Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Two years ago, in a comment at LanguageHat, AJP Crown wondered whether there was interest in writing about truffles here. Honestly, the challenge has not been material, but having time to put it into some kind of coherent form.

These days, restaurants and frozen entrees offer dishes like mac-n-cheese that are truffled, that is, made with truffle oil. The LA food critic Jonathan Gold called truffle oil, “the ketchup of the middle class” and a judge on a recent Chopped proposed that it should be incinerated. In 2003, Jeffrey Steingarten wrote a piece for Vogue provocatively titled, “Does truffle oil have anything to do with truffles at all?” (I won't try to link to it online. A individual subscription to Vogue's online archive cost $1575 per year, so I doubt anyone who reads this blog has one. The public library where I read it still has all the print issues neatly shelved in cardboard boxes.) He methodically samples various truffle-derived or -named products. The best he can be say is that some are worse than others. Mostly, truffle oil is vegetable oil with 2,4 dithiapentane (or, if you prefer, bis(methylthio)methane) added. And since natural or naturale is not a controlled designation, saying that does not mean anything about how the oil was made.

But what of real truffles?

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Some classic European truffle dishes, meant to showcase Périgord black and Piedmont white truffles, are vegetarian. Such as an omelette aux truffes or fresh pasta al tartufo. Rossini's Salad from The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook is vegan: boiled potatoes, sliced truffles cooked in champagne, oil and vinegar dressing. (Dumas (fils)'s “better version of it,” Salade Francillon, is not. Toklas notes that, “Rossini was inordinately fond of truffles.” Indeed, he once claimed, «Je n'ai pleuré que trois fois en ma vie; la première, quand mon premier opéra tomba, à la première representation; la seconde, lorsque me trouvant en bateau, avec des amis, une dinde aux truffes, que nous devions manger, vint à tomber dans l'eau; et la troisième, lorsque j'entendis Paganini pour la première fois.» 'I have only cried three times in my life: first, when my first opera bombed on opening night; second, when finding myself in a boat with friends, a truffled turkey that we intended to eat fell into the water; and third when I heard Paganini for the first time.') Unfortunately, it seems that by the time truffles have been flown over from Europe and driven up from New York here to Boston, chefs feel obligated to only use them extravagantly as a garnish on some meat dish. Which is likewise how they always seem to show up on Iron Chef.

Food writers are just as extravagant. Brillat-Savarin called the truffle, “le diamant de la cuisine” 'the diamond of the kitchen'. (If anything, truffles are rarer, but diamonds have a more effective cartel.) Curnonsky quotes Rodolphe Bringer updating this to the 20th Century, «La truffe participe du radium par sa précieuse variété et du diamant par les difficultés qu'impose sa recherche.» 'Truffles share with radium their precious varieties and with diamonds the difficulties in finding them.' Alexandre Dumas (père) proposed:

Faire l'histoire des truffes serait entreprendre celle de la civilisation du monde, à laquelle, toutes muettes qu'elles sont, elles ont pris plus de part que les lois de Minos, que les tables de Solon à toutes les grandes époques des nations, à toutes les grandes lueurs que jetèrent les empires; elles affluaient à Rome, de la Grèce et de la Libye; les Barbares en passant sur elles les foulèrent aux pieds et les firent disparaître, et d'Augustule jusqu'à Louis XV elles s'effacent pour reparaître seulement au xviiie siècle et atteindre leur apogée sous le gouvernement parlementaire de 1820 à 1848.

To relate the history of truffles would be to undertake that of world civilization, in which, though they are silent, they have had a greater part than the laws of Minos or the tablets of Solon, through all the great epochs of the nations, through all the great lights which shone on empires; they flowed into Rome, from Greece and from Libya; the barbarians coming upon them trampled them underfoot and made them disappear, from Augustulus to Louis XV they fade out only to reappear in the 18th Century and to attain their peak under the parliamentary government from 1820 to 1848.

This is a hard case to make. There is a much more solid one for spices, which really did drive the history of the world. Or, at least for the Americas and Europe, for potatoes, as in Salaman's classic History and Social Influence of the Potato. Truffles in fact made a brief appearance here before in a post on Potato. And when the Spanish discovered potatoes, they compared them to turmas 'truffles'. The German Kartoffel retains the association.

A good part of the history of truffles is the history of working out where they come from and whether it is possible to control that.

For example, Pliny the Elder writes:

et quoniam a miraculis rerum coepimus, sequemur eorum ordinem, in quibus vel maximum est aliquid nasci ac vivere sine ulla radice. tubera haec vocantur undique terra circumdata nullisque fibris nixa aut saltem capillamentis, nec utique extuberante loco, in quo gignuntur, aut rimas sentiente. neque ipsa terrae cohaerent, cortice etiam includuntur, ut plane nec terram esse possimus dicere neque aliud quam terrae callum. … crescant anne vitium id terrae - neque enim aliud intellegi potest - ea protinus globetur magnitudine, qua futurum est, et vivat necne, non facile arbitror intellegi posse. putrescendi enim ratio communis est cum ligno. lartio licinio praetorio viro iura reddenti in hispania carthagine paucis his annis scimus accidisse mordenti tuber, ut deprehensus intus denarius primos dentes inflecteret, quo manifestum erit terrae naturam in se globari. quod certum est, ex his erunt, quae nascantur et seri non possint. (HN 19.11)

de tuberibus haec traduntur peculiariter: cum fuerint imbres autumnales ac tonitrua crebra, tunc nasci et maxime tonitribus, nec ultra annum durare, tenerrima autem verno esse. quibusdam locis accepta tantum riguis feruntur, sicut mytilenis negant nasci nisi exundatione fluminum invecto semine ab tiaris. est autem is locus, in quo plurima nascuntur. … (19.13)

As we have here made a beginning of treating of the marvels of Nature, we shall proceed to examine them in detail; and among them the very greatest of all, beyond a doubt, is the fact that any plant should spring up and grow without a root. Such, for instance, is the vegetable production known as the truffle; surrounded on every side by earth, it is connected with it by no fibres, not so much as a single thread even, while the spot in which it grows, presents neither protuberance nor cleft to the view. It is found, in fact, in no way adhering to the earth, but enclosed within an outer coat; so much so, indeed, that though we cannot exactly pronounce it to be composed of earth, we must conclude that it is nothing else but a callous concretion of the earth.
… Whether the truffle grows gradually, or whether this blemish of the earth—for it can be looked upon as nothing else—at once assumes the globular form and magnitude which it presents when found; whether, too, it is possessed of vitality or not, are all of them questions, which, in my opinion, are not easy to be solved. It decays and rots in a manner precisely similar to wood.
It is known to me as a fact, that the following circumstance happened to Lartius Licinius, a person of prætorian rank, while minister of justice, a few years ago, at Carthage in Spain; upon biting a truffle, he found a denarius inside, which all but broke his fore teeth—an evident proof that the truffle is nothing else but an agglomeration of elementary earth. At all events, it is quite certain that the truffle belongs to those vegetable productions which spring up spontaneously, and are incapable of being reproduced from seed. (tr. Bostock & Riley)

The following peculiarities we find mentioned with reference to the truffle. When there have been showers in autumn, and frequent thunder-storms, truffles are produced, thunder contributing more particularly to their developement; they do not, however, last beyond a year, and are considered the most delicate eating when gathered in spring. In some places the formation of them is attributed to water; as at Mytilene, for instance, where they are never to be found, it is said, unless the rivers overflow, and bring down the seed from Tiara, that being the name of a place at which they are produced in the greatest abundance. … (ibid.)

