Saturday, February 26, 2005

You say "tomatoes," I say "pomodori"

Yesterday, the Indiana Historical Society (where I work in the Local History Services division) hosting a Teaching History Conference. As an added perk, the keynote address was on food and history. How could I not attend?

Beside numerous sidetrack anecdotes and a couple inside jokes for teachers, the speaker kept asking questions and raising his right arm high, encouraging audience members to raise their hands if they were familiar with the topic or had experience with the theory. Except that hardly anyone actually raised their hands. I just heard murmurs and chuckles when a familiar name or idea was mentioned. It was as if the speaker was asking the theater full of teachers to be students again ("Raise your hands, class!"), but they'd have nothing of it, maybe afraid their students would hear of it and lose all respect for them.

Eventually, the dynamic speaker got around to talking about how much history could be taught from tomatoes. Economic history, social history, natural history - you name it, the tomato's got it. I remembered hearing a story about how my Taid used to pick green tomatoes and watch them turn red in the window sill...then throw them out since they were considered poisonous.

The speaker brought up that part of history, but also talked about the path of tomatoes from the new world back to Europe. When he asked about the Italian word for tomato, no one raised their hands. Giving his class a little freedom, he said, "Okay, just yell it out." Still the room was silent. I waited a moment and then voiced "pomodoro!" from the back of the room.

"Yes, very good," he said. "You win a prize." Ha, ha! A gold star for this student...or better yet, a tomato?

But my prize was a morning full of memories about Italian pomodori in all their delicious forms. Oh, was I hungry the whole day. Any one in the mood for pugno chiuso, raise your hands. (You can't see me, but both my arms are up!)