We often think of Henry VIII and his table overflowing with meat dishes when we imagine food from the past. Salads, which we normally think of as a dish made of vegetables or herbs that are served cold, were actually more beneficial to our ancestors than you might imagine.
Looking back at the self-sufficiency of old, we learn a lot about the salad dishes of yesteryear, which cost next to nothing and have no carbon footprint. They may even be good for our health.
In the late 17th century, diarists, writers, and gardener John Evelyn pursued their interest in salads. His model defined the dish in a very broad way and demonstrated how one could live off of home-grown salads throughout the year.
Evelyn’s ideal kitchen garden consisted of a variety of fruits and vegetables that were easy to grow. Evelyn published a guide on developing and preparing Salats called Accetaria in 1699. The word “sallet,” which originated in French, was first used in English in the 1300s. It became common in the 1600s.
Evelyn advocates a vegetarian diet in Acetaria. She claims that people who eat only herbs and roots will live to an old age. He uses classical philosophy to support his argument about “The Wholesomeness Of The Herby-Diet,” – citing Plato, Pythagoras, and other great thinkers as examples who banned “flesh” off their tables. Evelyn wasn’t interested in converting others to vegetarianism. She said:
This is not my business other than to show how easy it is to live a long and happy life on vegetables.
Growing vegetables and gardening has seen a rise in popularity as a family-friendly outdoor activity. It can also ease worries about food shortages. Evelyn’s Aceria offers some tips for the green-fingered gardener to feed their family and some advice on how they can increase their harvests.
The Gardener’s Year
The verse from Acetaria underpins the centrality of salads in Evelyn’s manifesto:
Evelyn explains that the rhyme is about buying salads. She points out how easy it is to grow them; they don’t require fuel to prepare and are readily available.
John Evelyn urged people to eat a healthy diet and encouraged them to consume sallets. Wikimedia
Nature is a great help in all kinds of ways, as Evelyn demonstrates in her other work, Directions for the Gardener. It was written about his garden in Sayes Court, in southeast London. This book contains helpful tips and hints for growing food for your kitchen table. Evelyn’s comments are not limited to the usual salad items like cucumber and lettuce. Daisies, docks, dandelions, and cowslips, a form of primrose, are all included in his bounty. The gardener can be self-sufficient by using these plants and others that grow on wasteland and compost heaps.
The “weeds” must be harvested at the right time. Sometimes, the stems and roots are boiled in order to remove their bitterness. Early moderns avoided eating raw vegetables, believing that they would upset their bodies if consumed in large quantities. The key is that he uses a broader definition for what could be considered salads, including the type of foraged plants making a comeback in high-end restaurants.
Evelyn’s recommendations included new twists on some familiar ingredients. Why not use the seed pods instead of the root to add a nice touch to your salad? You can also cook turnip stalks (before they go to seed) in butter and then eat them like asparagus.