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A Brief History of Some of our Favorite Garden Vegetables

Updated on September 20, 2009

Ever wonder where all the great vegetables we eat everyday came from? Only a few are native to North America. So where did they originate and how did they get here?


Corn (Zea mays)

Corn is native to the Americas but not the corn we know today. It does not exist naturally in the wild. It only exists because of human selection and cultivation. Scientists believe it was first cultivated 7,000 years ago in Central Mexico. The earliest known ears were only a few inches long and the kernels were small and were not in nice straight rows. The most prevalent theory is corn is descended from a wild grass called Teosinte. Others believe it was a combination of Teosinte and Tripsacum (Gamma Grass). Breeding by Native Americans, the early settlers and modern scientists have developed the plant and ears into the corn we enjoy today. Christopher Columbus introduced corn to Europe.

Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Tomatoes are native to the Americas. They originally were small and yellow in color. That plant still grows wild in Peru in South America. The early Aztecs grew tomatoes around 700 AD. Europeans were not introduced to them until the 16th century. Throughout the 16th & 17th centuries they were believed to be poisonous because they belong to the same family as the deadly Nightshade. Also contributing to this belief was the fact the rich got sick or died after eating them. This was because they used pewter plates which had high quantities of lead. The acid in the tomatoes caused the lead to leech out which led to lead poisoning. The poor only had plates made of wood so they were able to eat them without getting sick. They finally gained acceptance in the 1880’s in Italy with the invention of pizza. They have been a staple in the US since the Civil War.


Potato (Solanum tuberosum)

The potato was first discovered and cultivated 7,000 years ago in the Andes Mountains of South America. It is also a member of the deadly nightshade family and its leaves are poisonous. It did not make its way to Europe until the 1500’s. It wasn’t universally accepted until the 1700’s which is when it was introduced to the US.


Cucumber (Cucumis sativus)

Cucumbers originated in India. They are believed to have been first cultivated 3,000 years ago in Western Asia. They were probably introduced to Europe by the Romans and they came to the US with Christopher Columbus.


Beet (Beta vulgaris)

Beets are native to the Mediterranean. They are descended from the sea-beet, a wild seashore plant. The leaves have been eaten since before written history, but the roots were small and used only for medicinal purposes. It is believed 3rd century Romans were eating the roots. The red beet we know today was mentioned in 14th century England. It was not a popular food until French chefs starting using them in the 1800’s.


Onion (Allium cepa)

Onions are thought to have originated in Asia around 3,500 BC, though they are believed to have been growing wild on every continent. It was one of the few foods that did not spoil during winter. The Romans probably brought them to Europe and they traveled to North America with the Puritans.


Pea (Pisum sativum)

Peas are believed to date back 5,000 years ago. They originated in the Middle East. Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing the dry seeds to the Americas. They were first grown for their dry seeds and the green garden peas we know today were not common until the 18th century.


Carrot (Daucus carota)

Carrots were first cultivated 5,000 years ago in Afghanistan. Carrots came in many colors including purple, yellow, white, red and black. They were cultivated in Europe in the 13th century. The 16th century Dutch cross-bred a red and a yellow variety. This produced an orange carrot in honor of the House of Orange. The orange carrot became the most popular color and eventually became the sweet carrots we know today. The English settlers introduced them to North America in the 1600’s.



Green Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)

Green beans or string beans (because of the strings they used to have) probably originated in Central America, Southern Mexico, China and India. The Native Americans planted beans between their rows of corn. Columbus took them to Europe and they were introduced to France in the 1590’s. The French were the first to put them on the menu. For a long time, green beans were rare and expensive and they were not widespread until the 19th century.


Doesn’t it make you hungry? And did you notice some common threads? The French put a lot of foods on the menu before other countries even accepted them. Christopher Columbus was the bearer of new kinds of vegetables to both sides of the Atlantic. He enriched everyone’s diets.


Try some of the following recipes:

Vegetable Pizza

2 cans crescent rolls

2-8 oz tubs of whipped cream cheese (1/2 w/chives is good)

3/4 cup mayo or salad dressing (I use half of each)

1 pkg ranch dressing mix (dry)

3/4 cup each of finely chopped: cauliflower, broccoli, green onion, shredded carrots, shredded cheese, and tomatoes

Bake rolls flattened on large cookie sheet about 15 mins at 375 degrees. Cool. Mix cream cheese, mayo & salad dressing mix. Spread over cool crust. Top with veggies and cheese. Chill. Cut into squares.

Twice Baked Potatoes

5 lbs boiled potatoes

6-oz cream cheese

1 cup sour cream

1 Tbsp chives

1/4 cup butter


Add all ingredients except paprika and butter. Mash well. Add to a 9x13 pan. Dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator until baking.

The Best Slow Cooker Cream Corn

2-16 oz pkgs frozen corn kernels

12-ozs cream cheese, cubed

1/2 cup butter cut into pieces

1/4 cup sugar

3 slices American cheese

1/4 cup milk

Combine all ingredients in the crock pot or slow cooker. Cover and set to low. Cook for 3 hours, stirring every 30 mins. Cheese and milk burn easily so do not cut the time and do not use the high setting.

Pickled Refrigerator Beets

In a saucepan combine:

1/3 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon and 1/4 tsp salt.

Heat to boiling; add 2 cups sliced, cooked beets. Cover & simmer 5 mins. Chill.

Will keep in the refrigerator a long time.

To cook the beets:

Peel and slice. Cook covered in a small amount of salted water for 15-20 mins.

Refrigerator Pickles

Peel and slice cucumbers. Add equal amounts of cider vinegar, water and sugar to cover.

I also add onions and celery seed. Sliced green peppers are also good. Store in the refrigerator.


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    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      7 years ago

      Thank you Katrina. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • katrinasui profile image


      7 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading your hub. It is very interesting to read about the history of vegetables.

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      8 years ago

      Thanks, 2uesday. I'm glad you enjoyed the info. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • 2uesday profile image


      8 years ago

      Interesting to read here about the history of the vegetables we eat and grow in our gardens. Most of this was new to me and it is nice to enjoy reading a hub and to learn something at the same time. Thank you.


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