BELOVED TOMATO - THE SCANDALOUS FRUIT - Continued
It would be difficult to imagine Italian food without the tomato, or Mexican food without salsa - a wonderful condiment first enjoyed by the Aztecs. The tomato, though first thought to be purely decorative before being tried - with trepidation - for culinary purposes, was later banned by the Church of Rome for being 'the devils fruit' and a sinful indulgence.
The tomato is a member of the nightshade family and is not a vegetable at all but the berry fruit of a vine native to South America and was known to the Aztecs who called it xitomatl, a generic word for any globulous fruit such as berries. Eventually it made its way further north into the Central Americas who dubbed it tomati and to the Yucatan where the early European explorers first encountered it.
From there (later Mexico), Spanish conquistadors sent it back to Spain where it was not accepted as edible but viewed with great suspicion as poisonous, as were various other members of the nightshade family such as the mandrake, potato and aubergine (eggplant).
However, there were those who believed this enticing, bright red fruit had aphrodisiac powers, as did the French, who called it pomme d'amour or love apple though this is believed to be an alteration from the Spanish pome dei moro or apple of the moors.
Naples in the 16th century was a still a Spanish possession and it was they of course who introduced the tomato to Italy, who soon called it pomodoro or golden apple referring most likely to the earliest specimens that were yellow or bright orange. The Spanish, by the way, also introduced other New World products such as chocolate, tobacco, potatoes and maize, from which polenta is made.
Many years later red tomatoes were taken to Italy from the Americas by two priests. In the early 1700's in America, a Jewish-Portuguese doctor introduced tomatoes unsuccessfully claiming they were from the original Garden of Eden's Tree of Eternal Life and if eaten in sufficient quantities, would give immortality.
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