Is it a Flower Bed or a Flower Garden?©

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The first two years at our little farm we concentrated on establishing flocks of poultry and rabbits, growing a vegetable garden, planting fruit trees, and remodeling the house, but now that we have gotten a great deal accomplished my mind has turned to growing plants purely for their beauty and sweet fragrance.  I am using almost exclusively perennials so that once established they either keep popping up or reseed themselves without a great deal of help from me.

Everyone has heard the expression flower garden and flower bed and as I work on my project I wanted to know if the terms were interchangeable or if there was, at least in the old days, a discernible difference in the two.  Jane Loudon answered my question in her book first published in 1841.

“Beds for Flowers—Divisions of a flower-garden, which are formed in different figures, and which are generally covered with a mass of flowers of one kind, or at least of one colour, though sometimes they contain single plants, or small tufts of plants and flowers, at regular distances, with naked spaces showing the soil between.”

She described the flower garden as being symmetrical [and more formal] with divisions containing various plants – each of those divisions would be considered a flower bed.  “The ancient English flower-garden is formed of beds, connected together so as to form a regular or symmetrical  figure; the beds being edged with box, or sometimes with flowering plants, and planted with herbaceous flowers, Roses, and one or two other kinds of low flowering shrubs.  The flowers in the beds are generally mixed in such a manner that some may show blossom every month during summer, and that some may retain their leaves during winter.”

I have, as it would seem, a flower bed; whereas if I transformed my whole back yard into a maze of flower beds edged with low-growing azaleas or a mounding perennial I would have a flower garden.  In a broad sense of the term, one might consider the fenced lawn section of our property a garden in that there are sections for fruit trees, berries, azaleas, and perennial flowers that would better be described as beds, especially if I continue to develop it with that end result in mind.  Oh!  To be retired with time to pursue my dream garden. . . .

I want the old-fashioned blooms my grandmothers and their grandmothers would recognize and appreciate and whenever possible I want fragrant blooms to perfume the air. The following is representative of what I have or would like to add as time goes on.

Allium Ornamental).  I have planted these in my perennial bed.  They are the same family as edible allium (onions, leeks, chives, shallots, garlic, etc.)  They are drought resistant and hardy to zone 4.  Varieties come in different heights, flower shape, fullness, and shades of pink, purple, blue, yellow  and white.  They may be grown from seed or from bulbs.

Allium Pink - White Image from Wikipedia

Althea.  I have two purple-blooming starts I planted by the chicken pen which are growing and looking well.  While small, they will grow quickly and cost a fraction of the cost of a larger tree.

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Daffodils.  I transplanted daffodils and put them around the oak in the front yard and along the back fence separating the yard from the field.  I want to add to these adding various heirloom varieties.

Daisy.  I’ve purchased seed and fall planted them for blooms next summer. I sowed Alaska daisy and Shasta daisy.

shasta-daisies-plant-grow Image from a gardening catalog.

Campanula.  Canterbury Bell.

Campion.  Perhaps the best known is Rose Campion which sports attractive silver foliage and dark rose colored blooms.

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Carnation.  The President of the American Carnation Society said the carnation stands only second to the rose in extent of culture in America.  [1905]

Clematis, or as it was known, virgin’s bower, bore various colored flowers including single blue, single red, single purple, and double purple.  My transplanted clematis has not done well and should be in a partially shaded area.  I plan to add sweet autumn clematis soon as its mass of tiny white flowers and heady fragrance can be enjoyed while sitting on the porch after most other plants have gone into hibernation.  Loudon said no garden should be without one.

Cleome.  Loudon referred to cleome as a half-hardy annual with white, rose, and purple flowers of easy culture.  Seeds can be saved.

Columbines.  Alice Lounsberry noted she could hardly think of a color in which there wasn’t a columbine.  She seemed partial to a double white tinged with pink which she likened to a sea shell.  [1908]

Burpee Image from the Burpee catalog

Coreopsis.  Because the naturalist, Thomas Nuttall, brought back seed for coreopsis and passed them on to nurserymen and customers in the U.S. and England it has been known as Nuttall’s weed.  Nuttall closely followed the path of Lewis and Clark in the early 1800’s.

Crinum.  These lovely lily-like plants weren’t common for our area, but they do very well for me in the middle South and I inherited them when we purchased a home.  When we moved to the farm I dug up some and transplanted them.  Some are fragrant.  They range from white to dark pink in color.  Older books often call crinum “spider lily” although this does not mean the red blooms that magically pop up in the fall under that name.

Delphiniums, aka Larkspur.  Delphiniums were described by Parkinson in his “Paradisus Terrestris” in 1629.  John Lindley said of the Barlowii delphinium it, “presents to the eye the most gorgeous mass of deep lapis-lazuli blue that I am acquainted with in the vegetable kingdom”.  He noted it was impossible to describe their beauty when paired with colors that harmonized with the blue.  [1837]   In 1878  William Robinson described it as a stately perennial in gardens that grew between four to six feet high.  He recommended cutting them near the ground after they flower to force them to rebloom in the autumn. I’ve not planted these yet but plan to later.

delphiniumfrontpage Image from Graceful Gardens

Dianthus (Sweet William).  I have deep pink mounds in my perennial bed.  These come up well from seed.

Day lily.  I have collected various colors and patterns of daylilies and am anxious to see their colorful blooms next year.  In past decades family gardens contained only the orange and yellow blooming varieties that Loudon described in 1849 and while I have those planted I also have some of the newer ones.  The more exotic the color

download Image from Breck’s catalog

Echinacea or cone flower.  Native to North America and used by Native Americans as a medicinal herb to fight an array of ailments.  Early European settlers adopted it  and it was taken to Europe in the 17th century where German doctors played a large role in its being developed as we know it today.  It is perennial, reaches almost 2 feet in height, and its upper parts and roots are still used in herbal medicine.

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Fritillaria.  This lovely flower is a new one for me, but certainly not new to history.  John Parkinson gave an excellent outline of it in his Paradisi In Sole {aradosis Terrestros, 1635.  He noted there were single and double blooms, some bloomed earlier than others, and the colors were diverse including red, orange, yellow, white, and black.  My garden contains the orange but may soon contain the black as well.

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Fuscia.  Cultivating this plant was of prime concern during the previous century.  “Cultivators exercise an unceasing endeavour to propagate new varieties, and botanical collectors range year by year the coasts of Chili, Peru, and Mexico to discover species hitherto unknown to us. . .It was said to have been first introduced by a sailor, who seeing it growing in Chili brought home some berries to his mother. Who was in humble life.  One of these grew, and the plant soon flowered.  Old Mr. Lee, the nurseryman of Hammersmith, saw it, and offered so large a price as to tempt the old woman to sell it.  It was quickly increased by cuttings, and sold for five guineas a plant.  This was in 1788.”  [London, 1844]  Alas, it is said not to do well in humidity, excessive heat or drought.  Fuscia is perennial in zones 10 and 11.  Outside that area it should be potted.

Hardy hibiscus.  I have one with large pale pink blooms accented with deep maroon centers and two that are orange.  I plan to sow seed for the Texas Star, or, Swamp hibiscus.  It has deep red petals and is perennial in zones 7-10.  It will die back but grow from the roots again in spring.  It was grown by George Washington and was called, “a most elegant flowering plant”, by the seedsman Bartram.  It is perennial.

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Hens and Chicks.  (Sempervivum tectorum).  These lovely rosettes have graced Southern homes for longer than we care to imagine, often in pots with multiple openings so that it looked like the succulents were growing through the pots.  They may also be planted in the ground and are said to overwinter throughout the U.S.  They multiply frequently and once the mother, or hen, blooms it dies leaving the young plant, or chick, to take her place.  In times past it was also called house leek.  “Our own [English] species was originally a native of the Alpine and sub-Alpine regions of Central Europe, but it has now found its way to the tops of old walls, and the thatched and tiled roofs of the houses of all the countries of Europe.”  – Phebe Lankester, 1879.

Hollyhock.  I remember my aunt’s hollyhocks in lovely pastel shades of pink, yellow, and white.  In 1891, the “Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening” listed 52 distinct varieties in shades of white, yellow, pink, rose, purple, rosy red, orange, maroon, crimson, apricot, salmon, and peach.  Boys gathered them for the girls who strung the flowers into necklaces.  In 1878 “Vick’s Monthly Magazine” said if one familiar with the old hollyhocks that grew to 8 to 10 feet tall with single blooms encountered a newer variety he wouldn’t recognize it, the latter rarely growing more than 4 feet tall with double blooms.

