Parking  |  Tickets  |  Donate

The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery

The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery
Andrew F. Smith
University of Illinois Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 224 p., $14.95

Finally, a reliable work on the history of the tomato in America! The author, a thorough researcher and delightful writer, presents facts with authority and myths with exposure, all in a judicious balance that should make The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery the definitive study on the subject. The reader learns about the plant's history in its native South America, its cultivation in Mesoamerica, its travels around the world and its mixed reception of delight, doubt and disparagement in the United States. The hackneyed myth that the tomato was not popular in this country until a brave promoter ate several fruits on the steps of a New Jersey courthouse in 1820 is, one would hope, permanently exploded.

The author presents the historical record in an abundance that, not infrequently, blooms into redundancy. However, such repitition should persuade the intrigued reader that truth has finally triumphed. The tomato was enthusiastically grown and eaten from the early 17th century, but its popularity was somewhat confined geographically. New England generally had fewer proponents of the tomato than did the Southeast or Louisiana. Regional and cultural preferences are not uncommon in culinary history; garlic has occupied similar battlefields, but science has abundantly vindicated both delights of the table.

Health benefits of the tomato occupy a central portion of the author's stage. The long battle on this subject, replete with calm experience and overheated quackery, is a major aspect of Andrew Smith's narrative, and at times (as in the day-to-day chronicle of the tomato pill controversy) it is tediously complete. This is, of course, the history of many battles against myth, which often leaves no stone unturned or unthrown.

The Tomato in America also presents a cornucopia of old tomato recipes, many of which are suitable for contemporary use. Copious references, accessible and obscure, tempt the reader to further pursuit; for most readers, however, Mr. Smith's work will long be the authoritative work on the subject.

— John F. Swenson, Volunteer, Plant Information Office, Chicago Botanic Garden