So would it surprise you to learn that many of the foods that we today consider traditional European dishes that their key ingredients were not even known in Europe until quite recently, until the Europeans started trading with the native peoples of north and south America? I mean, you are probably aware that the America provided Europe and Asia with foods like squash, beans, turkey, peanuts, but what about the Italian tomato sauces Hungarian goorush, or my favorite, french fries, those yummy fried potatoes.
Student: wait, I mean I knew potatoes were from , where, south Americas?
Professor: South Americas right, the Andies mountains.
Student: But you are saying tomatoes too? I just assume since three in so many Italian dishes.
NO, like potatoes, tomatoes are grew wild in the Andies. Although unlike potatoes, they weren’t originally cultivated there. That seems to occur first in Central America. And ven then, the tomatoes doesn’t appear to live very important as a fruit plant until the Europeans came on the scene. They took a bag to Europe with them around 1550, and Italy, was indeed the first place it wildly grown as a fruit crop. So in a sense, it really is more Italian than American. And another thing, it is true for both the potato and the tomato. Both of these plants were members of the nightshade family.
The nightshade family is the category of plants which also include many that you wouldn’t want to eat, like Mandrake, valadana, and even tobacco. So it is not wonder that people won’t consider tomatoes and potatoes to be an edible too, even poisonous. And in fact, the leaves of the potato plant are quite toxic, so it took both plant quite a while to catch on in Europe, and even longer before they made their return trip to North America, and became popular food items here.
Student: Yeah, you know, I remember, I remember my Grandmother telling me that when her mother was a little girl, a lot of people still thought that tomato was poisonous.
Professor: Oh sure. People didn’t start eating them here until the eighteen hundreds.
Student: But, since like I heard... didn’t Thomas Jefferson grow them or something?
Professor: Well, that’s true. But then Jefferson was known not only the third president in the United States, but also as a scholar who was way ahead of his time, in many ways. He didn’t left the conventional thinking of his day restrain his ideas.
Now, potatoes went through a similar sort of a rejection process, especially when when were first introduced in Europe. You know how Potatoes can turn green, if they were left in the light for too long? And that greenish skin can make potato taste bitter, even make you ill. So, that was enough to put people off for two hundred years. Yes Bill?
Bill: I am sorry Professor Jones, but, I mean yeah, ok, American crops would probably contributed a lot to European cooking over the years, but. But have they really play any kind of important role in the European history?
Professor: Well, as a matter of fact yes! I was just coming to that. Let’s start with North American corn, or maze, as it is often called. Now before the Europeans make contact with the Americas, they subsisted mainly on grains. Grains were often suffered from crop failures, and it’s largely for this reason that political power in Europe was centered for centuries in the South, around the Mediterranean sea, which was where they can grow this grains with more reliability.
But when corn came to Europe from Mexico, now they have a much harder year craft that could be grown easily in more northernly climates, and the center of power began to shift accordingly. And then, well, as I said potato wasn’t popular at first, but when they finally did catch on, which they did first in Ireland, around 1780. Well, why do you suppose it happen? Because potato has the ability to provide in a bounden, an extremely nutritious fruit crop. No other crop grow in Northern Europe that’s the time, had anything like the number of vitamins contained in potatoes. Plus, potatoes grow in a single acre of land, can feed many more people than say, wheat grow on that same land.
Potato soon spread to France, and other Northern European countries. And as a result, the nutrition of the general population improve tremendously, and population sored in the 1800s so the shift of power from the south to Northern Europe continued.