Hyacinths.  Hyacinths are faithful bloomers and bring as much joy to the nose as to the eye.  Illustrations from the early 1800’s show blooms that were not nearly as full and large as today.

Iris.  The iris has enjoyed admiration of many European countries and was adopted by King Louis VII in June 1137 as the national emblem of France.  The native blue flag of North America ranged from Maine to Minnesota and from Arkansas to Florida.  In 1891 Barr’s Nursery advertised the bearded, or German, iris in, “the richest yellows, most intense purples, delicate blues, the softest mauves, and the most beautiful claret-reds.  There are whites, primroses, and bronzes of every imaginable shade.”  Iris leaves were sometimes used to thatch roofs of homes and the root of the iris, better known as orris root, has been much used in perfume.  The tall bearded iris is the newest of the breed.

Oleander.  Oleander supposedly came to America in the 1840’s when a gentleman sailed from Jamaica back to Galveston bringing along oleanders for his wife and sister-in-law.  As they were passed over the gate and shared the city soon became known for its beautiful yards.  In warmer areas there are single and double flowers in yellows, corals, reds, pinks and whites.

Lantana.  I don’t remember it being a family favorite but the butterflies love it.  Lantana blooms with various colors together in combinations.  It was noted in 1876 it was described as white, purple, lilac, rose, yellow, or orange, “the same head often containing flowerets of various colors”.  In the 1890’s gardeners were asking if lantana was a friend or enemy because it tended to spread more than some wanted.  Butterflies find it irresistible.

Lavender.  I planted two small pots and it has spread to three times the size in just two or three short months.  I plan to take cuttings to root so that I can be generous with spreading it throughout the yard to enjoy this lovely fragrance.

Lily, Blackberry.  This beautiful bloom, so named because its spots resemble a ripe blackberry, is not actually a lily at all.  Its foliage resembles an iris and its freckled bloom comes in orange or yellow.  Around the turn of the 20th century gardeners wrote in to magazines inquiring about its culture.  One reply was that seeds, if sown as soon as ripe, are planted they will produce seedlings as soon as the ground thaws the next spring.  I planted three established rhizomes and if all goes well once they start producing the seeds should spread quite nicely and fill in between various plants.  When started from seed the plant is not expected to bloom until its second year.

13130-004-79775C5A Image from Encyclopedia Britanica

Lily, Spider/Hurricane/Resurrection.  This flower and phlox are burned into my memory as my mother had them everywhere.  Like the enchanting village of Brigadoon that magically appeared and disappeared just as quickly, these beautiful red blooms pop up with no warning to spread cheer wherever they are found.  I put six of these in my bed and hope that they spread quickly.  Lycoris radiata is native to Asia.  They reproduce by bulb division.

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Image from Wikipedia

Peonies have been grown for generations, but alas, while I favor them, they do not like the heat and won’t adorn my garden at the farm.  My aunt had beautiful pink peonies that showed up like regimented soldiers every year.

Marigold – tall full marigolds in orange and yellow are a sight to behold.  Save the seed, or in a warm climate they will self-sow.  The ones I put in my vegetable garden are cut down and plowed each spring but they come back from the seed to add beauty among my vegetables.

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Petunia.  One can still find self-sowing petunias in a few specialty heirloom collections.  I will be planting the pink Laura Bush variety from Wildseed this spring.

Phlox.  This has been a reliable part of gardens for several generations in my family and now they come in an even wider range of colors and heights.  Like day lilies and iris, phlox will require separating and replanting when it gets too large.  “Phlox is one of the most beautiful of herbaceous plants, and a garden ought to be no more without some of the species than it ought to be without Roses or bulbs”. – Loudon.  I planted two colors, one is a dark rose, the other light pink with dark pink centers.  Alas the latter put on an amazing show then almost overnight died.  My mother has a start for me of the tall purple she has had for years and I will be transplanting it soon.

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Roses.  The roses I remember from childhood were old, or heirloom, varieties, often climbers.  Some were fragrant releasing a heavenly fragrance as the buds opened.  In 1849 Loudon told her readers there were, “above two thousand named varieties to be procured in the nurseries”.  My heirlooms came from Petals From the Past in Jemison, AL and I may shop the Antique Rose Emporium as well.  I have two “Pinkie” roses in my bed as well as various climbers and even a couple of wild roses growing on the chicken pen fence.

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Rudbeckia/Echinacea/cone-flower.  This perennial is a sunshine yellow bloom with dark centers.  In 1886 Gray referred to it as a genus of 21 species of North American herbs, many of which are hardy and perennial which usually have yellow rays. . .It includes the black-eyed Susan.

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Salvia.  I purchased purple salvia for a border around the chicken pen.  “No one who has only seen the common Sage growing in a kitchen-garden could imagine the splendid flowering plants which belong to the genus Salvia”.  – Loudon.

Snap-dragon.  I started with snapdragons when the proprietor of an antique store offered me seed from her deep red variety.  They will re-seed themselves.

Statice (thrift).  This has also been a faithful addition to family gardens and as an adornment on the graves of loved ones.

Snowdrop.  “The Snowdrop is one of the earliest and most exquisite of all our hardy bulbous flowers, and it has been mentioned by nearly all the modern English poets for its modest purity and simplicity.”   It is of ancient origins, appearing in a wood engraving in 1576.  They multiply by offsets, bloom better the second year, and can be divided and transplanted as needed.  – “Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society”.  1891.

Sweet shrub or spice bush.  This is a native wonderfully fragrant addition to the garden purchased as a start from the Master Gardener plant sale.  It is known by several other names including Carolina allspice.

sweet spice bush, Wikipedia Image from Wikipedia

Yucca (Adam’s needle).  I don’t remember yucca in the flower gardens of my aunts or grandmothers but I like it and intend to use it to fill space and add height.  “When a Yucca is once established in a particular spot it is rarely meddled with afterwards, except to propagate it; for the growth of the plant being slow, few like to disturb one when it has arrived at a flowering size.  It is not every year that the same plant throws up its unique spike of blooms. . .”.

Yucca, Wikipedia   Image from Wikipedia

Zinnia/Youth and Old Age.  In the late 1700’s John Graefer listed yellow and red zinnias.  In 1860 Vilmorin, Andrieux & Co., of Paris were reported to have produced a zinnia with a double bloom.  Within five years reports of double blooming zinnias were becoming common.  Rev. Henry Ward Beecher was among those who appreciate zinnias because the blooms last so long.  I love the contrast of single and double growing together and the more cut flowers you take the more blooms you get.  I’ve saved seed all summer and purchased more so that next year I can fill a larger space and attract more butterflies.

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Except where noted photos are from my garden.  Blissful outdoor meals by your flower gardens or with cut flowers in your dining room to one and all.  – Victoria

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RADISHES: Spring versus Winter Varieties©

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It is not hard to locate books from the 1500’s which note the ways of eating and growing radishes, particularly “The Works of Mr. Francis Rabelais, Doctor in Physic” (1653), Gervase Markham’s “A Way to Get Wealth” (1668), John Reid’s “The Scots Gard’ner in Two Parts” (1683), George Sandy’s “A Relation of a Journey Begun An:  Dom:  1610” in which he notes the builders of the pyramids eating radishes (1637), John Mason’s “A Briefe Discourse of the New-found-land” (1620), etc.

While not native to North America, radishes were prevalent in the gardens and diets of Colonial Americans as proven by such notable men as William Bradford and William Wood.  The latter resided in the Massachusetts Bay Colony between 1629 and 1633.  They were found in John Randolph’s “Treatise on Gardening” written about 1765 in Williamsburg.  “There are Radishes known in this country by the name of Scarlet or Salmon, London short topped, &c.”.

NewEnglandsProspect by William Wood

Not all radishes are alike, however.  If you want radishes throughout most of the year, especially if you live where temperatures soar in summer, shop for seeds meant to grow during different seasons of the year.  After researching this topic I realized why I remembered long white icicle radishes from my childhood – simply put, they grew during summer when spring radishes would not.

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Seed varieties are not often designated as spring or winter in their descriptions and most people are unaware there is a difference.  Research is a slow and tedious endeavor so hopefully sharing mine will help others with choosing varieties better suited to their needs.

