Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Monday, November 16, 2009

Getting the Research Right

Over and over I’m intrigued by how some authors don’t spend the few more extra minutes it takes to research a bit of history. Something caught my eye the other day, but I won’t name the source, nor mention the publisher, but once again, even with the big names in romance, somebody missed the facts.

My concern this time was putting maple trees in the wrong country. However, food is often the culprit, and since my background is food, I’m always interested in mistakes people make. For example, early on in our history, all along the east coast of the USA, oysters were very plentiful for everyone and even poor people could afford them until the 20th century.

Then there is the poor tomato. Today I want to set the record start on the ‘poor’ tomato.

Okay, no matter whether you call it a fruit or a vegetable, the poor little creature started life in the South, south America that is. When the explorers came to the new World, they discovered people eating and growing tomatoes. They were probably yellow and small, but the plant intrigued the Europeans and they took them back to Europe with them as decorative plants.

The Italians immediately saw their usefulness and began to incorporate them in their dishes. This was in the 1600’s. Oh and by the way, pizza began in the 1880’s in Italy. The chef concocted the dish to impress the Queen, using the colors of the Italy flag, red sauce from the tomato, white from the mozzarella, and green from basil on a bread base. Back to the story of the tomato.

It spread from Italy to the rest of Europe, but people compared it to several poisonous plants and named it poison as well. It traveled from Europe to the colonies as a decorative plant. It wasn’t until the early 1820’s (or so the story goes) that a gentleman by the name of Johnson stood on the steps of the Salem courthouse and ate a basket of tomatoes before a hushed crowd. People expected him to writhe in pain and died. At the time people began to wonder if the “Fruit” was as poisonous as everyone thought. Of course the Italian communities coming to the big cities were also using the tomatoes but that was until a bit later in the century.

The poor plant didn’t gain complete acceptance until Campbell brought out his condensed tomato soup in the late 1800’s.

The lesson from all of this is - check before you put the fact on paper. We have so many excellent search engines now, and it will only take a few minutes, unless you are like me. When I find an interesting tidbit, I can spend hours looking up all the facts, when I should be writing.

By the way, the lowly tomato, once considered poisonous, is now universally one of the most popular fruit/vegetables we have.


Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Can't live without my tomatoes! I read somewhere that the reason they were thought to be poisonous is because the Englsh served them on pewter plates which was loaded with lead and the acid in the tomatoes ate into the lead and it was the lead making people sick????

Nice blog.


Allison said...

It's true about the Pewter plates, but the 'poor' tomato was thought to be a member of the nightshade family and therefore poisonous.


Victoria Roder said...

Finding information on the internet sure has made research more cost effective, too. good advice and interesting topic.


Linda LaRoque said...

I too love tomatoes. Summer just wouldn't be the same without them. So true on the research. I once read a book by a well-know author from a big publisher that had something like a Ford Impala.

I love research and the internet makes it so easy.

Angelica Hart and Zi said...

I'm a tomato hound... whether it is in sauce, fresh, puree, diced, bottled, canned... It's one of my fav foods. Thanks for the history.

librarypat said...

You are right about checking the facts. Nothing disrupts the flow of a story like a blaring mistake. I can remember reading a book and the characters were in a place I was familiar with. Everything was turned around and something from another town was placed there. Admittedly not everyone will notice, but for those of us who do, it is disrupting.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Thank you for this. The one thing I worry about in my manuscript, more than clothes etc, is getting the food right.