These terrifyingly wonderful images of suffering vegetables come from classic children's books culled by Will Schofield, a beautiful soul with a passion for strange and magical old children's books from around the world that he displays on his site 50 Watts. Schofield's scanned images have made countless readers happy, including our hero Patti Smith! (See the "Christmas miracle" note in the About section.)
The tomato spanking a pickle and vegetables meeting an unpleasant death-by-boiling come from a French book called Le Jardin Animé (The Animated Garden), dating from around the 1920s or '30s.
In addition to the graphic depictions of vegetable beatings, illustrator Jacques Peltier decided to put some disturbingly literal flourishes on his anthropomorphic Blackface Radish ("le beau radis noir") but stops short of orientalizing the exotic cone-hat-wearing mushrooms, who are being tempted by what looks like a sinister pickle in an apron.
The weeping onion comes from the delightfully named Venturous Vegetables At "The Frolic Grounds", by T. Benjamin Faucett, who created a whole series in which the Moon Queen animates venturous vegetables, folksy fruits, brainy berries, and—ready?—frolicsome flowers of evil.
In the vegetable tale, the Moon Queen's magic wand "had changed the vegetables into queer little people who could run and play and talk just like any boy or girl." After reading this book, what sensitive child would consent to the brutal steaming/sautéeing/boiling of these dear queer vegetable souls? Or perhaps the story's effect is the opposite: to inspire a vile hatred of the vegetable that stares back, as in the case that Schofield recounts:
The previous owner of this particular copy, an angry little girl named Mernie Bishop (who received the book as a Christmas gift in 1929), attempted to stab to death each and every diabolic vegetable with her trusty pencil.
Either way, these books seem laden with the potential to cause major vegetable trauma. But I must confess to my own morbid pleasure at the creepy smiles spread across the faces of this veggie population.
Softer, friendlier, and yet ultimately disturbing in their own special way, are Dutch illustrator Nelly Bodenheim's vegetable people for Een Vruchtenmandje (A Little Fruit Basket). It starts out all cute with dancing radishes, but then the whole thing veers into strains of the uncanny and the abject in the way its vegetable people are both too human and too vegetable—so that the red cheeks of a tomato lady look like a diseased flush and the leek lady's normal amount of roots look really pitiful as human hair.
Many thanks to edible flower Lily Gherkin Water-Poppy and tartlette extraordinaire Amaranth Gadberry for alerting me to this source of delectable vegetable art. And I leave you all with the highly entertaining dialogue that the pickle spanking picture sprouted on the facebook page of Mr. Fennel Mouthcrop:
Zucchini Endive: Is spanking the pickle a thing?
Dillweed Saffron: Mr. Pickle!
Tomato Beet-y: Skankin' Pickle is a thing.
Neep Vine Leaf: I like how the other pickles are watching. "A pickle is being beaten..."
Dillweed Saffron: My understanding was that Poppa Pickle was bringing the Pickles Jr. to receive a spanking from Tío Tomate.
Kale Daikon: Is that naughty pickle giving Tio Tomate the finger? Or just scratching his dill brow? p.s. I might have to borrow this for Weird Vegetables...
Amaranth Gadberry: Oh man, I wish I could Like "A pickle is being beaten..." more than one time.