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3.16.2005

 

You say "xitomatl"...


A plant which is a fruit, technically—it’s a berry—the tomato springs from a wild viney plant which originally grew all over the high Andes region of Peru and Bolivia, along with its kissing cousin, the potato. Probably plucked and eaten on the spot by the locals but not cultivated, the tiny fruit was highly perishable and its growing season short.

Someone, perhaps the birds, brought the tomato north to what is now Mexico where the fruit was named "xitomatl." The Aztecs and other speakers of Nahuatl, native peoples of Central America and Mexico did indeed cultivate the tomato.

Carried to Europe by the Spanish, the tomato first seen by and noted by an Italian herbalist in the 1540’s was small, pear-shaped and yellow in color. The Italian word "pomo d’oro" or golden apple thus makes sense. The Italians were the first Europeans to make the fruit their own, breeding and cultivating it with gusto. The results, of course, are well known. A tradition less than 400 years old, Italian cooking without the tomato is unthinkable.

From the Tomato exhibit at the Food Museum Online.

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