Most people think of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) as a food item and even a culinary symbol. But wait a moment. This blog comes to you from Spain.
The tomato probably originated in the highlands of the west coast of South America. After the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Spanish distributed the tomato throughout their colonies in the Caribbean. They also took it to the Philippines, from whence it moved through south east Asia and then the entire Asian continent. The Spanish also brought the tomato to Europe. It grew easily in the Mediterranean climate, and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, though it was certainly being widely used as food by the early 1600s in Spain. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, though the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish sources.
If ever you have travelled extensively in Spain or if you even live here, you might have become accustomed to the fact that Spain is different. How the tomato is typical of such differences you will discover as soon as you hear about the Tomatina.
La Tomatina is held in Buñol, a small town about 50 kms west of Valencia. It takes place on the last Wednesday in August every year. It has been held there ever since the end of the Spanish civil war, possibly as a celebration of life at the end of all the misery and pain endured in Spain before 1940. Yesterday, it was Tomatina time, once again.
I have to admit that I did not make it to Buñol yesterday and I do not have first hand experience of the Tomato Battle, but I cannot hide an eagerness to see it for myself, one day.
Buñol is a small Spanish town of perhaps 9,000 inhabitants, but every year, at Tomatina time, some 40-50,000 people congregate to celebrate the ultimate tomato festival that man, or woman, has ever invented.
Imagine the combined effect of San Miguel, sangria, sweltering heat, a profuse dousing with water from the public water hoses (lots of wet t-shirts there) etc. and you get a party atmosphere that easily rivals the running with the bulls party in Pamplona, also in Spain, but without any of the risks of physical harm that a fast moving object of 750 kgs or more could inflict on you.
Add to this some 120 tons of ripe tomatoes, streets crammed shoulder to shoulder with people and the senseless spirit of a party made up of Buñolians, Valencianos, Spanish, Germans, Brits, Americans, Australians, a Kiwi or two, plus a surprisingly large number of Japanese and Asian visitors, and you have probably the most insane thing you are ever likely to witness.
The blood-like red colour of the tomatoes suggests violence and injuries, but everything is totally good natured with almost no incident in this peaceful annual tomato throwing fight of tens of thousands of people.
You will need a good and proper wash at the end of the fiesta, though. The combination of tomatoes, sweat and alcohol amounts to a very smelly and sticky matter, exciting as it may be.