< Vegetables



Spinacia oleracea

No plants proved easier to grow form American gardeners. Only potatoes rivaled it for ease of cultivation and lack of labor. While viable in most soils, it prospered when cultivated in well-manured loam. For this reason, it proved especially adaptable to glasshouse growing by the market gardeners who ringed big cities. The ample supplies of horse dung from city stables, made spinach a year-round hothouse staple from the 1810s on. [1]

In the field it proved a productive ancillary crop, seed being broadcast or drilled between rows of cabbage, radish, cos-lettuce, or peas early in spring. Its mild flavor and vibrant green color made it welcome on a wide range of tables, from that of the humble cottager to that the plantation grandee. It became a favorite therapeutic plant, served to invalids. In the old humoral scheme of diet, it was reckoned a phlegmatic, cooling plant. “It is admitted to be innocent in its effects in all kinds of diseases, and allowed by medical men to be eaten when other vegetables are denied. The leaves of the plants, being of a very succulent or moist nature, must be boiled about ten minutes in a very small portion of water, in which a gentle handful of salt has been put.” [2]

A quick-growing annual, it could produce three crops a year. For Winter and early Spring crops, farmers sowed about the end of August, and again about the middle of September. In northern states, this September crop was covered with straw or salt hay when half grown to protect the plants from frost. For early summer crops, farmers sowed about the end of March, and, frequently, to the middle of May. Because standard spinach varieties did not prosper in mid-summer heat, it was ony grown as a high summer crop in very northern areas. In the South it was grown over winter with a November planting.[3]

Spinach came into Europe from western Asia by way of Spain., brought by Arabian physicians during theperiod of Islamic rule. It spread through other parts of Europe as a medical novelty, and had established itself as a favorite potherb in England in the 1500s supplanting the Garden Orache as a salad plant.

While spinach is cropped in the 21st century by chopping off the entire plant, the usual method in the 19th century was to harvest the outer leaves when the plant had grown to a breadth of three and one half inches. In spacing the plant, care was taken to not let them be so close as to touch one another, because it was observed that contact promoted quick bolting.

In 1772, explorer Sir Joseph Banks brought a spinach-like plant (Tetragonia expansa) into England from New Zealand. John Anderson, the gardener for the Earl of Essex, discovered that this plant tolerated heat and drought and so could be grown in mid-summer with greater productivity than ordinary spinach. Called ‘New Zealand Spinach’ it spread throughout the English-speaking world, enjoying particular favor in the southern United States and in the dry areas of the West.[4]

1. “Spinach Culture” Fruit Recorder & Cottage Gardener, Vol 3 (1871), p. 167.
2. Buist, Family Kitchen Gardener (New York: Orange Judd & Co., 1847), p. 30-31
3. John Montgomery, The Wealth of Nature; our Food Supplies from the Vegetable Kingdom (London: Nimmo, 1875), pp. 207-08.
4. John Rogers The Vegetable Cultivator (London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1843), p. 198.

Prickly, or Fall    History

- hardiest and best for Fall sowing—one of the ancient varieties.

Round, or Summer    History

- for Spring sowing; thick fleshy leaves—ancient variety

Thick-leaved Round    History

- best variety grown for market gardeners.

Large Viroflay    History

- a new, French variety (as of 1877), with leaves much larger and thicker than the old; Boasts round, thick leaves.

Long Standing    History

- new (as of 1883); imported from Holland (the most famous country for spinach); can be cut longer than any other sort.

Savoy Leaf    History

- a summer variety, tender and fine flavored.

New Zealand    History

- very large and luxuriant; endures drought well, and produces many leaves; plants should stand at least 2 feet apart.

Of Boiling Spinach (Frugal Housewife 1803)    History

There is no herb requires more care in the washing, than spinach; you must carefully pick it leaf by leaf, take off all the stalks, and wash it in three or four waters; then put it into a cullender to drain. It does not require much water to dress it: half a pint in a saucepan that holds two quarts, will dress as much spinach, as is generally wanted for a small family. When your water boils, put in your spinach, with a small handful of salt, pressing it down with a spoon as you put it into the sauce-pan; let it boil quick, and as soon as tender, put it into a sieve or cullender, and press out all the water. When you send it to table, raise it up with a forlk, that it may lie hollow in the dish. (pp. 60-61).

Stewed Spinach (Lady’s Receipt Book 1847)    History

Pick the spinach very clean, and wash it through two or three waters. Then drain it, and put it into a sauce-pan, with only the water that remains about it after the washing. Add a very little salt and pepper, and let it stew for twenty minutes, or till it is quite tender; turning it often, and pressing it down with a broad wooden spoon or flat ladle. When done, drain it through a sieve, pressing out all the moisture, till you get it as dry as you can. Then put it on a flat dish, and chop or mince it well. Set it again over the fire; add to it some bits of butter dredged with flour, and some beaten yolk of egg. Lett it simmer five minutes or ore, and when it comes to a boil, take it off. Have ready some thin slices of buttered toast, cut into triangular or three-cornered pieces, without any crust. Lay them in regular order round a flat dish, and heap the spinach evenly upon them, smoothing the surface with the back of a spoon, and scoring it across in diamonds. P. 46.

