Now that my latest book A Splendidly Smutty Dictionary of Sex has now hit the bookshops. I am returning to another project – a look at the role of vegetables in history. It may sound dull but it is certainly not. Have a quick look at the humble lettuce….
Samuel Johnson in his “On the Famous Voyage” (1612) warns against approaching the public privies of London when “Laxative lettuce” is in season. This poem according to the late American academic, Richard Helgerson “ is among the filthiest, the most deliberately and insistently disgusting poems in the language,” – marvellous, I urge you to go out and buy it.
Meanwhile, Henry Peacham, in The Complete Gentleman (1622), explains why the Spanish eat so many salads: “Being by constitution hot and dry, they are not able to digest more solid meats.”
And finally, the lettuce is un-English, according to Thomas Gainsford’s The Glory of England (1618). In answer to the question why Italian animals are so “few, and leane,” Gainsford explains that “the Italians devour the grasse in sallets, and rob the pastures to deceive the poor cattle.”
But it is all not bad news
Dioscorides, the first-century Greek naturalist who served as a surgeon to Emperor Nero’s soldiers, wrote that lettuce would protect lonely enlisted men from dreams filled with “libidinous images.” And the wonderfully dour John Evelyn’s in his Acetaria (1699) lists among the many admirable qualities of lettuce is its “beneficial influences on morals, temperance, and chastity.