Spring Vegetables

This is the second article in May of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on May 9, 1909, and is a talk on vegetables.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Spring Vegetables

IT IS a strong argument in favor of the theory of the “survival of the fittest” in each generation hat such a respectable percentage of our ancestors lived to a reasonably old age, when one reflects upon what they ate. True, recent publications embodying he results of the latest reports of scientific men convey the gratifying fact we have, as a race, gained nearly 10 years upon what was the average of human life 75 years ago. The gain, we are told, is largely due to improved medical and surgical methods, but yet more to sanitary conditions unknown to our grandsires and to intelligent observance of dietetic laws.

The fact remains that those hale old forbears lived, labored and died in a good old age (some of them) in circumstances we now consider as well-neigh fatal to mortal creatures. They slept on feather beds in chambers the windows of which were sealed up early in the winter by tacking list or pasting paper along the edges of the sashes and not reopened until the first of May. They ate salt pork and buckwheat cakes for six months of the year of the year; and from Nov. 1 to the middle of May subsisted upon what we now term “coarse vegetables,” to wit: Potatoes, cabbages, onions, turnips and, when they could get them, beets. Even these gave out for the most part before the winter was over, and what remained was rank, pithy and stale generally.


With all these odds against them, one granddame of my own is set down in the family genealogy as having died at 104 years of age, and for 10 succeeding generations her descendants had an average age of 75 years. In each generation one-fourth of them lived to be over 80.

Early hours, quiet lives and an abundance of fresh air they could not wholly excluded from their sleeping and living rooms had much to do with the longevity of the sturdy pioneers. Still, we marvel how they did it!

What has all this to do with “spring vegetables?” Much, every way. Chiefly because it is undoubtedly true that we owe the increased length of days and our better preservation into the prolonged period to the conditions I enumerated in the earlier sentences of our “talk.” Cereals and fruits as breakfast foods were unknown in those olden days, and the green vegetables that never leave our markets and tables from year’s end to year’s end were eaten by our forefathers in the short season that allowed them to grow in badly tended country gardens. With the first frost they vanished and were no more until the next summer.

Green Things.

Recollect well when celery was a rare delicacy even on the tables of well-to-do people. Now it is a daily visitor to the dinner tables of all who wish to have it. It should have a prominent place in our springtime menu. As a nervine it is of high value upon the dietary of those who have made nature’s “simples” a study. Women—also children—who have grown “unaccountably” (?) cross and sleepless after the winter’s double term of schooling should be encouraged to eat freely of celery. A tea made of the roots and outer leaves, and sweetened to taste, will act gratefully upon those troubled with insomnia. Celery is likewise beneficial to sufferers from nervous dyspepsia, gout and rheumatism.

Every bit of the bunch for which you pay 25 cents may be utilized. The heart-stalks are laid in ice water until served as an accompaniment—which is also a corrective—of meat. The outer and coarse parts are stewed or fried. They are good in either way. The tea I spoke of may be brewed from the roots and leaves.

Lettuce has cooling and soporific virtues. Seasoned as a salad and eaten with brown bread and butter, it acts directly upon the blood heated by “spring fever,” and when dipped into mayonnaise and laid between thin slices of buttered brown or white bread forms a delicious and wholesome sandwich.

The coarser outer leaves may go into the composition of the delicate and toothsome cream of lettuce soup that should be better known to our average housemother. “We” utilize the inferior qualities of lettuce by cooking them as we would spinach. This makes a popular and seasonable variety in spring dinners.

Spinach takes rank with dietitians among the most valuable of our esculents. It is a gentle purgative to the blood, clearing out the febrile deposits of the winter’s sluggishness and introducing new and vital elements. It improves the complexion, I remark incidentally, and containing, as it does, iron and salts of potassium, stimulates the jaded appetite. It is prepared for the table by boiling in a double kettle, adding no water except that which clings to the leaves after washing. When tender it is drained of the juices that would make it too watery, chopped fine and seasoned with butter, pepper and salt, a good tablespoonful of sugar, a dash of nutmeg, and at the last with a few spoonfuls of cream beaten well into the mass.

A Medicine.

Rhubarb, alias pie plant, is a good second to spinach in the work of making over the system for the coming season by ridding it of the accretions and secretions of the winter that clog blood and brain like the stagnant residuum of a freshet that has converted the banks and meadows of the stream into breeding places of miasma. Scrape the stalks of the plant; cut into short lengths and put over the fire in a double boiler, with no water in the inner vessel. As with spinach, the generous juices of the stalk will supply all the needed moisture. Do not sweeten until it has boiled tender. Take, then, from the fire, add plenty of sugar while the rhubarb is hot, and set aside to cool. To cook the sugar in the vegetable is to convert it into a preserve, injuring the flavor and lessening the beneficial effect of the fresh esculent. The specific action of rhubarb is upon the blood and kidneys.

It is highly recommended to persons suffering from an excess of uric acid in the system.

“A New Broom.”

Young onions are many degrees higher in the social scale of the vegetable tribe than the full grown, highly flavored elder of the same name. We have them gathered from our country cold frames as soon as they are as large as the end of a man’s thumb. As dear Charles Lamb says of his suckling pig on the spit: “He is a weakling; he is a flower.” The baby onion should be handled as tenderly. Boil it in two waters, drain, butter and smother affectionately with cream sauce. Elsewhere I have written: “For bilious complexions, influenza, insomnia and muddy complexions the value of the onion as a steady diet can hardly be overrated.”

Asparagus is another fine standby these early spring days, being a gentle sudorific; hence an accessory in the business of improving the skin and inciting the escape of bilious and feverish humors.

Tomatoes, cooked and raw, should, have driven the old-fashioned and always dangerous mineral drug out of the field of domestic practice. The fruit-vegetable contains a vegetable calomel that does the work of the drug, with none of the risks attendant upon the use of the older blood and stomach purifier which practitioners of the ancient school of healing leaned upon with all the weight gathered from tradition and faith. My memory runs back to the time when “a course of calomel” was part of the spring cleansing. Sometimes it was regarded as especially beneficial if succeeded by “salvation.” That diabolical result is, happily, unknown to this age. It involved a sore mouth, excess of saliva and, oftener than not, loosening of sound teeth. And this was healing!

Let us reckon among our causes for thanksgiving in the blessed, budding, bountiful springtime that we take our course of calomel in the guise of luscious red tomatoes, spicy pie plant, young onions that melt in the mouth, juicy asparagus and spinach—“the broom” that maketh clean the human system and without friction.

Marion Harland

Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

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