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