Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Spring Soop

In my last post, I mentioned a peculiar breed of 18th century cookery books that catered to primarily to vegetable lovers.  Or did they?  For I fear, goodly reader, that many of these self-professed Pythagoreans delighted in vegetables more so out of necessity rather than out of hatred of beef-stake pyes and harricos of mutton.  Nope, meat didn't come cheap in those days.  But what were these cookery books all about?  Who read them?  What kinds of knowledge did they impart?

We know that they were remarkably savvy when it came to marketing themselves to target demographics.

"This little Treatise of Kitchen-Gardening is chiefly design'd for the Instruction and Benefit of Country People," opens the vegetable friendly Adam's Luxury and Eve's Cookery (1744) "who most of them have a little Garden spot belonging to their House, and at the same time let it lie useless, for want of knowing how properly to manage it..."

You've guessed it, reader.  The cookery book to the left isn't exactly in the same league as the botanical virtuoso Philip Miller's The Gardener's Dictionary ––  which I've discussed in previous posts.  No "Aegyptian Lettuces" or fancy cantaloupes discussed in this text.  To the contrary, this is much closer  to an early modern "Gardening for Dummies."  The section on "Melon," for example, pooh poohs the idea of enumerating all sorts of this fruit, as "there being annually new Sorts brought from abroad, a great many of which prove good for little."  Hmmmph.  Good old utility trumped exotic tastes.

While the first portion of the book explains how to cultivate a host of different vegetables and herbs at home, the remainder devotes itself to simple recipes that one could whip up in a minimal amount of time.  Flipping through the (electronic) pages yesterday evening, my appetite was piqued by recipe below:

Asparagus, you say?  Once considered a socially exclusive treat, the Enlightenment actually witnessed great strides in the democratization of this particular vegetable.  In 1727, Stephen Switzer, one of the most well-known horticulturists of the era, gushed over the considerable improvements made in the art of Salleting, pointing out that "the raising of the asparagus and artichoke, especially the first, has been the most advanced of any one vegetable the garden produces." He reveled in the fact that Britons could now enjoy them as late as Christmas, and that they were "near as green and as good as that which comes by nature."
It often comes up in cookery books as "Sparrow-Grass" too
Switzer's enthusiasm was infectious.  By the time I had finished the preface of his The Practical Kitchen Gardener, he was proclaiming visions of "asparagus piercing the ground in a thousand places," exclaiming:

"these! these! are the innocent and natural dainties, where they present themselves and grow for the nourishment and the delicious entertainment of mankind."

Time to start that asparagus soup.  I'll be the first to admit, however, that I didn't follow the above recipe to the letter.  I liked the idea of cooking a bunch of different green vegetables together (this is common in many 18th century soups) but I didn't include the beets, for I feared they would muddy the bright green color of the soup.  I also skipped the flour, since I wasn't really worried about the thickness.  I also threw in some leeks and shallots, and topped it off with creme fraiche and toasted pine-nuts.

It was good with a beer, too
My noble Readers should be informed that I greatly enjoyed this modest meal, and found it relatively healthful as well as pleasing to the palate.  Who says that the flavors of 18th century Britain can't occasionally be inspired by a 21st century San Francisco sensibility?