That the right amount of moisture is needed for growth is by itself not surprising. And could charitably be described as a fact, and as such a basis for some similar French folk sayings:

  • Quand il pleut en août, les truffes sont au bout.
  • Quand il pleut à Saint Roch (le 16 août), les truffes naissent sur le roc.
  • Quand il pleut à la Saint Barthélemy (le 24 août), il y a des truffes à plein nid. (here and here)
  • When it rains in August, truffles come after.
  • When it rains on Saint Roch (August 16), truffles are born on the rock.
  • When it rains on Saint Bartholomew (August 24), there is a nestfull of truffles.

But the thunderstorms and formation from bits of earth go beyond that. We will return to the matter of seeds below.

So too Plutarch: Symposiaca IV 2 is titled, “Διὰ τί τὰ ὕδνα δοχεῖ τῇ βροντῇ γίνεσθαι” 'Why truffles seem to be produced by thunder'. Ancient Greek had several words for kinds of truffles, including γεράνειον, μίσυ and ὕδνον. Theophrastus describes (Frag. 167) μίσυ as a truffle growing near Cyrene and it looks like a loanword. Manuscripts of his Enquiry into Plants have (I vi 5):

πλὴν εἰ ὅλως ἔνια μὴ ἔχει, καθάπερ ὕδνον μύκης πύξος κράνιον.

except that some have no roots at all, such as the truffle mushroom boxwood cherry.

The last two words are evidently corrupt. The usual conjectures (as in the Loeb linked above) are πέζις κεραύνιον, so 'bullfist thunder' because of that association. But this seems like a folk etymology. It could have been γεράνειον, which appears to derive from γέρανος, which normally means 'crane'. But the Etymologicum Magnum has “γέρανος, ὁ ὄμβρος ὑπὸ κυρηναίων.” Again, Cyrene was where μίσυ came from. Now ὄμβρος is still usually 'thunderstorm'. But Hesychius says that ὄμβρος is χοιρίδιον, which is a diminutive of χοῖρος 'porker'. This makes sense, since pigs are good at finding truffles; better than dogs, but harder to train not to just eat what they find. Emboldened by this, Werner Winter proposed to derive ὕδνον from ὗς 'swine' as *su-Adnom. The latter part being something to do with eating, like Sanskrit अन्न anna 'food, esp. rice' < *ed-no-m, the root being the same as English eat. So, 'sow-eats'. In other words, it's possible that both Greek words are in the always surprising category, Words You Never Knew Had Something to Do with Pigs.

The truffles of the ancients were not today's important European truffles, but desert truffles from North Africa. Juvenal writes, “‘Tibi habe frumentum’ Alledius inquit, ‘o Libye, disjunge boves, dum tubera mittas.’” 'Keep your grain, Alledius says, Oh Libya, unyoke your oxen, while you send truffles.'

There is a hadith:

الْكَمْأَةُ مِنَ الْمَنِّ، وَمَاؤُهَا شِفَاءٌ لِلْعَيْنِ

alkamʾāhu mina almanni، wamāʾūhā šifāʾ lilʿayni

The truffle is like manna, and its water is a cure for the eye.

It is even proposed from time to time that the manna of the Israelites was truffles, for instance, here, as more sustaining than the usual proposals.

On a state visit in 1998, Madeleine Albright received “eleven huge boxes of Saudi-grown truffles” from Crown Prince Abdallah. In Madam Secretary, she says that under State Department rules she was allowed to keep them because they were perishable. I believe at the time some opposition politicians tried to make trouble by valuing them as though they were the better known (to Americans and Europeans) kinds. A Saudi Aramco World article gives some more words in modern Arabic dialects and a recipe. As usual, the print version has excellent photographs. However, the quote about the their abundance under the Fatimid Caliphate may be not from Edward Lane, but Stanley Lane-Poole, unless the latter is in fact quoting some work of his great uncle's that isn't online.

Typical of the entries one finds by searching around in the elder Lane's Lexicon is one for فَسَوَاتُ الضِّبَاعِ fasawātu alḍḍibāʿi 'hyena farts', “an appellation of Certain truffles, … and further that it is a plant of disagreeable odour, having a head which is cooked, and eaten with milk; and when it dries, there comes forth from it what resembles وَرْس.” (Which I think means they produce something like Indian yellow dye.)

Tuber and terræ tuber give many of the modern words for truffle in Western European languages: Italian tartufo, French truffe (earlier trufle), German Trüffel, Spanish trufa. The origin is clear, though the exact phonological processes aren't; and likewise it also somehow leads to obsolete and dialectical English trub. In the scheme of Wilkin's Philosophical Language, trubs are (p. 70; EEBO):

Plants > Herbs Considered According to their Leaves > Imperfect Herbs > Terrestrial > Moſt imperfect (which ſeem to be of a ſpontaneous generation) > Having no leaf > Without a Stem (of a roundiſh figure ‖ growing either in the ground, being eſculent, & counted a great delicate:

English also has the doublet trifle.

I presume that Jarðkeppur 'earth fungus' is a deliberate native Icelandic invention and relatively recent. A number of older words elsewhere refer to various hypogeous foods, including truffles and other funguses along with and potatoes and other tubers. As often with food words, it is unclear, at least to me, whether these referred to a variety of things within a single speech community or to different things in related ones. For example, Spanish criadilla de tierra and turma de tierra. Grimm gives truffle as one of the meanings of Grübling, along with potatoes and Phallus impudicus (for which Dr. Krokowski can only bring himself to give half the name); Adelung says it is also a kind of apple. Zedler describes truffles in one of the entries for Erdäpfel. Among the synonyms there are Hirschbrunst 'hart rut' and Hirschschwamme 'hart fungus', the idea being that some kind of fungus is produced where stags had rutted. (In English, deer truffle is Elaphomyces, which deer eat.) A number of truffle web sites in Italy give Hirstbrunst; if not a typo, perhaps that is the form in a German dialect spoken in Northern Italy.

Martial's Epigrams xiii l is spoken by truffles:

Rumpimus altricem tenero quae vertice terram
Tubera, boletis poma secunda sumus.

We who burst through the nurturing soil with our soft heads
Are truffles, of fruits second only to mushrooms.

Petrarch's ninth sonnet of the rime describes their formation from very little in Spring, “grauido fa di ſe il terreſtro humore” 'makes earthly moisture pregnant of itself'.

