Today, day 12 of Harvest month, is the day of the Globe Artichoke.
A cultivated form of a thistle which grows wild around the Mediterranean, the artichoke is another vegetable which has been eaten for thousands of years. The edible piece is the flower bud of the plant.
To us, artichokes are probably thought of as slightly luxurious, a bit of a delicacy. But not everyone is a fan. Travelling in Italy, Goethe wrote that:
The peasants here eat thistles – a practice I could never adopt.
Pliny the Elder was not a devotee either:
We turn into a corrupt feast the earth’s monstrosities, which even the animals instinctively avoid…
The painter Caravaggio once got in an altercation about artichokes (he got in altercations about rather a lot of things…).
A waiter brought him eight artichokes, four cooked in butter and four cooked in oil. When Caravaggio asked which was which, he was told to smell them and work it out himself.
So he lifted an earthenware dish, and beat the waiter round the head with it.
Messidor is the month of the Harvest. And you don’t have much of a harvest if the crop just stays in the ground, so day 10 brings us la faucille – the sickle.
The sickle is a pretty iconic tool. It’s so synonymous with agriculture that it has long been used by revolutionary movements as a symbol of the power of the peasantry.
It’s been in use since before the Neolithic. The discovery of sickles is one of the pieces of evidence we have for the beginnings of agriculture.
They’re also one of the earliest serrated tools; the “teeth” in early examples were pieces of sharp flint set in a bone or wooden blade.
Pliny mentions druids in Gaul using a golden sickle to harvest mistletoe as part of a fertility rite. Whether true or not, this image has stuck as the popular idea of a druid. Helped along, no doubt, by the most famous Gaul of ’em all, Asterix!
• Month: Messidor, month of the Harvest
• Day: Décadi, the tenth day of the (decimal, ten-day) week (weekend already!)
• Day: Nonidi, the ninth day of the (decimal, ten-day) week
• Named for: Absinthe, Wormwood, or Artemesia.
Today, the ninth day of Messidor, is named in honour of wormwood, Artemesia absinthium.
Wormwood has been used for a host of things for centuries. Perhaps most famously as the key ingredient in “the green fairy”, absinthe.
It’s conceivable that without Artemesia, James Joyce wouldn’t have been just quite so touched in the head.
Beloved by Paris bohemians, absinthe suffered a Daily Mail-esque moral scare regarding all sorts of detrimental health effects from insanity to loose morals, largely attributed to the wormwood in it. For this reason it was widely banned for most of the twentieth century.
It has a very bitter taste. Both in Shakespeare and the Bible, the plant is used metaphorically to refer to bitterness – both the flavour, and the emotion.
For those interested, there are certain sites on the web more…experimental…than this one, where you can read people’s accounts of investigating wormwood’s psychoactive properties!
(The variety pictured isn’t absinthe wormwood, alas, so I can’t give you a first-hand account!)