Spinach Ragout (Cookery as it Should Be 1856)    History

Having well picked and cleaned the spinach, put it into plenty of boiling water, throw in a small handful of salt; as soon as it readily separates it is done enough; strain off the liquor; put it into fresh water for ten minutes; strain off the water completely, chop the spinach, lay it in a stew-pan with a piece of fresh butter, keep it stirred; when the butter has been absorbed, as much well seasoned gravy soup as will make the consistence of cream may be added, with a little grated nutmeg. Serve hot. p. 149.

French Spinach (Lady’s Receipt Book 1847)    History

Having picked them from the stalks, wash the leaves carefully I two or three cold waters, till they are quite free from grit. Put the spinach into a sauce-pan of hot water, in which a very small portion of salt has been boiled. There must be sufficient water to allow the spinach to float. Stir it frequently, that all the leaves may be equally done. Let it boil for a quarter of an hour. Then take it out, lay it in a sieve, and drain it well; pressing it thoroughly with your hands. Next chop it as fine as possible. For a large dish of spinach, put two ounces of butter into a stew-pan; dredge in a table-spoonful of flour and four or five table-spoonfuls of rich cream, mixed with a tea-spoonful of powdered loaf-sugar. Mix all well, and when they have come to a boil, add, gradually, the spinach. Stew it about ten minutes, (stirring it frequently,) till the superfluous moisture is all absorbed. Then serve it up very hot, garnishing it all round with leaves of puff-paste, that have been handsomely formed with a tin cutter, and are fresh from the oven.

Spinach Pudding (Modern Domestic Cookery 1828)    History

Pick and wash clean a quarter of a peck of spinach, put it into a saucepan with a little salt, cover it close, and when it is boiled just tender, throw it into a sieve to drain. Then chop it with a knife, beat up six eggs, and mix with it half a pint of cream, and a stale roll grated fine, a little nutmeg, and a quarter of a pound of melted butter. Stir all well together, put it into the saucepan in which you boiled the spinach, and kept stirring it all the time till it begins to thicken. Then wet and flour your cloth well, tie it up, and boil it an hour. When done, turn it into your dish, pour melted butter over it, with the juice of Seville orange, and strew on a little grated sugar. pp. 175-76.

Spinach Soup (American Domestic Cookery 1823)    History

Shred two handfuls of spinach, a turnip, two onions, a head of celery, two carrots, and a little thyme and parsley. Put all into a stew-pot, with a bit of butter the size of a walnut, and a pint of broth, or the water in which meat has been boiled; stew till the vegetables are quite tender; them them through a coarse cloth or sieve with a spoon; then to the pulp of the vegetables and liquor, put a quart of fresh water, pepper, and salt, and boil all together. Have ready some suet dumplings the size of a walnut; and before you put the soup into the turen, put them into it. The suet must not be shred too fine; and take care that it is quite fresh. Pp. 126-27.

Spinach and Eggs (Modern Domestic Cookery 1828)    History

Pick and wash your spinach very clean in several waters, then put it into a saucepan with a little salt; cover it close, and shake the pan often. When it is just tender, and whilst it is green, throw it into a sieve to drain, and then lay it in your dish. Have ready a stew-pan of water boiling, and break as many eggs into cups and you would poach. When the water boils put in the eggs, have an egg slice ready to take them out with, lay them on the spinach, and serve them up with belted butter in a cup. Garnish with orange cut into quarters. P. 166.

Spinach Toasts (Cook’s Own Book 1840)    History

Boil some spinach for a quarter of an hour; then squeeze out all the water, chop it small, and put it into a mortar, with three or four spoonfuls of apple marmalade, the yolks of four hardboiled, and three raw eggs, two biscuits soaked in cream, sugar, and a pinch of salt; pound all these together to a paste, put it into a dish, and mix with it a few dry currants, and three or four spoonfuls of melted butter. Cut some slices of bread half an inch thick, four inches long, and two broad; toast them nicely, and spread the spinach, Etc. Over them to the thickness of half an inch, wash each over with white of egg; place the toasts on a baking-tin (well buttered) and bake them for half an hour. When done, grate nutmeg, and squeeze orange-juice over them, and serve. (p. 215).

Spinage-dumpling for Eight Persons (United States Cook Book 1859)    History

Chop fine a large h andful of spinage, with some parsley and onions, and sweat this in two ounces of butter. Two loaves, soaked and squeezed dry, re well mixed with four eggs, add to this the herbs and a little salt and pepper; bind the mass with a little flour, and put the dumplings into water. Stew with bacon. They are excellent with salad. Pp. 57-58.

Beignets of Spinach (Centennial Cook Book 1876)    History

Take some washed and picked spinach; mix the yolks of four eggs, some butter, and four ounces of sugar, with some bread-crumbs; add this to the chopped spinach, form it into round cakes, and fry them in butter. p. 85.