Our next mother sauce is tomato sauce. In Italian, the tomato is pomodoro, so pasta pomodoro is a pasta dish made with tomatoes. Can you guess what the word origin of pomodoro is? If you remember the earlier post on the pomme de terre you might be able to. If you break pomodoro into parts you get pomo d’ oro or…apple of gold! There is a whole huge history of etymologies surrounding the apple that I’ll get to in a later post. Today we shall tackle the tomato, which has a whole history of its own.
In Mexico they say jitomate (pronounce he-tomat-ay) for tomato. This rendition is probably closer to the original word. Jitomate comes from Classic Nahuatl (pronounce something like na-wat) and means swollen navel (xitomātl, “navel” + and tomātl “tomato”). Tomato without the ‘xi’ prefix simply means swollen.
Most if not all other Spanish speaking countries say tomate. The reasons I found for this were not consistent. Please let me know if you have a theory on that.
The tomato was probably originally from Peru, but the Spaniards learned of it in Mexico.
When the tomato was brought to Europe, either by Columbus or Cortez, it was immediately recognized as a member of the nightshade family. It is true that the tomato is a member of the nightshade family, but in Europe there are many very poisonous nightshade plants. Many Europeans thought that the tomato was most likely poisonous, too.
In many parts of Europe it earned the name wolf peach because in German folklore witches and sorcerers used poisonous nightshade plants to turn themselves into werewolves.
Tomato sauce as the name for the mother sauce doesn’t have much of an interesting history – it’s called tomato sauce because it has tomatoes in it. Duh.