Veggie Tales

It’s not graceful, and it makes one hot,” wrote Elizabeth Countess von Arnim, busily planting her German garden in the 1890s, “but it is a blessed sort of work, and if Eve had had a spade and known what to do with it, we should not have had all that sad business of the apple.

This is a quote from the introduction of How Carrots Won the Trojan War: Curious (but true) stories of common vegetables, a book I am reading by Rebecca Rupp. Recommended to me by both garden designer Lucy Hardiman and Maurice Horn, co-owner of Joy Creek Nursery, how could I resist with a title like that!

I thought it might be fun to start a Random Acts of Gardening conversation about the book, sort of an online gardening book club. What do you think?

“Asparagus Seduces the King of France” is the title of the first chapter. The ancestral heritage of asparagus is in question, but is likely a native of the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor. Two years ago, at the Yard, Garden & Patio Show, I bought a few asparagus plants then read—belatedly—that a trench is required and it takes three years before edible stalks are produced, both of which prompted me to give them away to a more hardy and willing gardener. Today, I might be up for giving it a try.

Do you ever think about how the food you put in your mouth came to be in its modern form? I didn’t, but I’ll be more apt to now. The history is fascinating.

Here are a few things that I didn’t know about asparagus. If you read the book, tell us what you found fascinating (please!).

  • The ferny foliage looks leafy but, strictly speaking, isn’t; the narrow fronds are modified photosynthetic stems called cladodes or cladophylls.
  • The flowers of asparagus are gender-specific; male and female flowers are borne on separate plants.
  • Male asparagus is generally bigger, tastier and several times more productive than female plants.
  • Historically, asparagus was considered to have aphrodisiacal properties (not too surprising I suppose given its shape).
  • Peru is the world’s asparagus capital.

Next up is a chapter about “Beans Beat Back the Dark Ages.”