Have you ever wondered where the vegetables we eat came from? Well, I did – and decided to find out. To start with, I made a list of different vegetables. Then I started researching ones that were of interest to me.

Tomato

The first one I had to research was the tomato.

What is interesting about the tomato is that it is a fruit that some people consider a vegetable. The tomato probably came from the Aztecs about 700 A.D. A plant native to the Americas, the tomato was found by the early European explorers. These explorers took the tomato seeds with them back to Europe.

It is thought that the first tomatoes were a yellow color. The tomato is from the deadly nightshade family. At one time, it was thought the tomato was poisonous. This had more to do with the way tomatoes were eaten.

The rich used pewter plates and flatware, where the poor used wooden plates and flatware. Pewter has a high lead content and reacted with the acid in the tomato. This caused lead poisoning and death. Thus, the nickname “poison apple.” I wonder how long it took to make the discovery that the reaction to the pewter caused death and not the tomato itself.

What made the tomato become more readily eaten was the pizza. The first pizza was the color of the Italian flag: red, white and green: the red from tomato sauce, the white from mozzarella cheese and the green from basil topping.

Pea

Archaeological finds date the pea back to the late Stone Age, Neolithic era, more than 12,000 years ago. The Neolithic era was the time of the first farming.

Wild peas have been found in the Mediterranean basin, and the near East. This is present day Greece, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. The pea has been found in the Nile Delta c. 4822-4400 B.C.

The pea made its way to Europe about 4,000 years ago, then east to India. In the first century, the pea found its way to China and then to the New World after 1492.

Sweet corn

Since I like to eat sweet corn, I decided to find out about it. Corn does not grow wild. So, researchers had to look somewhere else for its origin.

Corn as the Americans know and call it, is known as maize to Europeans. Teosinte is a type of wild maize found in pre-Colombian Central and North America. Columbus took corn to Europe.

Through genetic studies, scientists have found similar chromosome traits with teosinte. It is very bushy and fruits with skinny ears that have few kernels, but the kernels popped.

Corn is probably the first GMO (genetically modified organism) plant. Seeds were picked that had the best features for consumption and were planted. This was done over and over until the modern corn was produced.

Pumpkin

Pumpkins are native to the Western Hemisphere. They grow from a region stretching from the southwestern United States to Peru. Pumpkins have been cultivated for more than 5,500 years. This makes the pumpkin the longest known crop in the New World.

The oldest pumpkin seed was found in Mexico. The seed was dated 7000 B.C. to 5500 B.C. The Native American Indians used pumpkin to make mats by pounding the pumpkin into strips, drying them and then weaving them. The pumpkin was also dried for food.

The carving of the pumpkin came from Irish immigrants who had originally carved turnips. Pumpkins were less expensive than turnips. So, a switch was made to the pumpkin.

Carrot

The earliest evidence of the carrot was dated to 3000 B.C. in Iran and Afghanistan. The seeds were picked, carried and sold by caravans to neighboring Arabian, African and Asian lands. In ancient times, the carrots were black, white, red and purple. The orange color of today was not present.

Carrots have been found in the tombs of dead Pharaohs. There are numerous hieroglyph paintings found that show the carrot harvest and processing.

The most popular use of the purple carrot from Egypt was medicinal. This carrot was hard and bitter. By the time the carrot arrived in Rome it was used as a sexual aphrodisiac made popular by the Roman emperor Caligula.

The carrot came to the New World in 1609 where the English settlers cultivated them. The modern orange carrot appeared in the Netherlands during the 17th century as a tribute to the ruling House of Orange. After many years of breeding, the Dutch grew carrots without bitterness and with increased sweetness.

I encourage you to further your research on these and other wonderful crops. You can find plenty of valuable information and illustrations at aggie-horticulture.net.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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