Vilmorin made the distinction in 1885 and documented some 43 varieties grown for roots, and the rat-tailed and Madras grown for the pods.

While not infallible, a general rule is spring radishes come in a variety of pretty colors ranging from red, pink, white or purple, and in different  shapes while winter varieties tend to be longer icicle or round shape and white, white and green, cream, or black in color.

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Let’s talk about eating radishes.  The fleshy root is not the only edible part and those weren’t always confined to the salad bowl.  Breakfast radishes were so named due to the prevalence with which they were consumed for the morning meal.  “…the mother and son were together in the dining-room, where they were breakfasting with a cup of coffee, with bread and butter and radishes”.  – “An Old Maid”.  1898.

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French Breakfast radishes make a striking presentation

The greens can be sautéed, cooked with other greens, young leaves can be substituted for lettuce on a sandwich, or leaves add great flavor to soups and stews.  The greens are delicious and why throw away something so tasty and chock full of goodness?

Don’t forget radish sprouts for your salad or sandwich and wash the garden thinnings for salads.  I harvest some of the greens from the radishes for cooking and they grow back more luxuriant than before, but take only part of the leaves from each plant.

The root can be pickled or roasted just like a potato.  It can be sliced or cut into matchsticks, depending on size, and dressed as a salad.

The flowers are edible and can really make a nice presentation in salads, sandwiches, dips, etc.  If you fail to harvest the flowers, don’t worry, they will form seed pods which are also edible.  The seed pods can be added to salads, cooked, or pickled.

Baker Creek image

Image from Baker Creek Seeds

There are varieties, such as Rat’s Tail and Madras Podding that are grown purely for the seed pods.  The latter is supposedly more heat tolerant although I haven’t grown it and can’t say.  “The newly-introduced radish, which has attracted the attention of horticulturists so much of late, is certainly a novelty, inasmuch as the edible portion of the plant is the seed-vessel, and not the root”.  – “Nature and Art”.  June 1, 1856.

Let’s not forget that horse-radish is, indeed, a form of radish as well and there are those who would scoff at the idea of roast beef without it.

There are mild and hot variances in spring and winter radishes and since the length of this article will not permit me to describe the flavor of each one individually I suggest readers peruse the seed catalogs of recommended vendors at the end of this piece.

Before we can eat, we must plant and radishes require a little more thought than I once realized.  Plant for the season and temperature and don’t just try to plant the same variety all year.

Radish culture a century ago was little different than today, plant summer crops in a shaded location [in temperature extremes this probably won’t help], frequent watering in dry weather to keep them from getting pithy, and small successive plantings are preferable to large beds.

Spring radishes grow and produce rapidly and last only a very short time.  They like cool weather and do not tolerate heat well, quickly become pithy when over-large, and do not keep well in storage.  Plant early when the ground can be worked in the spring.  Cherry Belle is a well-known spring radish.  Others include Cherry Bomb, Celesta, Rover, April Cross, Champion, Red King, Snow Belle, French Breakfast, Gala, White Hailstone, Purple Plum, Bora King, and Crimson Giant.

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Summer radishes aren’t so much a type as they are an in-between mixture of spring and winter radishes.  They may tolerate more heat than spring radishes but won’t last through a long hot summer.

A few varieties are marketed as heat tolerant and suitable for multiple seasons although one would have to experiment to know how accurate the description is.

White Icicle is commonly known and produces in summer as will the Chinese Pink.  The Red Meat or “Watermelon” radish is recommended for summer to fall sowing only.  Alpine, a popular Korean variety, KN-Bravo, Nero Tondo, Roxanne, Shunkyo Semi-Long, Summer Cross (icicle), Crunchy Royale, etc. are sold for spring to summer planting.

Sustainable Seeds

Its easy to see why its called “Watermelon” radish

Winter radishes are planted in late summer through early fall and mature before winter freezes come.  In warm climates successive plantings will see you through the winter with fresh radishes.  These hold in the ground better than spring radishes and can be left to harvest as they are wanted.  When a freeze is forecast, pull them up, cut off the greens, and store the roots in the refrigerator or a cool basement.

Baker Creek Black Spanish

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Winter varieties include China Rose,  Long Black Spanish (an old European heirloom), Chinese White Winter, Miyashige, Violet de Gournay, Daikon (which vary in length and size), Round Black Spanish (a very ancient variety), White Cannon,  Red Meat, Green Meat, Hild’s Blauer, Mini Purple, Misato Rose, Munchener Bier (also good for seed pods), Saitaro, and Winter Light.

A winter variety I fully intend to try planting this fall is Schifferstadt Long Black, a standard of the Pennsylvania Dutch.  My husband’s family is PA Dutch so we grow some PA Dutch vegetables on our little homestead and make historic dishes from that area.  I suspect this variety is from William Woys Weaver’s Roughwood Seed Collection sold through Baker Creek Seeds.

John Randolph made the distinction of winter radishes in Colonial America.  “The black Radish will continue if sown in August, until killed by the frosts, and Radishes may be preserved in sand as carrots are in the spring”.

“Winter radishes may be simply pared, cut in quarters, and arranged neatly on a pretty shallow dish.  Red radishes of the spring should have the roots neatly trimmed, half the top cut and trimmed, leaving little holders at the top.  These may be arranged neatly in a glass dish and served with cracked ice.”  – “How to Cook Vegetables”.  1892.

I hope this helps in choosing varieties for your garden.  The research was part of my on-going search for plants best suited to my long very hot summers.  I leave you with wishes for a good harvest and Blissful Meals.© Copyright.

Suggested Sources:  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Johnny’s Seeds, Kitazawa Seed Co., Fedco, Seed Savers Exchange, Sustainable Seed Co., Heritage Harvest Seed, Sandhill Preservation, and Rare Seeds.

See:

Wood, William.  “New England’s Prospect”.   Originally published 1634, reprint 1897.

SUMAC: Grow Your Own Spice©

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I love to experiment with new spices especially one I can plant and have it return year after year for my endless enjoyment.  My most recent venture into the land of perennial foods is sumac.  No, I’m not talking about the poisonous version that gives many people a rash.  There are poisonous and non-poisonous varieties of sumac.  Steer clear of varieties that bear white seed and don’t chance it if the plant is not producing and there is no indication of berry color.  Sumac is related to poison oak and  poison ivy and they grow in the same type terrain.

A. Doolittle of Painesville, Ohio described sumac berries as, “sour, very, very sour”, with seeds of “pure cussedness” yet in some cultures processed sumac berries are an indispensible spice. They predate the Roman introduction of lemons into Europe and native Americans used them in a number of ways.

Indians and colonists alike used the staghorn sumac to make tea and a cooling liquid later called sumac “lemonade”.  There is a variety of sumac in the western U.S. known as lemonade sumac because it was so commonly used to make the beverage.

Gary Paul Nabhan has stated he prefers the red ripe berries of lemonade sumac to stale Middle Eastern spice and Tama Matsuoka Wong says staghorn sumac is less toasty and more citrusy than smooth sumac (also red drupes).  “It even retains its red color when dried, providing an appetizing pop of color when sprinkled over foods with insipid hues of beige and cream”.

“Staghorn sumac, Dwarf sumac, as well as Smooth sumac may all be used; however, be certain that you are gathering densely clustered berry-like RED fruits, not the white ones of poison sumac”.  Staghorn sumac has bristly hairs on the drupes and branches.  It is native to North America.

Middle Eastern countries enjoyed the flavor of sumac as much as the American Indians having gathered wild red sumac for countless generations.

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Sumac is mixed with other ingredients, usually sesame seeds and thyme, to make a spice called za’atar.

Edible varieties, “all have red berries”.  “The acid berries of these shrubs [sumac] are eaten by Indians and occasionally by whites, and a rather pleasant beverage can be made from at least some of them.  Their slender twigs are very important in basketry work among the Indians…”.

Elias Yanovsky wrote that the Indians crushed the fruit to make cooling drinks, ate the fruit, and peeled fresh roots which were eaten raw.  He documented the drying of the fruit for use in winter.

