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?