A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 223

Friday, July 9

Years ago, Emily told me that her mother liked to eat radishes with butter. It then seemed to me just another excuse to add fat into the diet. Later, I learned that this is a typically French way of eating the spicy springtime morsels. And further investigation reveals that the combination goes a long ways back.

Among the friends of legendary 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys was the naturalist John Evelyn, author of the 1699 book Acetaria: A discourse on sallets [or salads]. Evelyn had been influenced by the French fashion for eating simpler things, including 82 different veggies including “Sparagus.”

As dressings for salad, Evelyn liked light oil, wine vinegar infused with cloves, mustard, and citrus peel. With radishes, you just rub one in butter, and then dip it in salt—nothing else is needed as it brings its own pepper with it, the naturalist observed.

Neanderthals had no butter, but it seems that the swollen upper part of the radish root has been eaten since prehistoric days, from Western Europe to Asia. The classical Greek historian Herodotus said that the slaves who built the Great Pyramid in Egypt ate so many radishes that they wrote an inscription about the vegetable on the side of the structure.

Radishes come in a range of shapes and sizes—including 18-inch long daikon and mooli—and in various colors. There are white, pink, purple, red, and black. One Chinese radish, Xin Li Mei, sometimes has internal crimson stripes.

You can get radishes, cheap, in every supermarket. But the best ones, and the greatest variety, are found at farm stands. Those pictured here came from the Water Mill organic veggie stand, Green Thumb.

Dinner tonight: sheet pan chicken with zucchini and basil, rice, and a green salad.

Entertainment: More old episodes of the British policier Morse.