Friday, November 14, 2014

The Seventeenth Century Cucumber.

I was tempted yesterday to give you the complete title of Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Domesticum, published in 1736, which was our resource for the day. Then I read it more carefully myself, and Lo! and Behold! a new topic presented itself to me in the form of a word I had to look up, so I decided to save it for today.

Here is the title in all its wordy glory – see if you can spot my choice!

Dictionarium Domesticum: Being a New and Compleat Houshold Dictionary. For the Use Both of City and Country. Shewing, I. The Whole Arts of Brewing, Baking, Cookery, and Pickling. Also Confectionary in Its Several Branches. II. The Management of the Kitchen, Pantry, Larder, Dairy, Olitory, and Poultry. With the Proper Seasons for Flesh, Fowl and Fish. III. The Herdsman: Giving an Account of the Diseases of Cattle, Poultry, &c. And the Most Approved Remedies for Their Cure. IV. The English Vineyard; Being the Best Method of Making English Wines and of Distilling Most Kinds of Simple and Compound Cordial Waters. V. The Apiary: Or, The Manner of Breeding, Hiving and Managing of Bees. VI. The Family Physician and Herbalist. Containing the Choicest Collection of Receipts for Most Distempers, Incident to Human Bodies, Hitherto Made Publick; with the Qualities and Uses of Physical Herbs and Plants of English Growth.

The word was olitory. Did you get it? The Oxford English Dictionary gives the etymology as deriving from the classical Latin ‘olitōrius, variant of holitōrius of or belonging to a kitchen gardener or vegetables.’

 So, an olitory is a kitchen garden. The first reference to the use of the word in English is given by the OED as being in John Evelyn’s Kalendarium Hortense, in his famous work Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees ….. , published in 1664. He uses the word in this book in the following sentence: “Let such Olitory-herbs run to seed as you would save.” That John Evelyn (1620-1706) was the first to use the word in print is hardly a surprise, given that Evelyn was already a famous gardener and writer at this time, but he does actually reference the concept earlier in a diary entry made in December 1658, upon publication of The French Gardener: Instructing How to Cultivate all sorts of Fruit-Trees, and Herbs for the Garden – his translation of a work by Nicolas de Bonnefons:

There was no internal debate needed about the choice of recipe for the day today. There was only ever one choice – something from John Evelyn’s famous book Acetaria, which just so happens to be the very first English book specifically addressing salads. I give you his piece on cucumbers.

Cucumber, Cucumis Sativus; tho' very cold and moist, the most approved Sallet alone, or in composition, of all the Vinaigrets, to sharpen the Appetite, and cool the Liver, &c. if rightly prepar'd; that is, by rectifying the vulgar Mistake of altogether extracting the Juice, in which it should rather be soak'd: Nor ought it to be over oyl'd, too much abating of its grateful Acidity, and palling the Taste from a contrariety of Particles: Let them therefore be pared, and cut in thin Slices, with a Slice or two of Onion to correct the Crudity, macerated in the Juice, often turn'd and moderately drain'd. Others prepare them, by shaking the Slices between two Dishes, and dress them with very little Oyl, well beaten, and mingled with the Juice of Limon, Orange, or Vinegar, Salt and Pepper. Some again, (and indeed the most approv'd) eat them as soon as they are cut, retaining their Liquor, which being exhausted (by the former Method) have nothing remaining in them to help the Concoction. Of old they boil'd the Cucumber, and paring off the Rind, eat them with Oyl, Vinegar, and Honey; Sugar not being so well known. Lastly, the Pulp in Broth is greatly refreshing, and may be mingl'd in most Sallets, without the least damage, contrary to the common Opinion; it not being long, since Cucumber, however dress'd, was thought fit to be thrown away, being accounted little better than Poyson. Tavernier tells us, that in the Levant, if a Child cry for something to Eat, they give it a raw Cucumber instead of Bread. The young ones may be boil'd in White-Wine. The smaller sort (known by the name of Gerckems) muriated with the Seeds of Dill, and the Mango Pickle are for the Winter.

Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets (1699) by John Evelyn.


Galina L. said...

It caught my attention that cucumber was used during a meal with the purpose to sharpen one's appetite.
Our quest to kill appetite is a very recent desire. I remember the time when my grandma who raised me and my cousin together 50 - 40 years ago didn't let us eat between meals in order to preserve appetite till the appropriate meal time. She thought skinny children were the family disgrace. Something salty and sour was served before main course, I remember salted herring dressed with raw onion and vinegar, sliced pickles, sliced reddish with salt, green onions and vinegar, slices of smoked fish with lemon, tomato juice.
Exercise used to be the increasing appetite activity as well.

korenni said...

Oil, vinegar, and a little sugar...and a dash of red pepper! Yum. I'm glad I live in a time when cucumber isn't just thrown away!

Giving one to a baby or toddler sounds like a pretty good idea. Better than Cheerios!

Piet B said...

I hadn't realized he had written a book devoted to Salads; the suggestion of using orange juice (presumably the rather sour oranges of the time?) sounds very interesting. You're an absolute fount of information, Janet!

Piet B said...

I didn't know Evelyn had written a book devoted to Salads; the idea of using orange juice (presumably the rather sour varieties then available rather than that sweeter ones we generally use today?) is intriguing. Thank you!