And not just poets. Fanciful ideas on the origin of fungi continued as scientific botany began to emerge. So, Hieronymus Bock's De stirpium (1552) (p. 942):

Fungi, ſicut & Tubera neque plantæ, neque radices, neque flores, neque ſemina ſunt, ſed nihil aliud quam terræ, arborum, lignorum putridorum aliarumque putrilaginum ſuperfluæ humiditates, id quod inde colligi poteſt, quod omnes Fungi & Tubera: maxime ea quæ edendo ſunt, è tonitrubus, & pluuioſo coeli ſtatu frequentius naſci ſoleant, …

Mushrooms like truffles are neither plants, nor roots, nor flowers, nor seeds, but but nothing other than the superfluous moisture of earth, trees, rotting wood, and other rotting things, which can be gathered from the fact that all mushrooms and truffles, especially the ones which are for eating, grow most frequently when there is thundery and rainy weather, …

The same passage is included almost verbatim in the 1671 edition of G. Bauhin's Pinax p. 369 and translated into German in a 1590 Mattioli Kreutterbuch (p. 386):

Alle Schwämme ſeind weder Kreutter noch Wurtzeln/ weder Blumen noch Samen/ ſondern eittel uberflüſſige Feuchtigkeit der Erden/ der Bäume/ der faulen Höltzer/ und anderer faulen dingen …

In 1583, Giambattista della Porta published Phytognominica, in which there is a chapter, “Contra antiquorum opinionem plantas omnes ſemine donatas eſſe” 'Contrary to the opinion of the ancients, all plants are provided with seed'. In noting that he has found seeds (spores, that is) from mushrooms and truffles, he writes (p. 367):

Falſo igitur Porphyrius Deorum filios fungos, & tubera dixit,quod ſine ſemine prouenirent. Sic in tuberum corticibus, ut in cupreſſi pilulis, nigrum etiã latet ſemen: ob id in ſiluis, ubi ſępius prodierint, & computruerint, ſemper proveniunt.

Porphyrius therefore says falsely that since they arise without seed mushrooms and truffles are the children of the gods. So in truffles by shells, as in cypress by pills, a black seed lies hidden: because of this they always come forth in woods, where they have frequently been produced and rotted away.

Nevertheless, Robert Hooke's 1665 Micrographia concluded (Obs. XX):

Next, that as Muſhroms may be generated without ſeed, ſo does it not appear that they have any ſuch thing as ſeed in any part of them; for having conſidered ſeveral kinds of them, I could never find any thing in them that I could with any probability gheſs to be the ſeed of it, ſo that it does not as yet appear (that I know of) that Muſhroms may be generated from a ſeed, but they rather ſeem to depend merely upon a convenient conſtitution of the matter out of which they are made, and a concurrence of either natural or artificial heat.

Joseph Pierre de Tournefort sensed the contradiction between what he was able to observe, “ne produit ni fleurs ni graines sensibles” 'produce neither flowers nor perceptible seeds' and what he had to assume was going on, “Suivant les apparences ces filets blancs ne font autre chose que les graines ou les germes développés des Champignons” 'According to their appearance, these white threads are nothing other than the seeds or developed germs of mushrooms'.

The birth of the science of mycology was Pier Antonio Micheli's 1729 Nova plantarum genera juxta Tournafortii methodum disposita. He carried out experiments, some of which were successful, trying to grow fungi in culture media from spores. His illustration of truffles labels them semina.

Giovanni Bernardo Vigo, “Il Virgilio Piemontese,” wrote a book-length poem on truffles and truffle hunters originally in Latin and translated in 1776 into Italian by the author. It appears that the BNF has both versions bound together, but they have not scanned that into Gallica yet. There is a modern edition of just the Italian for only a few euros, though.

For balance, there is Eustache Deschamps, who when he got sick from eating truffles, wrote a ballade against them where each stanza ends with, “De pis avoir que d'acès de tierçaine” 'worse than having a bout of tertian fever'.

Most books on truffles in English mention that truffles grow in England, perhaps citing Tancred Robinson's 1693 report of them in Northamptonshire. Or Richard Bradley's Dictionarium Botanicum (1728) entry, “I gueſs, we have few old Woods in England without them.” Readers of A Common Reader may recall from the “Outlines” essay on Lady Dorothy Nevill that, in addition to orchids, “she went into the question of funguses and established the virtues of the neglected English truffle.” And indeed that is reported in the book by her son under review there — to the extent that Woolf''s essay is a book review and not a meditation on upper- and upper-middle-class, the aristocracy and the Walpoles, Darwins and Stephens. And Lady Nevill's note-book records that she persuaded Lord Ashburton to hunt them beneath the beech trees and serve them for dinner at the Grange in Hampshire. But what were truffles traditionally called in Hampshire and Northamptonshire? Prior's On the Popular Names of British Plants (digested in Dickens's All the Year Round) only gives Parkinson's trubbes and the presumably general earth-balls.

There are also truffles in North America, in particular in Oregon and California. Early reports noted that they were as good as European truffles, but suggested that they were too rare to be exploited as food. And that has only happened in the last few years, with the increased popularity of both truffles and local foods. If these truffles were known to Native Americans, I have not found any mention of it and so no description of what they might have been called. On the other hand, on the East Coast, there is tuckahoe, Indian bread or the Virginia truffle. Jefferson noted this as Lycoperdon tuber, which is to say he thought it was a truffle. (Although it is not a truffle and truffles are no longer Lycoperdon.) The Algonquian etymology is sometimes given as something about bread. But in a Smithsonian report, the author quotes J. Hammond Trumbull — who gave Twain those Gilded Age mottoes — relating it to Cree pitikwaw 'made round', which seems to be the version given more often now.

This same fungus is found in China, where it is called 茯苓 fu2 ling2. Du Halde predictably reported:

Il y a de nos Miſſionnaires qui ſont du pays où ſe trouvent les truffles en France, qui aſſurent que le Pe fou ling du Chen ſi eſt véritablement truffle.

There are some of our missionaries who are from the countryside in France where truffles are found, who assure us that the Pe fou ling of Chen si is indeed truffle.

There are true truffles in China, with names including 塊菌 (simplified 块菌) Mandarin kuai4 jun1, Cantonese faai3 kwan2, literally 'lump fungus'. See the Gastronomica article by Gareth Renowden, “Truffle Wars,” on how these have gone from relative obscurity in Yunnan and Sichuan out into the globalized food market since the 1980s and 90s. The same species, Tuber indicum, is also native to India. A Colonel Elphinstone (I do not think this is any of the famous Elphinstones) reported them in the Kangra hills, growing under pine trees. And here is a note on something sold as “Tibetan truffles” in Munich's Viktualienmarkt last year and evidently either T. indicum or T. himalayensis.

Update: See comment below from JosephK giving more comprehensive Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese names. 松露菌 song1 lu4 jun1, literally 'pine dew fungus', appears to now be the more common name, particularly online. It originally referred to Rhizopogon rubescens and does confirm the pine tree habitat. The paper “块菌名实考证及其资源保护” by Wang Yun 王云 and Liu Pei-Gui 刘培贵 covers Chinese species and names more carefully and points out that attempts to exactly match Chinese Tuber species with type specimens have so far been inconclusive. There is also this documentary from CCTV-10, in which Prof. Liu is featured prominently.

