Tomatoes are showing up fresh off the vine. Bite through the polished skin and the juice dribbles down your chin and neck. Heaven is an heirlooom tomato — purple, green, red, or yellow.
Tomatoes originated in the Andes, and were first cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 CE. No one is sure how they got to Europe, but they didn’t arrive until the 16th century. It’s thought the Spanish Conquistadors brought them from Central America, though some say that Jesuit priests introduced them to Italy from Mexico. And then, of course, there’s Columbus, who some claim “discovered” tomatoes right along with the “new world.”
Elizabethans called tomatoes “love apples” and thought they were aphrodisiacs. Not until the trussed, upright Victorians were tomatoes eaten as regular fare in England, although along with being lusty, tomatoes were considered — as members of the nightshade family — to be poisonous.
Victorians relished all the sensuality they could sneak past the morality police, so it’s not surprising that fairy lore reached it height in English painting, literature, and theatre, and that fairies popped up in every corner of the garden, manifesting all the emotional, sexual, and spiritual passions VIctorian society was mandated to repress. (Terry Jones and Brian Froud parodied the trend hilariously in their 1994 Lady Cottingham’s Pressed Fairy Book.)
Yet this was the era, despite its outward rigidity, probably because of it, that William Robinson, then Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Luytens designed the “natural” garden, where plants, fairies, tomatoes, and all the juicy senses could cut loose and dance.