Though the tomato is part of the nightshade family, it does not require a prescription, nor has anybody been put on the endangered species list for eating it.
Did Early Americans Believe Tomatoes Were Poisonous?
Spanish explorers discovered the tomato, a native of South America that was first cultivated in Central America, and brought it home. A myth has grown up that European colonizers thought the tomato was poisonous. This is an exaggeration. The truth is that some Englishmen believed this in the 1600s and early 1700s.
The Spanish were the first Europeans to notice the tomato in Mexico in the 1500s. “Tomatl” is an Aztec word. It spread to Spain and Portugal, then to Italy through Naples, which was then a Spanish city, and later to France from Naples. The Italians called them “pomi d’oro,” or golden apples, which suggests that the first tomatoes were yellow ones. (Remember that the next time you see pasta pomodoro on the menu.)
In 1597, John Gerard, a rather unreliable British barber/surgeon and naturalist, published a book, Herball, or General Historie of Plants, in which he stated that the tomato was poisonous, even while acknowledging that French and Italians ate the thing. Presumably they weren’t quite human. This statement, according to Jim Gay of Historic Foodways at Colonial Williamsburg, “set the stage for the negative view of tomatoes in the British and American diet that was to last for the next two centuries.” Negative doesn’t necessarily mean deathly poisonous—obviously the English knew that other people ate them and survived. According to Andrew F. Smith in his 1994 book, The Tomato in America (which I meant to just skim but it was so interesting), the tomato was eaten in soups in England in the 1750s and is mentioned in the famous English cookbook of 1758 by Hannah Glasse. By the 1780s, tomato sauce was widely used in England.
What about America? By the early 1700s, most Americans were quite aware that tomatoes were edible, and they ate them with pleasure. The Carolinians and Floridians had them first, from the Spanish colonies in Florida or the French Huguenots who immigrated to Carolina, or from immigrants, black and white, from the Caribbean... The earliest American recipe occurs in 1770 in South Carolina.
So did Thomas Jefferson introduce the tomato to America? Nope. That’s an other myth.
Disclaimer: Mark Twain (1835-1910-To be continued) is unlicensed. His river pilot's license went delinquent in 1862. Caution advised. Daily Paul ☑
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