From the Notebooks of Susan Holloway Scott

Salad Days of 1699 with John Evelyn

Thursday, August 19, 2010

When we think of dining in late 17th c. England (if, admittedly, we think of it at all), it's the roaring display of roasted beef and venison and pheasant, turtle soup and eel pie. The England of Charles II seems such a time of wine, women, and song, that it's hard to imagine a menu that included...salad.

John Evelyn (1620-1706) was a serious, scholarly gentleman, a public servant, writer, philosopher, and horticulturalist whose agile mind wandered from the study of architecture to gardens, from paintings to the pollution of London. He was a founding member of the Royal Society, and also a friend of Charles II. In a court full of carnivores, Evelyn was a confirmed vegetarian, believing that the key to health was to be found in the garden, not on the hunt. The fact that Evelyn lived to be eighty-six, while the king died shy of his fifty-fifth birthday, might be considered proof enough.

Evelyn was so devoted to his beliefs that he wrote an entire book on the subject: Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets Published in 1699, the book  suggested what kinds of plants and herbs to include in a salad garden, their cultivation, and recipes. To Evelyn, raw salads were more fit for masculine tastes, while he recommended that vegetables be "Boil'd, Bak'd, Pickl'd, or otherwise disguis'd, variously accommodated by skillful Cooks, to render them grateful to the more feminine Palat."

On the whole, though, his advice seems remarkably contemporary. Here's how he prepared greens:
Preparatory to the Dressing therefore, let your Herby Ingredients be exquisitely cull'd, and cleans'd of all worm-eaten, slimy, cander'd, dry, spotted, or any way vitiated Leaves. And then that they be rather discretely sprinkl'd, than over-much sob'd with Spring-Water, especially Lettuce....After washing, let them remain a while in the Cullender, to drain the superfluous moisture; And lastly, swing them together gently in a clean course Napkin; and so they will be in perfect condition to receive the Intinctus following.

The "Intinctus" is a dressing of "the Yolks of fresh and new-laid Eggs, boil'd moderately hard, to be mingl'd and mash'd with the Mustard, Olive Oyl, and Vinegar; and cut into quarters, and eat with the Herbs."  Sounds mighty tasty!

Like to try this and other recipes from John Evelyn? Acetaria is available as a thoroughly modern free ebook download here.  With all of John Evelyn's interests, it's very easy to imagine him sitting beneath the trees in his garden with an iPad in hand....

Above: An 18th century kitchen garden in Colonial Williamsburg
Below: John Evelyn, by Sir Godrey Kneller, 1687

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