Did you know that there are purple potatoes? They get this colour from the anthocyanins in them which are also found in berries such as blueberries, blackberries and blackcurrants, as well as purple or black carrots? These anthocyanins have powerful antioxidant properties which help protect us against cancer. The poor potato was not well received in Europe when it was first introduced in the 15th century and in one town in France and edict was passed forbidding people to grow potatoes because it was thought (wrongly) that they caused leprosy . Later the queen of France, Marie-Antoinette and the ladies of her court wore potato flowers in the hair.
Across the English Channel, the ladies of James I’s (James VI’s of Scotland) wore carrot tops in their hair as decorations. You can eat carrot tops as they are rich in vitamin K which carrots do not contain. Purple and red carrots are wonderful and taste sweeter than orange ones. There are yellow carrots too, but all carrots were purple until the 16th century when the Dutch bred the orange ones from mutant carrots in honour of their royal family the House of Orange.
Broccoli and cauliflower are actually flowers, although we eat them as vegetables. George W. Bush hates broccoli.
Peas were eaten dried by European peasants as the fresh ones were very expensive. They kept them for the winter months when they were dried, and even when eating fresh peas became popular in Britain in the 17th century, the ordinary people couldn’t afford them. When Catherine de Medici left Italy to marry Henri II of France, she took piselli novelli with her. These were the tiny peas that the French instantly took too and called them petit pois (little peas) by which name they are still known today. Here’s an anonymous rhyme about the difficulty of eating fresh green peas:
“I eat my peas with honey,
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny,
But it keeps them on my knife.”
Did you know that Norma Jean Baker, who was better known as the actress Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1947 in Castroville California? The artichoke grows on a plant that looks like a thistle and is considered a gourmet vegetable. It comes from Italy originally and the head of the plant turns towards the sun just as sunflowers do.
In Southern India, eggplants cooked over a flame with onions, chilies, salt and rice are thought to prevent you from catching chicken pox. Eggplants or aubergines are related to the tomato and potato.
Fruit can be interesting too, for example, there is a snake fruit which is called this because its skin looks like a snake’s, with scales (or it looks as though it has scales). The fruit itself is actually white, like a lychee.
A banana doesn’t actually come from a tree, but a very tall herb which can grow to around twenty feet high. These plants don’t have a very stable root system so you can actually knock over a banana tree.
An apple a day may very well keep the doctor away, especially if you eat the skin as this contains most of the nutrients. There are more than 7,000 varieties of apple grown around the world, and if you were to plant 100 apple trees from the seeds taken from the apples of one apple tree, none of them would be exactly the same.
The tomato is a fruit although we use it as a vegetable, and it was once thought to be a “wolf peach” described by ancient Roman writers. The wolf peach wasn’t a peach at all but something that looked pretty and contained poison to kill the wolves which ate them.
The only fruit to have its seeds on the outside is the strawberry!
There are a lot more interesting things to discover about fruit and vegetables, they aren’t as boring as you might have thought.