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Gardens, Flowers, and Fruits

To celebrate this year’s Oxford Food Symposium we have brought together some key material exploring the fascinating world of gardens, flowers and fruits to whet your appetites.

Francis Bacon termed the garden ‘the purest of human pleasures’; Luther Burbank donned flowers ‘sunshine, food and medicine for the soul’, whilst Walt Whitman declared ‘Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard.’ Green spaces and green things inspire us, as well as cultivate our mental, physical and nutritional health. The resources below peel back the wonderfully hearty layers of meaning that have been imbued on these natural wonders.

Read on to discover more and read free content from across the Bloomsbury Food Library.

Aztec forager, sketch from the 16th-century Florentine Codex. Since earliest times, man has foraged for edible flowers.
Aztec Forager (Reproduced with permission from Constance L. Kirker)

The Edible Series: Fruit and Flowers

The pioneering Edible Food series serves numerous tart and taut texts, exploring how people have interacted with various fruits and flowers across the centuries, and we have highlighted a select few favourites here. Pomegranate: A Global History explores the pomegranate’s special role in various religious contexts as well as its significance to several figures including Anne Boleyn and Salvador Dalí. The iconic and millennial-revered avocado is explored through lively anecdotes, colourful pictures and delicious recipes in Avocado: A Global History. Edible Flowers: A Global History explores how flowers have blossomed in the world of cuisine, being used to add value and meaning to dishes in both daily life and for special occasions.

Click here to discover more.

Boy with a Basket of Fruit (c. 1593–1594). Oil on canvas, 67 × 53 cm (26 × 21 in). Galleria Borghese, Rome
Boy with a Basket of Fruit, Caravaggio, 1593 (Wikimedia Commons)

Fruits as Erotic Symbols in Renaissance Poetry

Using primarily ‘Bernesque’ literature, this chapter in Food Culture and Literary Imagining in Early Modern Italy: The Renaissance of Taste offers a luscious exploration of the ways a number of Renaissance Italian poets both adopted and informed the sexual connotations of fruits and vegetables in their works. Laura Giannetti challenges the position that these works are merely parodies of ‘serious’ lyric poetry, proposing they ‘…fed off contemporary cultures of food and Galenic medicine and participated in debates on the senses and the body through metaphors and clever wordplay.’ The ‘Capitolo in lode delle pèsche’, composed by Francesco Berni in 1522, is the first poem dedicated to peaches, and was widely recognized as the antecedent for all licentious poetry on fruit and other foodstuffs in the sixteenth century.

Click here for further exploration of playful Renaissance poetry.

Mixed Dry Fruit Kheer, Chandigarh, India (Wikimedia Commons)
Mixed Dry Fruit Kheer, Chandigarh, India (Wikimedia Commons)

Flower Waters in Indian Cuisine

The Bloomsbury Handbook of Indian Cuisine explores the cuisine and foodways of India in all their diversity and complexity, including regions, personalities, street foods, communities, and topics that have been often neglected. This insightful entry explores the use of Rosewater and Kewra Water in Indian Cuisine, both being luxurious ingredients associated with special occasions and religious events. The captivating origins of Rosewater are discussed in detail as well as the delicious dishes flavoured with the water, which include sweetmeats jalebi and sandesh, deserts such as payasam and firni and drinks such as sherbet and sweet lassi. Kewra water, which is extracted from the flowers of the screw pine, is added to deserts such as kheer, barfi, jalevi and rasgulla due to its soft and sweet scent.

Click here to discover more on this fascinating topic.

Allotment, Tomatoes, Nature image
Allotment, Tomatoes (Pixabay)

The Garden and Gastronomy

This chapter in Food and Urbanism: The Convivial City and a Sustainable Future surveys the role of gardens across the globe, from Ancient times to modern day. Susan Parham plants the notion that pre-World War II, gardens were sites of productivity: Egyptian sources show walled garden spaces used to grow fruit and vegetables from around 6,000 BC, and right up to mid-twentieth century, allotments or summer gardens were common in Europe’s towns and villages. Post War, the role of gardens shifted from being sites of food production to sites of consumption and display – a manifestation of identity to be observed and, sometimes, flaunted. However, despite this general trend, some owners are reanimating the garden as a productive domestic landscape, demonstrated by the resurgence of Potagers and kitchen gardens.

Read more about the evolving role of the garden here.

A collection of fruit—including grapes, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and a peach, pear, and apple—is depicted, surrounded by white flowers on a blue background. There are three blank labels at the bottom of the image.
Advert for Bale (Crown Copyright images reproduced courtesy of The National Archives)

Fruit and Gardens in the National Archives Image Collection

Bloomsbury Food Library provides digital access to delectable image collections from leading archives and galleries across the globe. The National Archives Image collection is overgrown with fantastic images that take garden and fruits as their subject. A captivating shot from 1944 of a Fruiterer in The City of Peshawar; British World War propaganda posters encouraging the public to continue the war effort through growing their own fruit and veg; an eye-catching advert from 1906 for the brand Bale depicting scrumptious fruit and flowers. This and more can be found in the collection.

Delve into the full National Archive Image Collection here.

The book cover of A History of Bread
The book cover of A History of Bread

Author in Focus: Peter Scholliers

Peter Scholliers is Emeritus Professor of Contemporary History at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium, and is an invaluable member of the Bloomsbury Food Library’s Editorial Advisory Board who has been a well-known figure in the field of food studies for many years. Peter specializes in European food history and has written numerous works on Belgian foodways. Click here to explore all of the works by Peter Scholliers available on the Bloomsbury Food Library.

Peter’s expertise spans a wide breadth of subject areas within the field of food history and culture. His Food Culture in Belgium opens up the entire food culture spectrum and reveals Belgian food habits through time, providing the most comprehensive overview available in English. The brand new work A History of Bread delves into the history of this pivotal food item to map out its defining moments and people, looking at consumers, bakers and governments to explain how and why this food that once powered an entire continent has fallen by the wayside, and what this means for the modern age.

Bloomsbury Food Library also provides access to a number of key reference works and anthologies edited by Peter, including Writing Food History, a vibrant compendium of global and multicultural essays co-edited with Kyri W. Claflin, Food, Drink and Identity, a fascinating study of cultural patterns in consumer societies, and Eating Out in Europe, a comprehensive and illustrated examination of eating patterns in Europe from the late eighteenth century, co-edited with Marc Jacobs.

As well as writing and editing a number of monographs, Peter has contributed to other key works within the field of food studies, from a chapter on the food history and culture of Belgium in the Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia, and an entry on feeding growing cities from the Handbook of Food Research, to an article on the societal and performative act of eating out from the renowned Cultural History of Food reference work.

Click here to explore more from Peter Scholliers.

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Homepage image credit: Canapés with edible flowers / Irena Sowinska (Getty)