Step into a living salad bowl for a taste of Ham's history
Rainbow salads, filled with homegrown seasonal leaves and topped with handfuls of herbs: browse the recipe sites this summer and you’ll see salads of all shapes and sizes making a splash. Household names from West London to the US West Coast are celebrating the variety and virtues of the seasonal salad made with sustainable ingredients. We can probably all agree it’s a wonderful way to celebrate summer – but what may be less well-known is it’s almost certainly not new.
Wind the clock right back, past even the healthfood revival of the 60s, to the 1600s and you’ll discover some of the very first homegrown 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 and was making the oil and vinegar dressings we think of now as continental in seventeenth century London. He wrote an academic book all about salad, 'Acetaria A Discourse of Sallets', which offers a surprising glimpse at the sheer number and range of salad ingredients at that time.
Salad: a 17th century showstopper
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 at Ham House. 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.
Leaves, roots, shoots, buds and flowers, over 35 salad ingredients prepared in different ways, some pickled, some blanched and some served fresh would have made up the seventeenth century’s dining ‘showstopper’, the grand salad – it was what you would make if you wanted to impress your guests.
Kitchen garden brings the extravagent salad course to life
Now, inspired by the writings of John Evelyn the Ham House Garden team has developed a fresh kitchen garden plot that celebrates over 300 years of summer 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 extravagant salad course. The plot is planted to a historic ornamental design that our gardener, Vanessa has adapted, so not only could you eat everything in it, it is also beautiful - a perfect summer spot to sit.
Tended today using organic principles, Ham’s kitchen garden is also home to our on-site café serving home-grown produce all year round including our very own Ham-grown salad in this tranquil setting.
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!