Given the discussion above on Greek words, we should also mention the Buddha's last meal, sūkaramaddava, which appears to literally mean 'pig delicacy', that is, tender pork, or possibly something that pigs eat. Other traditional theories are bamboo shoots trodden on by pigs or a mushroom (ahicchattaka 'snake's umbrella') that grows where pigs have trampled the ground. But Rhys-Davids, who had only noted the controversy in his Milinda, in his later translation of the Dīgha Nikāya, renders it as “a quantity of truffles,” following Neumann who had found various other sūkara- fungus words. See the thorough discussion in Arthur Waley's, “Did Buddha die of eating pork?” Waley, at least when with Beryl de Zoete, was a vegetarian.

Finally, an anecdote:

On devait manger un dinde aux truffes à un dîner où se trouvait M. de Buffon. Avant de se mettre à table, une vieille dame demanda au naturaliste où venaient les truffes. « A vos pieds, madame », répondit-il. La dame ne comprend pas, M. de Buffon lui dit : « C'est aux pieds des charmes. » On trouva charmans et le compliment et celui qui le faisait. Vers la fin du repas, quelqu'un fit la même question au savant, qui, ne faisant pas attention à la dame d'avant dîner, dit ingénûment: « C'est aux pieds des vieux charmes. » La dame, qui l'entendit, ne le trouva plus si charmant.

Buffon found himself at a dinner where truffled turkey was to be surved. Before sitting down to the table, an elderly lady asked the naturalist where truffles came from. “At your feet, Madame,” he answered. The lady did not understand, so Buffon told her, “At the feet of charmes.” She found both the compliment and the one who made it charming. Near the end of the meal, someone put the same question to the savant, who, not paying attention to the lady from before dinner, said ingenuously, “At the feet of old charmes.” The lady, who heard him, did not find him so charming.

The oldest reference to this story I have found is in the 1804 L'improvisateur français, which also carefully lays out the pun: charmes is both 'charms', that is, attractive (female) physical attributes, and European hornbeams. A search also finds what appears to be an actual innocent occurrence. It shows up in English in a French language reader, translated in a Gentleman's Magazine piece on truffles and The Pleasures of the Table's chapter on them, as well as among “Anecdotes of the Kitchen” or “After Dinner Talk,” the latter from The Epicure: A Journal of Taste, from S.S. Pierce, the Boston Brahmins' grocer. I first read the joke in The Pantropheon. Alexis Soyer was Britain's, and perhaps the world's, first celebrity chef in a more or less modern sense, who also wrote a cookbook for people of modest means, set up soup kitchens for victims of the Irish famine, and worked with Florence Nightingale on the diet of men recovering in hospital from the Crimean War.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Green Bean

The supermarket was well stocked this week with fresh green beans. The side of the display had jars of gourmet fried onions — another postmodern reimagining of a boomer classic. In keeping with the holiday tradition of assigning a writer to write about the current holiday's traditions, time.com informs us that the association is an accident: the dish was invented in 1955 by Campbell's Soup and just happened to be in an AP feature. A quick check of the Google News Archive finds that it was served with barbeque to the Shah of Iran and Empress Soraya that year in Florida. Since that visit was in January, it must have actually been invented at the start of the year and under other circumstances might have ended up a Nowruz standard. A slightly fancier version in Sylvia Lovegren's entertaining Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads, adding sliced almonds, is from a 1961 Campbell's ad.

I am not much of one for holidays: I use the quiet time to catch up on work. In my experience, Thanksgiving is the hardest day to find a restaurant open (and serving a regular menu). On Christmas, there is Halal or Kosher (when it isn't Saturday), or one can eat Chinese food with all the Jewish people.

As it happens, our two favorite green bean dishes are Chinese.

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Green Beans with Chinese Cheese, that is, Long Beans with Fermented Bean Curd. I believe we had this at the House of Toy on Hudson Street, which was a popular destination for hackers. Here is what SAIL's YUMYUM file says:

My favorite Chinese restaurant in Boston area, best sweet and sour in Boston area [ES-5/77]. Favorites are ginger and fish meat. Best vermicelli (bean thread) dishes in Boston [GLS-78].

We also called them Fu-yi Green Beans, and that is what we still call the dish at home, where we like to make it with the jars of fermented bean curd that have chili added. It's possible that was the name on the menu, or something someone in our party knew from elsewhere. If so, the name in Cantonese would be something like 腐乳豆角 fu6 jyu5 dau6 gok3 as here. But memory is a tricky thing, and I would welcome corrections from Bostonians who might have saved a menu from back then. Due to changing demographics in Chinatown, I have not seen this dish around in some time, but perhaps I have just missed it. William Shurtleff, America's soy food evangelist, has a page on the history of fermented bean curd.

You had to go across the river to Cambridge to get Kan Shao Green Beans at Joyce Chen's Small Eating Place (I have menus here from the larger place near Fresh Pond). Regular green beans are 四季豆 si4 ji4 dou4, 'four seasons beans', because they are available year round. Strictly speaking, there are two related ways of cooking possible, and at least in America, restaurants are not always careful to distinguish them. Mandarin 乾燒 (simplified 干烧) gan1 shao1 /  Cantonese 乾炒 gon1 caau2 is ordinary dry-cooked. 乾煸 gan1 bian3 involves first deep frying the food and then dry-frying it a second time with less oil. This produces Szechwan-style shriveled green beans. They are traditionally made with pork and/or dried shrimp, but those can be left out to make it vegan.

This is where the nostalgia becomes relevant to this blog. has an ordinary simplified form . But what of , a character only used in a regional style of cooking? Most printed menus here substitute just the phonetic bian part, . (The full character has the fire radical ⽕, as expected of a cooking word.) I believe that is a limitation of the technology, that that is all that is available to the printer. (Though I would welcome suggestions of other reasons I may have overlooked.) In the case of Sichuan Garden in Brookline Village, the online menu has 干煸四季豆, but the printed one has 干扁四季豆.

Here are some Boston-area menus in our files and an online collection showing this and the variety of English descriptions for the restaurant's interpretation of the dish:


And here are the handful of newer, Szechwan-style restaurants that manage even in their printed menu:


Of course, it's not like the more complicated character was unknown here. The Good Food of Szechwan (1974; printed in Japan) has (p. 95) Gan-bian Si-ji-dou 乾煸四季豆 Dry-fried String Beans.

In some ways, the Reading Chinese Menus entries at the Adventures with Kake blog are like this century's version of The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters: more personal, more interactive, and always a work in progress. She has an post there on 乾煸四季豆 — gān biān sì jì dòu — dry-fried green beans.

In English, haricots verts are longer, thinner green beans that are tender enough to be eaten without breaking off the ends. A recipe in Red Hot and Green for “poached tofu and green beans with wasabi glaze” (p. 85) makes use of this to spear the tofu with the green beans. We've found this dish to be a good choice for pot lucks.

In French, haricots verts are just 'green beans' and haricot (some kinds of) 'bean'. One would expect to find “Haricots verts frits aux piments 干煸四季豆.”

The etymology of haricot is uncertain, with contenders from three different continents.

