Happy to oblige, reader Leeza. Xtomatl is the original Aztec word for the tomato. The “x” is pronounced as sort of a guttoral “h”, or so I understand, making the word sound something like heetomatl. Of course I’m no speaker of Nahuatl. Neither were the Spaniards as it happened. They simply called the things “tomat-es”.
By now you’ve no doubt deduced that the tomato is a New World fruit. Like corn, it was identified as a potentially viable cash crop by the Spaniards. But unlike corn, it took considerable time for the Old World to fully adopt it. For tomatoes (along with eggplant and potatoes) are members of the nightshade family, a group of plants that were known to contain a host of toxic (sometimes deadly) alkaloids. The same was true of the eggplant and the potato, which were likewise greeted with, shall we say, reserve, when they arrived in the early 1500’s.
It took almost 100 years for the Spaniards to start eating them rather than merely decorating their gardens with them. Of course they weren’t alone in their suspicions. The French thought the tomato was a poison at first, but eventually decided it was an aphrodisiac, hence the French name pomme d’amour (love apple). The Germans took a somewhat dimmer view. In Germanic culture nightshades were thought to be linked with lycanthropy (werewolf-ism) and so they called the tomato the “wolf peach”.
For all of that, by 1700 or so, most Europeans were eating at least some tomatoes, though it still took another hundred years before they were actually enjoying them. Here in America, Thomas Jefferson was growing and eating tomatoes in 1800, but then he was what you might call “a dandy”. Almost no one dared touch the things until after the Civil War, at which time America’s appreciation for the tomato exploded.