated in the highlands of Peru. From there, it eventually expanded to Mexico, where it was cultivated by the Aztecs.

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The Aztec tomato was different from the large red vegetable that we know today. It was small and yellow. When this small, round fruit arrived in Italy, it was named “golden apple” for its bright yellow colour.

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Scientifically speaking the tomato is a fruit, but is used as a vegetable in cooking. The name of tomato comes from the Aztecs, meaning “plump thing”.

The tomato arrived in Europe in the 1500s and became a popular food in Spain and Italy. In the late 1600s, the Italians began publishing recipes using tomatoes.

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Instead, British had a different approach toward this vegetable. In 1600, it was grown as an ornamental plant in Britain but they did not eat it because it was thought to be poisonous. It was not until the 1700s that tomatoes became part of their diet.

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In the United States, tomatoes were also used as ornamental plants rather than food. This approach began to change in the 1800s.

In 1806, a gardener’s calendar mentioned that tomatoes could be used to improve the flavour of soups and other foods. Thomas Jefferson did much to enhance the tomato’s reputation as a food. He first served tomatoes to visitors at his home in Virgina in 1809.

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Then, in 1820, a man named Robert Gibbon Johnson decided it was time to discard, once and for all, the idea that tomatoes were poisonous. To prove his point, he ate one kilo of ripe red tomatoes in public. Two thousand people gathered to watch this feat, which took place on the steps of a courthouse in Salem, Massachusetts.

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Amazingly enough, Johnson survived this performance!

The popularity of the tomato as food began to grow immediately. Soon, people all around the country were eating tomatoes. By 1830s, American newspapers and magazines were publishing thousands of tomato recipes. However, all those recipes involved using tomatoes in some cooked form.

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Tomato salads and sandwiches were still unknown. It was not until a century later, in the 1930s that it became popular for people to eat raw tomatoes!

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