I thought I’d share a few tidbits of the research I did as I planned
the menu of dishes to be prepared during the recent “Garden Goodies”
segment (Aug. 12) of my Fireside Feasts program at Wyckoff. Of course,
I consulted various books, including C. Anne Wilson’s Food & Drink in
Britain, from the Stone Age to the 19th Century (1973; Amer. Ed. 1991).
Wilson begins with pre-historic times in her 41-page chapter devoted
to “Fruit and salad vegetables.” She states that the earliest peoples,
being nomadic, most certainly ate wild fruits and nuts, both in season
and preserved,” in addition to cultivated grains. Green-leaved plants
were consumed raw, “especially when they were young and tender.”
The years of Roman dominance (77 – 400 AD) were a major boon
to the British table. Roman civilization was highly developed, and
Britain partook of the accompanying cuisine it had to offer. Fruits
of every kind were introduced (and grown), from new apple varieties
to sweet cherries to peaches to figs to wine grapes. The vegetables
included cucumbers, radishes, asparagus, lettuce, garlic, onions,
assorted mushrooms, and more. And the “true dressed salad,”
according to Wilson, “was a Roman concept.”
Kitchen gardens, with their range of vegetables and fruits, greatly
“contributed to domestic economy” during Medieval times, Wilson
writes. In one early 15th century manuscript, there are nearly 20
“herbs for salad” listed. Expanding relations with the European
continent afforded an increase in available produce, as well.
Trade brought all kinds of exotic plants and fruits. Market
gardening boomed, particularly around large cities such as
London. There was even a guild of gardeners formed in 1605.
And, of course, there were various vegetables discovered and
shipped from the New World. Improved gardening techniques
also played a huge part in the range of available greens.
Of particular interest to me were these passages:
During the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries the range of salad vegetables
was still wide. The greenstuff included
lettuce, purslane, cornsalad, sorrel,
dandelion, buds of alexanders [celery],
mustards, cresses, and the young leaves
of radishes, turnips, spinach and lop
lettuce (lettuces grown from seed which
had never hearted). The many small-leaved
plants were often known jointly as salading
or small salad.
Raw salads had never come under the same
sort of disapproval as fresh fruit, partly
because so many salad plants were thought
to have helpful medicinal properties.
illustration: detail from painting by Michiel van Musscher (1645-1705)
next: Mrs. Beeton starts a rumor