Numerous sources note Native Americans combined sumac with tobacco for smoking and settlers and hunters took up the practice as well.  Blends called kinnikinnick were prepared in a myriad of ways.  The blends sometimes included the inner bark of dogwood, bearberry, and even poke leaves.   As late as the early 20th century, the practice continued.  One magazine published a claim saying smoking the dried leaves would relieve the symptoms of asthma.  “Gather the green leaves while fresh, dry them, and smoke in a common clay pipe”.

During the late Victorian era into the early 20th century sumac gathering helped ease the financial burden for many country families.  Men, women, and children would camp out, pulling sumac leaves by day and singing, playing music, telling stories, or visiting about the campfire as supper cooked in the evening.  The sumac was sold to sumac mills that ground it into powder and sold it to be used in tanning leather or dyeing fabric.

Sumac berries produce a nice red color when dyeing cotton and were used in combination with other dyestuffs to produce different colors.  “To dye Olive for wool.  For 5 pounds goods [wool yarn] take 2 pounds fustic and a little sumac; boil them ½ hour in water sufficient for the goods, then add this to 5 ounces logwood with 10 ounces alum and 4 ounces madder, and enter the goods and boil 1 hour.  Cool and darken with 5 ounces copperas.”

Sumac tea and “sumac-ade” are made by crushing the berries and soaking them in hot or cold water.  The flavor becomes strong when boiled due to the release of tannins.  It is advisable to strain a sumac beverage through cheesecloth to remove stray seeds and fuzz that comes off the drupes.

To make sumac spice, gather the red sumac berry clusters before rain washes the flavor out of the hair-like covering on the berries.   It may be a good idea to let them dry in a warm place overnight, especially if you plan to keep the sumac spice for some time.  Separate the berries from the stems.  Put the berries through a food processor until the red powder is separated from the seed.  Use a colander or strainer to separate the red powder from the seeds.  Discard the seeds.  A cup of berries will produce maybe 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons of sumac spice.  For a blend, add dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, lightly toasted sesame seed, and grind together.

Readers may wonder how sumac spice is used.  The sumac powder or the spice blend is rubbed onto meat prior to cooking or sprinkled on at table.  Various cultures put it on fish, kebabs, vegetables, flatbread, salads, etc.

Cut potatoes into large pieces, drizzle with olive oil, shake on salt, pepper, ground sumac berries, dried or fresh chopped thyme, and crushed garlic.  Toss and roast until tender and browned.  Other vegetables may be used in place of potatoes (zucchini, eggplant, etc).

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[Rustic vegetarian quiche made with garden fresh squash and herbs, two cheeses, eggs, bechemel, and seasoned with sumac. Delicious!]

Make a salad of chopped cucumbers, parsley, onion or chopped scallions, sliced radishes, purslane leaves (if available), and tomatoes and dress with lemon juice and/or vinegar, salt, pepper, oil, and ground sumac.  It goes well in chickpea and black bean salad.

Rub your favorite cut of meat, chicken, or fish with oil, season with a dry rub made from ground sumac berries, salt, pepper, and dried thyme.  Chopped parsley and garlic are optional per taste.  Roast or grill until done.  Sprinkle it on seafood.

If you like the flavor, possibilities are almost endless in what you can do with sumac.  Mix the sumac spice blend with good olive oil and eat with pita or bread.  Mix the spice blend into hummus dip.  Add sumac to homemade pasta dough.  Make baked or grilled kafta (or meatballs) and season with the spice or blend.

Season lentil soup/stew; roasted chickpeas; dolmas (stuffed grape leaves); make sumac jelly as a substitute for cranberry sauce; combine sumac berries and water and place in the sunshine for an upgraded sun tea; combine mixed nuts, sumac spice, cumin, coriander, salt, pinch of pepper and chili powder with 2 tablespoons of oil or coconut oil and roast them; add it to rice, use it in marinades, or make a salad of quinoa and lentils and dress with oil, vinegar, and sumac spice or blend.

Last but not least, I can’t end this without the gardener in me mentioning how easy it is to grow sumac, almost too easy.  It spreads from suckers that grow around the bush and can quickly get out of hand if left unattended.  Sumac can be controlled by mowing it, digging, or pulling up the suckers but any gardener who seriously doesn’t want something that might be hard to control might consider planting it in a large pot or containing it by putting down a root barrier a foot or so deep around the area where it is planted.  If you don’t want to dig and transplant it from the wild it can be ordered online.

© Copyright 2017.  Please do not reprint or redistribute without the author’s permission. A lot of time and effort goes into my research.  Thank you.

Bib:

Yanovsky, Elias.  “Food Plants of the North American Indians”.  Dept. of Agriculture.  July 1936.

“Audubon”.  Vol. 22.  Jan.-Feb., 1920.

“Boys’ Life”.  May 1966.

“Harper’s Young People”.  1879/80.  Vol. 1.  Oct. 19, 1880.

“Vegetarian Times”.  Oct. 1981.

“Country Life”.  Vol. 35.  March 1919.

Dayton, William Adams.  “Important Western Browse Plants”.  Washington, D.C.  1931.

Saunders, Charles Francis.  “Useful Wild Plants in the United States and Canada”.  NY.  1920.

“Farmers’ Bulletin”.  Washington, D. C.  Feb. 1951.

Nabham, Gary Paul.  “Cumin, Camels, and Caravans:  A Spice Odyssey”.  2014.

Nordahl, Darrin.  “Eating Appalachia”.  2015.

Owens, Frances Emugene.  “Mrs. Owens’ New Cook Book and Household Manual”.   Chicago.  1899.

“The National Druggist”.  1919.

Chapple, Joe Mitchell.  “National Magazine”.  Vol. 21.  March 1905.

Hodge, Frederick Webb.  “Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico”.  1912. ©

When Serving Pieces were all the Rage©

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Image from Alton Brown’s website “Tasting Table”.  This image clearly shows how shrimp cocktail glasses are used with the liner sitting down inside the ice-filled outer glass.

Although I love the colors and patterns, I really try to limit the vintage specialty serving dishes I purchase because of limited storage space, but sometimes I just have to have something. Gentle readers, you can blame today’s post on an antiquing spree with Dear Husband over the weekend.  After reading online that Pell City, AL was supposed to be a good antique store destination we made our way there to find only one good store.

We did enjoy our trip to Landis Antiques before driving over to Oxford.  We had a blast conversing with the two ladies working in the store.  They were cheerful and interesting and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

We left with four vintage amber colored shrimp cocktail glasses with liners which inspired me to serve shrimp cocktails in them a la 1950’s, and perhaps others will be equally inspired.  No vintage serving pieces?  No worries, improvise!

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Oyster cocktail recipes are found prior to shrimp versions and it is a reasonable conclusion that the one followed the other.  An 1899 recipe for oyster cocktail instructs dropping half a dozen small oysters into a wineglass with lemon juice, three drops of Tobasco sauce, a teaspoonful of Worcestershire sauce, and one dessert-spoonful of tomato catchup.  The cook stirred well and served.  Horseradish was served on the side.   (Oscar of the Waldorf).

TO DRESS SHRIMPS IN TOMATO CATSUP.  The Carolina Housewife.  1855.  This receipt combined shrimp and tomato catsup and was one of the earliest this writer found that did so.  While á la braise indicates it was served hot, it did lay the groundwork for the tomato catsup that would later be the basis for a sauce served with cold shrimp.

Boil your shrimps, pick, and put them into an á la braise dish; add two table-spoonfuls of tomato catsup and one of butter, to every half pint of shrimps.  Salt, black and red pepper, to your taste.

BOILED SHRIMP.  Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery.

Shrimps under-boiled are very indigestible; over-boiled they are tasteless and unwholesome.  The time which they take to boil depends upon the size.  When they change colour, taste them, in order to ascertain whether or not they are sufficiently dressed.  Shrimps are generally boiled in plain salt and water.  M. Soyer recommends that a sprig of lemon thyme, a sprig of mint, and a bay-leaf should be boiled with them; this is a matter of taste.

COCKTAIL SAUCE.  Stevenson Memorial Cook Book.  1919.

Mix well four tablespoonfuls tomato catsup; one of vinegar; two of lemon juice; one of grated horseradish; one of Worcestershire sauce; one teaspoonful salt and a few drops of Tobasco.  Have very cold when poured over cocktails.

SHRIMP COCKTAIL.  Ditto.

Boil green shrimp until tender, about twenty-five minutes.  Peel and break in halves, if large; dice celery and olives with the shrimp, mix well and cover with a cocktail sauce.  [That is far too long by today’s standards to boil shrimp.]

