Love and Salad

Yorkshire Home

Rabbits are famous for two things: fecundity and a love of lettuce. While these two ideas are not commonly linked in modern times, that has not always been the case.

Symbols of modernity might more commonly be morbidly obese people eating ultra-processed foods at one end of the spectrum and starving models surviving on leaves of lettuce or a stick of celery at the other.

While obesity isn’t associated with toxic masculinity, the Atlantic carried a whole article on the ‘sexist’ nature of the modern salad.

Lettuce was, however, seen as an aphrodisiac by the ancient Egyptians.

The first book in English devoted entirely to salads was produced in 1699 by John Evelyn. The National Geographic cites Evelyn as praising the morality and chastity inducing properties of lettuce, as well as its health benefits.

We English were not even the first to write a book devoted to salads. This culinary honour was claimed by an Italian who wrote about salads in 1627, according to the Oxford Companion to Food.

The dressing described by Evelyn—Oyl-olive, vinegar, limon, and sliced horseradish—is remarkably similar to modern one I’ve been using during the lockdown.

Traditionally salads are neither the preserve of women nor especially sexist. Mrs Beaton makes frequent references to salads; from Roman times onwards, early writers and philosophisers on salad were men. Inventors of great salads—Waldorf, Caesar—equally men.

Poems have been written to salads:

Recipe for a Salad

To make this condiment your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two hard boiled eggs;
Two boiled potatoes, passed through kitchen sieve
Smoothness and softness to the salad give;
Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, half suspected, animate the whole;
Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment that bites so soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault
To add a double quantity of salt;
Four times the spoon with oil from Lucca crown,
And twice with vinegar, procured from town;
And lastly, o’er the flavoured compound toss
A magic soupçon of anchovy sauce.
O green and glorious! O herbaceous treat!
’T would tempt the dying anchorite to eat;
Back to the world he ’d turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad-bowl;
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
“Fate cannot harm me,—I have dined to-day.”

Sydney Smith

While lettuce may not be enough to revive the deceased, salads (and poetry) can be joyous.

Salads in France—bathed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, topped with hot bubbling golden goats cheese on crisp slices of pain à l’ancienne—are not inherently healthy; they are incredibly delicious.

Bulgaria and Greece have a variation of a cucumber, tomato, and salty white cheese salad as an almost essential accompaniment to meals. A combination of cucumbers and tomatoes is ubiquitous on tables throughout central and eastern Europe, and the middle east.

The content of salads—must they include lettuce, or not—is as hotly debated as the optimum time to eat salads—at the start, end, or accompanying a meal.

One thing we can agree on: eating unprocessed vegetables—even ones covered in vinegar and olive oil—is good for us.

Evidence from mediterranean diets is now supplemented by studies on ultra-processed food and weight gain. Being obese is a risk factor for any number of diseases, not exclusively the one currently terrorising the world. With the warm weather, it’s hard to find an excuse not to eat salads. We’ve made three salads as main meals so far. Each had the same basic vinaigrette: olive oil, vinegar, dijon mustard.

The crab salad was inspired by a desire to support British fisherman having trouble exporting crab. It was so tasty that by the time I started to eat my crab salad for a Skype dinner, I forgot to take a photo of the salad itself. I only have one I took for Yonguk of Dora enjoying hers earlier. Dora decided she didn’t like the crab or the avocado, but ate the lettuce.

The steak, beetroot, and rocket salad was the product of pregnancy cravings. Even though beetroot is Dora’s favourite colour red, it wasn’t enough to tempt her to finish it.

The octopus salad came about because we had a jar of octopus in the cupboard, and vegetables (courgette, peppers, and red onion) that needed using up. I'm still undecided on whether without lettuce it was more a side dish than a salad.

We’ve grown so enthusiastic about salad that we’ve planted lettuce in the back garden.

I doubt salad will replace champagne or chocolate in steamy romances; it just maybe part of lasting health and love.

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