Murray's Food Trails: The Tomato Trail

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A vote of thanks to Italian South African wine-maker Giorgio Dalla Cia for pointing out that it would have been impossible for guru Leonardo da Vinci to have enjoyed a plate of pasta al pomodoro (with tomato), as, by the time he died, tomatoes had not yet come to Europe. When in 1521 Hernán Cortés captured the city of Tenochtitlan in Central America, he noticed that the domesticated tomato was used as an integral part of the Nahua diet and culture. Only after this event were tomatoes introduced to Europe (Maríaluz López-Terrada). But by then Da Vinci was dead (he died on 2 May 1519), allegedly having spent his final moments in the arms of his patron and friend, King Francis I of France.

Giorgio Dalla Cia (, 24 June 2016)

Today, however, it would be difficult to imagine cookery from Italy, Leonardo’s homeland, without the employment of tomatoes in its dishes. Piazza without a tomato base?

The name for tomato, tomatl, was given by the Aztecs to mean “swelling fruit”. The scientific term for tomato is, however, somewhat puzzling: Lycopersicon esculentum, meaning “edible wolf’s peach”. The assigning of this term is attributed to the scientist who classified plants, Carl Linnaeus. He arrived at the binomial from the folklore that tomatoes, as members of the nightshade species, were used to produce werewolves, the term for which is lycanthropy (wolf/human) (Vanessa Richins Myers).

(, 24 June 2016)

Once the tomato had first made its appearance in Italy, and still looking very much inedible, Italian physicist Pietro Andrea Mattioli (bottom left) reclassified it, no longer as a nightshade but as a mandrake, which was an aphrodisiac. From this was derived the early French term for it, pomme d’amour, meaning “love apple” (Emily Monaco). Monaco further explains how after the Neapolitan pizza maker Raffaele Esposito (bottom right) created the first pizza in honour of Italian Queen Margherita in 1889, “the tomato truly clinched its place in Italian – and European – cuisine.”

Andrea Mattioli (left) ( and Raffaele Esposito (right) (, 24 June 2016)

Some trivia about tomatoes

Tomatoes are mostly water.
There are 25 000 tomato varieties.
Tomatoes lose their Vitamin C content when stored.
The leaves of the plant are toxic.
Refrigeration decreases the flavour.
China is the nation that consumes the most tomatoes (41,8 million tonnes in 2010).

The above information was obtained from on 24 June 2016.

A great deal of the production of tomatoes in the USA comes from Grainger County in Tennessee, well-known for its excellent quality from the limestone-based soil, and because of the magnitude of the greenhouse industry. From here tomatoes are easily processed into juice, sauce, paste, salsa, filling, relish … the list is endless of how many different ways tomatoes are consumed.

Tomato production in the state of California in the USA (, 24 June 2016)

Not only tomatoes in raw form but also dried tomatoes are a big feature in some economies, such as China. A proprietor from one of the principal Chinese tomato-drying operations says, “Although China’s sun dried tomato technology is mainly from Turkey and Italy, due to our unremitting efforts, we’re excelling our predecessors, for which, we’re really proud of. Now, our sun dried tomatoes are integrated with international standard, the highest quality would meet any demands you required.” (WXQT – Leading Chinese sun-dried tomato industry)

Sun-dried tomatoes in China (, 24 June 2016)

Spaghetti al pomodoro (, 24 June 2016)

And so it strikes one as strange that while Leonardo da Vinci was busy painting one of the Western world’s most renowned oils, the Mona Lisa, he would never have the pleasure of sitting down to a plate of spaghetti al pomodoro. Just imagine him and Frankie deliberating over the country’s news, financial, security and other topical issue … imbibing French claret, but no spaghetti al pomodoro?

Rumour has it that while painting his Mona Lisa, Leonardo slit his right wrist to draw blood, to mingle it with the oil on his palette to get the exact red colour for “Lisa’s” lips! Maybe with tomatoes around at the time he might have spared himself the inconvenience … and instead employed a dash of tomato sauce … tomato in art form?

The Mona Lisa (, 24 June 2016)

Certainly, cooking with tomato is exactly that, an art! You have to cook it at the right temperature, for the correct length of time, whether diced, peeled, bruised, seared, boiled or fried … or use it as an admixture for creating dishes, as for the base of a pizza or the filling for a pasta.

