The Secret History of Vegetables, by Martyn Cox

Martyn Cox was the speaker for our Club Night lecture this month, and he treated us all to a very entertaining evening.  Martyn has worked in gardening since he left school, and is best known as a gardening journalist – he writes for the Mail on Sunday, Amateur Gardening and Gardening News.

Martyn likes to add interest to the articles he writes on vegetables, by including lesser known facts amongst the more usual advice on how to grow and eat the produce.  Over the years he has built up quite a collection of these stories, and his lecture shared some of these anecdotes with us.

Firstly we learned just how long some of our vegetables have been around.  We saw mosaics from 300BC depicting bunches of asparagus that would not look out of place in today’s supermarkets.  We heard how dried peas were found in the tomb of Tutankhamum – clearly they were the food of kings.  And there are paintings of beetroot on the walls of Pompeii.

We also heard how some vegetables are celebrated – with tomato throwing festivals in Spain, the Hindhu worship of Basil, and how the Grecian athletes smeared onion juice on their bodies to increase their sporting prowess.

In a history a bit closer to home, we learned how carrots were promoted to the Brits in World War II – mainly because they were easy to grow.  They were said to improve the eyesight of pilots, and help you find your way round in the blackouts (all untrue, but useful propaganda).  And children deprived of sugar by rationing were given carrots on sticks instead of lollipops!

At the end we reflected on the fact that all the vegetables currently grown on our allotments and vegetable gardens have originated from abroad – many from ancient cultures and civilisations.  The humble veg patch is far more exotic than first meets the eye!