BLTC Press Titles

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Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment

Rudolf Steiner

The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

Vanity Fair

William Thackery

May Byron's vegetable book

by May Clarissa Gillington Byron


It may simply mean something that grows out of

the earth, as distinguished from something animal

that walks about on the earth, or something mineral,

which (to all appearanoes, but these are deceptive)

doesn't either move or grow. If you look in a

dictionary, that (as usual) confuses the matter still

more, for it says that vegetable is from the Latin

vegetus, or lively (I), and vegere, to move or

quicken (1!), and vegetabilis, animating (!!!). There

couldn't be anything farther removed from one's

ordinary notions of a vegetable. However, on

mature consideration, one is brought back to the

idea that a vegetable has grown, moved, developed

out of the earth, just as I said at first. I refuse

to call it lively, but we must allow that it has

"growed." And as to " animating "—well, Huxley

said that every plant was a spirit confined in a

wooden case. Pythagoras forbade his disciples to

eat beans, because of his peculiar doctrines about

the transmigration of souls. . . . We are wandering

away from the point, and getting into deep waters.

Let me restrict myself by stating that this book

deals with


They may be leaves, like cabbage; or roots, like carrots; or shoots, like asparagus; or bulbs, like

onions; or stalks, like celery. They may be tubers, like potatoes; or fruits, like tomatoes; or thistleheads, like globe artichokes; or seeds, like peas; or flowers, like broccoli. The central fact about them all is that they can be eaten, and they (mostly) must be cooked.

The use of vegetables as eatables is a singularly intermittent affair. Roughly speaking, it is confined as a rule to the hotter countries, and the poorer peoples. It is a result of poverty, of climate, or of ultra-civilisation; for man in an aboriginal condition eats flesh meat if he can get it. Roots and fruits and leaves are not his primary idea of food. The "green herb of the field " ceased to be his natural sustenance at a given prehistoric period. Still, there are wild tribes who cultivate grains and vegetables of sorts—because flesh meat is so scarce for them.

The oldest vegetables, from a gardening point of view, are, so far as I can ascertain, (1) the CucurbitacecB—gourds, melons, cucumbers, etc. (which, of course, are, properly speaking, fruits)—known to the Semitic races, the ancient Egyptians, and the American aborigines; (2) the Leguminosce—peas, beans, lentils—which were known to the Bronze Age people, and immensely popular with the Semitic and Egyptian races, not to mention the earliest Greeks and Romans; (3) the Attium or Onion tribe (belonging to the Liliacece), of practically similar antiquity; (4) the Brassicce or Cabbage family; (5) root vegetables, such as parsnips, carrots, beets, etc.; (6) asparagus; (7) skirrets; (8) potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes. The above, of course, is only a rough r6sum6, and further particulars will be found in the Notes attached to each vegetable throughout this book.

In Europe, with the fall of the Roman empire, vegetables seem to have declined in popular favour; and, apparently, they did not regain their old footing until after the Renaissance. The spread of classic literature was also the spread of classic vegetables. Exhumed out of long neglect, from the fourteenth century onward, one finds vegetables being more and more cultivated, and slowly, very slowly introduced from one country to another. We, after our usual habit, were the last of all to profit by these developments, although a large number of the vegetables in question already grew freely as wildings in this fruitful isle.

Our ancestors of the Middle Ages—such as were well-to-do—did not, indeed, take much notice of vegetables, except as salads. The robust and sturdy Elizabethans added copious "salletings " to their bill of fare, but even the potato was at first regarded as a mere medium for conveying the Elizabethans' beloved and all-important sugariness. They expended their ingenuity and their appetite upon fish, flesh, and fowl, elaborately spiced and seasoned; all very well for those to eat vegetables who could get nothing better. Gerarde experimented, in his Holborn garden, with the "loveapple," or tomato; Parkinson interested himself in new and rare productions like the cauliflower. But those who could afford it, preferred meat; and ginger was "hot i' the mouth, too," with most meat dishes.

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