Botanical Bloopers

Botanical Bloopers
Some recent botanical bloopers have come to my attention. The first one has appeared in two recent book reviews.

Let’s start with the fact that kale was widely grown as a vegetable in Colonial America. Some of the eeriest garden records published during this era report that kale was grown as early as 1669, but it is believed to actually have been in cultivation even earlier than that. In “The American Gardener’s Calendar” published in Philadelphia in 1806, Bernard McMahon wrote about kale being grown here.

I happen to have a special interest in garden and plant history, especially this particular period. Accuracy is of upmost importance when it deals with history.

The two reviews of “The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of a Globe-Trotting Botanist who Transformed what America Eats” by Daniel Stone are stating as fact that David Fairchild (1869-1954) introduced kale to the United States, which happens to be untrue. One such review was in the USA Today. The other appeared in my local paper.

The fact is that it is totally untrue to say that Fairchild introduced kale. Yet, the headline for one such review was “He introduced kale, avocados, mangoes, and more to US.”

Kale was grown as a crop at Colonial Williamsburg. Thomas Jefferson kept garden journals for much of his life. In “The Garden and Farm Books,” Jefferson recorded the dates he planted and harvested various types of kale. This occurred pretty much most every year between 1812 and 1824, which was before Fairchild was even born. Jefferson mentions six different types of kale by name.

Perhaps, this error in the book reviews arose in the publicity department of the publisher of the book when the person writing the press releases neglected to include the name of some particular variety or type of kale that Fairchild is supposed to have introduced. I haven’t seen the book, so I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that is what happened.

At any rate, the reviewers are now passing on this misinformation to readers. The fact that kale is mentioned in both of these reviews raises the question of whether the same mistake has and is being repeated in similar reviews in other areas of the country.

While I’m on the subject of botanical errors, one that could be much more serious concerns the ingredients in a recipe. I have a reprint of what is said to be the oldest cookbook in the western world. “Apices: Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome” was edited and translated by Joseph Dimmers Veiling and released by Dover.

One of the recipes is simply titled bulbs, and it recommends using “onions, tulips, or narcissus” for the dish. I sincerely hope the ancient Romans didn’t eat narcissus bulbs on a regular basis because consuming very many of these can cause bad gastro-intestinal distress, including diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and nausea.

On the other hand, the tulip bulbs that were also mentioned aren’t poisonous. In fact, they were consumed by the Dutch during World War II during the German occupation due to widespread starvation. However, there are commonsense reasons to avoid eating tulip bulbs, such as the cost and the possibility of exposure to pesticides.

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