Haricot is a pair of homonyms: haricot de mouton is a lamb stew, from a verb harigoter meaning to cut into small pieces. The Ménagier de Paris (ca. 1393) has Hericot de mouton (II, 148). François Génin derives (Récréations philologiques, I. p. 50) this haricot from Latin aliquot 'a few' and Littré (s.v.) quotes the Comtesse de Bassanville as proposing Arabic hali-gote (I'm not sure what this is). More sensible sources derive harigoter from Old Low Franconian *hariôn 'to mess up', related to the English verb harry.

The idea that haricot beans are so-called because they came to be used in haricot stew is a bit far-fetched, particularly since beans do not seem to be a common ingredient. Even more so is Alexandre Dumas (père) 's claim that the stew originally was meat and beans, until “l'un des deux ingrédients a été détrôné par les navets” 'one of the ingredients was dethroned by turnips' (Grand dictionnaire de cuisine, s.v.). More likely is that the form of the earlier stew word influenced the later bean word.

Haricot beans (there will be no more about meat) first appear in the mid-17th century. Before then, such beans were faséoles, from Latin Phaseolus (now the name of the genus), like English fasels. So, in Rabelais, when the Panurge speaks in praise of cod-pieces, listing some that occur in nature:

Poix, Febues, Faſeolz, Noix, Alberges, Cotton, Colocynthes, Bled, Pauot, Citrons, Chaſtaignes (III. viii.)

Peaſe, Beans, Faſels, Pomegranates, Peaches, Cottons, Gourds, Pumpeons, Melons, Corn, Lemons, Almonds, Walnuts, Filberts, and Cheſtnuts (tr. Urquhart & Motteux)

And when Epistemon criticizes the choice of aphrodisiacs as Lenten foods:

febues, poix, phaſeols, chiches, oignons, noix, huytres, harans, ſaleures, garon, ſalades toutes compoſees d herbes veneriques (V. xxix.)

Beans, Peaſe, Phaſels, or Long-Peaſon, Chiches, Onions, Nuts, Oyſters, Herrings, Saltmeats, Garum, (a kind of Anchovy) and Sallads, wholly made up of venereous Herbs (tr. Urquhart & Motteux)

Bonnefons's Le jardinier françois (1651) has:

Les petits Féves, de Haricot, ou Callicot, ou bien Feves Rottes, ſont de deux eſpeces, de Blanches, & de Collorées; parmy leſquelles il y en a auſſi de Blanches: mais plus petits & rondes, que ne ſont pas les grandes Blanches. (p. 207)

Small beans, haricot beans, or Calicut beans, or even Rottes beans are of two kinds: the white and the colored, among them there are also some white ones, but smaller and rounder, which are not the big white ones.

The problems with കോഴിക്കോട് are that substantial amounts of beans did not come to Europe from India and that the haricot form occurs a couple decades before.

From Bernard Figuier's 1628 French translation of Fernão Mendes Pinto's Peregrinaçam:

arroz, açucar, feijoẽs, cebollas (modern reprint)

vn demy sac de riz, vn peu de farine, des feves d'aricot, des oignons (p. 501)

Rice, Sugar, French Beans, Onyons (tr. Cogan)

The h appears in 1640, in Jacques Bouton's Relation de l'establissement des François depuis l'an 1635 en l'isle de la Martinique, “que quelque-vns appellent pois de Rome, autres des feſoles, autres haricots” 'which some call Roman peas, others fasels, others haricot' (p. 50). And in Antoine Oudin's French-Italian dictionary, Recherches italiennes et françoises, “Haricot, febves de haricot, faggiuoli” (p. 293). Likewise in his 1645 French-Spanish Tresor des deux langues espagnolle et françoise, “Haricot, febves de haricot, faſeoles.” (earlier edition in Google Books; later edition in Gallica). These works are posthumous extensions of his father César's work. Some sources, including Wikipedia, say that haricot is also in their 1640 Curiositez françoises, but I cannot find it there; perhaps it's under a different headword. Also notable is that the 1607 French-Spanish had “Faſol, legumbre, Phaſeole, vne eſpece de pois” (here) and the 1627 Thresor des trois langues, espagnole, françoise, et italienne had “Faſól, Phaſeole, vne eſpece de pois, vna ſorte de ceſi” (p. 278).

Bescherelle's Dictionnaire national derived (II. p. 103) haricot from a Celtic root har meaning seed. De Candolle's theory that haricot came from Italian araco, Latin Aracus niger, a name for the vetch Lathyrus ochrus, (French; English) did not gain any traction.

And, finally, there is Nahuatl ayacotli, defined by Molina as “fiſoles gordos” 'fat beans'. The first to suggest this etymology appears to have been the Parnassian poet José-Maria de Heredia. In an 1879 translation of Bernal Díaz del Castillo's Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, Heredia rendered “friſoles, y chia” (p. 70) as “des haricots, de la chia” and added this endnote (p. 415):

Il est remarquable que le mot haricot, en mexicain, ayacotli, n'apparaît, dans la langue français, qu'aux dernières années du XVIe siècle. On disait fèves ou faseols. Si le mot de haricot nous fût venu en passant par l'Espagne, comme ouragan, maïs, savane, canot et tant d'autres, le doute ne serait guère possible. Mais on n'en trouve pas trace en espagnol. Les corsaires, flibustiers ou colons français de la Floride et du Mississippi ne l'auraient-ils pas directement introduit? Ce sont de bien vagues suppositions suggérées pas une ressemblance de mots singulière. L'étymologie de aliquot que donne Génin, dans ses Récréations philologiques, nous paraît peu plausible, appliquée au mot haricot pris dans le sens de fève.

It is remarkable that the word haricot, in Mexican ayacotli, did not appear in French, until the last years of the 16th Century. One said fèves or faseols. If the word haricot had come to us through Spain, like hurricaine, maize, savannah, canoe and so many others, doubt would hardly be possible. But there is no trace of it in Spanish. Couldn't French pirates or colonists from Florida or Mississippi have introduced it directly? These are just vague suppositions suggested by a singular resemblance of the words. The etymology from aliquot which Génin gives in his Récréations philologiques (see above), hardly seems plausible to us, applied to the word haricot in the sense of bean.

Mexican Spanish does in fact have ayocote for some kinds of beans, but there are no intermediate forms there and certainly not on the Continent. This is the main problem: new words do not get introduced in place of existing ones with no evidence at all by lone pirates.

