A fascinating tidbit from Mary Frances Ward's book, The Durable People (Ref 1), is that the people of Curtin prior to the 1870s thought that tomatoes were poisonous. A few people in Curtin grew them as house plants and called them love apples, but no one would think of eating them. I wondered why.
It turns out that quite a bit has been written about this belief. An informative, readily available source appeared in "Smithsonian Magazine" (Ref 2). K Annabelle Smith follows the tomato from its native South and Central American origins to Europe, carried back home by the Spanish conquistadors. In Europe, an influential Italian botanist classified the plant along with deadly nightshades -- famous as the poison used to execute Socrates, among others -- and mandrakes, spoken of in the Old Testament as love apples. Fear of the plant spread throughout Northern Europe due to a combination of misunderstanding and plagiarism of earlier-printed erroneous information. Aristocrats may have been poisoned due to leaching of lead from pewter by acidic tomatoes, but it seems to me that it would have taken a whole lot of tomato-eating for this to occur. Perhaps more influential was John Gerard's plagiarism in 1597 of an earlier work inaccurately indicating that tomatoes were toxic. For whatever reason, the fallacy persisted and traveled back to America via immigrants from Ireland and other Northern European countries. Infestation of a particularly gnarly worm set back the tomato even further in North America. It may have been the popularization of the pizza around the late 1870s that saved the tomato from perpetual infamy.
In any event, the people of Curtin were not alone in their avoidance of the dreaded tomato prior to 1880. Whether by pizza or by another mechanism, the tomato's reputation was salvaged and it became a staple, both as a fresh vegetable (or fruit, if you're a botanist) and as a food that can be canned for use throughout the winter.
1 -- Ward, MF: The Durable People. The Community Life of Curtin Village Workers, 1810-1922. The Roland Curtin Foundation, Howard, PA, 1987. p33
2 -- Smith KA: Why the tomato was feared in Europe for more than 200 years. Smithsonian Magazine, June 18, 2013
Jerry is a retired general surgeon and a new Board Member of the Roland Curtin Foundation. He has Curtin roots extending back to 1831, through four previous generations.