Thursday, November 10, 2011

Earliest Documentation of Tomatoes Grown in Chenango County

Donald A. Windsor

Tomatoes are native to South America, in the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.  They were introduced to Europe in the 1500s and to North America via Europe, probably in the 1700s (1, 2).  Although Hedrick claims that the Indians had been growing tomatoes (3). 

After reading Diame Hamblin's book on historical recipes from Chenango County, Made Nine Pies, I noticed that no recipes included tomatoes prior to the Civil War (1861-65) (4).  In my article, "Tomato Time", I sent out a plea for anyone with earlier documentation to notify me (5).

Dale C. Storms, former County Historian, found such a reference in the diary of Henry Van Der Lyn.  On July 11, 1839, he wrote:

"Garry put supports by the tomato's." (6).

This single sentence documents that tomatoes were growing here in Oxford in 1839.  Moreover, its matter-of-fact simplicity indicates that they may have been growing here much earlier.  Thomas Jefferson grew tomatoes in Virginia in 1781 (1).

My request still stands.  If anyone can document a date earlier than 1839, please let me know.

1.  Kline, Roger A. ; Becker, Robert F. ; Belluscio, Lynne.  Tomato.  In: The Heirloom Vegetable Garden.  Gardening in the 19th Century.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell Cooperative Extension Information Bulletin 177.  Page 24.  

2.  Mann, Charles C.  Prologue.  In:  1493. Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.  New York, NY:  Alfred A. Knopf. 2011. Pages xiii-xiv.

3.  Hedrick, Ulysses Prentiss.  [Tomatoes]  In: A History of Horticulture in America to 1860.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 1950.  Page 22.

4.  Hamblin, Diane, Editor.  "Made Nine Pies".  A Compilation of Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Recipes from the Collection of the Chenango County Historical Society and Private Collections.  Norwich, NY: Chenango County Historical Society.  2004.  52 pages.   

5.  Windsor, Donald A.  Tomato time.  In:  Souvenirs of Yesteryear.  Exploring Chenango County, New York. Norwich, NY: Self published. 2010. Volume 3, pages 45-46. 

6.  Van Der Lyn, Henry.  11 July, 1839.  Diary.  Oxford, NY.  Volume 4, page 240.