SHRIMP COCKTAIL.  Ladies’ Home Journal.  Dec. 1917.

Mix together the strained juice of half a lemon, one-half teaspoonful of vinegar, eight drops of Tobasco sauce, one-half teaspoonful of horse-radish and one-half teaspoonful of tomato catsup.  Add one can shrimp.  Serve in thoroughly chilled glasses.

Update 4-4-17:  A reader wrote to point out that spell check had changed tobasco to tobacco so the error has been corrected.  Thank you for your careful attention to detail.  As always, Blissful Meals, yall.  Thank you for visiting. – Victoria

 

Thistle Salad Days©

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The title of this post came from “Blackwood’s Magazine” Feb. 1895.  “…the French public was browsing the thistles of the Vicomte d’Arlincourt, or of ‘Lord R’Hoone’ (otherwise Honoré de Balzac himself in his thistle-salad days)…”.  Yes, gentle reader, salads are made from peeled thistle stalks and they can be cooked as well.

This caught my eye as I’ve been slowly compiling an encyclopedia of the history of salads (cooked, raw, and everything in between) over the past few years and because there are thistles growing in our field.  To eradicate them, or to eat them, that is the question.

One needn’t worry about identifying a species of thistle before consuming it as all are said to be edible.  Although it may be too hot for them to flourish, I’ve purchased seed to add cardoon to my perennial garden and cardoon is simply a cultivated thistle grown for its celery-like stems rather than its flower head.  The plant is usually covered with hay to render the stems white and tender, and they are eaten just as wild thistles are in the references below.  Depending on what is available, either will work in the same manner and cardoon can be found in cans or jars in specialty food stores for those who prefer to skip the thorns and go straight to the dining room.

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Historians date the cultivation of cardoon to the days of Pliny and some think modern artichokes then evolved from cardoon about the 15th century.

One might assume the eating of thistle stalks was learned from Native Americans, but given the accounts of them being eaten in England, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and other countries from at least the Middle Ages, proves the thistle is one of those basic resources that evolved simultaneously throughout much of the world.  “Nothing to eat, starving and weak; we followed the example of the squaw, in eating the inner portion of large thistle-stalks”.  – “Travels in the Far Northwest, 1839-1846”.

English cooks and 19th century cookbook writers point out that applying fresh lemon juice to the peeled stalks will prevent them from turning dark.  Acidulated water, the term often used, is water with lemon juice into which the pieces can be placed for this purpose.

“Both the milk thistle and the blessed thistle were used by our ancestors, the former as a vegetable and the latter as a tonic, and Evelyn, in his ‘Acetaria’ [1699], says that to a salad of thistle leaves ‘the late Morocco Ambassador and his retinue were very partial.’  The leaves of the milk thistle shorn of their prickles were not only an ordinary ingredient in a salad, but they were also boiled’, and Tryon says of them, ‘they are very wholesome and exceed all other greens in taste’.  They were added to pottages, baked in pies, like artichoke bottoms, and fried.  Culpepper advises one to ‘cut off the prickles, unless you have a mind to choke yourself’, but in olden days both the scales and the roots were eaten.  The young stalks, peeled, were eaten both fresh and boiled.”  Rohde, Eleanor.  “A Garden of Herbs”.  1922.

In 1828, John Loudon included thistle-stalks in a list of culinary vegetables from the open garden.  Were these the common thistle, or were they the more refined garden cardoon?  “An Encyclopaedia of Gardening”.

John Young was definitely eating wild thistles when he wrote in his memoirs in 1847, “For several months we had no bread, Beef, milk, pig-weeds, segoes [sego lilies], and thistles formed our diet.  I was the herd boy, and while out watching the stock, I used to eat thistle stalks until my stomach would be as full as a cow’s”.  – Young, John R.  “Memoirs of John R. Young, Utah Pioneer”.  1847.

“Good Housekeeping”, Oct. 1891, contained an article called Cajun Housekeeping”, in which the author said, “Tender thistle stalks she cooks as one would asparagus, and they are just as good-then no adverse fate ever cuts short the thistle crop”.  I suppose if my asparagus bed fails to thrive, I may depend upon its wild substitute to supply us with this favorite.

MILK THISTLE STALKS.  The young stalks about May being peeled and soaked in water to extract the bitterness, boiled or raw are a very wholesome sallet eaten with oyl, salt and pepper.  Boil them in water with a little salt till they are very soft and so let them dry to drain.  They are eaten with fresh butter melted not too thin and this a delicate and wholesome dish.  Other stalks of the same kind may be so treated as the Bur being tender and disarmed of its prickles.  – Evelyn, John.  “Acetaria”.  1699.

CARDOON SALAD.  1885.  Jules Harder removed the leaves from the stalks, cooked them, and then peeled them.  “Then cut them in scallops an inch long and drain them on a napkin.  Put them in a salad bowl and season them with salt and pepper.  Then chop two cloves of garlic very fine and put them in a frying pan with a little sweet oil.  Fry them [garlic] lightly (not letting them get brown), and add immediately some bell peppers chopped fine, and some vinegar.  Then let them boil up for two minutes and pour the dressing over the Cardoons, mixing them well together, and then serve.”  – “The Physiology of Taste”.

CARDOON SALAD.  Jeanette Norton.  “Mrs. Norton’s Cookbook”.  1917.

The salad made of cardoons is rather unusual.  These French thistles should be drained from the can and allowed to marinate for half hour in French dressing to which a little onion juice has been added.  Drain, add good mayonnaise, and lay on white lettuce leaves garnished with the sweet pickled cucumber rings that come in bottles for the purpose.  Toasted whole wheat crackers with melted cheese on them go nicely with this salad.  This will serve four people.

A Quick Discourse on Elderberries©

Elderberries have been planted around farms and harvested for home use and for taking to market since the 18th century and probably much earlier.  They are found wild throughout much of the country and have been used for generations to make various things, wine and cordial perhaps being the most common.  Having planted elderberries recently and expecting a harvest in a couple of years I took a quick look at other ways to use them.  Elderberry bushes reproduce easily so I hope as time goes by I get larger and larger harvests.

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For those who want an alcoholic beverage but are hesitant to try their hand at wine making, I suggest starting with a cordial which is a very simple process.

While some 19th century cookbook authors were prejudiced against elderberries in favor of more refined fruits, others like Thomas De Voe preached their benefits.  “These small, black berries are pleasant-tasted when ripe, and are brought to our markets to be used for various purposes.  They make the Elder-paste, for the sick, which is considered excellent, Elderberry wine, a wholesome and agreeable beverage, sometimes used for making pies, etc., and when gathered while in flower make the Elder Flower Tea, etc.  The bark makes an excellent ointment; in fact, the whole plant is much used in medicine.  The berries are in season in the months of August and September.”  1867.

“The elderberry is one of the least known and appreciated of the berry family.  In fact it is usually neglected for many less palatable and far less dietetic fruits…

Elderberries when properly prepared are very palatable and delicious, either in pies, jelly, as a spiced conserve or a household wine…If housewives will try any one of the following tried and tested recipes I think they will begin to appreciate this friend of the hedges…”.  “Table Talk.”  1903.

A quick way to pick the small berries from the stem clusters is to place a half inch wire mesh over a large pan or bucket and gently pass the clusters back and forth along the wire.  The berries will fall through the mesh into the container.

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ELDERBERRY PIE.

Line a pie dish with paste, upon which sprinkle a scant tablespoonful of flour; to this add a half cupful of sugar and a half teaspoonful each of cloves and cinnamon, rubbing all together evenly.  Upon this pour the berries, a pint more or less according to the size of your pie dish; pour over another half cupful of sugar, dot generously with butter, adding last one large tablespoonful of good vinegar.  Apply top crust quickly and bake.  “Table Talk”.  Vol. 18.  1903.

ELDERBERRY JELLY.

Take equal parts of elderberries and wild grapes, and cook to extract juice, strain, and sugar in proportion of one pound to each pint of liquid, and cook as other jelly…

Elderberries are also combined with gooseberries, crab-apples, and green grapes, equal parts of either, making a piquant table sauce, while pies made from them might please the individual who does not care for the flavor of the single fruit.

