Saturday, September 11, 2010

David Gentilcore

David Gentilcore is a professor of early modern history at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and the author of Pomodoro! A History of the Tomato in Italy.

From his interview with the Boston Globe:

IDEAS: When did the tomato become an integral part of Italy’s cuisine?

GENTILCORE: You can’t imagine Italian food without it. And yet most of these dishes, such as pasta al pomodoro, are fairly recent — from the 1870s or ’80s. Italian immigrants arriving in New York City or Boston were the first generation to eat these dishes as daily things. Making a rich meat sauce with maybe the addition of tomato paste, that Sunday gravy style, is something that happens only in the 20th century.

IDEAS: Why was the tomato initially regarded with such horror?

GENTILCORE: The tomato was associated with the eggplant, which was regarded with suspicion. It’s a vine. Anything that grows along the ground was seen as a plant of low status, something you only give to peasants. And the tomato was thought to hinder digestion because it was cold and watery. When ideas about digestion changed, something like a tomato was not harmful anymore.

IDEAS: It’s been called the “love apple.” Was it seen as an aphrodisiac?

GENTILCORE: Francisco Hernandez, a personal physician to King Philip II of Spain, was sent to the New World to write a huge compendium on animals and plants. He was dismayed and disgusted by the appearance of the tomatillo, which was considered the same thing. He compared it to female...[read on]
Read more about Pomodoro! A History of the Tomato in Italy.

--Marshal Zeringue