Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Salad Days of 1699 with John Evelyn

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Susan reporting:

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


Sarsaparilla said...

Intinctus does sound tasty! Or maybe it's just the quaint words (new-laid, mingl'd and mash'd) that make it sound so inviting!

I'm glad I happened upon your blog this morning. With a name like Two Nerdy History Girls, I couldn't resist!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Welcome, Sarasparilla - I'm glad you found us, too. And yes, Evelyn's words do make a standard salad prep seem much more interesting!

Hels said...

I too would have thought of venison and turtle soup. Even more so, once I wrote up the Robert May cookbook of 1660.

Yet here you have a vegetarian writer creating a book about salads, in virtually the same era. I must say that John Evelyn’s Intinctus is the same dressing I use each evening: egg yolk, boiled moderately hard, to be mingled with the mustard, olive oil and vinegar (although I use lemon juice); with the herbs.

Lady Burgley said...

It's always been my impression that John Evelyn was regarded as something of a benign, earnest eccentric for his diet. Despite this book, I don't believe his suggestions were followed by many other Restoration courtiers. As you say, too much wine, women, and song and not enough veggies.

nightsmusic said...

Any man who includes Dandelions in his salad book has my vote! The DH's uncle still makes Dandelion Pattys for us when we visit in PA, with the greens, eggs, cheese, herbs, bread crumbs and a few other ingredients. Absolutely delish and who'd have thought. So I've downloaded this book and am looking forward to trying some of the recipes.

As to the vegetarian aspect, I think it's still pretty minor in this day and age. After all, they don't push the salads nearly as much as the Whoppers, do they? ;)

Richard Foster said...

Sam Pepys mentions eating "speragus" with a similar dressing of eggs and oil. Mostly, tho, he's one of the carnivores.

Jane O said...

When you remember that come winter one had to pretty much rely on root vegetables and cabbage, it's no wonder people looked forward to spring so eagerly. (Let us pass over in silence the difficulty of keeping warm.)

Vic said...

Lovely post. I am almost tempted to like salad!!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Hels, thanks for the link! I remember when that cookbook was discovered. I suspect it was much more typical to the time than Evelyn's.

Lady Burgley, I suspect you're right. I can't think of a single description of a grand feast or even a simple supper from primary sources of the time that are vegetarian. If you wanted to impress your guests, you put as much meat on the table as you could. I wonder what Evelyn's guests made of his fare?

Theo, yup, vegetarians are still a little suspect - no matter how tasty those dandelion greens are. My son went through a vegetarian phase, and we learned that if you ask, all the fast food burger places have veggie burgers. But you have to ask; they're not on the big menu. Somehow I doubt that Evelyn would have considered a Bocca Burger suitable fare!

Richard, yes, I do recall Pepys making a special trip to taste the asparagus. But on the whole there aren't a lot of vegetables in his diet -- at least the part he described in his diary.

Jane O, yes, it must have been a very long time between fresh vegetables and fruit. I know that Evelyn, among others, was working to perfect growing things beneath cold frames and in glass houses to try to beat nature. So maybe dinner at his house wasn't such a trial after all!

Thank you, Vic! I'm sure you recognized that white-hot Virginia in July sky. :)

Finegan Antiques said...

What a plentiful and gorgeous garden! Oh I wish my garden was as splendid.

He was certainly a forward thinker for his time. I bet there were very few vegetarians at that time.


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