Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets by John Evelyn


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Page 1

_Foreword to Acetaria_

John Evelyn, famous for his "Diary," was a friend and contemporary of
Samuel Pepys. Both were conscientious public servants who had held minor
offices in the government. But, while Pepys' diary is sparkling and
redolent of the free manners of the Restoration, Evelyn's is the record
of a sober, scholarly man. His mind turned to gardens, to sculpture and
architecture, rather than to the gaieties of contemporary social life.
Pepys was an urban figure and Evelyn was "county." He represents the
combination of public servant and country gentleman which has been the
supreme achievement of English culture.

Horace Walpole said of him in his Catalogue of Engravers, "I must
observe that his life, which was extended to eighty-six years, was a
course of inquiry, study, curiosity, instruction and benevolence."

Courtiers, artists, and scientists were his friends. Grinling Gibbons
was brought to the King's notice by Evelyn, and Henry Howard, Duke of
Norfolk, was persuaded by him to present the Arundel Marbles to the
University of Oxford. In London he engaged in divers charitable and
civic affairs and was commissioner for improving the streets and
buildings in London. He had charge of the sick and wounded of the Dutch
War and also, with the fineness of character typical of his kind, he
remained at his post through the Great Plague. Evelyn was also active in
organizing the Royal Society and became its first secretary.

In the country he spent his time studying, writing and in developing
his own and his brother's estates. He translated several French books,
one of them by Nicolas de Bonnefons was entitled "The French Gardener;
instructions how to cultivate all sorts of fruit-trees." Evelyn
undoubtedly knew another book of de Bonnefons called "_Les Delices de
la Campagne_." Delights of the country, according to de Bonnefons,
consisted largely in delights of the palate, and perhaps it was this
book which suggested to Evelyn to write a cookery-garden book such
as Acetaria. He also translated Jean de la Quintinie's "The Compleat
Gardener." His "Sylva, or a discourse of Forest Trees" was written as
a protest against the destruction of trees in England being carried
on by the glass factories and iron furnaces, and the book succeeded
in inducing landowners to plant millions of trees.

The list of Evelyn's writings shows a remarkable diversity in subject
matter. There was a book on numismatics and translations from the Greek,
political and historical pamphlets, and a book called "Fumifugium or the
inconvenience of the Aer and Smoke of London dissipated," in which he
suggests that sweet-smelling trees should be planted to purify the air
of London. He also wrote a book called "Sculpture, or the History of
Chalcography and Engraving in Copper."

Living in the country and cultivating his fruits and vegetables, Evelyn
grew to be an ardent believer in vegetarianism and is probably the first
advocate in England of a meatless diet. He was so keen on preparing
foods without meat that, like another contemporary, Sir Kenelm Digby,
he collected recipes. These, interspersed with delightful philosophic
comments and some directions about gardening, were assembled in the
little book Acetaria. This was published in 1699 along with the ninth
edition of the "Kalendarium Hortense," a gardener's almanac.

The material for _Acetaria_ was gathered as early as 1679 with the
idea of making it one chapter of an encyclopedic work on horticulture.
The _Plan of a Royal Garden_, was Evelyn's outline for that
ambitious work.

The recipes are unusual and delicious and some of them are practical
for today, especially for the owner of a garden where pot herbs are
cultivated. Evelyn uses the pot herbs for flavoring soups, egg dishes,
"salletts" and puddings. The eggs with sweet herbs prepared in ramikins
and the pudding flavored with the petals of calendulas are particularly

The book reveals his zest for living and the culture of his mind. It
also shows the thought and life of a country gentleman during the reign
of Charles the Second. Evidently, in Evelyn's home, the spirit of
scientific investigation prevailed and there was a delight in new ideas.
Evelyn supervised the garden and knew how to instruct the cook to
prepare new dishes.

Although Acetaria is a book of directions for gardening and cooking, it
is not the least didactic but is written in a discoursive style and with
a leisureliness and in a rhythm suited to the slow pace of a horse
trotting through the winding lanes of the English countryside. As we
read, we can almost see the butler bringing a fragrant pudding to the
family assembled around the dining table in the wood-panelled room. Or
again we can almost smell the thyme, mint, and savory growing in tidy
rows in the well-tilled and neatly ordered garden of John Evelyn.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 25th Aug 2019, 20:27