In the past year there have been multiple posts and memes talking about the history of tomato pin cushions originating from tomatoes being a good luck symbol places upon the mantle. Now, there is even a video.
In each case, these are perpetuating a Myth.
Let’s look at the components of the story. The claim includes these points:
- Tomato pin cushions originated in the Victorian era.
- Tomatoes were seen as good luck
- Tomatoes were placed on the mantle or windowsill for good luck.
Let’s start with #3 – To me, this point alone should make someone skeptical of the story. Tomatoes being placed on the mantle or windowsill. Looking at this rationally, a tomato picked from the garden may not yet be ripe. It can be ripened a bit by being placed on the windowsill. At a point a tomato goes from ripe to past ripe to rotting. In some climates or weather combinations this can happen quite quickly. What logical person in any century is going to put a piece of food out to rot? Red flag.
Going back to #1 -Yup. This part is true. But, it is missing a big chunk of the real story. A number of fruits and vegetables were made into pin cushions and/or velvet decorations during the Victorian era (1837-1901), not just tomatoes. We can see tomatoes, pears, apples, carrots, eggplant, nuts, grapes, berries, etc. made from velvet in the nineteenth century.
Now, with all those other vegetables and fruits being made in velvet form and for pin cushions, why are we looking at the tomato as a symbol of good luck? It simply held popularity longer because it was easier to make, and easier to mass produce.
That brings us to #2 – If you were to do a search in Google Books looking for references to tomatoes along with good luck or good fortune, narrowed to the 19th century, you will find that this connection simply does not exist.