20150621-SaladDan Jurafsky's Medieval Salad
june 21, 2015

This salad comes from the days of castles and knights in shining armor - the fourteenth century, or 1390 to be exact. It is surprisingly modern and you can find something similar on the menu of many San Francisco restaurants right now: the ingredients are fresh, simply prepared and able to speak for themselves through a light dressing.

One of the things that makes this salad so delicious is salt (duh!), so it is no surprise that the English word for salad is based on exactly that. The Latin word sal means salted, and we see it in the names of foods that we still eat today, like salsa, salami and salad. Author Dan Jurafsky calls salt "the original food additive," because it improves flavor and aids in preservation, which enabled people to evolve from constant hunter gatherers into seasonal farmers thousands of years ago.

The ingredients for this salad are most likely to be cultivated in a garden or on a farm, though even today many of them can be harvested from the wild. The recipe comes from an ancient cookbook called Forme of Cury and is thought to be the first recipe for salad ever written in English. It is on p. 123 of The Language of Foodwith the more difficult Middle English words translated. I've also included it below.

The Language of Food does an incredible job of weaving together food, language and history into an enjoyable read exposing some pretty large misconceptions and con-jobs surrounding what we eat. For example, did you know that Ketchup is originally Chinese? Or that potato chips cost more depending on the number of times a negative phrase appears on the package? Or that a menu is basically an advertisement targeting a specific market? Really, it's all true. Dan Jurafsky has used computational linguistics to prove it.

But beyond marketing trickery and forgotten translations, Jurafsky eloquently points out how dependent we all are on each other, throughout the world, relying on discoveries and traditions shared between people over the years. The best of what makes us human is brought out in the words we use to talk about what we eat: our desire to live, love and be happy. And that is what makes the language of food so important.

Thanks to author Dan Jurafsky for joining us at 18 Reasons Food Lit, it was a real treat to have you there!  

Medieval Salad(adapted from The Language of Food, p.123):

Medieval Salad

I did my best to follow this original recipe from 1390, and used as many of the ingredients as I could find: butter lettuce, spinach, parsley, sage, mint, watercress, fennel and scallions. I'd love to try green garlic, but this time it was too late in the season to find any. Purslane is fun too, but I couldn't find that either.

Start by washing the leaves and herbs, tear the leafy ones into bite sized pieces and pull the leaves off the stems. Spin or pat them dry, then wrap in a towel and let them crisp in the fridge for a half hour or so. Slice the scallions, fennel, leeks and green garlic very thin. Then toss it all together in a bowl. If you aren't serving it right away, you can transport it like that and bring along olive oil, champagne vinegar, salt and pepper.

When you are ready to eat, sprinkle oil and vinegar sparingly on the salad, about twice as much oil as vinegar, add salt and pepper, toss and taste. Repeat if necessary.

Salat (c. 1390)

Take persel, sawge [sage], grene garlic, chibolles [scallions], letys, leek, spinoches, borage, myntes, porrettes [more leeks], fenel, and toun cressis [town cress, i.e., garden cress], rew, rosemarye, purslarye; laue and waishe hem clean. Pike hem. Pluk hem small with thyn honde, and myng [mix] hem wel with rawe oile; lay on vyneger and salt, and serue it forth.

 

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this recipe is from:

The Language of Food

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