Thursday, January 20, 2011

'Brave Sallet'

Back in the late seventies, while I was in college, I walked across town a few times to visit a great uncle who lived in the same college town. He was almost completely blind from macular degeneration and had been giving away books. One day I walked home with an old two-volume dictionary set and a little Dover book called "Culinary and Salad Herbs."

The herb book was a 1972 reproduction of a 1940 British publication by Eleanor Sinclare Rohde. The book contains some information on growing herbs that isn't 100% applicable to growing herbs in Georgia, but it also offers a lot of simple recipes and a few tidbits of interesting information. These features are a couple of the great reasons to look more closely at older, "out of date" gardening books when they are available.

One page in particular caught my attention back when I first received the book, and it still kind of amazes me. This is what it says:

I think our ancestors would have had a poor opinion of the few ingredients that compose the modern salad. James II's head cook considered that there should be at least thirty-two ingredients, and a "brave sallet" contained more than that, for it was the decorative centerpiece of the table. John Evelyn gave it as his considered opinion that he "could by no means approve the extravagant Fancy of some who tell us that a Fool is as fit to be a gatherer of Sallets as a wise man," and his ideal housewife numbered among her virtues that she "could in a trice set forth an handsome sallet." She must have been a remarkable woman, for those of us with practical experience know that making an elaborate salad takes time.

I agreed with the author that the person who could set forth such a salad "in a trice" must have been remarkable. However, the little book also offers some shortcuts to achieving the "brave sallet." One is to use up bits of leftovers in the salad (little bits of meats, for example, or bean or macaroni dishes). Another is in the use of herbs. Herbs can easily overwhelm a salad, but she recommends using just a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped herbs, and having those be from a mix of leaves (one or two leaves each of whatever the garden provides).

Every year, I grow enough herbs to make the "brave sallet" possible, but I don't always use them as effectively as I think is possible. Just one more thing to think about . . .

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