Discover the taste of '17th century modern salad'

A colourful seasonal salad using ingredients from Ham House's Kitchen Garden

Rainbow salads, filled with homegrown seasonal leaves, handfuls of herbs and edible flowers. Browsing the recipe sites this summer you’ll see salads of all shapes and sizes made with a seemingly endless list of sustainable ingredients. We can probably all agree it’s a wonderful way to celebrate summer – but it’s almost certainly not new.

Wind the clock right back, past even the health food revival of the 1960s, to the 1600’s and you’ll discover some of the very first salad sensations to hit these shores.

One of the star foodies of the time was John Evelyn, an English writer, diarist and gardener. Evelyn saw salad as an essential part of ‘civilized’ society. He was making the oil and vinegar dressings we now think of as continental all the way back in 17th century London. He even drew inspiration from Roman times.

His book on salads, 'Acetaria A Discourse of Sallets', was written for the Royal Society of which he was a founding member. In it, Evelyn offers a glimpse at the sheer number and range of salad ingredients in use at that time.

" We are by Sallet to understand a particular Composition of certain Crude and fresh Herbs, such as usually are, or may safely be eaten with some Acetous Juice, Oyl and Salt."
- John Evelyn, writer, diarist and gardener.

What was in a 17th century salad?

Evelyn's book catalogues a list of 73 salad ingredients – including leaves, roots, shoots, buds and flowers taken alexanders through to elder, endives, vine and wood-sorrel.

He had learned about many of these ingredients from observing the use of salad in Europe, where he travelled extensively during the civil war. His writings enthuse about the delicate art and science of salad making. For each ingredient Evelyn mentions, he shares information on their their taste, cultivation, culinary and medicinal uses.

Evelyn later added a list of 35 recommended ingredients to the book too. Served fresh, or prepared in different ways such as pickling or blanching, he said these could be combined to create 'the daily salad' all through the year.

Flowers, fruit, salad and vegetables as far as the eye can see in the Kitchen Garden at Ham House, London
Flowers, fruit, salad and vegetables as far as the eye can see in the Kitchen Garden at Ham House, London
Flowers, fruit, salad and vegetables as far as the eye can see in the Kitchen Garden at Ham House, London

Step into a historic living salad bowl

Evelyn paid a visit to Ham House’s garden in the 1680s, and according to his diary was impressed by what he saw. Records show the residents of Ham House at that time, the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale, ran a kitchen garden that would have provided all the fruit and vegetables needed to feed the whole household.

It was also a showpiece for the Duchess of Lauderdale’s guests - among them Charles II - to admire when they were entertained at the house. The design was ornamental as well as practical, with salads vegetables and flowers sharing space.

Now, inspired by the writings of John Evelyn the Ham House Garden team has developed a kitchen garden plot called ‘the 17th century salad’ that celebrates over 300 years of seasonal salads.

Inside Ham’s tranquil walled garden you’re invited to step into a living salad bowl of colour, texture and taste that’s as it would have been all those years ago.

Foodies and garden lovers alike can delight in the smells and tastes of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, as they explore this walk-through garden plot and see everything that went to create the daily salad course.

History inspires modern tastes

The plot is planted to a historic ornamental design that Ham House gardener, Vanessa Park, has adapted. Not only can you eat everything in it, it is also beautiful - a perfect summer spot to sit.

“Though there are centuries between us, I have learnt such a lot from reading John Evelyn's works,' explains Vanessa. 'He wrote the first seasonal garden calendar and gave detailed instructions to his gardeners that are highly relevant today. His writing enlarges our understanding of 17th century growing and eating: it gives me so many options and ideas for the kitchen garden.'

So perhaps this summer instead of browsing the recipe pages for something new to serve friends and family at home, you’ll be inspired to try your own homage to these 17th century salad pioneers!

Come and explore the 17th Century Modern Salad Plot in Ham House's Kitchen Garden all through the summer with tours, with takeaway veg bags for sale and children's activities too.

The Kitchen Garden's Orangery Café serves home-grown produce all year round in this tranquil setting, with ‘the Ham Salad’ on the menu until the end of August.

Vanessa from Ham's garden team holding a bunch of freshly picked rainbow chard in the Kitchen Garden at Ham House and Garden, London
Vanessa from Ham's garden team holding a bunch of freshly picked rainbow chard in the Kitchen Garden at Ham House and Garden, London
Vanessa from Ham's garden team holding a bunch of freshly picked rainbow chard in the Kitchen Garden at Ham House and Garden, London