Curious - but -True Stories of Common Vegetables
September 23, 2011
Allan in Carrots, Food , Musing on Other Subjects, Rebecca Rupp, Trojan War, Vegetables, book reviews, children's books, edible plants, history, home schooling, science, science writer, vegetables

How Carrots Won the Trojan War, Curious [but True] Stories of Common Vegetables, Rebecca Rupp, Storey Publishing,                     ISBN 978-1-60342-968-9

When storyteller-scientists write fascinating books on mundane subjects, suddenly everyone wants to know about them. Ask some people to read about the history of an edible plant and they might roll their eyes with annoyance; others might gasp in disbelief that interesting stories are associated with the plant food we eat. Here is a delightful little book on that very subject, written by a talented educator who understands the importance of delivering information in an entertaining and engaging manner.

The author has collected unusual and unheard of anecdotes about twenty edible plants. From her book, we learn not only about the impact of certain vegetables and fruit on historic events but also about the effect of these edible plants on the lives of prominent players in the narrative of our civilization. I found myself eager to finish reading about one vegetable, in order to discover what the author might reveal about another.

Think of a popular edible plant and Dr. Rupp has an interesting story about it, from how asparagus seduced the King of France, to how celery contributed to Casanovas conquests. Before discovering these nuggets of information, I did not know how peppers won the Nobel Prize or how an eggplant made a holy man faint. Most interesting, was to learn that lettuce could put an insomniac to sleep.

In the chapter titled “How Spinach Deceived a Generation of Children”, we learn that a scientist’s misplaced decimal point ascribed to spinach an iron content ten times higher than it actually has. Consequently, in the late 1920’s, when Popeye the Sailor gulped down a whole tin of this cooked vegetable, depression-era kids emulated his action, erroneously believing that eating spinach would make them stronger.

Oddly enough, as soon as I got into the book – and that happened immediately - I became as interested in the author as I was in the text. After all, who writes about the historical significance of carrots, anyway? And why? Who is this writer? How did she accumulate so much fascinating information about the influence of plants on human activity?

Rebecca Rupp holds a PhD in cell biology and biochemistry. She has written over a dozen books for children and adults, as well as hundreds of articles for magazines, including Country Journal, Early American Life, Mother Earth News, Natural History, and Utne Reader. In addition, she writes a monthly column for "Home Education Magazine".

By homeschooled her three sons, Dr. Rupp has first-hand knowledge that kids respond best to scientific information when it is presented in a manner that is fun, lively, and offbeat. To help her children keep their attention focused, she combined impeccable science with strange-but-true examples and exciting experiments and projects designed to reinforce important concepts.

One of her publications titled “Weather: A Book about Pink Snow, Fighting Kites, Lightning Rods, Rains of Frogs,Typhoons, Tornadoes, and Ice Balls from Space” is considered to be a breakthrough book for stimulating children’s interest in science. The author’s extraordinary attention to factual details, combined with a storyteller’s skill, is what turns the reading of “How Carrots Won the Trojan War” into a delightful experience. No, I cannot reveal the military secrets of this root vegetable. Interested readers will have to obtain a copy of the book to discover that information for themselves.

This review originally appeared at, an international online book review site.


Article originally appeared on Garden Design, Montreal, Perennial Flower Gardens, Gardening Tips, Gardening Advice, Gardening Book Reviews (
See website for complete article licensing information.