The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum, syn. Lycopersicon lycopersicum) is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family, native to Central, South, and southern North America from Mexico to Argentina. The word tomato comes from a word in the Nahuatl language, tomatl. The specific name, lycopersicum, means "wolf-peach".
The origin of the word "tomato" is Latin for 'juicy wolf peach' because they were believed to evoke werewolves, and were initially believed to be poisonous (and despite being proven otherwise, some people like to hold onto the belief that they are still poisonous to avoid eating them... unless they're made into a sauce). They only became popular in the early 1820s after it was discovered they weren't poisonous, and became exceptionally popular in the 1920s when they became widely cultivated.
They were also known as love apples, in part because it was thought that, cut athwart, they resembled the heart and therefore, under the Law of Correspondences, could be used to affect that organ, especially in the matter of eros.
How period are tomatoes?
After colonising the Americas, Spanish also took the tomato to Europe. It grew easily in Mediterranean climates, and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, and was certainly being used as food by the early 1600s in Spain. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, though the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish sources. However, in certain areas of Italy, such as Florence, the fruit was used solely as tabletop decoration before it was ever incorporated into the local cuisine until the late 17th or early 18th century.
They were known as "Golden Apples", and were for example eaten as follows:
- "The golden apple one eats in the same way as the eggplant with pepper, salt and oil, but it gives little and evil nutrition."
- (Source: "Herbario nuovo", Roma, 1585, dall'introduzione di Piero Camporesi a "La scienza in cucina e l'arte del mangiare bene" di Pellegrino Artusi)
Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s. One of the earliest cultivators was John Gerard, a barber-surgeon. Gerard's Herbal, published in 1597 and largely plagiarized from continental sources, is also one of the earliest discussions of the tomato in England. Gerard knew that the tomato was eaten in Spain and Italy. Nonetheless, he believed that it was poisonous. Gerard's views were influential, and the tomato was considered unfit for eating (though not necessarily poisonous) for many years in Britain and its North American colonies.
For an excellent discussion on tomatoes and their use in the SCA period, read this excellent article available at Stefan's Florilegium: http://www.florilegium.org/files/FOOD-VEGETABLES/16C-Tomato-art.html
If, you want to grow tomatoes, they're fairly easy to cultivate. You can readily buy seeds and seedlings from the supermarket or hardware store, and you should plant them in full sun so they get plenty of water. You may have to fight a number of tomato problems such as anthracnose, bacterial canker, black mould, curly top, early blight, root rot, powdery mildew, southern blight, infectious chlorosis virus, tomato pith necrosis, water mould, white mould.
There are also lots of insects which like to munch on your tomato plant, such as: lygus bugs, potato tuberworm (they've clearly become confused), stink bugs, fruit worms, pin worms, leafhopers, aphids, leaf miners, mites, cutworms and symphlyans. Nematodes will also have a fun time with your tomato.
Tomatoes are a nitrogen hungry crop, so planting them in a plot after a crop of legumes is common. Due to the bright red colouring of many varieties being a bird attractor many store bought tomatoes are not fully vine ripened unless they are hydroponically grown. This is the reason hydroponic tomatoes generally taste better, although netting plants can allow fruits to ripen on the vine without fear of avine menaces.
There are many tomato varieties (non-hybrid) such as:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Roma tomatoes
- Leopard tomatoes, a.k.a Tigrella
- Hardy Tom
- Grosse Lisse
- Yellow Pear
- Rouge de Marmade
and many others.