A number of later sources get the story of Heredia's discovery though a piece by the entomologist Jean Henri Fabre on the bean weevil: “Le Bruche des Haricots” / “An Invader — the Haricot-weevil.” Fabre relates how a neighbor lent him a copy of the Noël of the Annales politiques et littéraires for 1901, titled Les Enfants jugés par leurs pères, where there is a conversation between “the master-sonneteer and a lady journalist,” which Fabre then quotes extensively. Gallica does not have the Christmas numbers of this journal, and I have not found it elsewhere (except for sale with expensive shipping — if some reader has access to a copy, please let me know what it has), but based on the advertisements (60 centimes) in the regular numbers, I believe it was in fact 1900 and that the format of the “conversation” was letters from the Immortals in response to their correspondent Aimée Fabrègue (who had been an editor of La Fronde), the issue's complete title being, “Les Enfants jugés par leurs pères ou en autres termes, Les Académiciens jugés par eux-mêmes.” So I am not entirely certain of the details, but will assume Fabre has the gist of it. Heredia says that he found ayacot while studying the beautiful 16th century natural history book, Hernandez's De Historia plantarum novi orbis. As has come up here before, the surviving work and translations of Francisco Hernández are a mess. But I believe the book in question is De Historia Plantarum Novae Hispaniae. This does not mention ayacot(li) directly, but does have a chapter (II. lv.) on ayecocimatl < ayeco(tli) + cimatl, an edible root of a bean plant, which also mentions etl,  the general word for 'bean'. Since the very next chapter is on the edible root cimatl, it would not be hard to work out that ayaco(t) was the bean part and without the -tli, the resemblance is even more evident. Heredia then tells how at a party of Gaston Paris's he met a savant who only knew him as the solver of the haricot etymology, and not as a poet.

Gaston Paris had indeed championed Heredia's idea, citing his 1879 note in a footnote to a paper the following year on Mauritian Creole, “Si, comme il est fort probable, haricot est le mexicain ayacotli …, le créole a conservé la bonne prononciation.” 'If, as is very probably, haricot is the Mexican ayacotli, Creole has preserved the right pronunciation.' (Romania, IX. p. 575).

In 1880, a French translation of Sahagún was published, and where he mentioned ayecotli (xxi. p. 36), Remi Simeon added a footnote (p. 44) giving the variant ayacotli, the Spanish ayacote, the general word etl, and exotl for haricot vert, but did not propose any direct relationship.

Eugène Rolland, in 1903, before proposing his own hybrid of two older theories, namely, “Cette fève se mange souvent avec le haricot de mouton …; on a donc transformé fève de calicot en fève de haricot par fausse étymol. pop.” 'This bean is often eaten with haricot de mouton, so that Calicut bean is transformed into haricot bean by folk etymology' (Flore populaire, IV. p. 160), notes (indirectly) a 1897 paper by Bonnet claiming that haricot comes from Mexican ayacotl. In fact, that paper, about the question of beans in the Old World before the discovery of the New, says, “Je ne dirai rien de l'étymologie du mot Haricot sur laquelle on a tant discuté” 'I will not say anything about the etymology of haricot, about which there has been so much discussion'.

Kristoffer Nyrop, in a brief note in Grammaire historique de la langue française (1913, IV. 464. p. 338) and then a longer monograph, Histoire étymologique de deux mots français (haricot, parvis) (1918) promoted the ayacotli derivation and tried to explain how it might have made it to France. Weekley's Etymological Dictionary (I. p. 690; popular in a Dover reprint from the '60s) dismissed it on account of the earlier haricot word from before the discovery of America. In a 1940 paper on “Esigenze linguistiche del mercato” (Vox Romanica, V; unfortunately issues that old are in storage at the library nearby that has the journal), Vittorio Bertoldi argued against ayacotli and in favor of callicot. In a 1956 paper, “The uniqueness and complexity of etymological solutions” (pay-wall; Google Books preview), the etymologist Yakov Malkiel used haricot as an example, due to “the ebb and flow of endorsements and the inherent incompatibility of ayacotli in the New World and Calicut in India.”

I don't know the stand of more modern specialized works (and would welcome pointers). The OED still has “Origin uncertain: see Littré,” while we wait for them to make their way around to the H's. The Oxford dictionary of English Etymology has “perh. – Aztec ayacotli.” The Petits Robert and Larousse stick with French harigoter. French Wikipedia, s.v. Haricot and Phaseolus, is somewhat uncommitted, listing some of the alternatives given above.

Friday, August 12, 2011


C. S. Lewis resolved his adolescent struggles with theodicy through the conservative Christianity of Chesterton, Belloc and so on. With a convert's zeal, he then promoted an unalloyed form, which Chesterton called Orthodoxy and Lewis Mere Christianity. He has his demon, Screwtape, write in letter #25:

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call 'Christianity And'. You know — Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference.

The last two are within the purview of this blog and this short post (unfortunately time does not permit one of the longer, more standard, ones) will touch on their intersection. Religion is not within it, at least primarily, so they will be taken with or without, though more often without, the Christianity.

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A few letters back, in #22, Screwtape, having turned himself into centipede, dictates through his amanuensis Toadpipe:

A more modern writer — someone with a name like Pshaw — has, however, grasped the truth. Transformation proceeds from within and is a glorious manifestation of that Life Force which Our Father would worship if he worshipped anything but himself.

This is an allusion to George Bernard Shaw's mystical version of Bergson's Creative Evolution. Clause 4 of Shaw's will begins:

As my religious convictions and scientific views cannot at present be more specifically defined than as those of a believer in Creative Evolution ...

Due to a typo by a reporter or telegraph operator, contemporary accounts in Time and The New York Times (Nov. 24, 1950; Nov. 25) reported that Shaw believed in “Creative Revolution.” And someone has dutifully copied this into his Wikipedia entry! The Times issued a correction on Nov. 29:

An error of transmission in a dispatch from London led to an error in an editorial on this page last Saturday commenting on a passage from the will of George Bernard Shaw. Shaw wrote: “My religious convictions and sci­entific views cannot at present be more specifically defined than as those of a believer in creative evolution.” The final word came through the ether as “revolution” instead of the “evolution” made famous in the preface to “Back to Methuselah” and elsewhere.

Lewis's Space Trilogy is influenced by Back to Methuselah while intended as a critique of Shaw's religion. (See, for instance, “Shaw and C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy.”)

But what is a main concern here is Clause 35:

I devise and bequeath all my real and personal estate not otherwise specifically disposed of by this my Will or any Codicial hereto and all property over which I have general power of appointment unto my Trustee Upon trust that my Trustee shall (subject to the power of postponing the sale and conversion thereof hereinafter contained) sell my real estate and sell call in or otherwise convert into money as much as may be needed of my personal estate (other than any copyrights which as provided by Clause 7 of this my Will are not to be sold) to increase the ready monies of which I may be possessed at my death to an amount sufficient to pay my funeral and testamentary expenses and debts estate duty legacy duty and all the duties payable on my death in respect of my estate or the bequests hereby made free of duty (other than testamentary expenses) and the legacies bequeathed by this my Will or any Codicil hereto or to make such other payments or investments or change of investments as in his opinion shall be advisable in the interest of my estate and shall invest the residue of such monies in manner hereinafter authorised And shall stand possessed of the said residuary trust moneys and the investments for the time being representing the same and all other investments for the time being forming part of my residuary estate (herein called my Residuary Trust Funds) and the annual income thereof Upon the trusts hereby declared of and concerning the same.

