The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Vegetable gardens in Italy

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132.Of culinary vegetables, the Italians began with those left them by the Romans, and they added the potato to their number, not long after we did. They now possess all the sorts known in this country, and use some plants as salads, such as the succory, oxeye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum), ruccola or rocket (Eruca sativa), which are little used here. At Rome, the roots of a kind of fennel, which grow there to a large size, are eaten as we do celery. (See ᄎ 143.) The turnip and carrot tribe, and the cabbage, savoy, lettuce, and radish, thrive best in the northern parts; but the potato grows well every where, and the Italian autumn is favourable to the growth of cauliflowers and broccolis, which are found of large size at Rome, Florence, and Bologna, in the months of September and October; and very large at Milan, all the summer and autumn. Evelyn mentions, that in his time the Italians roasted the bulbs of Ornithogalum, especially the wild yellow sort, and ate them with oil, vinegar, and pepper. The tubers of Cyperus esculentus they both roast, and use in soups. Near Pavia, the fagiuoli, a species of Dolichos, the lentil (E'rvum Lens), and the Cicer arietinum are cultivated; the latter produces a saline exhalation from the stalks at the summer solstico, which is used as a remedy in cutaneous diseases. (Cadell's Travels, &c., p. 125.) The legu minous tribe thrive every where; but in some places the entire pod of the kidney-bean is so dry and hard, as to prevent its use as a substitute for peas. In short, though the Italians have the advantage over the rest of Europe in fruits, that good is greatly counterbalanced by the inferiority of their culinary vegetables. Much to remedy the defect might be done by judicious irrigation, which in the south Italy, and even in Lombardy, is so far necessary as to enter into the arrangement of every kitchen-garden. Shading, blanching, and change of seed would effect much; but the value of good culinary vegetables is not known to the greater part of the wealthy Italians. The love apple, egg plant, and capsicum are extensively cultivated near Rome and Naples for the kitchen; the fruit of the first attaining a large size, and exhibiting the most grotesque forms. It is singular that, in Sicily, this fruit, when ripe, becomes sour, and so unfit for use, that the inhabitants are supplied with it from Naples. The culture of edible fungi in Italy is somewhat remarkable. At Naples, a stone called the pietra fungaja is made use of to produce the Boletus Tuberaster. At Brescia the Amanita incarnata is produced from its own fragments bruised. The Agaricus ostreatus is produced at pleasure from the husks of the berries of the sweet bay, after they have been boiled in order to extract the oil. The husks are buried in a trench, firmly pressed down, and a layer of earth about six inches thick is placed over them, and also firmly pressed. The bed is guarded from excessive rains. It will produce mushrooms during the October, November, and December of that, and of the two succeeding years. About January, mushrooms are produced in a similar manner, by using the remains of olives which have been pressed for oil, instead of the husks of sweet bay berries. In the north of Italy, and in the Landes in the south of France, the gardeners water the earth under oak trees with water in which has been boiled the Boletus edulis, and this is said to produce an abundant crop of that species. (Bull. des Sciences Agr., Oct. 1827.)