This dude is Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of the better-known Charles (who was also descended from Josiah Wedgewood, the pottery guy. Who knew?). In 1789 he published a poem entitled “The Loves of the Plants,” which is exactly what it sounds like—a verse compendium detailing the sexy plant-on-plant action of hundreds of botanical species, broadly organized in accordance with Linnaeus’s systems of classification. In heroic couplets, no less.
Determined to make botany interesting to a wide readership, Darwin penned such descriptions as this one where “With honey’d lips enamour’d Woodbines meet,/ Claps with fond arms, and mix their kisses sweet.” Or this one where “the charm’d Byssus with his blooming bride/ Spreads his green sails, and braves the foaming tide” as “The star of Venus gilds the twilight wave, and lights her votaries to the secret cave” and “Lights Cupid’s flutter round the nuptial bed,/ And each coy sea-maid hides her blushing head.” The poem was fairly popular when it was first published, but it fell out of fashion in the moral panic following the French Revolution due to Erasmus Darwin’s radical ideas about things like educating women and not enslaving black people. And if Darwin’s politics hadn’t killed the poem’s popularity, the Victorians probably would have found his evocative descriptions too risque anyway. (They might have been okay with the heteronormative dioecia, but God help them when they got to the orgiastic polygamia or the cross-dressing gynandria).
In Indiana in August one must cultivate an entirely different kind of love of the plants as everything in one’s garden comes ripe at the same time. (See what I did there? Never say I can’t write a good transition). To cope with this problem I’ve been making eggplant and tomato basil soup, stir fry, and salsa. Lots of salsa. For those of you who may also be in the grip of a tomato invasion, here is my recipe.
“The Loves of the Plants” Garden Salsa
- 6 lbs tomatoes
- 5 jalapeño peppers
- 1 medium onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- ¾ cup vinegar
- 1 T lime or lemon juice
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper
- ½ cup chopped lime basil (or cilantro)
Halve the tomatoes and put them cut-side-down in a pan. Broil the tomatoes for 5-7 minutes or until the skin starts to blacken and crack. While the tomatoes are broiling and cooling, dice the onion and seed and dice the jalapeños. (Tip: either wear gloves to seed and dice the peppers or, right after, wash your hands with cold water and de-greasing dish soap). Crush and mince the garlic. Set aside.
Let the tomatoes cool enough to handle, and then peel off the skin and squeeze the juice out into a bowl. Make sure the tomatoes are cool all the way through before you squeeze them! You can coarsely dice the tomatoes if they aren’t already falling apart from being broiled. Put the tomatoes in a pot. (Note: they say not to boil recipes with vinegar in aluminum pots, so if you have a stainless steel pot or a dutch oven, now might be the time to bust it out).
Add the vinegar, salt, oregano, sugar, cumin, red pepper, lime or lemon juice, onions, jalapeños, and garlic. Bring to a boil. Boil the salsa for about 10-15 minutes, until the onions and peppers are tender. During this time, you can also add as much of the tomato juice as you would like depending on how thick you like your salsa (I save the rest of the juice and put it in soup). Coarsely chop the lime basil or cilantro (or both if you want to get really wild) and add it in for the last few minutes of cooking.
Refrigerate until cool and eat on everything. I also can this salsa, and the proportions seem to be right not to kill anyone, which is just to say that neither I nor Mr. Poor Baker have died from eating it. But please don’t take my word for it—unless you know how to avoid food-born illnesses with proper canning techniques, just refrigerate the salsa. You’ll eat it too fast to even make canning it worth the price of boiling the water.