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The Scrivener: It Keepeth Away Drunkeness

"No doubt Samuel Pepys suffered from windinesse, with or without the help of boyled Carrots, but I surmise that Lettuce could have been a most beneficial salad ingredient for him, as it 'keepeth away drunkennesse which commeth by the wine','' writes the inimitable Brian Barratt.

Although it is not a very important piece of information Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary that on 14 May 1660 he ate sallet as part of his meal:

'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.'

Sallet is an old spelling of salad. 'Strange' might mean that he expected something more substantial as befitted his style.

The salad would have been different from what we are accustomed to nowadays, perhaps including items like samphire, elderberries and pickled fruits. Let's have a look at what John Gerard writes in his 'Historie of Plants' (1636) about some of the salad ingredients we are more familiar with.

Tomato

Tomatoes were new to Britain. The word did not appear in print until the early 1600s. Gerard uses their old name, Love Apples:

'In Spaine, and those hot Regions they use to eate the Apples prepared and boiled with pepper, salt and oyle: but they yeeld very little nourishment to the body, and the same naught and corrupt. Likewise they doe eate the Apples with oile, vinegre and pepper mixed together for a sauce to their meat, even as we in these cold countries doe Mustard.'

Tomatoes as an ingredient of salad are a relatively new idea, historically. Even in 1861, Mrs Beeton does not include tomatoes in her Summer Salad, which comprises lettuce, mustard-and-cress, radishes and cucumber. For her, their principal use is in sauces and gravy. Other than that, all she offers are recipes of baked and stewed tomatoes.

Lettuce

Gerard describes a most interesting benefit that may be had from eating lettuce after supper.

'Lettuce maketh a pleasant sallad, being eaten raw with vineger, oyle, and a little salt: but if it be boyled it is sooner digested, and nourisheth more. It is served in these daies, and in these countries in the beginning of supper, and eaten first before any other meate...

Notwithstanding it may now and then be eaten at both those times to the health of the body: for being taken before meat it doth many times stir up appetite: and eaten after supper it keepeth away drunkennesse which commeth by the wine; and that is by reason that it staieth the vapors from rising up into the head.'

Cucumber

Ladies might use cucumber slices to treat darkness and redness round the eyes but nowadays they do not consume a potage of oatmeal and cucumber to do the job:

'The fruit cut in pieces or chopped as herbes to the pot, and boiled in a small pipkin with a piece of mutton, being made into potage with Ote-meale, even as herb potage are made, whereof a messe eaten to break-fast, as much to dinner, and the like to supper; taken in this manner for the space of three weekes without intermission, doth perfectly cure all manner of sauce-flegme and copper faces, red and shining fierie noses with pimples, pumples, rubies, and such like precious faces.'

sauce-flegme = sauce phlegm = an inflamed facial swelling
pumples = pimples
rubies = red pimples
precious = a rare and obsolete usage meaning carbuncled.

Beetroot

There was a rather surprising and probably messy use for betroot:

'Being eaten when it is boyled, it nourisheth little or nothing, and is not so wholesome as Lettuce.

The juyce conveighed up into the nosthrils doth gently draw forth flegme, and purgeth the head.

... may be used in Winter for a sallad herbe, with vinegre, oyle, and salt, and is not only pleasant to the taste, but also delightfull to the eye.'

Onion

It looks as though Scallions, namely Spring onions and Shallots, were much preferred over onions:

'The Onion being eaten, yea though it be boiled, causeth head-ache, hurteth the eyes, and maketh a man dim sighted, dulleth the sences, and provoketh overmuch sleep, especially being eaten raw. ...There is also another small kinde of Onion, called Scallions... It is used to be eaten in sallads.'

Carrot

Carrots are not mentioned in the first edition of Gerard's book but were included in later enlarged editions. Orange carrots as we know them had not been fully developed. These comments refer to the yellow carrot:

'The roote is long thicke and single, of a faire yellow colour, pleasant to be eaten, and very sweete in taste. There are to be sowen in April; they bring forth their flowers and seeds the yeere after they be sowen.

The roote of the yellow Carrot is most commonly boyled with fat flesh and eaten. The nourishment therof is not much, and not very good; it is something windie, but not so much as Turneps, and doth so soone as they passe through the bodies. It doth breaketh and consumeth windinesse, provoketh urine, as doth the wilde Carrot.'

Incidentally, Mr Gerard comments that the Turnep 'is many times eaten raw, especially by the poore people in Wales, but most commonly boiled.'

No doubt Samuel Pepys suffered from windinesse, with or without the help of boyled Carrots, but I surmise that Lettuce could have been a most beneficial salad ingredient for him, as it 'keepeth away drunkennesse which commeth by the wine'.

Copyright Brian Barratt 2012

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