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100 Vegetables and Where They Came From

100 Vegetables and Where They Came From
William Woys Weaver
New York: Algonquin Books
Publication Date: 

cloth, 320 p., $18.95

The eminent historian of food and food plants, William Weaver has produced another masterpiece. Admirers of his classic Heirloom Vegetable Gardening (New York: Holt, 1997) will enjoy this well-informed and intimate study of 100 plants that have survived over the centuries because they are good to eat. There is nothing humdrum about any of Mr. Weaver's selections, which include such gems as Biretta Vermelha pepper from Brazil, Chengdu garlic from China, Khiva cucumber from Turkmenia and Spotted Aleppo lettuce from Syria. He has grown them all, and hundreds more, in his fabulous garden in Pennsylvania, where he has also developed prize vegetables through his own plant-breeding skills. As a fine chef, he tells us how to prepare each one and often suggests the wine to accompany the finished dish.

One of his choices, Louvana chickling vetch (or grass pea) from Cyprus, will puzzle those who know that when regularly consumed in large quantities, Lathyrus sativus (its botanical name) can produce nervous degeneration (although it is no more problematic than any other plant when eaten in moderation). In recent years, plant breeders in Syria and Canada have produced plants without this harmful tendency, which will prove a nutritious blessing to millions of hungry folk and their livestock. This plant has an extraordinarily high protein content (more than 20 percent) and is able to survive drought well. Thus a crop of last resort, as it has been in Ethiopia and elsewhere, it can become a healthy and primary source of food. A test plot of this newly developed Lathyrus will be grown this year in the Fruit and Vegetable Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

For his yeoman work in directing our attention to some deserving but generally obscure food plants, Mr. Weaver deserves the admiration of readers who share his passion for delicacies that are not boring.

— John F. Swenson, Volunteer, Plant Information Office, Chicago Botanic Garden