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A Biography

From Michael Pollan to locavores, Whole Foods to farmers’ markets,  today cooks and foodies alike are paying more attention than ever before to the history of the food they bring into their kitchens—and especially to vegetables. Whether it’s an heirloom tomato, curled cabbage, or succulent squash, from a farmers’ market or a backyard plot, the humble vegetable offers more than just nutrition—it also represents a link with long tradition of farming and gardening, nurturing and breeding.

In this charming new book, those veggies finally get their due. In capsule biographies of eleven different vegetables—artichokes, beans, chard, cabbage, cardoons, carrots, chili peppers, Jerusalem artichokes, peas, pumpkins, and tomatoes—Evelyne Bloch-Dano explores the world of vegetables in all its facets, from science and agriculture to history, culture, and, of course, cooking. From the importance of peppers in early international trade to the most recent findings in genetics, from the cultural cachet of cabbage to Proust’s devotion to beef-and-carrot stew, to the surprising array of vegetables that preceded the pumpkin as the avatar of All Hallow’s Eve, Bloch-Dano takes readers on a dazzling tour of the fascinating stories behind our daily repasts.

Spicing her cornucopia with an eye for anecdote and a ready wit, Bloch-Dano has created a feast that’s sure to satisfy gardeners, chefs, and eaters alike.

An audiobook version is available.

128 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2012

Biological Sciences: Botany, Natural History

Food and Gastronomy


History: General History


"Bloch-Dano displays here erudite command of culinary history with both literary and historical anecdotes. . . . Digesting the contents of this little book yields a trove of trivia with which to impress shoppers and vendors alike at the farmers’ market."


"This allusive, impressionistic, quintessentially French tour of the kitchen garden takes us from aphrodisiac artichokes to Zola’s gritty market stalls, with many a literary and gustatory detour. Lazy summers in grandmother’s garden, the frenzy for fresh winter peas that gripped the court at Versailles in 1660, the global travels of the chili pepper, the contested history of Cinderella’s pumpkin--it’s all here, and it’s all fun."

Jane S. Smith, author of The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants

"From Grandma’s vegetable garden to our childhood tables, from personal memories--yes, members of the pumpkin family are also Proustian madeleines--to the origins of vegetables and to the way they have been cooked throughout the ages and on different continents, from the healing cabbage to the aphrodisiacal artichoke, we feast upon so much new information and upon how we can benefit from it."

Marie Claire | on the French edition

"A book that Colette would have adored, one that gives vegetables back their original flavor, that restores the parsnip or the cardoon, leads us through the kitchen garden into a child-like thrill of literature, and celebrates the democracy of pleasure."

Le Nouvel observateur | on the French edition

"A lovely book that makes you feel at once hungry for these plants and satiated by the knowledge you just reaped about them."


"Quirky . . . entertaining. . . . Bloch-Dano’s book confirms that we are what we eat, and that vegetables, like Bloch-Dano’s gardens, are firmly rooted in the realm of imagination."

Times Literary Supplement

“This is a wonderfully evocative and indeed mouthwatering celebration of vegetables and the joys of gardening. . . . Bloch-Dano takes 10 vegetables, from the carrot and the cabbage to the pumpkin and the pea, and explores their history, drawing on literature, art, language, geography, genetics and horticulture. She even throws in some recipes. There are many delightful details. The artichoke was Freud’s favourite plant, apparently reminding him of tearing up a book as a child. On parsnips, she cites Samuel Beckett: ‘I like parsnips because they taste like violets, and violets because they smell like parsnips.’ Bloch-Dano says ‘gardens are rooted in the realm of the imagination.’ So too are vegetables, as her slight but rich book shows.”

Guardian (UK)

Table of Contents

Translator’s Note

Introduction: From Grandma’s Garden to the Université populaire du goût
Good to Eat, Good to Think About
A Matter of Taste
The Cardoon and the Artichoke
The Jerusalem Artichoke
The Parsnip
The Carrot
The Pea
The Tomato
The Bean
The Pumpkin
The Chili Pepper

A Biographer of Vegetables, by Michel Onfray

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