Amazing, Historical Ways To Use Tomatoes!
As summer is winding down, many gardens across the Northern Hemisphere are now overflowing with an assortment of vegetables. The tomato is especially plentiful this time of year, and as it's a favorite garden vegetable of just about everybody, it's a tasty and delectable treat definitely worth examining!
Why is the humble tomato worthy of all this praise and attention? Simple. It is not only the basis of many forms of modern cuisine, but Southern Italian cookery is effectively a tomato cuisine and worthy of analysis. After all my own genetic heritage is from the same volcanic soil on the side of the Mount Vesuvius volcano which is the only place in the world where the perfect San Marzano tomato is legitimately grown... so I think I should be able to wear the mantle of tomato authority very well, thank you very much!
Some people make tomato sauce and tomato juice, while others use them in various dishes. Still others like to slice them and eat them on sandwiches or just by themselves. In many areas of the world, they are perennial favorites. However, they weren't always so popular. In fact, there was a time when they were regarded with suspicion and fear.
There's nothing quite like the taste of a home-grown tomato fresh from the garden. Except perhaps homemade tomato sauce with plenty of herbs and spices, simmered for hours and served over a plate of your favorite pasta. Tomatoes and pasta dishes go so well together that one would assume tomatoes are native to the Mediterranean region. However, that is not the case. In fact, their likely place of origin is actually quite far from there. Researchers believe the tomato originated in South America, of all places. It is difficult to imagine Italian cuisine without it but, the tomato was unknown in Italy until after European explorers returned from the new world.
The tomato plant (Lycopersicon esculentum) is a member of the Solanaceae, or Nightshade, family. Other well known members of this family include the potato, bell pepper and eggplant. Like many families, however, the Nightshade family also contains a few disreputable members, plants with names like deadly nightshade and poisonberry as well as the ever controversial tobacco.
Scientists say the wild ancestor of the tomato likely originated in the Andes Mountains in what is now known as Peru. They cite the diversity of the Lycopersicon genus in the area as evidence pointing to this. Today, at least eight different species of the genus grow wild in the Andes. These wild relatives are small and unimpressive and are much less productive than the cultivated plant. The fruits of these wild plants are similar to a small cherry tomato.
From its origin in South America, the wild ancestor of the tomato gradually made its way north, perhaps as a weed accompanying corn and bean crops, all the way into Central America. It is known to have been an important food crop among Indians in Central America as early as the 15th century. This is even before the Italians had adopted the delectable tasty delight into their cookery traditions!