May 23 ...
A throw-away phrase in a throw-away magazine a week or two ago determined me to consider astrological influences in relation to our foods. I find it impossible, personally, to believe that the movement of the planets affects my dinner, although part of me would very much like to believe it. Some of us, some of the time, need a reminder of our cosmic insignificance – and I am not thinking just of politicians here. Alas! I am too firmly fixed in my interest in the scientific evidence for life, the universe, and every damn edible thing in it, and I find there is insufficient to make me change my eating to fit my star-sign (Capricorn, in case you are interested).
Our ancestors of course considered the available evidence, and developed – as we do – incontrovertible proofs and rational applications of all sorts of things. Also like us, they disagreed.
The article that started me off on this tack was about fennel, and the stated astrological fact that it is ‘under Gemini’. The Sun has, apparently, within the last day or two, entered Gemini. Therefore, presumably, fennel is extra good for us? I consulted the expert in such things, a one Nicholas Culpeper (deceased). The good physician / astrologer / herbalist says that fennel is ‘under Virgo’, not Gemini. Writing in the seventeenth century, he says of fennel:
“Every garden affordeth this so plentifully, that it needs no description. … One good old fashion is not yet left off, viz, to boil Fennel with fish; for it consumes that phlegmatic humour, which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few know that use wherefore they do it: I suppose the reason of its benefit this way is, because it is an herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefor bears antipathy to Pisces. Fennel is good to break wind, to provoke urine, and ease the pains of the stone, and helps to break it … the seed boiled in wine and drank is good for those that are bitten with serpents, or have eaten poisonous herbs or mushrooms …. Both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof are much used in drink or broth, to make people lean that are too fat …. ”
He gives much more medical detail, I just picked out the bits that intrigued me. I am in the medical business myself, and in a far-more serpent ridden country that Nicholas, but have to say, even here, that we don’t frequently need serpent-bite remedies. I am not certain in any case that fennel would be sufficiently powerful against a nip from a red-bellied black snake.
Dr Culpeper need not have feared for the loss of the ‘old fashioned’ and astrologically correct method of cooking fish with fennel; it was still regularly appearing in cookbooks a hundred years later.
Fillets of mackerel, with fennel and gooseberries.
For this the French always boil their mackerel as we do, only adding a little vinegar and a bunch of herbs, take the sides or fillets from the bone, and cut in two pieces ; about four is enough for fuch a dish as here proposed, put them into a stew-pan with the melts and roes whole, dash in a glass of white wine, a ladle of cullis and gravy, some minced fennel, green onion and parsley, pepper, salt and nutmeg ; stew all about eight or ten minutes ; put in about half a pint of scalded young gooseberries whole, squeeze in a lemon or orange, andd ferve it up hot.
[A Complete System of Cookery, William Verral, 1759.]
Monday’s Story …
National Monotonous Diet.
Quotation for the Day …
'A savoury odour blown,
Grateful to appetite, more pleased my sense
Than smell of sweetest Fennel.'