The many forms tomato can take in food dishes, as in around the world, also applies to our own national South African cuisine. For instance, tomato is widely used in the tomato relish that accompanies one of South Africa’s national dishes, pap and boerewors. A fair portion of tomatoes is added to mashonzha (mopane worms), giving it that delicate flavour in combination with chilli.

Pap and boerewors (, 24 June 2016)

Mashonzha (, 24 June 2016)

And just as the alphabet of South African special deli items must include Marmite, African beer, mieliepap, bobotie, umngqusho and braaivleis, so it would be difficult to omit one of its national dishes, tamatiebredie (tomato stew). One recipe is from Michael Tracey’s Afri Chef; for it, go to The description given there, that “good bredie should be made with only a small amount of liquid” because it “helps to concentrate the flavours”, is the secret of a good tomato stew.

Another is Rufus’s tomato stew, which is publisher Koos Human’s version, at His own personal signature to the success of the dish is the employment of fresh herbs – which, if used, are doubled up in quantity against any bottled or commercialised ones.

Yet another recipe is from South African poet C Louis Leipoldt, renowned for its use of ginger. Important for Leipoldt was that the accompanying dish, white rice, should be cooked in such a way that each kernel should be able to stand heroically alone, avoiding sogginess or being “mushy”. (See p 95 of Leipoldt’s Food & Wine for the recipe or refer to the index in Leipoldt’s Cape Cookery.)

Tomato bredie (, 24 June 2016)

Possibly one of the gems for the recipe for tamatiebredie is to be found on p 189 of Bo-Kaap Kitchen by Craig Fraser. It is described as a “rich, hearty, spicy tomato-based stew”. The book is well illustrated with pictures and true stories that accompany them. These are recipes in the age-old tradition and the little restaurant called Biesmiellah in the Bo-Kaap still makes these dishes on a daily basis. Go to


For details of the publication, go to

murraytomato13The above photograph is of renowned South African chef Cass Abrahams’s tomato bredie and the following recipe describes how to make enough for eight people.

2 large onions, sliced
2 ml (1/2 tsp) peppercorns
2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground cloves
125 ml (1/2 cup) water
25 ml (2 tbsp) vegetable oil
2 sticks cinnamon
1 kg (2 1/4 lb) mutton
3 cm piece fresh root ginger, finely chopped
2 cardamom pods
1 kg (2 1/4 lb) very ripe tomatoes, chopped or
3 cans (410 g / 41 oz each) chopped tomatoes
1 green chilli, chopped
6 medium potatoes, peeled and halved
salt, pepper and sugar to taste
chopped parsley for garnishing.


Place onions, peppercorns, cloves and water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer until all the water has been absorbed. Add oil and cinnamon and braise until onions are golden. Add meat, ginger and cardamom pods and stir thoroughly. Turn down the heat, cover saucepan with a tightly-fitting lid and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add tomatoes and chilli. Close lid and simmer for 20 minutes. Now add potatoes, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste. Replace lid and simmer until potatoes are cooked.

Garnish with chopped parsley and serve on a bed of freshly cooked rice.

Recipe reproduced exactly from Cass Abrahams Cooks Cape Malay: Food from Africa by Cass Abrahams. Go to

Cass Abrahams (, 24 June 2016)

Image of the front cover of Cass Abrahams’s book (, 24 June 2016)

Tomato is a capricious food form, its virtuosity never in dispute. A true gift of nature. Much like the perfect tamatiebredie!

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  • Marianne Hölscher

    Tog so jammer dat so baie Suid-Afrikaaners glo mens moet suiker by tamatie sit. SA se geblikte tamaties het ook suiker. Ek sien die een tamatiebredieresep vra vir soveel as 200ml suiker!! Met al ons gesondheidsprobleme wat verband hou met vetsug en hoëbloeddruk, sal ons eerder moet probeer om gewoond te raak aan die heerlike smaak van tamaties sonder suiker.

  • Reageer

    Jou e-posadres sal nie gepubliseer word nie. Kommentaar is onderhewig aan moderering.