Salad History and the Royal Society



Back in April I posted some thoughts on the first breaths of spring in the garden and the joy of gardening after a long, cold winter. Well it’s starting to pay off as last night I dug up some ‘taters, picked some peas and began to consume the rewards. That is all the tenuous excuse I need to post some more garden photos.

However, I consider myself to be in good Restoration company as gardens were of great importance to one of the best diarists from this time: John Evelyn. Evelyn was a courtier, virtuosi and one of the early members of the Royal Society. He was partiularly commited to the husbandry of natural resources. He wrote a number of in-depth works on the practice of gardening and on botany. Most famous is his treatise on forestry, Silva, which he submitted to the Royal Society and published in 1664.

The Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library, Othmer Library of Chemical History

From a gardening point of view it is the Kalendarium Hortense, or Gardeners Almanac, in which Evelyn plans out a month by month plan for the garden is most fascinating.

From The Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library, Othmer Library of Chemical History,

What is remarkable about this work is that you could pick it up today and use it as garden handbook, who needs Monty Don. In his own words:

Even more charming than ‘Hortense’ is another work by Evelyn which further shows how gardens were not just considered ornemental but as sources of edible delight. That’s right folks, like some 17th Century LA dietitian our own John Evelyn wrote a treatise on Salad, the marvelous ‘Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets’.

S allets in general conſiſt of certain Eſculent Plants and Herbs, improv’d by Culture, Induſtry, and Art of the Gard’ner: Or, as others ſay, they are a Compoſition of Edule Plants and Roots of ſeveral kinds, to be eaten Raw or Green, Blanch’d or Candied: ſimple–and per ſe, or intermingl’d with others according to the Seaſon. The Boil’d, Bak’d, Pickl’d, or otherwiſe diſguis’d, variouſly accommodated by the skilful Cooks, to render them grateful to the more feminine Palat, or Herbs rather for the Pot, &c. challenge not the name of Sallet ſo properly here, tho’ ſometimes mention’d;

Evelyn lists those herbs and vegetables most suited to cooking in ‘salads’ and gives cooking and cultivation tips, here is some of my fennel accompanied by his guidance:

Fennel, Fœniculum: The ſweeteſt of Bolognia: Aromatick, hot, and dry; expels Wind, ſharpens the Sight, and recreates the Brain; eſpecially the tender Umbella and Seed-Pods

For the cooks amongst you this is Evelyn’s table of herbs and their cooking method:

The advice doesn’t end there either, we are also given advice on the correct salad dressing (most of the the content and preperation of which has not changed these many centuries long):

Take of clear, and perfectly good Oyl-Olive, three Parts; of ſharpeſt Vinegar (ſweeteſt of all Condiments) Limon, or Juice of Orange, one Part; and therein let ſteep ſome Slices of Horſe-Radiſh, with a [79] little Salt; Some in a ſeparate Vinegar, gently bruiſe a Pod of Guinny-Pepper, ſtraining both the Vinegars apart, to make Uſe of Either, or One alone, or of both, as they beſt like; then add as much Tewkesbury, or other dry Muſtard grated, as will lie upon an Half-Crown Piece: Beat, and mingle all theſe very well together; but pour not on the Oyl and Vinegar, ’till immediately before the Sallet is ready to be eaten: And then with the Yolk of two new-laid Eggs (boyl’d and prepar’d, as before is taught) ſquaſh, and bruiſe them all into maſh with a Spoon; and laſtly, pour it all upon the Herbs, ſtirring, and mingling them ’till they are well and throughly imbib’d; not forgetting the Sprinklings of Aromaticks, and ſuch Flowers, as we have already mentioned, if you think fit, and garniſhing the Diſh with the thin Slices of Horſe-Radiſh, Red Beet, Berberries, &c.

In common with most of of the texts submitted in association with the Royal Society there is a strong apologetic message within many of Evelyn’s documents. The Royal Society had many detractors, particularly in its first few decades. Often such treatises were concerened with carefully setting out the argument for experimental and observational science and negating the suspision that their work was atheistical or ungodly. Acetaria is no exception, and Evelyn tries hard to argue that their research is worthwhile and also that the garden arts are fit for his courtly audience:

This Honor was reſerv’d for Your Lordſhip; and an Honor, permit me [pg] to call it, not at all unworthy the Owning of the Greateſt Person living: Namely, the Eſtabliſhing and Promoting Real Knowledge; and (next to what is Divine) truly ſo called; as far, at leaſt, as Humane Nature extends towards the Knowledge of Nature, by enlarging her Empire beyond the Land of Spectres, Forms, Intentional Species, Vacuum, Occult Qualities, and other Inadequate Notions; which, by their Obſtreperous and Noiſy Diſputes, affrighting, and (till of late) deterring Men from adventuring on further Diſcoveries, confin’d them in a lazy Acquieſcence, and to be fed with Fantaſms and fruitleſs Speculations, which ſignifie nothing to the ſpecifick Nature of Things, [pg] solid and uſeful knowledge; by the Inveſtigation of Cauſes, Principles, Energies, Powers, and Effects of Bodies, and Things Viſible; and to improve them for the Good and Benefit of Mankind.


