Tag Archives: Italian history

Tomatoes are not Italian

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” – Lewis Grizzard

For an Italian, the tomato is nearly as important as the grape. In fact, I’m pretty sure they have equal billing.  While traveling through Italy, tomato’s are easy to come by.  Whether ordering a savory dish in one of the restaurante’s, or  wandering through an Italian marketplace, the tomato is pretty hard to avoid.

Without a doubt, there are a bazillion dishes where the tomato is one of the main ingredients, or in which it is used as the base for recipes. No doubt, between its color, flavor or versatility, the tomato is a main staple in Italy, and has been so for hundreds of years.

As much as us Italian’s would like to take credit for the tomato, we cannot.  Tomatoes made there way along side of potatoes, hot peppers (pepperocino) corn and the sweet potato during the voyages of Cristoforo Columbo, making their way into Spain at the beginning of the 1500’s; they originated with the Aztec’s.

The tomato plant was originally from Chile or Ecuador; where the climate is tropical, and tomatoes can produce year-round. Here in America, the production of the tomato is limited to annual growth, and in Italy, it’s much the same.

In an article written by Jackelin J. Jarvis, she says “The tomato comes form the plant family solanacee. Its cousin the eggplant, was in those times, the preferred fruit in the Arabic World. Today, with the exception of Italian (because the tomato is called pomodoro), the word “tomato” is similar in all other languages- seeing that is was derived from the Aztec word for the plant. The original plant that was imported into Europe was called xitomatl, but it actually referred to the ‘Tomatl.’ The Tomatl was another plant similar to the tomato, but smaller, and the fruits were a greenish-yellow color and today are called ‘Tomatillo.’ These tomatoes are still used in Central American cooking.(The Spanish call both tomate).”

Despite the historical origin of the tomato, somehow I would still like to believe that it has Italian roots.  Perhaps I am in a bit of food denial, but I’m sure it’s because of the relationship that Italian’s have with the tomato.  However, it is amusing to think that the tomato, which most of us think of as quintessentially Italian, evolved on a different continent in a different hemisphere. Even so, it’s very difficult to think of Italian cuisine without the use of the tomato, unless of course we are discussing tira misu or a bottle of Enzo Boglietti. The tomato has been a part of Italian culture for a very long time, and for that I am grateful!  Still, there is no doubt that Italian’s have a relationship with the tomato!

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Here’s another news-flash, Roma tomatoes, which are sometimes referred to as Italian tomatoes aren’t even grown in Italy!  Haha!  They are grown in the United States, Mexico, Great Britain and Australia!  Now, the San Marzano tomato is quite another thing.  According to Wikipedia, “The story goes that the first seed of hola the San Marzano tomato came to Campania in 1770, as a gift from the Kingdom of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples, and that it was planted in the area that corresponds to the present commune of San Marzano. They come from a small town of the same name near Naples, Italy, and were first grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Compared to the Roma tomatoes with which most people are familiar, Marzano tomatoes are thinner and pointier in shape. The flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is much stronger, more sweet and less acidic. Many people[who?] describe the taste as bittersweet, like high-quality chocolate. Because of their high quality and origins near Naples, San Marzano tomatoes have been designated as the only tomatoes that can be used for Vera PizzaNapoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza).[2]

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So, the moral of the story is:  Hmmm… Well, there is no moral, I really just wanted to talk about tomatoes.  Amo dei pomodori!

PS. You say “tomaahto, I say pomodoro!

*Recommended book on the history of the tomato in Italy:

Pomodoro!: A History of the Tomato in Italy, by David Gentilcore

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