Italian Tomatoes Research

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Tomatoes in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke




Tomatoes in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

Tomatoes are the red fruit from the Solanumlycopersicum plant which originated in originated in Mexico and parts of Central America. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 707) to Naples.  With the shipping to and fro of gold, chocolate and plants the tomato was shipped, probably in seed form back to Spain, Portugal.  The tomato plant was not originally called tomato but rather the Apples of Love, (Gerards, pp. 79).  Gerard comments “The pulpe or meat is very full of moisture, soft, reddish, and of the substance of a wheat plumme.” (pp. 79)  This is the perfect description of a tomato.  Toussaint-Samat describes the original tomato as looking as a small round fruit and not the large fruit we see modernly, more like the cherry tomatoes and not the beefsteak tomatoes of today. While this was discovered and shipped back to Spain then to England where Gerard is given and grows his own tomatoes, the fruit is not seen as particularly popular upon first taste.  The Italians do find some very tasty ways to eat the fruit but it is not a wide spread phenomenon, delaying tomatoes rise as a major food ingredient for a couple more centuries.  A quote that sums up the fate of the tomato in period

“Prized historically by the natives of South America and Mexico, tomatoes found their way into Spain and Portugal near the turn of the sixteenth century with the returning conquistadores, but there they languished for centuries in a kind of gastronomic purgatory.” (Staub, pp 104.)


Tomatoes in Art:

I found a couple of paintings that I thought were intriguing for the depiction of the tomato in period.  These tomatoes aren’t the beef eaters we are use to but small almost cherry tomatoes.


Market Woman with Fruit, vegetables and Poultry


The close up for the tomatoes is middle bottom in the small bowl.

Market Woman with Fruit, vegetables and Poultry

As you can see these are very small red fruits. Unlike depictions of cherries, there are no stems attached to the fruit as seen in the basket right above the tomatoes.

Another painting with tomatoes, uses fruits and vegetables to form a face of a man.

 Reversible Head with Basket of Fruit,_Reversible_Head_with_Basket_of_Fruit,_c._1590,_oil_on_panel.jpg

The lower lip is a depiction of what I believe to be period tomatoes.  The next painting by Giuseppe shows both tomatoes and cherries.  The cherries have stems, which is my belief how the artists distinguished between the two fruits.

Again the lower lip is depicted, in what I think, are period tomatoes.  The cherries, with stems are up on the head portion, behind the grapes on the upper right hand side.


Tomatoes in Period:


Likewise they doe eate the Apples with oile, vinegre and pepper mixed together for sauce to their meat, even as we in these cold countries doe Mustard. (Gerard’s Herbal, pp. 81).



3 C Cherry tomatoes

Olive oil


1 tsp Fresh ground pepper



This was a really easy recipe.  I gathered up all the ingredients.

tomatos and spices

Quarter the cherry tomatoes into a bowl.

sliced cherry tomatoes with viniger

Here I am adding the vinegar.  Next grind up the pepper corns.

 Ground pepper

Add the pepper then the olive oil.

add Olive oil

Mix together.

At the time I made this, I did not make any steak or chicken to put this on.  Instead I took one bite of this and ate the entire bowl as a wonderful tomato salad.  I have not tasted better.  Simple, elegant and so good!

Modern vs. Period:

For this dish, I tried to keep the food and ingredients either organic or as close to period as possible.  The tomatoes are cherry and organic, the olive oil Tuscan and the vinegar is balsamic red wine.  I would suggest red wine or even white wine vinegar.  I think an apple cider vinegar is a little too harsh and raw.


Market Woman with Fruit, vegetables and Poultry


A Feast for the Eyes


Reversible Head with Basket of Fruit,_Reversible_Head_with_Basket_of_Fruit,_c._1590,_oil_on_panel.jpg


Geraard, J., (1994). Gerard’s Herbal. Edited by Woodward, M., (original publication 1597)


Toussaint-Samat, M., (1992). History of Food. Barnes & Nobles.



September 2, 2013 | No comments