Any vegetable cook may be interested in learning more about vegetable history, especially those located in the Western world, where vegetables are literally pushed aside and served as mere accompaniments to meat.
Too bad a habit, mainly due to lack of knowledge, because of all foods, vegetables constitute by far the most varied and abundant source of nourishment containing precious vitamins...
An onion can make people cry but there's
never been a vegetable that can make
people laugh (Will Rogers)
In the Middle East and other parts of Asia, vegetables are prized as highly as meats and treated as carefully. In the Western world, people are now obliged to absorb nutritional supplements to make sure they're getting all the necessary nutrients!
Vegetable cookery was introduced in ancient Rome from Asia Minor, where lettuce was once restricted, and cucumbers, originally native to India, were being grown in market gardens for the city people. The colonizing Romans carried seeds and roots and civilized the natives of northern lands as much with their lettuce and asparagus as their swords.
In the seventh century A.D. Muslim armies invaded Spain and they brought aubergines and spinach from Asia as well as an elegant style of vegetable cooking, as reflected in the famous aubergine dish called "Imam Bayildi". The French halted the Muslim invasion but vegetable cooking spread throughout southern Europe.
Later, the Spanish crossed the Atlantic and conquered America in their quest for gold but they brought home tomatoes, sweet peppers, beans, sweetcorn and potatoes instead.
In the Americas, the Indian farmers were cultivating plants since the fifth millenium B.C. employing selection to produce new vegetable varieties and bigger versions of existing plants. On the other side of the ocean, the Romans developed tender broccolis and in Northern Europe farmers created today's white and green cabbage.
It was an Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel, who in the 19th century ascertained the mathematical relationship between the characteristics of parent plants and those of their offspring and made possible to evolve new strains of vegetables in a predictable fashion.
The result of selection was the development of disease-resistant plants and later, the technique of plant genetics, forerunner of biotechnology, made it possible to create vegetable varieties fitting special needs.