Good enough to eat

Ed­i­ble flow­ers are back in vogue and on our plates– Mark Grif­fiths cel­e­brates the wel­come re­turn of salad days

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Ed­i­ble flow­ers are back in vogue and on our plates, says Mark Grif­fiths

SALAD, to Shake­speare, said ‘maid­ens’. In All’s Well That Ends Well, the old Lord Lafew re­marks of He­lena: ‘’Twas a good lady; ’twas a good lady. We may pick a thou­sand sal­lets [sal­ads] ere we light on such an­other herb.’ In Antony and Cleopa­tra, the queen re­calls the thresh­old of her wom­an­hood as ‘My salad days/when I was green in judge­ment, cold in blood’.

‘It was a gar­den in a dish, a col­lage of the trea­sures of the “prime”’

Two facts help to ex­plain the con­nec­tion: in the 1600s, ‘green’ meant in­ex­pe­ri­enced, as it does to­day, and medicine held that cold was the gov­ern­ing qual­ity of both salad and vir­gins. How­ever, Shake­speare was also pay­ing warm trib­ute to these young women. In his day, salad was spe­cial, de­sir­able, a thing of beauty, bright colours and sharp flavours. It was a gar­den in a dish, a col­lage of the trea­sures of the ‘prime’, that is, spring to early sum­mer, the sea­son iden­ti­fied with youth’s charms and prom­ise.

It might be com­posed of any of an im­pres­sive ar­ray of fresh greens, raw aro­matic herbs and cooked and cooled veg­eta­bles. By now, salt, salad’s orig­i­nal dress­ing and the rea­son for its name (from Latin, sal), had been joined by vine­gar and olive oil. The lat­ter’s in­creas­ing use bore witness to our ex­pan­sion as a trad­ing na­tion. So did sev­eral of the grace notes that gave sal­ads pres­tige and fin­ish: olives, al­monds, ca­pers, raisins, or­ange seg­ments, sugar and pep­per. The most grace­ful notes of all, how­ever, were homegrown.

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