One of my summer hobbies is visiting National Trust properties and other country houses in England and Wales (and Scotland, when I get that far north), mainly for the wonderful gardens that many of them have. In some of these gardens, the NT have maintained part of what was once the kitchen garden, so we can get some idea of what such places may have looked like when they were the main source of fruit and vegetables for the house.
I picked up this book in the shop of a National Trust property somewhere in England. If you want to see what kitchen gardens looked like, this is not the book for you as there are only a few black and white illustrations. The book is a collection of essays, and covers everything from methods of growing different crops, how gardens were laid out at different times, the staff employed, how year-round supplies of food were ensured, and even something on cooking and using herbs for medicine.
Some random snippets:
- Mail order gardening is not new. The first nursery catalogue was issued by London and Wise in about 1720. The early ones were just lists of seeds available, but they gradually became more elaborate, listing trees, giving gardening instructions and even in some cases including illustrations.
- Old remedies ‘for a vomit’ were intended to make you sick, not to prevent it, as purging helped to balance the humours. And a remedy containing ingredients such as pennyroyal and briony roots, described as helping to ‘relieve obstructions’ was intended to induce an abortion.
- Manure had a role far beyond fertilising fields and vegetable beds. The heat produced as the manure ferments has been used for millennia to warm plants. Melons, in particular, grow well on top of a mound of fermenting manure.
It is a book best dipped into a chapter at a time, but makes fascinating reading for all that, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the way people lived in the past, including the hard lives of the servants in country houses.