This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
It is an essential requirement for the body's health that chemical changes shall take place in the blood as to its salts of potash, and soda, for setting free the carbonic acid gas with which these earths are combined. In order to effect such chemical changes Salads, or their equivalents, are needed, otherwise the said gas becomes difficult of excretion, and proves more or less poisonous. John Evelyn, in his quaint Acetaria, or Book of Sallets (1706), puts the matter thus: "We see how necessary it is that in the composure of a Sallet every plant should come in to bear its part without being overpowered by some herb of a stronger taste, but should fall into their place like the notes in music".
Therefore it was the comical Magister Cook introduced by Damoxemus, when asked (Attice) "What harmony is there in meats?" answered, "That very same that a diatesseron, and diapason, have to one another in a consort of music." Again, "Raw Sallets, and herbs have experimentally been found to be the most sovereign diet in that epidemical with us, and almost universal contagion, the scorbute, to which we of this nation, and most other Islanders are obnoxious; yet since the Nasturtia (Cresses) are simply, and alone, as it were, the most effectual, and powerful agents in conquering, and expunging that cruel enemy, it were proper to show what remedies there are contained in our magazine of Sallet plants, upon all occasions rightly marshal'd, and skilfully applied." The lesser garden vegetables, put together uncooked in a bowl so as to be temptingly and toothsomely combined, form Salads, which are both salubrious, and appetizing. The Lettuce usually takes the lead therein, Cresses being added, Beetroot, Endive, Spring Onions, Radishes, and sometimes a few fresh, young Dandelion leaves.
As such vegetables, when eaten raw, are apt to ferment in the stomach, and as they have very little stimulating power on that organ, some condimentary dressing is usually intermixed with them, as pepper, salt, mustard, etc.; vinegar also is added, not only for its grateful sharpness, but, further, because of its solvent action on the fibrous parts of stalk, leaf, and root, which are otherwise somewhat indigestible. Lucca Oil is considered by most persons a necessary complement, though it tends to prevent access within the stomach of digestive juices to the inner substance of the vegetables, and therefore makes the salad disagree with weakly folk. "Salad Oyl," as Evelyn teaches, "should not be high-coloured, or yellow, but of a pallid olive-green".
Pepper (Piper) being of approved virtue against all flatulency, and generally all crudities whatsoever, is a never to be omitted ingredient of our sallets, provided it be not too minutely beaten (as oft we find it) to an almost impalpable dust; which is very pernicious, and frequently adheres, and sticks in the folds of the stomach, where, instead of promoting concoction it often causes a Cardialgium, and fires the blood; it should therefore be grossly contused only." A French proverb pertinently says: -
"Qui vin ne boit apres Salade Est en danger d'etre malade".
Respecting vinegar, it must be noted that this, as practically a mineral acid, is of fixed composition, and does not undergo disintegration when taken with foods, like the organic acids of fruits, and vegetables; in nearly all of which the potash is combined therewith, and is given off into the blood during digestion. "Sometimes, because of the fruits being acid (though readily disintegrated by the stomach,) I.have found it advantageous to throw half a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of potash into a tumblerful of water containing the fresh juice of a lemon, and have even added it to stewed, or baked rhubarb, and to stewed gooseberries; in these latter it froths like whipped cream, and lessens the demand for sugar, any excess of which is harmful to goutily-disposed persons. But I must conclude my sermon on the potash text by adding that it is quite possible to take too much of this alkaline solvent, especially as a drug from the chemist, which is in any excess depressing to the vital powers " (Thudicum). The Salad Oil must be thoroughly good, quite clear, and transparent, whilst entirely free from any rancid smell, and the paler this oil is the better.
Such white deposit as is sometimes seen in Salad Oil is vegetable albumin, which ought to have been refined out, as it prevents the oil from keeping sweet. Lucca Oil, which has a peculiar "nutty" flavour, is the best.
One of our historians tells us that in Old English days the life of our ancestors was coloured with a broad rosy English health; but this statement is open to question, since a large consumption of flesh meat, barely qualified by a scant supply of fruit, and vegetables, can scarcely have conduced them to a pure state of their bodily system. As a matter of fact, inflammatory diseases, and skin diseases were rife at those times; there were yet lepers in the land; and, rightly or wrongly, the public generally believed in heroic treatment for warding off sickness; so the barber-surgeon flourished then, and bleeding, blistering, and cupping were among the common experiences of everyday life. Before the introduction of the Potato, and the extended cultivation, and use, of other garden vegetables which are now common, the need of anti-scorbutics was very widely felt. Herb drinks were religiously taken in the spring to purify the system after the salt meat of the long winter months.
Those several vegetables which have just been particularized as commonly used in making a Salad, do not need to be taken again into detailed consideration, each being already described in its alphabetical place. Endive (Cichorium), and the Dandelion (Taraxacum) are subsidiary for persons disposed to sluggish action of the liver, each being a helpful solvent of bile. The former, a Succory, of two varieties (plain, and curled), is chiefly cultivated for Salad uses in the winter, and spring, "when, as being whited (bleached), they are the more tender, and delicate, "very pleasing to the stomach, refreshing the weake, and fainting spirits;" so Gerarde has said. The dwarf white Batavian sort is the more delicate in flavour. The fleshy leaf-ribs of Endive (Cichorium endivia) contain 1/4 per cent of sugar. Endive is of several sorts, - the white, the green, and the curled. It is distinguished from Chicory by its less bitter taste, and by its annual root. For a puree of Endive: "Wash, and remove the outer leaves from one cut Endive; have ready a saucepan only just full enough of fast-boiling salted water; throw the vegetable in, and allow it to cook quickly until tender; then drain it thoroughly, and mince it very finely.