For winter use elderberries may be preserved in either of the above combinations and treated as other fruit, or canned plain without sugar for use in pies only.  When making pies from the plain canned fruit, it is wise to cook the berries with the same proportion of sugar, flour, etc., as given for fresh berries, filling the pie paste when cold.  This insures a jelly-like consistency of the finished product without those unpalatable doughy lumps too often seen…”  – “Table Talk”.  Vol. 18.  1903.

ELDERBERRY SHORTCAKE.

Make the cake or biscuit dough rich and flaky, proportioning it with cream, egg and soda the same as for a strawberry shortcake…When baked, divide the upper from the lower crust and place upon each a layer of ripe stewed elderberries.  It is known that elderberries have a somewhat rank taste when eaten from the bush.  Pick them, look them over and wash them; next, put them in a granite or porcelain stew dish, add a very little hot water and cook them a few minutes or until stewed.  Have as little juice as possible.  Add a half teacupful of thick sweet cream to enough of the stewed berries for two layers.  When the berries and cream are placed upon the cake, sprinkle over each layer plenty of granulated sugar, and the shortcake is then ready to be eaten.  Do not add the cream to the berries until it is about time to have the cake brought to the table.  Cream and sugar added to the berries destroy the disagreeable elderberry flavor and makes them rich and palatable.  – “Table Talk”.  1903.

ELDERBERRY CONSERVE.

9 lb. elderberries, 3 lb. sugar, 1 pt. vinegar; cook until thick and seal.  – “The Warren Cook Book”.  1920.

ELDERBERRY PIE.

Dilute Elderberry Conserve with water; add corn starch to thicken and put dots of butter on top (a little vinegar may be added if desired”.  Very delicious.  “The Warren Cook Book”.

DRIED ELDER FRUIT.

This fruit is very easily dried by spreading in pans under the stove or in the oven, and will make as good pies as though fresh, if they are soaked a few minutes in hot water before using.  Some of our neighbors dry them by the bushel, for winter use”.  – “The Ohio Cultivator”.  Vol. 9.  1853.

ELDERBERRY DUMPLINGS.

Make the crust as usual and put in the berries as you would other fruit [like apple dumpling].  Boil them fast till the crust is done, then take them up and eat with a dip of white sugar and sour cream, and you will confess they are delicious.  [Fruit dumplings can be baked as well].

Elderberries were made into a sauce similar to cranberry sauce.  The Iowa State Horticultural Society recommended combining elderberries and rhubarb for a sauce [1910].  An article in “Everyday Housekeeping” said, “twenty years ago many families, by no means poor, during every year consumed gallons of this unsavory sauce, made by boiling elderberries in sorghum molasses.  Jelly, too, made from elderberries and flavored with lemon, was accounted a delicacy.”  1900.

EDLERBERRY SOY.  [Anchovies are used to flavor various sauces and once cooked and strained, there are no fishy pieces remaining in the product.  The flavor blends with the other ingredients, and if made well, leaves no fishy taste.   Modern tastes usually dictate using far less than older recipes call for.  I suggest 1 small can, chopped, for this or the next recipe.]

One quart of elderberries; one quart of vinegar; a quarter of a pound of anchovies; a blade of mace; a little ginger, salt, and whole peppers.  Pour a quart of boiling vinegar over a quart of elderberries, picked from the stalks and set it in a cool oven all night; then strain the liquor from the berries, and boil it up with the mace, ginger, salt, whole peppers, and the anchovies, until they are dissolved.  When cold, put it into bottles after it has been strained, and cork it down.  Some prefer the spice put into the bottles; but either way it is a good and not expensive soy.  This was appreciated as a sauce for fish.  – “Warne’s Model Cookery”.  1879.

ELDERBERRY CATSUP.  [Note this recipe is similar to the one called soy.]

1 quart of elderberries; 1 quart of vinegar; 6 anchovies, soaked and pulled to pieces; half a teaspoonful mace; a pinch of ginger; 2 tablespoonfuls white sugar; 1 teaspoon salt; 1 tablespoonful whole peppers.  Scald the vinegar and pour over the berries, which must be picked from the stalks and put into a large stone jar.  Cover with…glass, and set in the hot sun two days.  Strain off the liquor, and boil up with the other ingredients, stirring often, one hour, keeping covered unless while stirring.  Let it cool; strain and bottle.  This is used for flavoring brown gravies, soups, and ragouts, and stirred into browned butter, makes a good piquant sauce for broiled or baked fish.

FRUIT SAUCE.

Melt a small lump of butter, stir in half as much flour, or a quarter as much of corn-starch, arrowroot, or soaked tapioca, a pinch of salt, if the butter is not salted, a glass of acid wine or lemon juice, or a tablespoonful of vinegar; sugar to taste; any fruit juice you have, as raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, elderberry, or jam will do; thin to the right consistence; bring it to the boil and serve.  Raspberry, and other fruit vinegars make excellent sauces”.  [There is no right and wrong with this recipe – it is thickened as much or as little as the cook desires, and made as sweet or not as is wanted].  “How to Cook”.  1872.

ELDERBERRY PUDDING.

1 cup sugar, 1 cup sweet milk, 2 teaspoons baking powder, butter size of an egg, enough flour to make stiffer than cake dough.  Put in baking dish, then mix the following:  1 ½ cups elderberries (any fruit may be used) 1 cup sugar, 2 cups boiling water, small piece of butter.  Pour this over batter in pudding dish and place in oven.  Bake ¾ hour.  [This could be called cobbler].

ELDER-FLOWER PANCAKES AND JUNKET.  “Fruit Recipes”.

The finest flowers of the elder blossoms, stripped, may be whipped lightly into pancakes or muffins just before baking, a half-cupful to each “batch” of ordinary quantity.  This gives both lightness and flavor.  A plain junket should have added one-fourth part flowers to quantity of cream or milk used.  [Ripe berries may be added to muffins or cakes as one would raisins.]

ELDERBERRY SYRUP TO FLAVOR DRINKS.

Use strained elderberry juice and sugar in a ratio of 1 to 1 (half and half).  Flavor as desired with lemon juice, or cinnamon stick.  Bring to a boil and then simmer five minutes.  This may be canned for keeping, or small quantities may be kept in the refrigerator.  To serve, mix syrup to taste in cold club soda or lemon-lime soda and serve over ice.

Note:  While the images may look like poke, elderberry grows on a bush much different in appearance.  Know what you’re picking before consuming any wild plant.  I leave you with my favorite parting, Blissful Meals Yall©.  Enjoy your wild and garden bounty.  – Vickie Brady, The Historic Foodie.

Elinore Stewart, Lady Homesteader©

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Elinore Pruitt Stewart is known as the Woman Homesteader and was the subject in the previous post.  After posting the piece on the Homestead Act and a letter written by Mrs. Stewart, I did a little research on her and found she is worthy of attention.

She was born June 3, 1876, probably in the Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory.  Her father died while in the military during the late 1870’s, somewhere on the Mexican border.  Her mother was Josephine Courtney Pruitt.  Josephine married her brother-in-law, Thomas Isaac Pruitt, after Elinore’s father died.

Elinore received a basic education at the Pierce Institute.  The school closed in 1889.  Elinore was orphaned when Thomas died in a work accident and her mother died of complications following childbirth in 1893.  Elinore, age 18, was the sole care-giver for her five youngest siblings.

Elinore married Harry Rupert who was 22 years older and the couple filed for a homestead in 1902.  The marriage did not last and Elinore began work a cook and domestic.  While working for Mrs. Juliet Coney, Elinore began work in March, 1909 for Mr. Clyde Stewart of Burntfork, Wyoming.

In May she filed homestead on 160 acres adjoining her employer.  One of the requirements was that the homesteader build a home on the property and live on it for five years after which they owned it.  Because the line between Mr. Stewart’s claim and Elinore’s came within a couple of feet of Mr. Stewart’s home, they were able to add on an addition to his home that sat on Elinore’s claim giving them room to raise a family while fulfilling the requirements of keeping Elinore’s claim.

The law for married couples filing for homestead said that the husband and wife must live in separate residences so Elinore gave her claim over to her mother-in-law in 1912.  By that time she and Mr. Stewart had begun their family as well as raising Elinore’s daughter from her first marriage.

