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As the Tomato Said to the Actress

October 30, 2012

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?

Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida black and white image

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.

La Gina canned tomatoes

This summer I look forward to embracing the tomato, starting with  Jamie Oliver’s Tomato Consommé

Warning: you’ll need a butcher’s hook.

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8 comments

  1. I love “la Lollo”. She will always be “la fata turchina” in the Italian version of Pinocchio made in the mid 70s for me (when she wore a bluish – turquoise – wig). And I did not know about Carlo Valmorbida’s obsession with Gina and how it lead to the name of the canned tomatoes. Wish I could have asked my father who was friends with the Valmorbida’s back in the early days in 1950s Carlton. Ahhhh thanks for the memories Ambra. Tomato season has officially started!


  2. Paola, I’ve got this incredible craving for tomatoes this year. I’m not a huge fan of tomato soup, but the Jamie O. recipe I’ve linked to was demonstrated on an ep of his show a while back. It looked really delicious – and it’s got vodka in it!


  3. I love this post. I do believe you were probably one of the few people to know the story behind La Gina tomatoes! (I’ll never quite look at them the same way!) But now you have shared it with your readers and it is gathering legs. Bravo for your research. Wonderful site. I look forward to following your adventures … culinary or otherwise.


    • Thanks so much for the compliments Rachel. What’s that great line? “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” I haven’t quite got that many tales to tell, but I’m amazed at the things I remember from my childhood.


  4. That’s interesting, in Italy we eat a variety of green salad called Lollo after Lollobrigida.


    • I think in Australia we call Lollo lettuce ‘Coral’ and it is available in greengrocers in green and red.


  5. I do like the idea of that consume – I am now a woman in need of a butchers hook! Having read this post I now want to know the origins of other tomato brands – just who exactly is Annalisa?


    • I remember seeing Jamie Oliver tasting it after he’d made it and he was in raptures, I could almost taste it too. As for Annalisa – good point. Can’t think of any Italian actresses with that name. Could have been a great aunt perhaps?



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