A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Tomatoes, Don Tirso & MSG
Saturday, October 18, 2008

If there is a better on line dictionary than that of the Real Academia Española I would be very surprised. For years I have suffered dictionary laziness. If there is a word in a novel that I do not understand I tend to not want to get up from my bed to look it up. I have solved part of the problem by having and Canadian Oxford Dictionary by my bedside table. Spanish has been more of a problem because my Spanish dictionaries are ancient. It was some 8 years ago on a trip to Buenos Aires that the local newspaper, La Nación, had an article on the on line dictionary of the Real Academia. It would seem that this hallowed and ultra conservative organization, an apologist for the language of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, had decided to modernize. Consider that they nominated the swashbuckler Cartagena born author Arturo Perez-Reverte to the academy. I can boast that my grandfather Don Tirso de Irureta Goyena was younger when he was nominated. The fact is that this dictionary is very efficient and easy to use. I am delighted with it and use it often.

For years as a little boy my mother, when arriving late from teaching would make scrambled eggs mixed with chopped tomatoes. She called this pisto. Today I finally looked it up in the RAE and this is how it was defined:

(Del lat. pistus, machacado).

1. m. Fritada de pimientos, tomates, huevo, cebolla o de otros alimentos, picados y revueltos.

2. m. Jugo o sustancia que se obtiene de la carne de ave, y se da caliente al enfermo que solo puede tragar líquidos.

3. m. Mezcla confusa de diversas cosas en un discurso o en un escrito.

It has then taken me 66 years to find out that pisto is Spanish for hash or hashing. Machacar (Latin pistus) is to chop up. I have always associated pisto not only with my mother but with my father who taught me that a tomato fried at very high heat goes through a chemical change (the sugar) and it acquires a wonderful taste. They almost have to be burned for me!

Another dish related to the tomato is a salad that my mother made with tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and sliced onion. She said it was a favourite of Don Tirso. To this salad she simply added oil and vinegar. Rosemary loves the salad. We serve it with meat or chicken and its colour acts as a foil to plain white rice or kanin as they call it in the Philippines.

In Lillooet last week Ale told us that we had to pick the last of the tomatoes from her garden even if they were not ripe. The frost was coming. One of the tomatoes was very large and Lauren said it reminded her of a pumpkin.

Thirty years ago when I taught high school in Mexico City my students would bait me often with my opinion on drugs. I realized that if I was catagorically negative about drugs in the usual manner the ears of my students would flap shut in class. I always told them that my approach to drugs was the same as to the tomato. If I purchased a super market tomato I might want to add lots of pepper and even MSG if the tomato would satisfy my taste buds. But the route to take with a vine-ripened tomato was to pick it with one hand while holding a little salt shaker with the other. The tomato was good enough. The taste would be exquisite without any addition of spices or enhancing MSG. To me life was like a vine-ripened tomato. Some understood what I was getting at and would not push further.


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