A world of sallats

These snippets come from Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife (1615).  Having outlined the moral qualities the early modern housewife must possess, Markham provides her with lengthy a chapter on cookery. What follows are some of his rather charming remarks regarding salad.

When it comes to cookery, the Housewife must be ‘cleanly both in body and garments, she must have a quick eye, a curious nose, a perfect taste and a ready care (she must not be butter fingered, sweet-toothed, nor faint-hearted).

Salads: ‘there be some simple and some compounded, some onely to furnish out the table, and some both for use and adornation. Your simple Sallats are Chibols (spring onions) pilled, washt cleane, and halfe of the green tops cut cleane away, so serv’d on a Fruit dish, or Scallions (shallots), Radish-roots, boyled Carrets, Skirrets (water parsnips), and Turneps, with such like served up simply. Also all young Lettice, Cabage lettice, Purslan, and divers other hearbes which may be served up simply, without anything but a little Vinegar, Sallat oyle, and Suger. So is Samphire, Beane-cods, Sparagus, and Coucumbers, served in likewise with Oyle, Vinegar, and Pepper, with a world of others, too tedious to nominate.

Your compound Sallats are first the young Buds and knots of all manner of whollsome hearbes at their first springing, as Redde-sage, Mints, Lettice, Violets, Marigolds, Spynage, and many other mixed together and then served up to the table with Vinegar, Sallet oyle and Sugar.  To compound an excellent Sallat which indeed is usual at great feasts, and upon Princes tables, take a good quantity of blauncht Almonds, and with your shredding knife cut them grossly, then take as manie Raisyns cleane washt, as many Figges shred like the Almonds, as many Capers, twice so many Olives, and as manie Currants as of all the rest cleane. A good handfull of the small tender leaves of red Sage and Spinnage; mixe all these well together with a good store of Sugar, and lay them in the bottom of a great dish. Then put unto them Vinegar and Oyle, and scrape more Sugar over all. Then take Oranges and Lemons, paring away the outward pills, cutte them into thinne slices and cover the Sallat all over. Which donne, take the fine thinne leaf of the red Coleflowere, and with them cover the Oranges and Lemons, then over those lay old Olives and slices of well pickled Coucumbers, together with the inward hart of your Cabage lettice cut into slives. Then adorn the sides of the dish and the top of the Sallet with more slices of Lemmons and Oranges and so serve up.

A salad good and daintie for the fine adorning of the table: Take your pots of preserved Gilliflowers, lay the shape of the flower in a fruit dish, then with your Purslan leaves, make the green Coffin of the flower, and with the Purslan stalkes, make the stalke of the flower and the divisions of the leaves and branches.  Then with thin slices of Coucumber make their leaves in true proportion jagged or otherwise; and thus you may set it forth some full blowne, some halfe blowne, and some in the budde which will be pretty and curious.  If you will set forth yellow flowers, take the pots of Primroses and Cowslips, if blew flowers then the pots of Violets, or Buglosse flowers, and these Sallats are both for shewe and use, for they are more excellent to taste than to looke on.

Now for Sallats for shewe only and the adorning and setting out of a table with numbers of dishes: they be those which are made of Carret roots of sundrie colours well boiled and cut out into many shapes and proportions, as some into knots, some in the manner of Armes, some like Birds, and some like wilde beasts, according to the art and cunning of the workman and these for the most part are seasoned with Vinegar, Oyle, and a little pepper.

A world of other Sallats there are, which time and experience may bring to our Housewifes eye.

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  • February 20, 2012 - 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Lovely photos Ivan!

  • February 20, 2012 - 1:03 pm | Permalink

    There is a section in my blog about sallets which has some useful information and photographs.



    Ivan Day

  • March 1, 2011 - 4:43 am | Permalink
  • February 12, 2011 - 3:15 am | Permalink

    Love the suggestions of “sallats” especially the idea of creating salads to appear like flowers and ones for decoration only with carrot roots cut out like beasts and knots. I am going to have to try some of these little floral jewels.

    Jennifer Duchene
    Home Makeover Mixtress blending Lifestyle and Laughter

  • February 9, 2011 - 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Ben. I’m thinking I might try out some historical salads. Early modern recipes are suprisingly similar to their modern day counterparts.

  • February 9, 2011 - 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating! I’ve seen ‘sallats’ mentioned in early modern books but I didn’t realize they had such historical continuity. Spinach salad with oil and vinegar really is a classic, it would seem…

  • February 9, 2011 - 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Early modern salad is a rather obscure subject… Thank goodness there are people like you who share my fascination.

  • February 9, 2011 - 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Well, your “niche subjects” are just great. Barbara

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