I have enthused about tomatoes before. They are fun to grow, with magic tricks to be learned every year. This year’s lesson was pinching out. Before that, I learned about tickling tomatoes, hardening off and dealing with legginess. I even wrote about a garden-loving tomato as a child.
However, I only managed to touch on tomato myth in my last post, and as it’s #FolkloreThursday, it seemed like a good time to correct that.
(I have also been inspired by the real life Tim Tomato, who grew this year and is still going strong – though I have eaten most of his siblings – who were very tasty.)
Ever since I discovered that tomatoes used to be referred to as love apples, I’ve been fascinated by tomato folklore.
Thought of as the forbidden fruit by some, tomatoes are associated with love and prosperity. However, they also have a dark side. Some claim that tomatoes used to be known as ‘poison apples’ because they were implicated in so many deaths (that are now assumed to be as a result of the acid in tomatoes reacting with pewter plates,resulting in lead poisoning.)
However, the idea that people believed tomatoes to be poisonous has been disputed – with recipe books cited as evidence -so even this could be tomato folklore.
As tomatoes were originally yellow, some believe they may also have been the ‘golden apples’, as featured in the myth of the Hesperides (nymphs of the evening and ‘golden light of sunlight’; and guardians of Hera’s ‘golden apples’ given to Hera after her wedding to Zeus – tokens of fertility and eternal youth.)
Medieval herbalists recommended tomato juice for cataracts. They have also long been deemed an aphrodisiac (even without the rest of the Bloody Mary ingredients).
In the 1700s, tomatoes were recommended as a cure for inflammation, rheumatism, bladder obstruction, burns, irritation and ‘vapours in women’ (perhaps it’s also the case that, ‘A love apple a day keeps the doctor away’?)
Nowadays, the tomato is celebrated – with a lot of tomato throwing – at the Tomatina Festival on the last Wednesday in August each year. The festival started in 1945, though tickets now have to be limited to 20,000, as it started to get out of hand.
No one is quite sure why a giant tomato fight seemed like a good idea -though one rumour is that it stemmed from disgruntled townspeople deciding to ‘tomato’ city officials to express their discontent – and finding it so much fun that it became a habit. It was banned under Franco but returned in the 1970s.
Whether you grow tomatoes, eat tomatoes, throw tomatoes or feel inspired by tomato myth, they have a lot to offer.
But I still don’t think I can bring myself to eat Tim.