(1) To institute and finance a series of inquiries to ascertain or estimate as far as possible the following statistics (a) the number of extant persons who speak the English language and write it by the established and official alphabet of 26 letters (hereinafter called Dr. Johnson's Alphabet); (b) how much time could be saved per individual scribe by the substitution for the said Alphabet of an Alphabet containing at least 40 letters (hereinafter called the Proposed British Alphabet) enabling the said language to be written without indicating single sounds by groups of letters or by diacritical marks, instead of by one symbol for each sound; (c) how many of these persons are engaged in writing or printing English at any and every moment in the world; (d) on these factors to estimate the time and labour wasted by our lack of at least 14 unequivocal single symbols; (e) to add where possible to the estimates of time lost or saved by the difference between Dr. Johnson's Alphabet and the Proposed British Alphabet estimates of the loss of income in British and American currency. The enquiry must be confined strictly to the statistical and mathematical problems to be solved without regard to the views of professional and amateur phoneticians, etymologists, Spelling Reformers, patentees of universal languages, inventors of shorthand codes for verbatim reporting or rival alphabets, teachers of the established orthography, disputants about pronunciation, or any of the irreconcilables whose wranglings have overlooked and confused the single issue of labour saving and made change impossible during the last hundred years. The inquiry must not imply any approval of or disapproval of the Proposed British Alphabet by the inquirers or by my Trustee.

(2) To employ a phonetic expert to transliterate my play entitled “Androcles and the Lion” into the Proposed British Alphabet assuming the pronunciation to resemble that recorded of His Majesty our late King George V. and sometimes described as Northern English.

(3) To employ an artist-calligrapher to fair-copy the transliteration for reproduction by lithography photography or any other method that may serve in the absence of printers' types.

(4) To advertise and publish the transliteration with the original Dr. Johnson's lettering opposite the transliteration page by page and a glossary of the two alphabets at the end and to present copies to public libraries in the British Isles, the British Commonwealth, the American States North and South and to national libraries everywhere in that order.

After some legal battles (“increase of knowledge is not a charitable purpose”), a Shavian alphabet was chosen and Penguin published The Shaw Alphabet Edition of Androcles and the Lion in 1962.

The Shavian alphabet is encoded in Unicode, though I have never seen anyone make use of it.

Joseph Ritson, on the other hand, aimed not to simplify spelling, but to restore its etymological purity. This meant, for instance, writing -yed, adding extra e's and putting back the k in -ic words that had recently lost it. He intended to publish an “orthographico-etymological dictionary” following his principles, but it survives only in manuscript; some representative entries are given here. But he did follow those principles in some of his published works. Here is his description of his diet from An Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food: As a Moral Duty (1802):

[T]he compileër himſelf, induce'd to ſerious reflection, by the peruſal of Mandevilles Fable of the bees, in the year 1772, being the 19th year of his age, has ever ſince, to the reviſeal of this ſheet, firmly adhere'd to a milk. and vegetable diet, haveing, at leaſt, never taſteëd, dureing the whole courſe of thoſe thirty years, a morſel of fleſh, fiſh, or fowl, or any thing, to his knowlege, prepare'd in or with thoſe ſubſtanceës or any extract thereof, unleſs, on one occaſion, when tempted by wet, cold and hunger, in the ſouth of Scotland, he venture'd to eat a few potatos, dreſs'd under the roaſt; nothing, leſs repugnant to his feelings, being to be had; or except by ignorance or impoſition; unleſs, it may be, in eating egs, which, however, deprives no animal of life, though it may prevent ſome from comeing into the world to be murder'd and devour'd by others.

So too in his letters, saying in one from 1791, “You observe, by the way, i am teaching you how to spell.” His only converts to either of his reforms were his widowed sister, Ann Frank, and her son Joseph.

Ritson was an atheist and a Jacobin. For a time after the French Revolution, he referred to his peers, such as William Godwin the proto-anarchist, as “citizen.” Godwin was no vegetarian — according to Hogg, he “always ate meat, and rather sparingly, and little else besides.” But his future son-in-law, Percy Bysshe Shelly, was, and consequently his daughter Mary, and so the Monster, for whom, “acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment.”

All of these feature in a satire of a report, “Dinner by the Amateurs of Vegetable Diet,” inspired by a note to Queen Mab, which first appeared in the London Magazine and Theatrical Inquisitor for July 1821 and was reprinted several times in various forms elsewhere:

At five o'clock the tables were spread, and the guests assembled on Hampstead Heath. Mr. N. was in the chair; near him sat Dr. L., Mr. R. (the antiquarian), Sir J. S., the Rev. P., and Mr. T., the Pythagorean philosopher. Mr. P. B. S. was vice-president; near him was Mr. G., Mr. H., and Mr. L. H., with many others whom it would be tedious to enumerate.

White proposes Peacock as the author, or perhaps a collaboration between Hunt (prose) and Horace Smith (poem). Diet aside, today we need only click to find what Godwin actually did that day.

Ritson was a respected antiquary. (For instance, Godwin consulted him for his Life of Geoffrey Chaucer.) But even more he was known as a truculent critic, driving home minor points in a way that was entirely out of proportion. Thomas Lounsbury writes thus of Ritson in his history of English Spelling and Spelling Reform:

To scholars Ritson is well known as the fiercest of antiquaries, who loved accuracy with the same passion with which other men love persons, and who hated a mistake, whether arising from ignorance or inadvertence, as a saint might hate a deliberate lie. He is equally well known for his devotion to a vegetable diet, and also for the manifestation, noticeable in others so addicted, of a bloodthirstiness of disposition in his criticism which the most savage of carnivorous feeders might have contemplated with envy.

In 1782, Ritson wrote Observations on the Three First Volumes of The History of English Poetry, critiquing Thomas Warton's The History of English Poetry, from the close of the Eleventh to the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century and attacking its author personally. (“my libel upon Warton,” he called it in a letter to his friend Robert Harrison. Apparently he later repented and tried to destroy copies. I cannot find it online except in ECCO; frustratingly, it's bound into Columbia's copy of Warton, but Google didn't scan that volume. Many of Ritson's corrections were included as footnotes in a later edition of Warton.) The following year, in his Remarks, Critical and Illustrative, on the Text and Notes of the Last Edition of Shakspeare, Ritson took on Johnson and Steevens (“I will turn the world upside down,” he again wrote in a letter to Harrison, recalling at the same time his “scurrilous libel against Tom Warton.”). A satirical verse was published in St. James's Chronicle (Jun. 3, 1793):

The Pythagorean Critick

By wise Pythagoras taught, young R—s—n's Meals
    With bloody Viands never are defil'd;
For Quadruped, for Bird, for Fish he feels;
    His Board ne'er smoaks with roast Meat, or with boil'd.

In this one Instance pious, mild, and tame,
    He's surely in another a great Sinner,
For Man, cries R—s—n, Man's alone my Game!
    On him I make a most delicious Dinner!

To Ven'son and to Partridge I've no Goût;
    For W—rt—n Tom such Dainties I resign:
Give me plump St—v—ns, and large J—hns—n too,
    And take your Turkey and your savoury Chine.

