Definitive volume on tomatoes in Italy through the ages

Posted by mjs76 at Jun 25, 2010 09:40 AM |
History Professor’s new book is the ultimate tomato source.

There aren’t an enormous number of books on tomatoes, and if you discount cookbooks and gardening volumes, you’re left with a pretty empty shelf.

But worry no more, because David Gentilcore, Professor of Early Modern History in our School of Historical Studies, has written Pomodoro!: A History of the Tomato in Italy, published this month by Columbia University Press.

As the publisher’s blurb puts it:

More than just the beloved base ingredient of so many of our favorite dishes, the tomato has generated both profound riches and controversy in its farming, processing, exchange, and consumption. It is a crop infused with national pride and passion for those who grow it, and a symbol of Old World nostalgia for those who claim its history and legacy.

Wild tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) originated in Peru, were probably first domesticated by the Aztecs and were cultivated in Mexico before being discovered by European explorers, who brought some back with them at the start of the 16th century. Tomatoes in those days tended more towards the yellow than the red, hence the Italian word pomodoro which literally translates as ‘golden apple.’

There are now more than 7,500 varieties of tomato grown all over the world with Italy producing more than five million tonnes each year (China is the biggest producer by a considerable margin). Yet for the first couple of centuries Italians viewed the tomato as little more than table dressing.

Professor Gentilcore’s definitive tome explains how, from the late 17th century onwards, tomatoes began to dominate Italian cooking, leading to the pizzas and spagbols that we all enjoy today. The book, which runs to 272 pages and costs £18.95, also looks into other aspects of tomatoes in Italy: cultural, artistic, medicinal, social and political.

As well as the English language edition from CUP, the book has been published in Italian, by Garzanti, as La purpurea meraviglia: Storia del pomodoro in Italia.