Monday, March 7, 2011

Do you know this vegetable?

The challenge of a quiz always seems to be popular. In order to make food more interesting to my students, I came up with these quizes (is that the plural?). Some were eventually published in our local paper La Atención. Here is one, let me know what you guess.

During hot summer days we seem to be craving salads and vegetables more than any time of the year. This vegetable in question falls into this preferred group. Ever since it was first cultivated, it had its travel bag ready to go. It now spans the globe and there is hardly a county where it is not cultivated, short of areas where it’s too cold for any vegetable to grow.

It is among the world’s oldest cultivated vegetables and archaeologists have found evidence of it growing around human dwellings near the Thailand-Burma border dating to 7750 BC. —and that places it pretty close to the dawning millennia of agriculture, so at present, it looks like we’ve been intentionally growing it for nearly 10,000 years. Its non-stop voyage continued to India, the Middle East and when the Israelites escaped from Egypt, the Old Testament relates that, among the things they lamented leaving behind was the it vegetable.
It does like a lot of sunshine and even the Romans had to work at growing it. The Emperor Tiberius planted the plant in carts and had his slaves wheel the carts around to keep the plants in the sun. The Sun King of France cultivated it in his Potager du Roi, (the King’s vegetable garden) under glass to make sure it was served at his table every day when it was in season.
Most of southern Europe came to love this vegetable, including Spain. When Columbus set sail for one of his voyages to the New World, he had seeds on board that were planted in what is now Haiti. Here is where the history of this vegetable takes an interesting turn. When the first Spanish explores then traveled to North America with some of the seeds, it was readily accepted by the native American Indians too. By the time the north European settlers arrived they thought the vegetable was indigenous to the Americas. At the time of their arrival it had not reached all of the European countries yet.
The many uses today range from it being eaten raw, cooked, preserved and a favorite diet food as its calorie content is only 13 per cup. It also can be helpful in reducing skin swellings and sunburns. I have found no aphrodisiac attribute attached to this vegetable, as with many former quiz foods, but there is a famous restaurant in Chicago that makes a very delicious --margarita with it.

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