Tag Archives: Early agriculture

Tomato plants and a cicada

As of yesterday, the most interesting things going were the tiny yellow blooms on my six tomato plants, and the carcass of what I think is a cicada: a full three inches long, brown like the average roach, 6 legs, jointed curved antennae. Apparently he or she plopped out of the sky like a tiny jet fighter shot down behind enemy lines. Crash-landed and died. Haven’t researched it yet. But I have been successful finding information about tomatoes.

Tomatoes first grew and were cultivated in the Andes in the alpine regions where Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia come together. In what anthropologists describe as “relatively recent times”–~2000 years ago–humans carried them north spreading them around Central America and Mexico. When the Europeans began poking around “the New World,” they took samples home with them. By the end of the Italian Renaissance (~1500), the Italians had begun to grow and eat them. The Germans, French, British etc. still thought they were suspicious. Early plant fanatics grew them as curiosities, but the average farmer or layperson still believed they were poisonous. It would be another couple hundred years before Anglo-Saxon types overcame their prejudices and started serving slices of the juicy yellow or red fruit in toasted cheese sandwiches.

In North America, the tomato found even rougher going. To veer back into anthropological times for a moment, the tomato seems not to have ever made any inroads with the indigenous sorts in the northern hemisphere: too short a shelf life to fuss with, probably. As fate would have it, the tomato had to make an assault on the colonies via Europe–taking the long way around. Thomas Jefferson, who was a notorious yeomen farmer and plant buff , is reported to have grown and eaten them in the 1780s. Places like New Orleans, with its French and Spanish influence embraced them a few decades earlier.

Baby tomatoes -- my first!

Baby tomatoes -- my first!

Now, of course, they are a booming business. [Would be interesting to have some facts and figures to relate, but I don’t.] Well, booming until a few weeks ago with that Salmonella scare. (Gloria keeps squinting and saying, how do you get the Salmonella into the tomato?!)

(Okay, okay… I confess. I love to hear myself tell stories and sound all–like Wow–and everything. But what I posted above was all taken from one article (the 1949 National Geographic piece on Traveling Vegetables). I suspect that anthropologists (Paleobotanists?) have probably had things to say since then. And I didn’t Fact Check, even based on my initial reading.)