From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Jefferson first mentions tomatoes in Query VI of his Notes on the State of Virginia, which Jefferson first produced in 1781 and which was published several times throughout the 1780's. He says: "The gardens yield muskmelons, watermelons, tomatas, okra, pomegranates, figs, and the esculant plants of Europe." [1] One of our research historians surmises that, since Jefferson mentioned them only briefly, in a list, and did not single them out, that they were nothing unusual, at least to him. The Jefferson family recipes contain numerous usages of tomatoes. Jefferson included tomatoes in his chart of vegetables sold in the markets in Washington, D.C.[2] He recorded planting them all of the years that he kept his Garden Book (1809-1824), and according to one of our research historians, it is likely that he was growing them both before and after those dates - perhaps as early as 1781, when he wrote about them in Notes.

Poisonous Tomato

As for the belief that it was poisonous, Jefferson himself never writes about that, or in any way gives the impression that it was anything but natural to eat tomatoes. There is a folk tale about Jefferson visiting Lynchburg where he stuns people by eating a tomato in front of the Miller-Claytor house. It appears in a book Saga of a City: Lynchburg, Virginia, 1786-1936. Researchers have not found proof this incident ever happened. What can be said is that Jefferson was nonchalantly growing them and eating them as early as 1781.

Original authors: Bryan Craig and Anna Berkes, 2003 & 2005.


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