I don’t know why this wasn’t plainly obvious to me, but my canned tomatoes have taken on new meaning since I discovered the brand name’s origins.
A quick internet search on Gina Lollobrigida – after finding her autographed photo in a shoebox – threw up ‘La Gina’ canned tomatoes. The story goes that Italian immigrant Carlo Valmorbida was a huge fan of the luscious Gina and upon deciding to introduce canned tomatoes to Australia in 1963, named his product after her. Am I the only person who didn’t know this?
I think this photo of Gina is either from the late 1960s or mid 1970s. She came to Australia as a Logie Awards guest in 1974 so that’s possibly the more accurate. All I remember is my father coming home from work one day with the autographed photo for me, with the inscription “To Ambra, con simpatìa, (with affection) Gina Lollobrigida”. My late father worked in hotel maintenance in those days and would often meet visiting overseas actors and singers and bring home mementos.
I got to thinking about tomatoes in relation to women. Known as the “love apple” for its seductive colour and sensuous sweet flesh, it was believed to be the devil’s fruit by the Roman Catholic Church, offered by Eve to Adam instead of an apple. Even more annoying for the patriarchal church, the tomato was considered the very symbol of woman: tempting, bewitching and a threat to male dominance.
During the 1920s and 1930s the expression “tomato” was used in some American films to describe a good-looking woman. Sometimes women even used it to describe themselves: in Billy Wilder’s 1955 comedy The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe’s ditzy blonde greets her downstairs admirer with “Hi. It’s me, don’t you remember? The tomato from upstairs.”
And it goes without saying that “tomayto” is a lot funnier than “tomahto”.
Gina played the lead in the 1969 screwball comedy Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell (which later was the inspiration for ‘Mamma Mia’) but I doubt the choice of name was related to Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup. However La Lollo obviously likes a tomato connection, appearing in a late 1960s’ advertisment for Leggo’s Tomato Paste.
This summer I look forward to embracing the tomato, starting with Jamie Oliver’s Tomato Consommé.
Warning: you’ll need a butcher’s hook.