National Geographic : 1946 Nov
Vegetable Market THE VEGETABLE market with its tented booths set up before the gate of a fortified town displays a sur prising variety of foodstuffs bought and sold in Roman times. Although orange and lemon trees had not been introduced to the European West, nor had white and sweet potatoes and tomatoes migrated from the New World, the rich man's fare from garden and orchard was fabulously composed. Even the poor had a wide choice of things within their means, though leek and garlic were their favorites. In late summer green-rinded water melons, the much-prized honey melon, and large yellow Persian melons were available. Many kinds of grapes of excellent quality were abundant; and apples, though small and savory rather than showy in appearance, were much in demand. All through Roman times there were pears and plums, the latter often dried as prunes; and quinces, which were better for preserves than for eating raw. Apricots were introduced rather late from Armenia, and peaches from Persia. Cherries had been mean and poor until a larger and more suc culent kind, discovered on the shores of the Black Sea, was brought to the European West. Occasionally pomegranates reached the Roman market, and figs, both purple and green, were almost over abundant. The figs, eaten soft and warm and ripe from the tree, were lusciously different from their brown desiccated remnants strung on a cord and hung up to dry for winter con sumption. Dates had all to be imported from Africa, because the date palm will not ripen its fruit in Italy or anywhere else on the northern shore of the Mediterranean, save for a few spots in southeastern Spain. Whoever was fond of berries could choose from mulberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries; and whoever liked nuts could purchase almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, chest nuts, or even the subtle pistachio and the giant seeds of the stone pine which the Mediterranean world still loves to nibble. The market pictured here is being patronized for its vegetables: un bleached celery, cucumbers of many shapes and sizes, gourds, yellow squash, cress, chicory, lettuce, and even endive. There are also green beans of several sorts, a change from the dried beans which, used for soups and porridges, shared with lentils and split peas the prime place on the peas ant's winter table. A rich man could grow his own asparagus in deep-dug, carefully planted beds; but if he wanted arti chokes for his guests, the best would have to be sent him from Tunisia or from Spain. Cabbage and kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts were common in Roman markets. If mushrooms were in season, some belonging to the ordinary genus Agaricus would be offered, as well as the Boletus, with its spongy mesh in place of gills. Truffles, too, which live underground till the pigs smell them and root them up, were dainties enjoyed in ancient Rome. The countryman in the foreground, with his bird and rabbit slung from a stick over his shoulder, is bound else where to dispose of his game, for this market has no stalls for sellers of meat. Above and behind all towers the splendid fortified gate of Diocletian's palace in Dalmatian Spalato (p. 631).