In Ritson's DNB entry, Sidney Lee also attributes his acerbic personality to his diet: “To this depressing diet he adhered, in the face of much ridicule, until death, and it was doubtless in part responsible for the moroseness of temper which characterised his later years.” Ironically, Ritson is certain that it has the opposite effect, quoting Arbuthnot:

“I have known,” ſays doctor Arbuthnot, “more than one inſtance of iraſcible pasſions being much ſubdue'd by a vegetable diet.” (Esſay, p. 186)

De Quincey included Ritson among his “Orthographic Mutineers.” F. J. Furnivall, vegetarian, teetotaller and non-smoker, was the second editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. His principles for spelling reform were more of the usual sort; Alfred W. Pollard recalled:

I remember at an early meeting of the Simplified Spelling Society, only a couple of years ago, after I had advocated simplification on an historical basis, the uncompromising firmness with which he told me that the majority of the council were committed to a phonetic basis, and that if I didn't like it I had better go!

The Oxford Magazine gently mocked, “why two l's Orthographer Royal?” Samuel Schoenbaum is harsher (and in full support of the topic of this post):

An abstainer from flesh, alcohol, and tobacco, Furnivall obtained solace from spelling reform: a Shavian cause irresistibly alluring to teetotaling vegetarians.

In America, Benjamin Franklin had briefly promoted a Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling to the point of having type made for the new letters and getting Noah Webster to take over the project. But by this time he was no longer a strict vegetarian.

William Torrey Harris was a founding member of the Simplified Spelling Board. Here is his description of meeting Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May; cousin of William Alcott, the author of Vegetable Diet: As Sanctioned by Medical Men, and by Experience in All Ages — vegetarians all):

I First saw Mr. Alcott in New Haven, Conn., in the winter of 1856-1857, when I had completed the first term of my junior year at Yale College. An acquaintance of mine who was interested in a series of conversations that had been arranged for Mr. Alcott invited me to attend, and I did so. I found something quite congenial to me. I had begun to inquire after the foundations of customary belief, and, as a natural consequence, was in a state of protest against many of the habits and practices that existed around me. I had been attracted to phrenology; had adopted the diet of the vegetarians; was an ardent advocate of the spelling reform; looked at gymnastics, water-cure, dress reform, mesmerism, and spiritualism as promising a new and better order of things. I was, in short, in that stage of “clearing-up” which the Germans call Die Aufklärung.

Harris went on to be associated with Alcott's Concord School of Philosophy.

Easily the best example is Isaac Pitman, inventor of shorthand and vice president of the Vegetarian Society. As the most famous vegetarian in England, he licensed his name for use in a Pitman Vegetarian Hotel.

Pitman first published his shorthand system in 1837. In 1842, he began publishing a series of experimental alphabets following a principle he called phonotypy, that each sound should have a separate symbol and, as much as possible, the shape of the symbol should reflect the sound. About this time he was contacted by Alexander John Ellis, with whom he began collaborating. Intermediate phonotypic alphabet numbers 8 and 10 are in Google Books. In June, 1845, he announced the “Completion of the Phonotypic Alphabet.” In January, 1847, he published the “English Phonotypic Alphabet,” which is therefore known as the 1847 alphabet. Here is a detailed explanation from 1848. (Note the marks for a question as opposed to doubt and for tone of voice.) Pitman continued to tweak the system, and Ellis developed his own innovations as well. There were also offshoots in America, in particular in Cincinatti. From his Fonetik Institut, Pitman began producing books and periodicals explaining and using this new phonetic alphabet and reporting on the movement to get it adopted, which were published by this brother Frederick. Pitman also published phonetic editions of various classics, including The Vicar of Wakefield and Macbeth. And new works: The Squire ov Ingleburn, and What he did with the “Lawson Armz,” apparently a temperance story, met with approval from both dietetic and spelling reformers.

Inevitably, there are vegetarian-related reports in Pitman's publications. The following list has some representative material from Google Books. (I have had to use Unicode characters that are only close to the 1847 alphabet. There is a proposal from the earlier this year for an official encoding of the various generations of the English Phonotypic Alphabet.)

  • The Phonetic Journal, 3 Jul. 1852:  ad (in regular spelling) for a vegetarian cookbook
  • 10 Jan. 1852: Henri Stiven Club, ɛj 24, vejetɛrian (who would shortly emigrate to the States, where he was president of the Vegetarian Society of America)
  • 27 Aug 1852: Siksɉ anyųal baŋkwet ov ƌe Vejetɛrian Sơseieti
  • 26 Sep. 1874: Dįetari reform
  • 4 Dec. 1875: Dįet disʝz and helɉ
  • 9 Sep. 1876: ɷtơbįografi ov a vejetɛrian, reported bį C. O. Grɯm Nɛpier
  • 29 Oct. 1881: Fųd reform
  • 4 Feb. 1882: Moraliti in deiet
  • A letter to the Times, printed Feb. 6, 1879, advocating a “vejetabel deiet,” and signed “Eizak Pitman.”
  • Which occasioned a cartoon in Punch on Feb. 15, captioned “An Evergreen Vegetarian,” with a satire feigning surprise that Pitman and his Fonetik Nuz were still alive.

Consequently, an essay “On Spelling” by Max Muller in The Fortnightly Review in 1876 had to caution:

Let facts have some weight, and let it not be supposed by men of the world that those who defend the principles of the Fonetic Nuz are only teetotalers and vegetarians, who have never learned how to spell.

Here is the same essay in phonetic spelling.

Thomas Lang, founding Secretary of the Australian Vegetarian Society, was a Scottish immigrant who ran a seed import and nursery business in the gold rush town of Ballarat and so was directly responsible for a variety of vegetables and fruits being available to Australians. And according to this history, among the views he shared with Pitman was spelling reform. Isaac Pitman's grandson, James, continued the advocacy for spelling reform; he also edited and contributed to the collection George Bernard Shaw On Language and the The Shaw Alphabet Edition of Androcles and the Lion was dedicated to him. He was a Tory MP and I don't think he was a vegetarian.

For Lewis, diet- and spelling-reformers were stereotypes of certain kinds of modernists. Still, there was an actual overlap. But what of languages other than English, whose spelling plight is extreme but not unique?

In 1905, Gerardus Heymans and Enno Dirk Wiersma, two Groningen psychologists, sent out a questionnaire to every family physician in the Netherlands, asking for personality profiles of family members, with the aim of determining the hereditary nature of such traits. The resulting data formed the basis for the development of Heymans's Cube. One particular question is relevant here.

Vraag 77. Anarchist, socialist, spiritist, theosoof, vegetariër, geheelonthouder, aanhanger der natuurgeneeswijze, aanhanger der Kollewijnsche spelling? (here)

Frage 77. Ist die betreffende Person Anarchist, Sozialist, Spiritist, Theosoph, Vegetarier, Abstinenzler, Anhänger der Naturheilkunde, Anhänger der Kollewijnschen Rechtschreibung? (from the statistical report on the findings in German)

Question 77. [Is the person in question an] anarchist, socialist, spiritualist, theosophist, vegetarian, teetotaler, adherent of naturopathy or adherent of Kollewijn spelling?

From the accompanying explanation, this was meant “einen leidlichen Maßstab für die Neuerungssucht abzugeben” 'to yield a tolerable measure of modernism'. And from their analysis, it was the presence of two or more innovations that was a key personality factor. Nevertheless, I have not been able to find any prominent Dutch individuals advocating the two under consideration here. Feel free to suggest someone and I'll amend the post.