Thursday, July 09, 2015

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomata.

As many of you have probably realized by now, I get a great kick out of finding forgotten and quirky things to share with you. I sometimes feel however, that I neglect the wonderful, but too-familiar items that grace our tables every day, but are barely thanked for their presence. In the ten years of this blog, I think I have neglected the tomato. This realization and confession has come about because of a “find” in one of my favourite cookery books - Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by a lady (1827.) The recipe which piqued my interest was one for a “mock tomato” dish. What is a little surprising to me about this is that at this point in the nineteenth century, tomatoes (a New World food) were still viewed with suspicion by many folk, yet clearly there were also some for whom it was desirable enough that if it were not available, then a substitute or imitation was an attractive proposition. Here it is, for your enjoyment and, I hope, your comments.

Mock Tomata.
Pulp some roasted apples, colour them with turmeric and cochineal, or beet-juice; add chili vinegar, and bring it as near as possible to the taste and colour of the tomata; stir into each quart a quarter of an ounce of garlic, half an ounce of shalot, a tea-spoonful of cayenne, and a little salt; simmer gently for some time; it ought to be of the consistency of thick cream; put it well up in half pint bottles. This is an elegant sauce: if well made, it is hardly distinguishable from the real tomata. Great attention is necessary to give it the colour and taste. Fresh chilis are better than cayenne.

Another unusual (to me) idea for the tomato comes from the wonderful Modern Cookery in all its Branches (1845), by Eliza Acton:

Tomata Dumplings, Or Puddings.
(An American Receipt.)
“In the manner of composition, mode of cooking, and saucing, the good housewife must proceed in the same way as she would for an apple dumpling, with this exception, care must be taken in paring the tomata not to extract the seed, nor break the meat in the operation of skinning it. We have eaten tomatas raw without anything;-cut up with pepper, salt, vinegar, and mustard;—fried in butter and in lard;—broiled and basted with butter;—stewed with and without bread, with cream and with butter;—and, with a clear conscience, we can say, we like them in every way they have ever been fived for the palate; but of all the modes of dressing them, known to us, we prefer them when cooked in dumplings, for to us it appears that the steaming they receive in their dough-envelope increases in a very high degree that delicate spicy flavour which even in their uncooked state makes them such decided favourites with the epicure.”
Obs.—It is possible that the tomata, which is, we know, abundantly grown and served in a great variety of forms in America, may there, either from a difference of climate, or from some advantages of culture, be produced in greater perfection than with us, and possess really “the delicate spicy flavour,” attributed to it in our receipt, but which we cannot say we have ever yet discovered here; nor have we put its excellence for puddings to the proof, though some of our readers may like to do so.

As my final (for today) contribution to this paean to the humble tomato, may I give you something interesting from World War II?

Tomato Creams.
This is an unusual recipe from France. These creams are delicious served as a separate dish or with chicken creams. Cut up four medium-sized tomatoes and put them in a saucepan with a sliced onion, 1 oz. of margarine, one teaspoonful of salt, a quarter teaspoonful of better. Cover the pan and set it over a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Put the mixture through a sieve and add three tablespoonsfuls of stale breadcrumbs. Beat up two tablespoonfuls of cream with two eggs and mix them all together. Grease some small moulds, fill them, and set them on a pan of boiling water to steam for 20 minutes.
The Times of London, on June 17, 1940.


Anonymous said...

I wonder how well the tomato was known if it was believed that apples could be made to taste like tomatoes with the addition of turmeric and chili vinegar? An interesting sauce might come of the recipe, but tomato-flavored? I doubt it!

Joe Hopkins said...

You may be interested to know that the spelling tomata was commonly used during much of the 1800s, but tomato may have ultimately won the name game because it rhymes with potato. However, as the spelling stabilized, the pronunciation likely continued for another generation, as suggested by George and Ira Gershwin’s 1937 song, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” (written for the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie “Shall We Dance”), playing on the names including these lyrics:

You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto.
Let's call the whole thing off

korenni said...

I wonder whether tomatoes tasted different in the 19th century? We know that commercial growers in the U.S. have taken most of the flavor out of strawberries and other fruits in favor of size, appearance, and toughness for transport, and tomatoes certainly have no spiciness in them these days (although properly grown, ripe tomatoes are still delicious!).

indosiciliano said...

luckily enough in the old continent we still have tomatos that are small, not of a great appearance but tasty enough! You will not find in the supermarket of the big cities though!