Thursday, November 9, 2017

Gardening Books I Have Loved - Culinary and Salad Herbs

I didn't grow up with gardening. I always loved to be out-of-doors, and I loved plants. When I went to college, still loving plants, I studied botany.

All through my adult life, I have been lucky enough to encounter wonderful books about plants and gardening that have helped me along the way. Some of these books were not strictly "how to" books. When they were, they tended to be for regions of the country (or the world) that have very different conditions than where I live, so the instructions don't 100% work in my yard.

Instead of using them as instruction manuals, as I found them and absorbed what they had to offer, these books engaged my imagination, made me laugh, and showed me new ways of viewing gardening and plants.

This is one of those books:
Culinary and Salad Herbs: Their cultivation and food values with recipes, by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde. 1972, Dover. A republication of the original 1940 book published by Country Life Ltd, London, England.
My first gardening book. PHOTO/Amygwh
My Great Uncle Balfour, a man I had met only a few times in my childhood, lived in the same town where I was in college. One day, when I had walked across town to visit and share a pot of his Darjeeling tea, he gave me this book. He was going blind from macular degeneration and could no longer read, but he loved plants, too.

When his sight had begun to fail, using information from this book, he had replanted most of his garden with herbs. He didn't need to see the herbs to find the right ones for use in the kitchen. Scent was all the guide he needed.

Folded into the book are a couple of sheets of paper, with handwritten notes about the herbs in Uncle Balfour's garden. One sheet contains a seed list. In 1974, he paid 15 cents for a packet of sweet marjoram seeds.

The handwritten notes are a family treasure, but the book itself was a revelation. At that point in my life, I had no idea that people ate dandelions and purslane, but there they were, described in the book as though their use in the kitchen was commonplace. This was news! The book includes recipes for herb teas, herb cheeses, and herb vinegars. It also includes this astonishing bit of information about making a 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."

For someone whose experience of salad had, up to then, consisted of iceberg lettuce combined with bits of carrot and tomato, topped with some Green Goddess dressing, this requirement strained the brain. However, the rest of the book helped me see possibilities for the other 29 ingredients.

This is the very first gardening book I ever read, and it shone a light on my path forward into both gardening and using my own herbs and vegetables in the kitchen. Anyone else, new to gardening and loving plants, could do worse than to start with a regionally-inappropriate little book like this one.


  1. I love this post on so many levels. The bibliophile heart beats more strongly at the idea of you sharing more favorite gardening books. The historian in me loves the ephemera found in any books. And, the story shared of an interaction with family warms the remainder. Nicely told, without being maudlin, thanks for sharing, Amy.

  2. Thank you, Brian, for the kind comment. There are plenty of reference-type gardening books on my shelves that are totally useful but don't provide the same sense of revelation as this little book. As I find time, I will write about a couple more books that have shaped my thinking about plants, food, and gardening.


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