|The tomato is native to western South America and Central America. In 1519, Cortez discovered tomatoes growing in Montezuma's gardens and brought seeds back to Europe where they were planted as ornamental curiosities, but not eaten.
Most likely the first variety to reach Europe was yellow in color, since in Spain and Italy they were known as pomi d'oro, meaning yellow apples. Italy, not surprisingly, was the first to embrace and cultivate the tomato outside South America.
The French referred to the tomato as pommes d'amour, or love apples, as they thought them to have stimulating aphrodisiacal properties.
The English word tomato comes from the Spanish word, tomate, derived from the Aztec word tomatl. It first appeared in print in 1595. A member of the deadly nightshade family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous by Europeans who were suspicious of their bright, shiny fruit.
|Up until the end of the eighteenth century, physicians warned against eating tomatoes, fearing they caused not only appendicitis but also stomach cancer from tomato skins adhering to the lining of the stomach.
Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem, New Jersey had brought the tomato home from abroad in 1808. He had been offering a yearly prize for the largest fruit grown. Still the general public considered the tomato an ornamental plant rather than an edible one.
It was Colonel Johnson who on September 26, 1820 proved once and for all that tomatoes were non-poisonous and safe for consumption. According to the story, he stood on the steps of the Salem courthouse and bravely consumed an entire basket of tomatoes without keeling over or suffering any ill effects whatsoever. His grandstanding attracted a crowd over over 2,000 people who were certain he was committing public suicide. The local firemen's band even played a mournful dirge to add to the perceived morbid display of courage.
Johnson's public stunt garnered a lot of attention, and North America's love affair with the tomato was off and running.
|In Valencia, Spain, 1945, during a parade young adults who wanted to be in the event staged a brawl in town's main square, the Plaza del Pueblo. There was a vegetable stand nearby, so they picked up tomatoes and used them as weapons. The police had to intervene to break up the fight and forced those responsible to pay damages. This is only one, but the most popular of the many theories about how the Tomatina started.
The following year the young people repeated the fight on the same Wednesday in August, only this time they brought their own tomatoes from home. They were again dispersed by the police. After repeating this in subsequent years, the tradition was established.
|In 1897, soup mogul Joseph Campbell came out with Condensed Tomato Soup, a move that set the company on the road to wealth as well as further endearing the tomato to the general public.
Campbell may have made tomato soup popular, but the first recipe is credited to Maria Parloa whose 1872 book The Appledore Cook Book describes her tomato chowder.
The high acidic content of the tomato makes it a prime candidate for canning, which is one of the main reasons tomatoes are canned more than any other fruit or vegetable.
Pop Artist Andy Warhol carried the tomato to the great museums of the world. Muriel Latow, an aspiring interior decorator, and owner of the Latow Art Gallery in the East 60s in Manhattan, told Warhol that he should paint "Something you see every day and something that everybody would recognize. Something like a can of Campbell's Soup." Ted Carey, who was there at the time, said that Warhol responded by exclaiming: "Oh that sounds fabulous." According to Carey, Warhol went to a supermarket the following day and bought a case of "all the soups", which Carey said he saw when he stopped by Warhol's apartment the next day. When the art critic G.R. Swenson asked Warhol in 1963 why he painted soup cans, the artist replied, "I used to drink it, I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years."