Thinking About Vegetables - part 1 - The Origins

I got to thinking this morning, due in part to the weather keeping me out of the garden, part in finally realizing I really do not have any more seeds to order, and another part due to the Microsoft Reward quiz today.  (Yes, I use Bing, and love the e-gift certificates from points.)

The quiz was on vegetables.  Where they originated.  How many calories per cup?  How many varieties of tomatoes, or cucumbers are there in the world?  So, here's when the thinking came into it. 

Before that I was just sipping my cocoa, getting my Reward points.  But, now I was interested in the answers!  If I was interested, maybe some other people would be to!  So, I've expanded on the short quiz, researching about calories, origins, varieties, and fascinating (to me) tidbits about vegetables!  Only the most common garden-varieties of course, the ones found in an average American backyard garden.  So as to now induce napping, I've broken up the information into several posts.  Origins are always first, so here they are.

  • Tomatoes: a native of the Americas, where in Peru they were called "xiotomatl," meaning "plump thing with navel."  I see the word "tomato" in there!  The Aztecs in Central America also grew tomatoes around 700 CE (Common Era).  It didn't become a worldwide sensation as early as many other vegetables, and when first introduced into Europe.  The people were suspicious of them, being of the poisonous nightshade family, and foreign to boot!  
Ditmasher tomato - the smallest I've ever grown!
  • Cucumbers: cultivated 3,000 years ago in India.  Came to France in the 9th century, England in the 14th century, and North America in the 16th century. 
lemon cucumber
  • Sweet Pepper or Bell Pepper: a South American crop as far back as 5,000 BCE (Before the Common Era).  In 1493 seeds were transported to Spain (thanks conquistadors!).  The Europeans called any hot spice "pepper," after the unrelated black pepper from India (the "salt and pepper" pepper).  The sweet pepper I prefer was developed in Hungary in the 1920s.
California Wonder Bell
  • Watermelon: 5,000 years ago the locals living in the deserts of the Kalahari, in Africa, grew watermelon.  By 2,000 BCE they were common daily fare in Egypt.  They moved on to China (10th century), Europe (17th century), and the US as far as Florida in the 16th century.  Massachusetts got in on the watermelon craze in the 17th century.  
  • Potatoes: another native of South America, potatoes were cultivated 8,000 years ago.  In the 16th century, the explorer, Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada discovered them for Europe. (I find it fascinating we can trace back that far to know the man's name responsible for it!)  The Incas had a measurement of time based on the time to cook a potato!  
  • Carrots:5,000 years ago the peoples of Iran and Afghanistan were enjoying carrots.  They spread all over the civilized world.  Europeans cultivated them in the 13th century.  But, these were not the pretty orange carrots we know today!  Fun fact, and true story...  carrots were originally purple, red, black and even white.  We have the Dutch to thank for orange, as they cross bred other colors to get orange, as a tribute to the then ruling House of Orange!  Carrots were introduced to America in around 1607 with the Jamestown settlers.  Here's a virtual Carrot Museum!  Click on any room to learn more.
  •  Squash: a native of the Americas, squash originated in Peru, Mexico and even parts of the Eastern United States, 8,000 or so years ago. The word squash comes from the Massachuset Indian word "askutasquash," meaning "eaten raw or uncooked," although now we seldom eat squash raw.  It was unknown in Europe until the late 16th century, apparently the conquistadors were not impressed with the taste!  Remember, the squashes include pumpkins too!
on the right a Galeux D'Eysines squash (wartless), and three cross pollinated, the orange delicious, the yellow nasty and composted

Small Sugar pumpkin
  • Beans: "beans" is too broad a term to go into too much detail.  There are beans native to Thailand, and beans originating in Afghanistan and the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.  Beans were left in the tombs of kings in Egypt.  Beans can be traced back at least 9,000 years, with the first bean cultivation 4,000 years ago in areas of the Mediterranean and Peru.  There are wild bean types today in the Andes and Guatemala.
Provider bush beans
How many varieties of tomatoes or squash are there?  How many calories per cup? Those questions will be answered in part 2, as well as the questions, "What's a vegetable, and why isn't a tomato one?" and "What's with berries?"


  1. Cool! I especially liked saying 'xiotomatl' out loud. ~grin~ Language is just the most interesting thing to me. Heh... Be well!


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