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I was going to write today about how, according to, on this day in 1820 tomatoes were proved to not be poisonous! A breakthrough even though ketchup had been on Regency tables for some time, Thomas Jefferson had cultivated them (surely not for the flowers?), and in South America people had been chowing down on them for centuries. However I’ve not found any supporting evidence for today being the day, so forget about that…

I expect you’ve read about Jane Austen’s ring coming up for auction. It’s been in the family for almost two centuries, going to her sister Cassandra on Jane’s death. Cassandra then gave it to her sister in law Eleanor (who married brother Henry), who childless, gave it to her niece Caroline  who was the daughter of brother James. It makes me sad that this may be the one and only glimpse of her ring we’ll get unless (please, please) someone buys it and donates it to the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. Because otherwise what do you do with it? Wear it on special occasions and hope you don’t absentmindedly leave it somewhere (like in a public restroom over the sink)? Keep it in a safe and have dates with it where you open the door and gaze upon it? I just don’t get it.

The big news of the day is that I have three well-muscled young men in the house doing things for me. If you follow me on FB, which is generally very unrewarding, you’ll know that I’m undergoing a massive and exciting kitchen/downstairs of the house remodel (it’s a very small house). Today is granite day! Pics will come later. I’m keeping out of the way. It will be very spiffy.

And that’s about all that’s going on with me at the moment. Conspicuously short on writing news, you may notice although I’m reading–latest great read was The Private Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan, one of my very favorite writers. What have you read recently and what do you think of the Austen ring auction? If you bought it, what would you do with it?

The other morning I walked outside and it smelled like spring–damp and mild. Of course it was Mother Nature fooling around, but it has seemed recently, with the slightly longer days, that spring is on its way. So I started thinking about activities that might make spring seem a little nearer.

For the gardeners among us, the catalogues start arriving, to be seized with damp sticky fingers and fondled and pondered. That got me thinking about food–oh, to be honest, when am I not thinking about food–and so I thought I’d check out what was available in the Regency kitchen garden at this time of year. According to Samuel and Sarah Adams, you could have beetroot, broccoli, cabbage plants (as opposed to cabbage, best in May and all summer, and if someone would like to explain that, please do), celery, endive, leeks, parsley, parsnips, potatoes, and spinach (The Complete Servant, 1825). Not too bad–of course availability of many vegetables would depend on what the weather was like and how deep the ground was frozen–England was emerging from a minor ice age (hence the Frost Fair on the frozen Thames in 1814).

The Adamses don’t mention tomatoes at all at any time of the year, because the fruit/veg, whatever it is, was regarded with some suspicion in England. Allegedly, Hannah Glass’s cookbook of 1758 included a tomato recipe but until the end of the century cooks used them sparingly and mostly for flavoring soups. After all, the plant looked suspiciously like deadly nightshade. Others thought tomatoes might be aphrodisiacs, and the French referred to them as pomme d’amour (love apple). Italians, who adopted the new world oddity with enthusiasm, called them pomi d’oro (golden apple, suggesting that the first varieties to make it to Europe may have been yellow tomatoes).

This gorgeous illustration is of the African tomato from Basil Besler’s Hortus Eystettensis (1613)–you can see more of the prints from the work here.

What are you doing to prepare for spring? Are you dreaming of tomatoes or daffodils or beaches?

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