The long, sometimes rambling, letters Elinore wrote to her old employer, Mrs. Coney, were published in “The Atlantic Monthly” and later were published in book form.  When “Atlantic Monthly” asked more more letters, Elinore went on an elk hunt, both for writing material and meat for the homestead, and wrote several letters over about two months.  Those were published under the name “Letters on an Elk Hunt”.

In 1979, the movie “Heartland” was released and was loosely based on Elinore’s life.  It portrays very little of her work on her homestead and concentrates almost wholly on her life as Clyde Stewart’s wife.

Elinore Stewart died of a blood clot to the brain following gallbladder surgery on Oct. 8, 1933.  She and Clyde are buried at the Burntfork Pioneer Cemetery.  Clyde and their sons operated the ranch until 1940, leased it for a while, and finally sold it in 1945.

What is a homestead?©

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Homesteading means different things to different people and sometimes the word is bandied about, perhaps out of context by those who haven’t taken a notion to adopt the old ways.  Where did the word originate and what did it mean?  Let’s take a brief look.

In 1862, Congress passed the first of several Homestead Acts to encourage settlement of America’s prairies.  It was effective on January 1, 1863.  Other laws were later passed with “Homestead” in the title, but none were ever quite as sensational as the one from ‘62.  It is notable that this took place during the first half of the Civil War which explains why Southerners weren’t initially able to file claims.

The East had long since been densely populated and gold seekers and adventurers had crossed the plains to settle on the West Coast, but few had stopped to carve out a life for themselves in the Heartland.  The Homestead Act of 1862 offered up to 160 acres for settlers of land with only a small filing fee required.  The settlers had to live on and improve the property for a period of five years in order to take ownership of it.

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Any adult who had never taken up arms against the government could apply including women and immigrants who applied for U.S. citizenship.

Not all homesteads were in the mid-west although a larger number were.  Southerners were not allowed to take up homesteads under the 1862 law, but in 1867 they could file for homestead land if their loyalty to the Union was not questioned during the war.  Through the Southern Homestead Act lands were made available in five Southern states.  The Southern Homestead Act was repealed in 1876. An Act in 1866 made it possible for Blacks to homestead land as well.

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People from all walks of life filed claims and made the trek west.  The land was often isolated and far from stores and transportation hubs so, like today, homesteading often meant making the most from a few materials on hand and a lot of grit and determination.  Anyone who did not possess common logic and basic skills soon realized they’d better learn fast how to dig a well, plant and harvest crops, care for poultry and farm animals, keep bees, make candles, preserve food, sew  clothing, and a hundred other tasks.  Bartering goods or services was more common purchasing outright.

The following is part of a letter found in a book written by Elinore Pruitt Stewart, titled “Letters of a Woman Homesteader”.  Note that Mrs. Stewart and her daughter had filed a claim for their own acreage under the Homestead Act while her husband, Mr. Stewart, had claimed his own.  After the five year homesteading period the Stewarts owned twice as much land as they would have had with Mr. Stewart alone making a claim.  The letter began with Mrs. Stewart explaining she hadn’t written for a while because Mr. Stewart had suffered an attack of la grippe which had required much tending on her part and thanking the recipient for some magazines she had sent out to her.

“…When I read of the hard times among the Denver poor, I feel like urging them every one to get out and file on land.  I am very enthusiastic about women homesteading.  It really requires less strength and labor to raise plenty to satisfy a large family than it does to go out to wash, with the added satisfaction of knowing that their job will not be lost to them if they care to keep it.  Even if improving the place does go slowly, it is that much done to stay done.  Whatever is raised is the homesteader’s own, and there is no house-rent to pay.  This year Jerrine cut and dropped enough potatoes to raise a ton of fine potatoes.  She wanted to try, so we let her, and you will remember that she is but six years old.  We had a man to break the ground and cover the potatoes for her and the man irrigated them once.  That was all that was done until digging time, when they were ploughed out and Jerrine picked them up.  Any woman strong enough to go out by the day could have done every bit of the work and put in two or three times that much, and it would have been so much more pleasant than to work so hard in the city and then be on starvation rations in the winter.

To me, homesteading is the solution of all poverty’s problems, but I realize that temperament has much to do with success in any undertaking, and persons afraid of coyotes and work and loneliness had better let ranching alone.  At the same time, any woman who can stand her own company, can see the beauty of the sunset, loves growing things, and is willing to put in as much time at careful labor as she does over the washtub, will certainly succeed; will have independence, plenty to eat all the time, and a home of her own in the end.

Experimenting need cost the homesteader no more than the work, because by applying to the Department of Agriculture at Washington he can get enough of any seed and as many kinds as he wants to make a thorough trial, and it doesn’t even cost postage.  Also one can always get bulletins from there and from the Experiment Station of one’s own State concerning any problem or as many problems as may come up.  I would not, for anything, allow Mr. Stewart to do anything toward improving my place, for I want the fun and experience myself.  And I want to be able to speak from experience when I tell others what they can do.  Theories are very beautiful, but facts are what must be had, and what I intend to give some time.

Here I am boring you to death with things that cannot interest you!  You’d think I wanted you to homestead, wouldn’t you?  But I am only thinking of the troops of tired, worried women, sometimes even cold and hungry, scared to death of losing their places to work, who could have plenty to eat, who could have good fires by gathering the wood and comfortable homes of their own if they but had the courage and determination to get them.

I must stop right now before you get so tired you will not answer.  With much love to you from Jerrine and myself, I am

Yours affectionately, Elinore Rupert Stewart.  January 23, 1913.”

So, my friends, perhaps we see that the biggest difference in homesteading now and homesteading in 1863 is that land isn’t free for the asking anymore and we work more for the self-satisfaction of producing more of what we need ourselves rather than heading for Mr. Walton’s Mercantile.

See:  https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/homestead-act

 

Perennial Vegetables: Plant Once, Harvest for Many Seasons. ©

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Cuccuzi, Edible gourd, aka yard long bean

Spring is on its way and my thoughts have turned toward my garden.  This post is not meant to be all-encompassing regarding perennial vegetables as so much of maintaining a perennial depends on climate, but it is a quick look at what I’ve planted, what I have in the works, and what I intend to add in future in zone 8.  Do some research before planting regarding planting zone and consider that some edible perennials are classified as invasive species and could be hard to control once established.  To research perennials I recommend starting with Eric Toensmeier’s “Perennial Vegetables”.

My tree collard (perennial in warm climates) cuttings from Bountiful Gardens came yesterday and I had them in pots of potting soil within an hour of taking them out of the mail box.  I have high hopes of them rooting and providing me with years of cut greens.  While rooting in pots prepare a well-dug bed with lots of compost.  In zone 8 the seedsman recommends taking cuttings in the fall in the event a cold winter kills the plants.  They are sometimes called walking stick kale.  See:  www.bountifulgardens.org, 707-459-6410.  Free catalogs, open-pollinated and heirloom seed.  No hybrids or GMO’s.

My Jerusalem artichokes (perennial)were so pretty last year when they bloomed that getting edible tubers from the perennial plants was a bonus.

My asparagus (perennial) is doing OK but I need to do some weed control with mulching.

Walking onions spread from top sets and with any care are perennial.  Mine are doing well even after a week of cold with some freezing rain.

Always match perennials to your climate as not every plant will grow in every planting zone.  My Victoria rhubarb and ostrich fern did not make it past the first year, probably because it was too hot for them in summer.

I’ve purchased seeds for Cardoon (perennial in warm climates) which I will plant when the ground is warm enough.  These look like large thistles but it is the stems that are eaten.  Bountiful Gardens and other seed catalogs offer them.  It will easily self-sow unless the flowers are picked.

I purchased seeds for Malabar Spinach from Bountiful Gardens and those arrived yesterday with my tree collard cuttings.  It is common in Asia and Africa and will grow in areas too warm for spinach.  It is a vine that will die with cold and frost but is supposed to survive in zones 7 and warmer.  I’m not sure it will overwinter for me but it should produce lots of salad greens throughout the summer and fall.

I bought Sylvetta perennial arugula from Bountiful Gardens and will put that out when warm enough.  It is perennial to zone 5.  It is said to be drought-resistant, good for bees, and overwinters in zone 5 or higher.  It bears leaves all summer for salads, adding to soup, or mixing with other greens.

