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The History of Tomatoes

Q1.      Where do tomatoes originate from?

A1.      Tomatoes originated from the Andes, in what is now called Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador - where they grew wild.  They were first cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 AD.

Q2.      When did tomatoes first arrive in Europe?

A2.      Tomatoes didn’t arrive in Europe until the 16th Century, although it is not known how.  It has been said that they were brought back from Central America by Spanish Conquistadors   Another legend suggests that two Jesuit priests brought them to Italy from Mexico.  Others say Columbus brought the first tomato to Europe. 

Q3.      What were the first cultivated tomatoes like?

A3.      The first cultivated tomatoes were yellow and cherry-sized, earning them the name golden apples. They were considered poisonous but appreciated for their beauty.

Q4.      What is the Latin name for the cultivated tomato?

A4.      The Latin name for the cultivated tomato is Lycopersicon escutentum, which means edible wolf's peach,
                     though no one is quite sure why wolf's peach.  Soon after the tomato's arrival in Europe, it was also known
                     as the Peruvian apple.

Q5.      What type of tomato is Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium?

A5.      Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium is a wild species of tomato which is found in the low altitude coastal valleys in Peru.  It produces cherry-size red fruit and easily hybridises with cultivated varieties.  It has been used in breeding programmes for commercial varieties and has been useful in introducing some disease resistance to these.

Q6.      What type of tomato is Lycopersicon hirsutum?

A6.      Lycopersicon hirsutum is a wild green-fruited species found at high altitudes in moist river valleys.

Q7.      What type of tomato is Lycopersicon peruvianum?

A7.        Lycopersicon peruvianum is another wild green-fruited species which is very  variable in character
                       and is found over a wide area, as far south as the Africa province of Chile.

Q8.        What type of tomato is Lycopersicon chilense?

A8.      Lycopersicon chilense is a wild species found in a more restricted area, mainly in Chile and southern Peru.

Q9.        What type of tomato is Lycopersicon cheesmanii? 

A9.      Lycopersicon cheesmanii is unusual wild species with ornate, frilly leaves found only on the Galapagos Islands off the Pacific coast of Equador.  It has been used in plant breeding to introduce tolerance of salty conditions to commercial varieties. 

Q10.      What powerful quality did the French think tomatoes had?

A10.    The French were convinced that tomatoes had powerful aphrodisiac qualities and called them pommes d'amour (love apples).

Q11.    Where did the English word tomato come from?

A11.    The English word 'tomato' derives from the word 'tomatl' its name in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec people.  The English form 'tomate' first appeared in the 17th century, and was later modified to 'tomato', probably under the influence of the more familiar “potato”.

Q12.    What were tomatoes originally grown for in Britain?

A12.    Tomatoes were originally grown in Britain and the rest of Europe as ornamental climbers and were cultivated for their decorative leaves and fruit.

Q13.    What did the Elizabethans think of the bright red coloured tomatoes?

A13.    The Elizabethans thought the bright red colour of tomatoes was a danger signal and the fruit poisonous.  In fact, tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes henbane, mandrake and deadly nightshade (bellandonna), which are all poisonous.  But potatoes, peppers and aubergines are also members of this plant family, as is tobacco. Deadly nightshade is a poisonous plant which has been used as both a hallucinogenic drug and a beauty  aid in different parts pf Europe.

Q14.    Who was the first known British tomato grower?

A14.    The first known British tomato grower was Patrick Bellow of Castletown who successfully reared plants
                      from seeds in 1554.

Q15.    What is the story behind the first tomato eaten in the United States?

A15.    Legend has it that the first tomato to be eaten in the United States was consumed in a public demonstration by John Gibbon, at Salem, Massachusetts on September 26th 1830.  Despite warnings that its poison would turn his blood to acid he did not fall to the ground, frothing at the mouth, or get appendicitis, as had been predicted.

Q16.    What century did commercial cultivation begin?

A16.    It was not until the 19th Century that commercial tomato cultivation began.  The first commercial glasshouses were built in Kent and Essex in the mid-19th Century, after large-scale production of sheet glass became possible.

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