“Never take any substance into the stomach that once had life.
Drink no liquid but water restored to its original purity by distillation” (A Vindication of Natural Diet 26)
The Romantic Era is not known for its abundant literature about food and culinary achievement. Normally, when one thinks of Romanticism, one can recite a few lines from William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” recall the powerful images in Percy Shelley’s “Mont Blanc,” or envision a youthful Walt Whitman leaning and loafing on the grass as he describes in Leaves of Grass; picturing these poets scarfing down on steak and wine seems unimaginable.
The reason for this relates to the strong introduction to vegetarianism, as noted in Shelley’s A Vindication of Natural Diet. In his essay, Shelley gives many reasons why people should adhere to a more pure diet consisting of “potatoes, beans, peas, turnips, lettuces, with a dessert of apples, gooseberries, strawberries, currants, raspberries, and in winter, oranges, apples, and pears” (Shelley 24-25), including an increase in health and a distinction from brutal carnivorous animals; however, it also provides insight into important cultural values at the time.
With the progress that the Industrial Revolution brought, the Romantic period sought for a return to more natural ways of life. The emerging popularity of abstaining from meat in Shelley’s time “was a convenient form of social distinction in an increasingly consumer society that had been emerging through the long eighteenth century, and that had reached a reflexive moment ofconsumerism by the Romantic period” (Morton 59). This “reflexive movement of consumerism” not only included the denial of meat consumption, but also “no spices from India; no wines from Portugal, Spain, France, or Madeira; none of those multitudinous articles of luxury, for which every corner of the globe is rifled” (Shelley 21). Instead of following the consumerist notions and views, many wanted to stress the importance of recognizing and experiencing beauty and delight in their own country’s nature, which would return them to the more innocent and peaceful state that mirrored childhood. One way of doing so, was to maintain a less aggressive lifestyle, including abstaining from eating meat and drinking liquor.
Diet was not the only component suggested during the Romantic period; the importance of nature and surrounding one’s self in nature with picnics also emerged. For the pioneers of Romanticism, “picnicking was an aesthetic and ethical act of everyday culture that had the hegemonic effect of recreating cultural relations and identities” (Hubbell 44). William Wordsworth and his wife Dorothy, who both loved taking frequent walks in the picturesque countryside, became two people responsible for making modern picnicking what is its today. The established custom of the early 1800s involved eating before or after a walk, but despite this, the Wordsworths became accustomed to taking food with them on their walks so they could eat while enjoying the scenery (Hubbell 46). This trend of picnicking was not just an excuse to eat with the best view in town, but it also presented itself as a political act: “The picnic was a consumerist practice that refashioned the self through certain tastes, values, and images. Picnics denounce the amoral eating, use of surplus wealth, and leisure of the upper classes and lower classes” (Hubbell 47). Just like maintaining a vegetarian diet, eating outdoors in the rural countryside was a way for people to improve their lives in a world of consumerism and industrialization.
With the growing recognition of vegetarianism defended by Shelley, and the emergence of modern picnics started by the Wordsworths, I wanted to incorporate these two components to connect them with the importance of nature present in Romantic poetry. Even though food is not really at the forefront in poetry during this literary era, if Whitman tells us lean and loaf with him on the grass this day and night in “Song of Myself,” we have to have some sort of food to eat! I wanted to come up with food items that were not only perfect for a picnic, but that were also vegetarian or vegan to stick with Shelley’s dieting philosophy.
For the savory dish, I made a veggie roll with a white bean spread. By using natural ingredients, fresh vegetables, and a vegan tortilla, this roll would have worked great on some of William and Dorothy Wordsworths’ picnics.
Any combination of vegetables can be used, depending on what you have, or what you like; I used carrots, yellow bell pepper, cucumber, and red onion.
The white bean spread works like a hummus, but has a more “American” or “UK” feel to it because of the type of bean (I figured it fit better with the growing sense of nationalism in Shelley, Wordsworth, and Whitman’s time). I found the recipe on treehugger.com.
What I was most excited about, though, was the sweet treat – honey almond cake with raspberries and blueberries.
I found the original recipe on Pretty.Simple.Sweet., but I wanted to alter it to make it more appropriate for the Romantic outlook on food by using more natural ingredients and a few vegan substitutions. For example, I used honey instead of white sugar, and I used apple sauce instead of eggs. I also used a mixture of lemon and blood orange olive oil, which gave the cake additional depth in flavor without making it taste too citrus-y.
I can just picture William and Dorothy Wordsworth or Walt Whitman snacking on little pieces of the cake after enjoying the veggie roll, all while completely surrounded by a breathtaking landscape on a beautiful sunny day! I think they would have loved the San Luis Obispo landscape.
1 can Cannellini or Navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 small clove garlic, smashed
¼ cup roughly chopped parsley, plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped, divided use
2 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
1. Begin smashing the white beans, and incorporate the garlic, parsley, lemon juice and zest, and salt and pepper.
2. Add a little olive oil at a time until the spread is creamy enough or at the consistency of your liking.
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup almond flour
Raspberries and blueberries
1. Preheat oven to 325F/160C. Grease an 8×8-inch pan.
2. In a medium bowl sift together all-purpose flour and baking powder. Add almond flour and mix. Set aside.
3. Beat together oil and honey for about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl as needed. Add the applesauce and beat well. Beat in vanilla extract. Add flour mixture and beat just until combined. Do not overmix.
4. Spread the batter into prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Arrange raspberries and blueberries on top of the batter.
5. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack.
Hubbell, Andrew. “How Wordsworth invented picnicking and saved British Culture.” Romanticism, 21.1 (2006): 44-51. Online.
Morton, Timothy. “Joseph Ritson, Percy Shelley and the Making of Romantic Vegetarianism.” Romanticism, 12.1 (2006): 52-61. Online.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Vindication of Natural Diet. Harvard: F. Pitman, 1886. Google Books. Online.