Loughborough University: ‘Sallets’ – how to eat healthily the 1600s way

By looking back to the sustainable self-sufficiency of the past, we find there is a lot we can learn about the variety of the historical salad dish, which costs next to nothing, has no carbon footprint and might even be beneficial to our health.

The diarist, writer, and gardener John Evelyn (1620-1706) pursued his interest in salads in the mid-to-late 17th century. His model both defined the dish very broadly and showed how you could live on home-grown salads all year round.

To Evelyn, the ideal kitchen garden was full of vegetables and fruits that could be grown simply and in great variety. Evelyn even published a whole guide to growing and preparing salads, Acetaria, A Discourse on Sallets in 1699. The words “sallet” came into English from the French “salade” in the 1300s and was in common use by the 1600s.

In Acetaria, Evelyn promotes a low-meat diet, insisting that those who live on herbs and roots live to a ripe old age. He cites classical philosophy to back up his arguments about the “the Wholeſomness of the Herby-Diet” – citing Plato and Pythagoras as examples of great thinkers who banished “flesh” from their tables. Evelyn was not interested in converting people to vegetarianism as such, declaring:

But this is not my Buſineſs, further than to ſhew how possible it is by so many instances and examples, to live on wholeſome vegetables, both long and happily.

In the past year, gardening and growing vegetables has enjoyed a resurgence as a family-friendly, outdoor pastime that can also help ease concerns over food shortages. While becoming totally self-sufficient is unlikely, Evelyn’s Acetaria has some tips that the green-fingered grower can use to feed their families and some advice that could help expand their harvests in an unlikely way.

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