HOW HAS WHAT WE EAT CHANGED OVER THE CENTURIES?
Several foods we love today were treated with great suspicion when they were first introduced. Potatoes and tomatoes, both members of the deadly nightshade family, were considered highly dangerous and, in the case of potatoes, with some reason – the fruits of the potato contain high levels of solanine. Who wanted to be first to try the tomato or ‘poison apple’, which looked just like potato fruit? Even rebranded as ‘love apples,’ tomatoes got a bad rap when people fell ill after eating them. It was many years before the real culprit was discovered to be the lead in pewter plates, reacting with the acid in the tomatoes.
Runner beans were first introduced as ornamental plants. Other modern staples, such as peanuts, root vegetables, oysters and – incredibly – lobster, were considered food fit only for the poor.
There’s no need for us to be smug, though. For centuries, most country folk could identify every edible berry, branch, root and fungus. Few of us would trust ourselves to gather hedgerow food today.
Sir Francis Drake brought the potato back from the Americas
Little George Washington may well have been an honest boy, but his biographer certainly wasn’t