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Philip II had sent him to Mexico to catalogue all the plants he could find there, which took him seven years.In a chapter covering “sour and acid plants,” Hernandez noted how people in Mexico ate tomatoes.Luckily for me, I only had to look in one place to find tomato recipes dating from 1692 to 1745, a selection of the first tomato recipes to appear in European cookbooks.
Even if they didn’t formally record their attempts in recipe books, European cooks had been experimenting with tomatoes; bruschetta’s a simple and obvious enough innovation that no one’s given credit for it.
Chile peppers were even more radical than tomatoes.
Until Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean, their hottest spices were mustard, native to the Mediterranean, and black or long pepper, imported from South Asia.
It seemed unlikely that the tomatoes themselves were the issue.
South and central Americans had already done the long work of domesticating the tomato plant; the seeds that Spanish travelers brought back grew lumpy red tomatoes similar to today’s “heirloom” varieties.
When I (and two other volunteers) tasted the Aztec salsa, it burned, and I imagined what it would have been like for a person to have that flush of capsaicin heat in their mouth for the first time.