ProfessorRoush was lucky enough last week to happen across a paperback copy of How Carrots Won The Trojan War, by Rebecca Rupp, and my TV viewing has suffered ever since. It grabbed me from the start, as I was just browsing in the bookstore, and it is the first nonfiction garden-related book all summer that has monopolized my free time.
This 2011 nonfiction work is a well-researched and referenced series of chapters about 20 common vegetables (although some are technically fruits). The history of each garden plant is revealed, from the first human use of the native species through its introduction into Western Culture, and along the way there are fascinating stories about how each plant was viewed in different eras and how it may (or may not) have influenced history. As an example, she relates that the introduction of beans as a protein-rich food source coincides with population growth at the end of the Dark Age and later she ties the early success of the Burpee Seed Company to an enormous cabbage variety.
Most importantly, this is not a dry scholarly tome, but a very readable and interesting presentation of history related to food production. Gardeners will like it, history buffs will be fascinated, and foodies will compare ancient cooking techniques to modern fare. Of course, the reader's attention is frequently captured and held because the early uses of most of these plants are related to their aphrodisiac (asparagus or celery) or pharmaceutical value (beans and beets). It's a sure-fire marketing technique; tie anything to sex or drugs, and someone, somewhere is sure to get interested in a hurry. Trojans and carrots, by the way, are not related by some pre-Modern sex-education demonstration (think about it), but because Agamemnon's warriors supposedly ate purple carrots to "bind up their bowels" while they were concealed in the Trojan Horse awaiting entry into Troy. That's yet another marketing technique; human toilet habits are almost as fascinating to some, particularly the aged, as sex and drugs are to the young.
I haven't read other works by Ms. Rupp. I found that she is primarily a childrens and nonfiction writer, but a couple of her earlier works (Red Oaks and Black Birches, published in 1990 and Blue Corn and Square Tomatoes, published in 1987) also sound quite intriguing to this old gardener. I'm going to have to check the local library for a copy of each.