That is pronounced with a short “a” as the English pronounce it and not with the long “a” as one can hear it in the USA. Why? Because my father, who was brought up by English nannies so that he would learn to speak proper Shakespearian back then in Jerez de la Frontera (Spain) pronounced it that way, so my mother pronounced it that way and I dare say my grandmother and grandfather (if I ever heard them mention tomatoes) pronounced it that way too. Heaven only knows why the English insist on pronouncing it this way when “potato” takes a long “a”, but perhaps it is the proximity of Great Britain to France. The French, I’m convinced, have decided to make their language unlearnable (god forbid a foreigner might speak it properly) by assuring that no rule holds for any two elements. It is a painful thing to be sunk in such ignorance day after day at my ripe old age, but for the life of me I can’t seem to speak a whole sentence of French unless it is all in the first person present tense and an affirmation (the moment one begins getting the ne-pas in there the whole thing goes to hell).
Anyway, getting back to tomatoes, I absolutely hated them when I was young; at least, I hated raw tomatoes. I loved stewed tomatoes the way my grandmother made them putting a tiny teaspoon of sugar in so they were not acid but slightly sweet; I loved spaghetti tomato sauce; I loved lamb stew with tomato. In other words, once it had hit the heat I had no bones with it. But raw tomato could make me throw up and did on several occasions when my mother stubbornly insisted I eat everything on my plate and that included raw tomatoes.
In my defense, I must say I wasn’t a finicky child, but rather one that delighted in finding new and interesting things to taste when going to restaurants. It was perfectly ok for me to eat things like snails, stinky cheese (sometimes so much so that the dog wouldn’t even taste it), kidneys (loved them stewed Xmas mornings for breakfast), liver with onions (my favorite). Later in life I have tasted (although not included in a daily diet) ant eggs (escamoles), fried grasshoppers (delicacy of Oaxaca) and although I have abstained from ingesting maguey worms I probably should try them because biting into a dozen live clams squirming in lemon juice is one of my delights. But I couldn’t stomach raw tomato. Interestingly enough, my father didn’t like raw tomatoes either, unless they were in piriñaca (an Andalucian salad made from raw tomatoes, green pepper and onion) or gazpacho (a cold Andalucian soup made from raw tomatoes, green peppers, onion and cucumber), which were two ways that I also found them edible.
My mother, on the other hand, loved them as did her father, my maternal grandfather. I remember my mother eating tomatoes as often as she could and my grandfather practically drooling over the big ripe red ones he could get in Mexico even during the winter, while my father and I ate our salad without the red garnishing.
Before I explain having gone into such elaborate detail about such a common fruit, allow me to point out certain parallels in this question of liking or not the ordinary tomato. Notice if you will that my mother and her father liked tomatoes, while my father and I disliked them. Freud would, of course, also call one’s attention to the similarity between a tomato and an apple and begin at once to join the dots and arrive at a rotund truth about the Oedipus complex. I have no such intention, but what happened later in my life between me and the not-so-forbidden fruit, does give rise to some strange questions.
Fast-forward, if you please, to a young lady of twenty-one, now married and proudly growing round with her first child. Yup, it’s me and the precise date is of no matter. It might have been a Saturday because we were to have lunch at my parent’s house and I was accompanying my mother in the market. A Mexican market is a lush paint board of colors and smells, and sounds and tastes. The merchants call out their produce, beckon and coax the perspective shoppers, music blares out from radios in their stands, one is offered tastes of sweet, golden mangos, tart peaches, juicy tangerines. The crisp, damp smell of freshly sprinkled lettuce and spinach leaves clings to the nostrils mixing with the strong dank odor of cheese and wafts of sea-breeze drift their fishy invitation from further down the aisle. I must have been about four months pregnant because I had already gotten over the slight morning nauseas that had only lasted a couple of weeks. According to everything I had read about pregnancies, it was about the time to have cravings for odd things, like lemon sherbet in the middle of the night, or camembert cheese on chocolate chip cookies, things that no one else in their normal state would we craving. So far, my experience had not produced one single mouthwatering desire and I had begun to suspect that pregnant women with cravings were just trying to get attention. And then it happened.
We had walked past the fruit stalls and were working our way through the vegetable section when I saw the mountain of ripe tomatoes: my mouth started watering and before I could think, I had grabbed one, wiped it on my skirt and was biting into it, the juice running down my chin. There was no way I could have resisted the absolute craving I felt for that tomato. Gone was any inkling that I might have abhorred tomatoes to the point of vomiting: as far as I was concerned they were the only thing worth eating in the whole market, including the golden sweet mangoes that would have normally been my fare.
As of that moment and all through my pregnancy, I consumed raw tomatoes. I didn’t even bother to put salt on them; I couldn’t seem to get enough. And, whereas one of my sister-in-laws ate plaster off walls (perhaps a need of calcium), another went for ice-cream like a dog after a bone and my best friend swore that peanuts had kept her alive, tomatoes were the only craving I had. Once my son was born, I lost my interest in raw tomatoes and since have never developed a real liking for them although I can consume them without any signs of nausea.
The question is, of course, why tomatoes? Why the only thing that previously had been impossible to swallow even in small amounts? If one were to wax Freudian on the matter, one would be obliged to say that a rejection of the mother-figure and an over-idealization of the father figure had been symbolized in the abhorring of tomatoes and that with the onset of maternity and the inevitable identification with the mother-figure, the rejection symbol somersaulted and became a craving of precisely that fruit. I suppose this is what the Freudian psychoanalyst on whose couch I spent three years would say… No, I don’t suppose; I am being facetious: I know this is what he would have said, and in spite of the fact that some Freudian ideas have long since seen their demise, I can’t for the life of me find another explanation of my very strange behavior. At any rate, one must but wonder what would have happened if Eve had eaten a tomato instead of an apple. Would Adam have been tempted? Or like my father, would he have insisted on making “gazpacho”?