25 Annotations

First Reading

hazel-mary  •  Link

Fans of the diary may have noticed that Pepys rarely refers to vegetables only meat and fish. They did eat vegetables in the 17th century but probably these were less available in central London than in the countryside or on private estates. They were also less fashionable than today. Wealthy houses had kitchen gardens and many of the traditional English vegetables we eat today were grown although there were some suprising omissions - the potato had still to make a significant impact. Some vegetables, like artichokes, were also valued for their medicinal properties.

For anyone interested in the seventeenth century diet, the National Trust is currently restoring the kitchen garden at Ham House (home in the seventeenth century to the Countess of Dysart and her husband the Duke of Lauderdale) using the original plans. The kitchen garden will grow only vegetables eaten in the mid seventeenth century and using the techniques available at the time. This is an opportunity to visit a genuine seventeenth century house and gardens.

Ham House is on the Thames near Richmond in Surrey. The garden is open to the public when the house is open. Head gardener is Peter Clarke.

Glyn  •  Link

Ham House is very much worth visiting, and you can then take a 20 penny ferry ride across the Thames and visit Chiswick House as well.

This painting shows the range of vegetables that were grown in English gardens including pumpkins and melons (which surprises me, cherries, apples, etc but not potatoes or tomatoes. So there were a lot of greens (were they really that big?), but as Hazel says the richer you were the more meat you ate and the fewer vegetables:


language hat  •  Link

Latham's Companion on vegetables (pp. 143-44):
Vegetables and salads, brought in from the market gardens of Middlesex and Essex, were plentifully available in season to Londoners, and contemporary cookery books make much use of them. The fact that they appear only rarely in the diary

Mary  •  Link

Fruit and vegetables in season.

Let us not forget the importance of the words 'in season'. During the winter months there would only have been a very limited range of vegetables available to the average man; stored root vegetables, dried peas and beans from last season and perhaps some winter cabbage, probably pretty coarse and tough by February/March.

Apples were stored in autumn, but their quality would deteriorate as the year wore on and some varieties would not store at all.

Dried and candied fruit was available at a price, but its use was generally restricted to high days and holidays.

Oranges were certainly imported from Spain/Portugal, but they were regarded as recreational treats. Their quality could also be poor; orange-sellers were periodically accused of soaking and/or boiling their oranges in order to give them the appearance of plump juiciness before sale.

Andrea  •  Link

Fruits & Vegetables

They did have all sorts of fruit and vegetables then. In John Tradescant's garden (one of the most eminent botanists and plant collectors in the early 17th c.) were 48 varieties of apples, 45 pears and 33 plums. A great garden would always had an orchard.
I think we might underestimate how much one could actually already buy in a city like London...

mvincent  •  Link

veggies: "Radishes" get the lead in on May 2 1660 .

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

I came across this wonderful article about all things gardening in Charles II's time, with shout outs to people and things discussed in the Diary, including John Evelyn's visit to Horseheath Hall, Cambridgeshire, home of William, 3rd Baron Alington MP, and the set up for the Royal gardener (a position that included an apartment at St. James's Palace), and the approximate cost of a pear tree in 1670. The variety of fruit trees available is astounding ... many more than we have today!


San Diego Sarah  •  Link

“The use of plants is all our life long of that universal importance and concern that we can neither live nor subsist with any decency and convenience, or be said, indeed, to live at all without them. Whatsoever food is necessary to sustain us, whatsoever contributes to delight and refresh us, is supplied and brought forth out of that plentiful and abundant store. And ah! how much more innocent, sweet, and healthful is a table covered with those than with all the reeking flesh of butchered and slaughtered animals. Certainly man by nature was never made to be a carnivorous animal, nor is he armed at all for prey and rapine, with jagged and pointed teeth and crooked claws sharpened to rend and tear, but with gentle hands to gather fruit and vegetables, and with teeth to chew and eat them.”
-- John Ray (1629 – 1703) - author of The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1691). p. 309

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

If the English colonists knew how much pumpkin they’d eat when they got to New England, they might have had second thoughts about going. That’s not to dismiss the pumpkin’s many fine qualities. It’s just that some colonists got sick of eating the fruit they called pompion, especially during the winters.

For many, pompions made the difference between starvation and survival. Colonists grew them easily and in abundance, and they could store pumpkins all winter.

A colonial cook could do just about anything with a pompion: make pies, stews, tarts, soups and puddings. Or she could boil, roast, fry or mash them. She could dry the seeds and salt them.

Here are some things you may not know about pompions:

1. The early colonists ate so much pompion they included it in the first American folk song, "New England Annoyances, or Forefathers Song":

"Instead of pottage and puddings and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies;
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it was not for pumpkins we should be undone!"

2. In time, New Englanders became known as ‘Pompkins.’
‘Pompkinshire’ described ‘Boston and its dependencies,’ according to Francis Grose in A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in London in 1796.

3. Pumpkin is a diuretic, as a 17th century traveler named John Josselyn pointed out in his 1671 book, New-England’s Rarities. “It provokes Urine extreamly,” wrote Josselyn (he was right), and ‘is very windy’ (it isn’t).

