Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sunflowers, art, and salad.

Today, August 21st

Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo from Arles, on this day in 1888.

“I am hard at it, painting with the enthusiasm of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won't surprise you when you know that what I'm at is the painting of some big sunflowers”.

I love it that one hundred and nineteen days ago to this very day – perhaps even this very hour – Vincent was creating with all the colours of the yellow rainbow one of his famous sunflower paintings. Such a gloriously happy, sunny painting by a man dead by his own hand less than two years later. Vincent never managed to sell a single painting in his lifetime. Perhaps on this day in 1888 he was painting the very picture that sold in 1987 for almost $40 million US dollars?

Today, in honour of the often literally starving artist, we are going to consider sunflowers as food. Sunflowers belong to the family Asteraceae – which means plants with heads composed of many florets. It is the largest family of flowering plants in the world with about 24,000 species – and we eat many of them. Dandelions, artichokes, cardoons, Jerusalem artichokes, lettuce, endive, chrysanthemums, marigolds are all members of the same family as the Sunflower (Helianthus annuus).

The Sunflower originated in North America, was first domesticated by American Indians (for whom it was an important food), and was first grown commercially in Russian (probably because sunflower oil was not prohibited by the Church from consumption during Lent, as were many other oils). It is an extremely important seed crop in the world, with some varieties being grown specifically for oil production and some for the whole seed itself.

I got misled and waylaid in my search for an interesting use of sunflower seeds by a recipe with the title ‘Sunflower Salad’. It does not contain sunflower seeds, but it seems tragically appropriate today when we have art as a starting theme. This recipe gives a whole new meaning to the concept of Art-on-a-Plate.

Sunflower salad.
Take sliced peaches and arrange on lettuce so as to form the petals of a flower. Place a scoop of chocolate ice-cream in the center. For the stem use a thin slice of pepper and for the leaves, bits of lettuce. This is very attractive and can be served with any of the many brands of dainty crackers.
Allow 2 slices of peach per serving.
[The Lily Wallace New American Cook Book; 1946]

Tomorrow’s Story ...

Chicken Soup for the Masses.

Quotation for the Day ….

My grandfather had a wonderful funeral. It was held in a big hall with accordion players. On the buffet table there was a replica of the deceased in potato salad. Woody Allen.


Anonymous said...

Chocolate ice cream, huh? that seems like an odd choice for a salad!

Lapinbizarre said...

This brings to mind what John & Karen Hess say in "The Taste of America" (1977), about a Fannie Farmer salad recipe: "This is pure women's-magazine gourmet cookery. Insane "fancy" combinations of ingredients, without regard for balance of taste and texture are commonplace now; a favorite of ours is a published recipe for a hamburger with chopped peanuts and bananas, including the instructions 'Mash bananas with mustard to taste.' "

The Old Foodie said...

Bananas and mustard? It never caught on in spite of Fannie's success, did it? I dont wonder why. Lets start a competition for discovering the worst example of Food Art imitating Bad Taste.

Lapinbizarre said...

In the interest of brevity I had cut the F. Farmer recipe to which Karen Hess, who wrote the "historical" sections of the book, referred. It involved extracting the core of several bananas, leaving the skins more-or-less intact; marinating them in French dressing; returning them to the skins, and serving them. Maybe you squirted them down your throat like toothpaste? The banana/mustard hamburger recipe is more recent (50's or 60's, would guess - has that feel to it) and should not be laid at Fanny's door. Years back about 20 different spiral-bound "women's club" American recipe books - also 50's & 60's - passed through my hands. I got rid of them "real fast", but they were a treasure-house of bizarre jello salad recipes! They'd be useful now. Roger

Lapinbizarre said...

For starters, I Googled "jello", "salad" and "bizarre" and came up with the following link. It says a lot about the American Salad Days of the 40's through the 60's:

The Old Foodie said...

I have found a delicious salad for our competition; I'll post it tomorrow (Saturday).