Immigrant vegetables

Do you know where the moon came from? No? Then you aren't an English school student. An ancient children's folk tale says an evil man stole his neighbor's cabbage on Christmas Eve. Suddenly a child dressed all in white appeared. He grabbed the cabbage and threw it high in the air, where it became the moon. Then he punished the thief by exiling him to the earth's satellite for eternity, making him the mythical Man in the Moon.

Cabbages are one of dozens of immigrant vegetables which came to America from other countries. French explorer Jacques Cartier planted the first cabbages in the New World in Canada in l54l.

The Museum of the Americas in Madrid offers an exhibit of products Europe gave to the Western Hemisphere and another showing what the Americas sent back. We sent them turkeys, corn, tobacco, avocados, potatoes, chocolate, vanilla and tomatoes. Europe gave us cattle, horses, wheat, rice, citrus fruits, sage, parsley, mustard, rutabagas, bananas and sugar cane. Some of these immigrant vegetables have fantastic histories.

The Spanish introduced sugar cane to the New World. Sugar and molasses were the principal exports of their Caribbean islands. Yankee schooners carried boatloads of molasses to the English colonies, where much of it was processed into rum. However, molasses was an important part of the colonial diet for more than two centuries. The establishment of Georgia, the last of the original l3 colonies, documents this. James Oglethorpe named his colony after King George II, who had granted the charter.

Oglethorpe and 35 pioneer families arrived at Savannah in l733. Many of the colonists had been released from debtors prison to found Georgia. Oglethorpe realized his followers would need a year to build a log cabin, clear some land, and raise a crop. Therefore he promised each settler "64 quarts of molasses for their maintenance in the Colony for one year." Sixty-four quarts is l6 gallons, or five gallons per month!

Garlic is another import, as is its nemesis, parsley. Garlic contains an amino acid, alliin. When crushed, the alliin reacts to make diallyl sulfide or "garlic breath." The ancient Greeks believed sprigs of parsley would erase this odor and each guest was served a bowl of parsley to eat after the banquet. We see a vestige of this in today's restaurants. They drop a sprig of parsley on the plate before it leaves the kitchen.

For some unknown reason, parsley earned an evil reputation in the Middle Ages. It was associated with Satan. It sprouted slowly because it had to go to hell nine times before it germinated. To overcome this Satanic curse, you must plant parsley on Good Friday, the "only day which keeps his wickedness in check." Wives were advised not to wash dishes after handling parsley. The devil would make you drop the dish.

Lemons are fruits, not vegetables, but they deserve mention. Columbus planted them on Santo Domingo on his second voyage. The first lemons came to the USA in l565 when the Spanish founded St. Augustine, Florida. The British had not yet learned that a daily ounce of lemon (or lime) juice prevented scurvy, but English doctors made a medicine using the juice. They crushed a pearl in lemon juice which supposedly cured epilepsy or "the falling sickness."

Another import from Europe was the eggplant. The Moors brought eggplants to Spain. The Spanish introduced them to Florida and the Southwest. Pan fried eggplant is a tasty dish.


l medium eggplant

l teaspoon oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup vegetable oil

PREPARATION: Wash and slice eggplant into half-inch rounds. Sprinkle with mix of salt, pepper and oregano. Dip in egg, roll in breadcrumbs. Fry until well browned on both sides. Drain and serve.

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