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A Story of Lagoon Tomatoes

Il pomodoro means tomato and Il Cavallino is the name of the sand peninsula framing in the northeastern Lagoon. Yes, here are our beaches and here is also the home of the Venetian tomatoes.

Tomatoes arrived nel Veneziano (how we call the territory around Venice, the Lagoon fringe) in the 16th century via Spain and quickly became a curiosity loved by Venetian noblemen. During those times the Venetian trade fleet was seriously impaired for a while by British and Spanish overseas discoveries. Finally, the Venetians took up business again, very surprisingly and successfully, in the 17th and first part of the 18th century.

Spiaggia della Brussa

Tomato plants were used as lush ornamental plants for table decorations. Venetian noblemen were somewhat demanding and always loved creative meals and opulent beauty, also in plants. Nobody knows when and why Venetians came to taste the fruit of this plant which was considered poison first …

For a long time, tomatoes weren’t grown in the Lagoon on a large-scale. They were considered a luxury good but that changed after 1966 when the Lagoon was hit by a devastating acqua alta. The peach and apricot trees died but the soil turned out to be ideal for vegetables, so the people living on the Litorale del Cavallino, on the islands Le Vignole and Sant’Erasmo, around Treporti and its hinterland planted artichokes, garden vegetables and tomatoes.

Today, they cultivate various tomato varieties deriving from this ancient one. Pomodori grappolo or ciliegini (cherry tomatoes), pomodori lunghi (longish fruit), and pomodori cuore di bue or i costolati, beefsteak tomatoes.

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One curious thing you may not know about the cuore di bue tomato is that they start ripening from inside. So even when their skin looks rather green you can be sure that it’s soft and ripe inside.

Did you know that in Venice we love mixing tomatoes  with another refreshing summer treat, il cocómero (water melon) ? We flavor with mint, basil and olive oil  and call this dish  insalata pomodori e cocomero. 

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Here’s a picture of the Cavallino hinterland. For this isn’t just tomato land, this is flamingo paradise too. It’s a picture taken by my uncle, a professional photographer, during a boat tour.


2 responses to “A Story of Lagoon Tomatoes”

  1. foodinbooks Avatar

    I’m finally exploring your site, and catching up on your past posts. This one was fascinating. I had no idea that tomatoes were not grown on Venice until fairly recently. Lovely history and recipe. I’ve heard of combining watermelon with olives and feta and mint, but never heard of adding tomatoes. So when the summer arrives and both fruits are readily available, I will have to try this.

    1. Iris Avatar

      Dear Vanessa, so happy you are exploring my website. Venetians are quite practical – whatever ingredients are available in the garden and kitchen, they are all used to make salads, pasta and desserts and cakes :-) So you will find a few new combinations that became family favorites :-) Hope you will like the dish when you try it in summer, please tell us !

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