In 1521, the Aztec city of Tenochititlan came under the control of Hernan Cortez. It’s likely that the explorer was the first to bring tomato seeds back to Europe after the plant was found in what is now Mexico. The fruit we know as the tomato was called tomatl by the Aztecs and they were yellow rather than the classic red. Instead of using the newly arrived plants as a food source, many grew it in the garden as a spot of color.
The tomato was declared to be a poison apple in the 18th century. Someone made the observation that people who indulged in eating tomatoes died. Never mind that it was likely the lead poisoning caused by eating a highly acidic food from a pewter plate. Each bite of an 18th century Eggs in Purgatory delivered another dose of lead leached from their fine dinnerware.
Others were certain that the tomato had influence on human behavior. When the plant was classified as a mandrake, references from the Bible warned that the tomato could act as a love potion, triggering the nickname of love apple. I’m not at all sure why we should avoid something that brings us love. Being lumped into the Solanaceae family of plants didn’t bode well for the tomato. In that group, the tomato was also thought to be kin to Nightshade, which had hallucinogenic properties as well as an association with witchcraft.
Aside from its characteristics as an aphrodisiac and a hallucinogen, the humble tomato was also assigned supernatural powers. German folklore tells us that witches used the tomato to call werewolves. This practice of using the tomato to summon lycanthropes influenced the name of the plant species: Lycopersicon esculentum.
To top off its sullied reputation, the tomato was the subject of a Supreme Court case. In 1893, when the Court heard the case of Nix v Hedden, the fruit or vegetable argument was settled. It was to be considered a vegetable, even though it fit the definition of a fruit. Why, you might ask? Money. Vegetables were subject to tariffs and fruits were not.
In spite of its rocky past, Americans eat about 22 pounds of tomatoes every year. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that most of this consumption is the form of tomato sauce. All the ketchup and pasta sauce on our dinner table add up.
So, if you dare, indulge in pasta with a tomato-based sauce. Here’s hoping for the best!
Simple Tomato Pasta Sauce
1 medium carrot
1 celery rib
1/2 medium onion
1 clove garlic
28 oz can tomato puree
1/4 cup olive oil
Basil or oregano to taste
Using a food processor, finely chop the carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. Mix all ingredients in saucepan and simmer until vegetables are tender. Allow to cool and return to food processor. Blend until sauce is smooth. (Optional) Add seasoning as desired.