Sunday, 22 June 2008

Salad Poetry

Salad in June
Food is not the most popular of subjects for poems, although I'm quite certain it's not the least popular either. But when poets do turn their attention to food, a food they often turn to is salad. See...

I've already written about Sydney Smith's famous recipe for salad dressing, which you could put on


Radishes flip their skirts in the wind
like a line of chorus girls,
throw them over their heads.

If they were singers
they'd be the Andrews sisters.
If they had jobs
they'd be nurses who drive
red sports cars after work.

Every spring you put up with
their flirtations
for the crunch between your teeth
the quick surprise
of rain and fire
they've saved all season
just for you.

Lorna Crozier (who wrote a book called The Sex Lives of Vegetables, from which I suspect this poem originally came.) Just don't let Ogden Nash hear about Sydney's Salad Dressing...

The Chef Has Imagination, or, It’s Too Hard to Do It Easy

Hark to a lettuce lover.
I consider lettuce a blessing.
And what do I want on my lettuce?
Simply a simple dressing.

But in dining car and hostel
I grow apoplectic and dropsical;
Is this dressing upon my lettuce,
Or is it a melting popsicle?

A dressing is not the meal, dears,
It requires not cream nor egg,
Nor butter nor maple sugar,
And neither the nut nor the meg.

A dressing is not a compote,
A dressing is not a custard;
It consists of pepper and salt,
Vinegar, oil and mustard.

It is not paprika and pickles,
Let us leave those to the Teutons;
It is not a pinkish puddle
Of grenadine and Fig Newtons.

Must I journey to France for dressing?
It isn’t a baffling problem;
Just omit the molasses and yoghurt,
The wheat germ and the Pablum.

It’s oil and vinegar, dears,
No need to tiddle and toil;
Just salt and pepper and mustard,
And vinegar, and oil.

For Brillat-Savarin, then, and Hoyle,
Stick, friends, to vinegar and oil!
Yachtsman, jettison boom and spinnaker,
Bring me oil and bring me vinegar!
Play the music of Haydn or Honegger,
But lace it with honest oil and vinegar!
Choir in church or mosque or synagogue,
Sing, please, in praise of oil and vinegogue.
I’m not an expert, just a beginneger,
But I place my trust in oil and vinegar.
May they perish, as Remus was perished by Romulus,
Who monkey with this, the most sacred of formulas.

Ogden Nash

Actually, Ogden was a bit of a crank on the subject of salad. There he goes; he's off again, on what must be one of the earliest recorded rants against industrialized food (and yeah, it's true; iceberg lettuce is notable mostly for it's ability to ship and "keep")...

Iceberg Lettuce

I cheerfully forgive my debtors,
But I’ll never pardon iceberg lettuce,
A pallid package of rigidity,
A globe of frozen insipidity.
I hope I’ll never be so punchy
As to relish my salad crisp and crunchy,
Yet garden lettuce with leafy head
Is as hard to get as unsliced bread.

Ogden Nash

A Ballad Of Salad

I cannot eat the red, red rose,
I cannot eat the white;
In vain the long laburnum glows,
Vain the camelia's waxen snows.
The lily's cream of light.

The lilac's clustered chalices
Proffer their bounty sweet,
In vain; though very good for bees,
Man, with unstinted yearning sees,
Admires, but cannot eat.

Give me the lettuce that has cooled
Its heart in the rich earth,
Till every joyous leaf is schooled
To crisply crinkled mirth;

Give me the mustard and the cress,
Whose glistening stalklets stand
As silver white as nymphs by night
Upon the coral strand;

The winking radish round and red,
That like a ruby shines;
And the first blessing, onion shed
Where'er your lowness dines;

The wayward tomato's glorious head,
Cool cucumber sliced small;
And let the imperial beetroot spread
her crimson over all.

Though shrinking poets will prefer
The common floral fashions,
With buds and blossoms hymn their Her,
These vegetable loves would stir
A flint-heart mineral's passions.

Dylan Thomas

If this doesn't strike you as being up to Dylan's usual standards; give him a break - he was 14 when he wrote that.

Admittedly, most people don't find a salad sufficient. I can only say, with all due modesty, that they haven't had some of mine.


Gently stir and blow the fire,
Lay the mutton down to roast,
Dress it quickly, I desire,
In the dripping put a toast,
That I hunger may remove --
Mutton is the meat I love.
On the dresser see it lie;
Oh, the charming white and red;
Finer meat ne'er met the eye,
On the sweetest grass it fed:
Let the jack go swiftly round,
Let me have it nice and brown'd.
On the table spread the cloth,
Let the knives be sharp and clean,
Pickles get and salad both,
Let them each be fresh and green.
With small beer, good ale and wine,
Oh ye gods! how I shall dine.

Jonathan Swift

p.s. I'm really quite glad I'll never be called upon to cook for dear fussy old Ogden, no matter how much I like his poetry!

Parsley, parsley everywhere
Let me have my victuals bare.

Ogden Nash

Last year on this date: Spinach & Strawberry Salad with Buttered Almonds.

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