• Love Apples & Wolf-Peaches: Synonyms for Lycopersicon esculentum or The Tomato

    The Aztecs called it wolf-peach. The French called it the love apple. You and I call it the tomato, pronunciation discourse aside. Regardless of what you want to call it the round, orbicular, heart-shaped, or even kidney shaped fruits of colors in more than just red are popular fruits of the American garden each summer. The juicy, tasty produce have become delicacies sought out by the eager gardener on a morning walk in the garden or the urban connoisseur first in line at the Saturday morning farmer’s market. Popularity aside, like many plants, tomatoes have a fascinating history.

    The origins of the tomato are arguably set in Central and South America; most would say Peru or Ecuador. Historically many of the native, ancient cultures in these areas were using tomatoes at all stages of growth and development. The immature, green fruits were used as garnishes and in salads while the mature, reddish to yellowish fruits were stewed into various sauces.

    However these pragmatic, culturally centered uses of tomatoes seemed to have missed the imperialistic Europeans who upon their return to Europe weren’t sure what to do with the tomato. Stories circulate about royalty consuming the green plant parts and falling dreadfully ill in their misconceived chef’s pursuit to prepare this culinary offering. Yet another tells of the high lead content of pewterware and how high acid vegetables like the tomato would cause the lead to leach out of the plates and cause food poisoning.

    Whatever the tale, tomatoes weren’t widely regarded as edible vegetables until at least the early part of the 19th century. Thomas Jefferson and other elite members of society were no doubt relishing in the pink, yellow, and orange flesh of our now favorite vegetable due to their international experiences. But the common folk of America’s town and country weren’t so readily exposed. Despite the slow and at times tumultuous rise to popularity around the world, tomatoes are consumed in a number of close to 12 million tons a year in the United States.

    {Note from KDN: This piece is a follow-up to my latest column in the November/December issue of Garden and Greenhouse on the Great Northwest Tomato Taste-Off}.

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