Agriculture is the foundation of human advancement. As soon as we were able to reliably grow our own food, we could finally do-away with the nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle and begin the serious business of cultivating a staggering array of vegetables, that would one day terrorise our children at tea-time and be hilariously compared to the shape of David Beckham’s genitals. All vegetables have an interesting story to tell. Instead of that, here’s this:
10 Johnny Appleseed
Johnny Appleseed was a real person. Mystery surrounds his name so that, like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, he has passed into the realm of legend. He roamed the New World territories of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana in the late 1700s and early 1800s, planting 100,000 square miles of apple orchards as he went, some of which remain today. Barefoot and dressed in sackcloth, people were greatly entertained by his activities. He was quick to befriend Native Americans, children, and animals alike.
He was not a saint however; growing apples was big business. He seemed to have an uncanny knack for knowing where the next settlement was going to spring up and arrived ahead of time. When the pioneers came along, he would sell his trees for a few pennies and move on and due to this commercial prowess, he died a wealthy man.
Johnny’s apples did not go into pies and cobblers: Apples were not highly valued as food back then. Johnny’s orchards were planted for making strong cider and applejack. After all, there was no sense in conquering frontier if you couldn’t suck down a gallon of scrumpy of a night.
9 Negative-Calorie Celery
There is no pursuit fraught with more anecdotal, questionable, and downright dangerous advice than dieting. One of the most dubious claims is that there are “negative calorie” foods—so low in calories that the very act of chewing and digesting them consumes more energy than the food actually gives us. The most commonly cited example is celery, which contains about six calories per stalk. Dozens of otherwise reliable sources assert that celery will actually help you lose weight.
However, the act of digestion is remarkably efficient and burns very few calories. Humankind often had to expend enormous amounts of energy to obtain food. If digesting what they managed to amass was also susceptible to energy-consumption tax, they would have most likely starved to death. Celery is no replacement for exercise, but feel free to chow down on the stuff until your heart is content. It would take over 300 sticks to equal the average daily ration of calories.
8 Banana Extinction
Our Great-grandparents had to deal with The Great War and The Great Depression, but they did have something we don’t – Great bananas. Prior to the 1950s, the most widely distributed banana in the world was the “Gros Michel.” Unfortunately, the Gros Michel banana was nearly wiped out by a fungus called Panama Disease.
Today, we enjoy a similar version of the banana called the Cavendish. The Cavendish is smaller, more fragile, and less tasty than the Gros Michel, but it has a resistance to the Panama Disease. But like the Gros Michel before it, the Cavendish is in big trouble. There’s a new strain of Panama Disease on the rise, and most scientists believe that it is only a matter of time before the Cavendish, which is susceptible to this version, will also disappear functionally; There are still Gros Michels around, just not enough to meet global demand.
7 Toxic Potatoes
The common potato is a member of the Solanum genus and a kissing cousin of deadly nightshade. Like nightshade, the potato produces large amounts of substances called glycoalkaloids, particularly one nasty strain called solanine. This poison is the potato’s defense mechanism that keep it from getting eaten, and is most concentrated in the leaves, stems, and shoots. Spotting any green on the skin of the potato is a sure indication of the presence of solanine. Most commercially available potatoes are carefully cultivated for low levels of the poison, but it is possible to get one with a high amount present, and people have died from ingesting potato solanine. While cooking can reduce the level, every potato you eat gives you at least some small amount of exposure.
6 Grape Plasma
A simple grape can be turned from a solid to a gas to a plasma with a little ride in the microwave. There are some inherent dangers involved in catastrophically changing states of matter, and the microwave might not survive this stunt. There is also a chance, however remote, that you might set your house on fire, but you’ll never know unless you try it..
The set up is simple. Take a grape, and slice it about 90 percent of the way through, leaving both halves attached by a small strip of skin. Remove the rotating tray from the microwave, insert grape, and set it for no more than ten seconds. After a couple seconds, the moisture inside the grape emerges as a gas, and the charge between the two halves turns the steam into a brief electric lightshow. Placing a clear glass over the top of the grape will contain the plasma a few moments longer.
5 Cannibal Tomato
The Cannibal Tomato is actually an aubergine. The plant closely resembles a tomato and was used by the natives of Fiji, who have practiced cannibalism for thousands of years, to create a sauce said to be the perfect complement to eating human flesh. Some modern-day folks who have tasted human meat have likened its flavour and consistency to that of veal, so it would seem entirely appropriate to pair it with a nice marinara.
4 Designer Melons
The watermelon originated in southern Africa, and its spread throughout the world highlights the existence of sophisticated trade routes in ancient times. It was consumed by Egyptians during the time of the pharaohs. It reached China by the 10th century and Europe in the 13th century.
Highly adaptable, the watermelon was a natural target for the Japanese appetite for novelty. Farmers discovered a way of raising the melons inside glass boxes so that they grow into cube shape for easy storage in refrigerators. Other shapes—including pyramids—have also been formed. Even more outlandish are the prices paid for gourmet “Densuke” watermelons. Grown only on Hokkaido Island, the first few specimens harvested each year sell for thousands of pounds. The average Densuke melon retails for about £180.
3 Purple Carrots
Like the watermelon, the carrot’s migration around the world can be traced, though there are some doubts regarding its origin. It is believed to have been first cultivated in modern-day Afghanistan, then swept into Europe along Middle Eastern trade routes. Of course, we would hardly recognize these ancient carrots—they were rather straggly and either white or purple. In the green fingers of the Dutch, the carrot was lovingly bred into its current orange splendour. While most of us have never seen anything but orange carrots, other colours are available in high-end grocery and health food stores, often in “rainbow packs,” including white, yellow, red, purple, and even black varieties.
Many people, particularly children, turn up their nose at spinach. Enter Elzie Segar, whose Popeye character derived superhuman strength from a can of spinach. There is no telling just how profound an impact Popeye has had on the worldwide consumption of spinach, but there have been statues erected of him in growing communities. Canner Allens Vegetables even markets a Popeye brand. It was said that spinach was chosen by Segar because of a dubious study from the 1800s that misplaced a decimal point in estimating the iron content of the vegetable.
1 The World’s Most Hated Vegetable
Unfortunately, vegetables are often the most reviled of foods. President George H.W. Bush so hated broccoli that he made headlines when he banned it from the White House. Surveys in the UK have shown celery to be their least favourite green. But the world over, one vegetable continually tops the lists of “most hated”: The Brussels Sprout.
These tiny cabbages are extremely healthy, with over a dozen vitamins and minerals, but their flavour turns off most palates. In fairness to the sprouts, certain cooking methods can improve their taste. For best results, aficionados claim that smaller sprouts taste sweeter. Halving them, plunge boiling them and then sautéing with pumpkin seeds will deliver any set of discerning taste-buds into transports of delight.