And now, My Lord, I expect ſome will wonder what my Meaning is, to uſher in a Trifle, with ſo much Magnificence, and end at last in a fine Receipt for the Dreſſing of a Sallet with an Handful of Pot-Herbs! But yet, My Lord, this Subject, as low and deſpicable as it appears, challenges a Part of Natural History, and the Greateſt Princes have thought it no Diſgrace, not only to make it their Diverſion, but their Care, and to promote and encourage it in the midſt [pg] of their weightieſt Affairs: He who wrote of the Cedar of Libanus, wrote alſo of the Hyſop which grows upon the Wall.

To verifie this, how much might I ſay of Gardens and Rural Employments, preferrable to the Pomp and Grandeur of other Secular Buſineſs, and that in the Eſtimate of as Great Men as any Age has produc’d! And it is of ſuch Great Souls we have it recorded; That after they had perform’d the Nobleſt Exploits for the Publick, they ſometimes chang’d their Scepters for the Spade, and their Purple for the Gardiner’s Apron.


Amusingly,  the ground Evelyn treads is still being covered today, it seems that every generation needs pursuading of the nutritional benefits of fruit and veg. He goes on to explain the medicinal and nutritional benefits at length in terms that could quite easily come out of Gillian McKeiths mouth, well think gaseous emmissions (though she does not have the same excuse of lack of scientific evidence as our Restoration expert).

So next time you pick up a spade or prepare a salad remind yourself that youfollow well trodden and illustrious footsteps.


Happy the Man, who from Ambition freed,

A little Garden, little Field does feed.

The Field gives frugal Nature what’s requird;

The Garden what’s luxuriouſly deſir’d:

The ſpecious Evils of an anxious Life,

He leaves to Fools to be their endleſs Strife.

The Gent's 'taters

O Fortunatos nimium bona ſi ſua norint Horticulos!


7 thoughts on “Salad History and the Royal Society

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Salad History and the Royal Society « The Gentleman Administrator --

  2. Jennifer Stakes

    Fascinating, thank you.
    I did once hear that celery was introduced to Britain following the capture of a French General during the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. He was kept in some comfort and noticed the lack of the vegetable in the salads of the English. Intrigued, his captors imported some and the fashion quickly spread.

    1. The Gentleman Administrator Post author

      Great story, it’s funny you should mention celery because @lucyinglis tweeted about it being sold in London markets just last week. I’ve checked with her and her sources are post 1704, so i guess that fits with the tale. Raw Celery is somewhat evil though, isn’t it.

  3. Hels

    Quite rightly you noted that the ground Evelyn wrote about is still being covered today and that every generation needs pursuading of the nutritional benefits of fruit and vegetables. So my questions are:
    1.Who was the reading audience of John Evelyn’s publications, back in the latter half of the C17th?
    2.Was Evelyn considered mainstream in his thinking or did the medical and scientific community think of him as a fringe dweller?
    3.Even within the Royal Society, were people generally supportive?

    1. The Gentleman Administrator Post author

      It’s oddly reassuring, isn’t it. As to your questions I fear I probably can’t do them justice as I am no expert on print culture, though I have an interest.

      I think the primary audience would certainly have been members of the Royal Society in the first instance and Evelyn by 1699 had been a long serving and active member. I think the very nature of the organisation was that of peer review and support.

      But once published the book was accessible to the broader intellectual circuit and essentially anyone who could afford to buy them. Sam Pepys used to buy and read any book he thought of significance, or that would look good in his collection. one thing i find charming about reading in this period is that it was often done aloud, so its hard to say exactly who would be touched, inspired or bored by Evelyn’s work.

      How do we know how books circulated in 17th? Well some indications are numbers of reprints, sale inventories, inventories from wills etc. I don’t know any specifics for Evelyn’s popularity, but I’d love to find out, food for thought (ouch, excuse the pun). If I find out I’ll post some details.

      As to whether he was in the mainstream, I’m not sure. Certainly Samuel Hartlib had written on similar nutritional subject before Evelyn, so he wasn’t going out on a limb. I’m not sure we can really talk about a ‘mainstream’ though, but perhaps there was a set body of thought on the matter.

      The questions are great, and i’d love to answer them more precisely. Hope these thoughts are of some use.

  4. David Harley

    I seem to recall reading of broccoli in Evelyn’s diary, but I don’t have a copy to hand. This was a great age for new vegetables, as one can see from paintings of Dutch markets, which proudly display horn carrots and cauliflower.


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