Monday, November 17, 2014

On Salads: the fourteenth century and beyond.

Last week I mentioned the first ever English book devoted to salads - Acetaria, by John Evelyn, published in 1699.  I remembered, as I was composing the story, that this book was the inspiration for the first ever post on this blog on October 31, 2005.  On that day, I wrote, in part:

It was the golden age of the English kitchen garden when Evelyn published “Acetaria: A discourse on sallets” in 1699. He listed 73 main salad ingredients, plus “sundry more” (including tulip bulbs), which he said should be “exquisitely cull’d, and cleans’d” and blended “like the Notes in Music, in which there should be nothing harsh or grating”. The dressing should be made with smooth, light oil from Lucca olives, the best wine vinegar infused with herbs and flowers, the brightest Bay grey-salt, the best (Tewkesbury or Yorkshire) mustard, sugar and pepper, “the yolks of fresh and new-laid eggs, boil’d moderately hard”, and various other “Strewings and Aromatizers”.

At the time, I intended to go back to Evelyn’s work, and give you some more seventeenth century insights into the concept of salad. Nine years later, I am finally going to do just that!

First, however, let us look at the origin of the word ‘salad.’ According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word references the Latin sal, for salt, and this origin is still recogniseable in Romance, Germanic, and Russian languages. The OED gives as its definition of salad:

A cold dish of herbs or vegetables (e.g. lettuce, endive), usually uncooked and chopped up or sliced, to which is often added sliced hard-boiled egg, cold meat, fish, etc., the whole being seasoned with salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar.

The OED even provides a fourteenth century recipe in one of the supporting quotations which shows us that the concept has remained essentially unchanged in over six hundred years.

Take persel, sawge, garlec [etc.]..waische hem clene. .and myng hem wel with rawe oile, lay on vyneger and salt, and serue it forth.
Forme of Cury (c.1390)

In my post last week, I gave Evelyn’s instructions for the preparation of cucumbers, as they appeared in Acetaria in 1699. The method was already well-established by that time, as another recipe-quotation in the OED shows:

If you would make a delicate sallad of Cucumbers, boile them first, then pill from them their rind, serue them vp with oile, vinegre, and honey.
P. Holland tr. Pliny Hist. World II (1601)

But I digress. I intended to give you more of Evelyn’s general observations on salads:

Sallets in general consist of certain Esculent Plants and Herbs, improv'd by Culture, Industry, and Art of the Gard'ner: Or, as others say, they are a Composition of Edule Plants and Roots of several kinds, to be eaten Raw or Green, Blanch'd or Candied: simple – and per se, or intermingl'd with others according to the Season. The Boil'd, Bak'd, Pickl'd, or otherwise disguis'd, variously accommodated by the skilful Cooks, to render them grateful to the more feminine Palat, or Herbs rather for the Pot,&c. challenge not the name of Sallet so properly here, tho' sometimes mention'd; And therefore, Those who Criticize not so nicely upon the Word, seem to distinguish the Olera (which were never eaten Raw) from Acetaria, which were never Boil'd; and so they derive the Etymology of Olus, from Olla, the Pot. But others deduce it from [Greek script here for: Olos], comprehending the Universal Genus of the Vegetable Kingdom; as from [Greek script here for: Pan] Panis; esteeming that he who had Bread and Herbs, was sufficiently bless'd with all a frugal Man cou'd need or desire: Others  again will have it, ab Olendo, i.e. Crescendo, from its continual growth and springing up: So the younger Scaliger on Varro: But his Father Julius extends it not so generally to all Plants, as to all the Esculents, according to the Text: We call those Olera (says Theophrastus) which are commonly eaten, in which sense it may be taken, to include both Boil'd and Raw: Last of all, ab Alendo, as having been the Original, and genuine Food of all Mankind from the Creation.

A great deal more of this Learned Stuff were to be pick'd up from the Cumini Sectores, and impertinently Curious; whilst as it concerns the business in hand, we are by Sallet to understand a particular Composition of certain Crude and fresh Herbs, such as usually are, or may safely be eaten with some Acetous Juice, Oyl, Salt, &c. to give them a grateful Gust and Vehicle; exclusive of the [Greek: psuchrai trapezai], eaten without their due Correctives, which the Learned Salmasius, and, indeed generally, the old Physicians affirm (and that truly) all Crude and raw [Greek: lachana] require to render them wholsome; so as probably they were from hence, as Pliny thinks, call'd Acetaria: and not (as Hermolaus and some others) Acceptaria ab Accipiendo; nor from Accedere, though so ready at hand, and easily dress'd; requiring neither Fire, Cost, or Attendance, to boil, roast, and prepare them as did Flesh, and other Provisions; from which, and other Prerogatives, they were always in use, &c. And hence indeed the more frugal Italians and French, to this Day, gather Ogni Verdura, any thing almost that's Green and Tender, to the very Tops of Nettles; so as every Hedge affords a Sallet (not unagreeable) season'd with its proper Oxybaphon of Vinegar, Salt, Oyl, &c. which doubtless gives it both the Relish and Name of Salad, Emsalada, as with us of Sallet; from the Sapidity, which renders not Plants and Herbs alone, but Men themselves, and their Conversations, pleasant and agreeable: But of this enough, and perhaps too much; least whilst I write of Salt and Sallet, I appear my self Insipid: I pass therefore to the Ingredients, which we will call
Furniture and Materials.
The Materials of Sallets, which together with the grosser Olera, consist of Roots, Stalks, Leaves, Buds, Flowers, &c. Fruits (belonging to another Class) would require a much ampler Volume, than would suit our Kalendar, (of which this pretends to be an Appendix only) should we extend the following Catalogue further than to a brief enumeration only of such Herbaceous Plants, Oluscula and smaller Esculents, as are chiefly us'd in Cold Sallets, of whose Culture we have treated there; and as we gather them from the Mother and Genial Bed, with a touch only of their Qualities, for Reasons hereafter given.

Watch this space, folks, for some more extracts from Acetaria in the future!

1 comment:

Shay said...

Oil, vinegar and honey are a pretty modern-looking combination, particularly in a mustard vinaigrette.