4. Henry David Thoreau possibly grew the first giant pumpkin in America. He wrote in "Wild Fruit" that in the spring of 1857: “I planted six seeds sent from the Patent Office and labelled, I think, Potiron Jaune Grosse – Large Yellow Pumpkin (or Squash). Two came up and one has become a pumpkin which weighed 123 ½ pounds. The other bore four weighing together 186 ¼ pounds. The big pumpkin ‘took a premium at the Middlesex Show’ that fall.”

5. The Pilgrims at Plimoth Plantation likely ate stewed or baked pompion, rather than pompion pie.
Pumpkin pie came into its own in the late 18th century, and Abigail Adams had a recipe for using molasses rather than sugar, which made the pie a bit tart.

6. Pumpkins have many health benefits, which may have kept the early colonists alive.
Native Americans used them to treat urinary infections and intestinal worms.
Pumpkins have lots of fiber (which can lower blood pressure), Vitamin A (which aids vision), Vitamin C, potassium (which balance electrolytes) and beta-carotene (which may help prevent cancer).
Pumpkin seeds have antioxidants (reduces inflammation). They are linked to a reduced risk of cancer and are high in magnesium (reduces blood pressure); and they’re loaded with tryptophan (promotes sleep).
They may also improve insulin regulation in diabetics.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


7. People probably made the first jack o’lanterns from turnips or mangelwurzels (a kind of beet).
Making jack o’lanterns at Halloween started in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. The illuminated vegetables supposedly warded off evil spirits.
The custom then spread to England.
Then it came to America, where John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem in 1807 about carving pumpkins.
The word ‘jack o’lantern’ originally described will-o-the-wisp, or strange light flickering over peat bogs.

Recipes and the lyrics to the song are linked in the original article.


San Diego Sarah  •  Link

An article about a fruit I had never heard of before this morning ... the medlar ... may have been a source of relief to Elizabeth during her monthlies.

However, I believe I have seen the beautiful trees, which are described as being resplendent in green, orange and red leaves in the autumn, and to be found throughout Europe. (The one pictured is lovely.)

'The 17th Century botanist and doctor Nicholas Culpeper wrote that the medlar could be help women "when their courses flow too abundant", and a poultice made from the dried fruit, beaten and mixed with cloves, nutmeg, red coral and the juice of red roses could be applied to ease the stomach.'

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Pepys never mentions the pomegranate in the Diaries, but they were known in England:

Exodus 39:24 says pomegranates “of blue, purple and scarlet yarn” were embroidered around the hems of the priests’ robes, so there must be some priestly symbolism attached to the fruit. Apparently they are a favorite food in the courts of heaven.

Queen Catherine of Aragon included pomegranates in her coat of arms, and may be why people still leave gifts of the fruit by her tomb in Peterborough Cathedral.

Did you know that The pomegranate has 613 seeds, the number being significant in Jewish tradition? The fruit is traditionally eaten on the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashonah), and so I would assume they were being imported in the Autumn to London at least by the 1660s.

The pomegranate is a significant fruit. The name of Granada is derived from the Spanish Granata meaning Pomegranate. Granada was the centre for Sephardic Jewish culture until the year 1066, when a massacre occurred there.

And if you want to know the traditional method to cut and eat a pomegranate:
First, you cut a circle through the skin around the top of the fruit and lever it off. This reveals the lines that naturally divide the inner fruit into segments, like those of an orange.
Secondly, you make between four and eight vertical cuts following these lines.
Thirdly, you prise the fruit open, like some magic box or ornate medieval casket, to reveal the glistening trove of rubies inside, attached to segments radiating like the rays of a star.
After that it is easy to remove the yellow pith and eat the tangy fruit that is appealingly sharp and sweet at the same time, with a compelling strong aftertaste. DO NOT GET IT ON YOUR CLOTHES.


San Diego Sarah  •  Link

“My salad days, when I was green in judgment.” -- William Shakespeare (1564-1616) – "Antony and Cleopatra" when Cleopatra refers to her prior relationship with Julius Caesar. So the word salad was known in 1606.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

A lecture about root vegetables in the 16th and 17th centuries, the purple, orange and white carrots in particular, points out that eating root vegetables was not only dangerous ... many are toxic, but look and smell like their edible neighbors ... plus the names for carrots, parsley and parsnips was the same at that time.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

John Evelyn's Diary – he and Mary Browne Evelyn live at Sayes Court, Deptford.



6th December, 1658.
Now was published my "French Gardener," the first and best of the kind that introduced the use of the olitory garden to any purpose.


Latin olitorius, holitorius, from olitor, holitor vegetable gardener, from olus, holus potherb

This books must not have been Evelyn's best: he never mentions it, before or afterwards, in his Diary.

Full title, "The French gardiner: instructing how to cultivate all sorts of fruit-trees, and herbs for the garden ... Written originally in French [by Nicolas de Bonnefons], and now transplanted into English, by John Evelyn ... Illustrated with sculptures. Whereunto is annexed, The English vineyard vindicated by John Rose [or rather, compiled by Evelyn from material supplied by Rose] ... with a tract of the making and ordering of wines in France" [signed: J. Evelyn].

