I came across this explanation from a Threads article:
Why the tomato? According to folklore, placing a tomato on the mantle of a new home guaranteed prosperity and repelled evil spirits. If tomatoes were out of season, families improvised by using a round ball of red fabric filled with sand or sawdust. The good-luck symbol also served a practical purpose—a place to store pins.Wow - your pin cushion performs the bonus task of repelling evil spirits! Neat. This seems plausible, I suppose, but it bothered me that the author didn't cite any sources. So, being the intrepid journalist that I am, I did a little more research on the old interwebs (not on any reputable sites, mind you), and here are a couple other explanations for the tomato shape.
This gets the award for the weirdest answer:
In many Renaissance households, people placed a tomato on their mantle as a way of containing evil in one evil object, thus helping to ensure prosperity for the family. But tomatoes eventually rot. So people resorted to stuffed models. And since the little cushions possessed a bit of voodoo magic, it held all the pins and needles in the house.Ah, so Renaissance families could practice voodoo against evil tomatoes. Duh!
And here's an answer that actually sounds like it has historical basis, but then just sort of runs out of steam at the end:
During the 15th century, metal pins were very expensive, and thus were usually stored in fine cases. During the Tudor Era, however, it became a common practice to use fancy cushions. Later, during the Victorian Era, parlor rooms were all the rage, and the goal of the typical housewife was to stuff it full of opulent clutter. Pincushions began to come in fancy shapes, such as fans, dolls, shoes, fruits, and vegetables. These cushions were displayed on tables and hung from walls. In the 1800's they began to be mass-produced, and the tomato proved to be the easiest to assemble because of its simple design.
I give this answer a big thumbs-down. I mean, lots of objects have simple designs that are easy to mass-produce. Also, the Victorian Era WAS the 1800s, so I don't know if this explanation would withstand a good fact-checking.
In any case, I think it's probably best to continue to use a tomato-shaped pin cushion to avoid voodoo spells, bring prosperity to your mantle, and show off the opulent clutter in your parlor.
P.S. If you're curious about the strawberry apendage on your tomato, I can tell you that it is an emery bag usesd to sharpen pins and needles, and all my sources agree on this. But . . . why is it a strawberry? I mean, who ever saw a strawberry growing out of a tomato? More research is obviously required!