Monday, 1 February 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a major feature in Languedoc Roussillon cuisine and according to Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, the tomato was introduced there in 1590. The tomato is native to South America and evidence supports the theory that the first domesticated tomato was a little yellow fruit grown by the Aztecs of Central Mexico, who called it xitomatl. Aztec writings mention tomatoes were prepared with peppers, corn and salt, which could be the original salsa recipe!

It's not known whether it was the Spanish explorer Cortez who brought the tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtítlan, now Mexico City in 1521 – or whether it was Christopher Columbus, earlier in 1493. Either way the introduction of the tomato in France was slow. In the 1600s the tomato was eyed with suspicion and was used as an ornamental plant rather than for its fruit in France. In France, it was called Pomme d'or (golden apple) or Pomme d'amour (apple of love).

Strangely enough it was the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1863 that saw the boom in tomato growing. As vines were abandoned they were replaced with tomatoes. The Conservatory of Tomatoes, located at Chateau de la Bourdaisière in Montlouis-sur-Loire, holds the heirloom collection of more than 600 old varieties.

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