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"This done we went to a place we had taken to sup in, where a sallet and two or three bones of mutton were provided for a matter of ten of us which was very strange." -- Pepys dinner at The Hague on 14 May, 1660.

There's discussion about what the word "sallet" entailed starting at
https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/… .

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

'It can be hard to find evidence of exactly how potatoes were cooked for Shakespeare’s lifetime because not only are there not many surviving recipes, [as], “they often get confused with the sweet potato, Ipomea batatas.” When they are cooked:
'They were baked or "sodden with wine", boiled and eaten with oil, vinegar and pepper: or made into a pie, usually with the medieval seasoning of sugar, pepper, ginger, nutmeg and saffron.

'Even in 1719, they are described as being “of less note than horseradish, radish, scorzoners, beets and skirrets: but as they have their admirers, I will not pass them by in silence”.

'... a recipe from the 1650’s from Rabbisha’s Complet Cookebooke which put them in a pie with beef marrow, eryngyoes, spices and sugar with raisins …

'Ordinary people usually ate bread with things like oats or dried broad beans and dried peas made into pottage – probably mostly similar to Mushy Peas which is a traditional food in English pubs, usually eaten with faggots (little balls made from pig’s heart, liver and lights wrapped in caul fat) – usually served after some sort of sporting match such as darts or long-alley skittles.
'If you were rich you ate skirret as a root vegetable, with parsnips or turnips.
'Skirret is an umbelliferous plant with white flowers about 5 ft. tall, perennial – you can dig a root up, leave a bit and it grows again. It tastes good but has a little stringy bit in the middle which sticks in your teeth!'


San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Sir Walter Raleigh's wiki entry says "Raleigh is credited with bringing potatoes back to England and Ireland.[11] Potatoes would later play a big role in Irish farming and culture."
11 -- "Sir Walter Raleigh | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 6 June 2023.

So I checked that reference: "Discouraged, they [Roanoke colonists] returned to England in 1586 with a fleet under the command of Francis Drake. They brought back two crops that had never before been seen in England: potatoes and tobacco." Whoever wrote the Wiki entry didn't read his own citation!

To my dismay I find elsewhere that the story about Raleigh (or Drake) bringing back potatoes from South America to Britain is a myth. The British reluctantly adopted them from the Spanish, who had brought them back from South America. Giving Sir Walter the credit was a way of making them more acceptible at least a century later. Closer to our time, I remember Raleigh cigarettes. There are few new marketing tricks:

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

If you stole a pineapple today, you’d likely end up paying a small fine, but the punishment for pineapple theft was far more severe between the 16th and 19th centuries in Britain.

Pineapples were first introduced to the European continent in the late 1400s, and rapidly gained popularity as a rare — and expensive — luxury among the elite.

Growing pineapples on British soil proved challenging, and few made it back from their Atlantic colonies without spoiling. This made the fruit all the more desirable, and by the 1770s, the most expensive pineapples were valued around £60 to £80, or roughly $17,000 to $23,000 today.

The scarcity and value of pineapples meant they were the target of many thieves, and given the high cost of each pineapple, those who were caught were subject to heftier fines and punishments than people who stole more common, inexpensive foods such as bread.

By the late 18th century, farmers figured out how to grow pineapples on British soil, and many hired security guards to protect their crops. Still, criminals remained determined to get their hands on the valuable fruit.
In 1807, a man named John Godding was charged with stealing 7 pineapples, and was sentenced to 7 years in an Australian penal colony.

Eventually, pineapple rental shops began appearing throughout Britain, allowing middle-class Brits to borrow pineapples to be used as centerpieces at parties.

By the latter half of the 19th century, Britain was importing more of the fruit than ever, and advances in refrigeration and canning made pineapples easy to come by.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

More on pineapples ...

Pineapples, sometimes known as “king’s fruit,” were one of British society’s most sought-after status symbols for 250 years. They were often displayed at dinner parties on special plates but typically weren’t eaten. Hosts saved thousands of dollars by renting pineapples instead of buying them — one pineapple cost a whopping £60 (around $17,000 today) in the mid-17th century.

The fruit earned its luxurious reputation during the 16th century, when it was first imported from the Caribbean, and by the 18th century, growing pineapples became a pastime of the upper class.


It's the second article on the page.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

There’s a reason why the humble tomato used to be known by the far more sinister moniker of “poison apple”: Europeans feared tomatoes for centuries and believed they were poisonous.
As recently as the 18th century, it was thought that aristocrats were falling ill and even dying after eating tomatoes — a misconception stemming from the use of pewter plates, which contained high lead content. The fruit, which is highly acidic, would leach that lead and then poison the unlucky eater.

The fear of tomatoes was just as prevalent across the pond, where some American farmers believed that the green tomato worm was “poisonous as a rattlesnake” (in the words of one New York farmer). An entomologist named Benjamin Dann Walsh eventually set the record straight, writing that the insect in question was “merely an ugly-looking worm which eats some of the leaves of the tomato,” and by the late 1800s, more people began to appreciate tomatoes for the nutritious treat they are.


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