You cannot be from the South and not know what pokeweed is.  Many southern families survived on poke greens and cornbread during the Depression, and for many, it isn’t spring until there’s a pot of poke greens on the table.  It self-sows so I’ve simply left some that came up wild and let them go to seed in order to keep it.  Birds eat it and deposit seeds here and there so once it establishes itself it isn’t too hard to keep going.  Harvest the leaves from young tender plants (preferably not over about 18 inches tall) then cook as any green.  Bringing it to a boil, draining, and restarting with fresh water tempers the strong flavor it can have.  The young stalks can be peeled, sliced, battered and fried like okra.

Below are some other plants (either perennial or those that self-sow) I intend to put in soon.

Egyptian spinach, aka Jew’s Mallow.  This plant self-sows.  The fibers are used to make jute rope.  It does well in southern Alabama and Florida where the weather reaches the broiling point in summer.  It grows 2 to 3 feet but with good conditions can reach up to 6 feet.  Kitazawa Seed Co., packet with 1100-1300 seed is $3.69.  Bountiful Gardens 100 seed packet is $2.00.  The seed are produced within pods and are easy to gather for saving.

I have lovage seeds I will be putting out this spring.  The plant is perennial and the leaves which taste like celery make good salad greens.  They can be added to soup and the roots can be prepared as a vegetable or grated into salads.  Baker Creek, etc.

I’m debating whether or not to plant stinging nettles.  The spines cause a rather unpleasant stinging sensation when touched.  They spread easily and are perennial.  It is a good idea to wear gloves when around it.  The leaves do not cause that stinging sensation after being cooked so if one wears gloves while gathering and washing, they are perfectly pleasant to eat after cooking.  They are made into greens, pesto, frittata, or nettle soup.

Miner’s Lettuce is perennial and is good in salads or it can be boiled or sautéed like spinach.  It was once common but today is little known yet worthy of much more attention.  It is hardy to zone 4 and is mulched during cold winter.  It can be grown in partial shade.

Salad Burnett thrives on neglect so it will be perfect for me.  It is at home in dry soil.  It can be subbed out for parsley and mint.

Cuccuzi.  This plant has more names than a Chicago gangster during the Depression including guinea bean or yard-long bean is perhaps the most common although it isn’t a bean at all.  It is sometimes called squash but is really an edible gourd.  My uncle used to grow these so I want them again for nostalgia.  Once you grow them, save the seed and you will never be without them.  It is not perennial.  Pick them at 10-12 inches and cook them like summer squash or let them grow into large dried gourds for crafting and seed saving.  Find them at Victory Seeds, Seeds From Italy, Sustainable Seeds, West Wind Seeds, Sample Seeds Inc.  They need a sturdy trellis.

Tromboncino.  This Italian squash is said to be resistant to squash bugs and the seed can be saved from year to year.  For anyone plagued by squash bugs this is worth trying.  It is not perennial but one can save seeds.  Bountiful Seeds.

Luffa.  Most people know this as a vegetable sponge, but if harvested when young and tender are edible.  My uncle also grew these and we kept seed from one year to the next.  Sustainable Seeds, Baker Creek, and others.  For best results, soak the seed for 24 hours then set out for transplants.  They need a sturdy trellis.

Profusion Sorrel.  Perennial in zones 4-8.  It doesn’t produce flowers or seed so it doesn’t get tough and bitter like other strains of sorrel.  It produces leaves all season long.  Richter’s offers it for one plant at $6.50 or three for $14.70.  For a less expensive approach, French sorrel is perennial in all zones.

Good King Henry is a relative of spinach with mild flavored leaves, perennial to zone 5, it comes up early every spring.  It should be planted in the fall or very early spring.  Bountiful Seeds, Restoration Seeds, etc.

Welch onions are perennial in all zones and produce clumps of green onions that spread and grow larger over time.  150 seeds from Bountiful Gardens is $2.50.

Lily White Seakale is perennial to zone 6.  It is used like kale.  It is usually blanched (covered) in early spring.  It is not always easy to find seeds for this.  Bountiful Gardens offers 10 seeds for $2.75.  Sea Kale is also available from Nantahala Farm and Garden, Fedco Seeds, and SeedSavers.org.

In the spirit of being self-sustaining, take cuttings from rosemary and basil, root them in water, and plant them to increase the available harvest.

Elderberry does well in zones 3-8 and can be started from cuttings.  I plan to start with 1 or 2 purchased plants then as they grow, root cuttings to increase my harvest.  The only advantage is the berries are supposed to be larger on the tame varieties, but wild ones will root also.  To root, take cuttings during dormancy, probably January through March, about 8 to 9 inches.  Place the cut end in water that comes up about half way of the cuttings and place in a sunny area for 6 to 8 weeks, change the water if needed.  They may also be rooted in potting soil.

 I’m considering groundnut but still weighing the danger of it becoming over-aggressive and hard to control.  It is perennial and available from Norton Naturals and Baker Creek.  It is not peanut.  It has been called Indian potato and in early diaries and travel narratives was called hopniss.  It was commonly eaten by Native Americans.  The Swedish botanist, Peter Kalm, wrote (1749) the Indians boiled the tubers and ate them instead of bread.  Le Jeune, a Jesuit missionary, said the French settlers called it “rosary” because the tubers are strung together like beads.  It is a perennial vine that bears edible beans and large edible tubers.  It is used similar to a potato, but is best not consumed raw.  It is best trellised. Tubers can be harvested the second year after frost kills the plant back.

I will order Quamash camass for fall delivery and I’m excited about adding it to my perennial vegetables.  It was commonly eaten by Native Americans, is perennial, and can be purchased from Restorative Seeds, Brent and Becky’s, etc.  It is listed as perennial in zones 3-8.  It has pretty blue flowers but refrain from cutting them as they make seed and self-sow.  Meriwether Lewis said in 1806, “at a short distance, the colour resembles lakes of bright clear water”.  Their diet included Camass in Lewis and Clark expedition.  Growing instructions say they will grow in most soil, like wet feet in winter and early spring and drier conditions after blooming so they should do quite well and naturalize beautifully for me.  They can be grown in full sun or part sun.  Everwilde Farms Inc., J. L. Hudson, Seedsman (La Honda, CA), and Mary’s Garden Patch (Lockhart, Texas).

Yacon is perennial in zones 9-11, lower than that it can be planted in a pot and put into a greenhouse in winter or the tubers can be dug, overwintered in storage then replanted in the spring.  Some sources say if your season is long enough to grow Jerusalem artichokes you can grow yacon.  The rhizomes are described as a cross between an apple and melon.  They grow similar to potatoes.  They can be grown from seed but when available most prefer to plant the rhizomes.  The plants produce larger tubers that can be harvested and smaller tubers that are ideal for keeping overwinter and growing the following season.  Available from Baker Creek, two plants are $14 and they ship in April to May.   I have ordered four plants and I think the flowers will make the plants as pretty as my Jerusalem artichokes.

Scarlet Runner Beans are often grown as ornamentals but are edible and perennial.  They’ll die in winter but will sprout again in spring so putting them in an area where they can continue undisturbed is a good idea.  So far I haven’t made such a place and so have not planted them.

As always, happy gardening and Blissful Meals.  Copyright, please ask permission before reproducing articles from my blog.  ©

GROWING and Using YOUR OWN BAY LEAVES©

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1024px-bay_leaf_pair443One of the first things I planted when we purchased our little farm was a bay tree.  It was a tiny little thing, but given time and love I don’t see having to purchase bay leaves again and fresh ones are always more flavorful than the dried ones.  Either way, always discard the bay leaf before serving the dish.

An added bonus with growing your own is having enough to use in potpourri or sachets.  Since I am more involved in cooking than in scenting and my tree isn’t large enough to pluck enough leaves for making sachets yet, let’s take a quick look at the use culinary uses of bay leaves in times past.

Clermont gave a list of sweet herbs for cooking in 1812 which will serve today’s cook equally as well. “What go under the denomination of sweet herbs in cookery, are parsley, chibbol [chives], garlick, rocambole [an allium similar to hardneck garlic], shallots, winter savory, fennel, thyme, laurel, or bay-leaf, and sweet basil. Under the name Ravigotte, or relishing herbs are, tarragon, chervil, burnet, garden cresses, civet, and green mustard; there are other sweet herbs, which are not called ravigotte, although they are often used together, as mint, borage, water-cress, rosemary, marigold, marjoram, &c.”

The ways in which the leaves were used was consistent through 18th and early 19th century cookbooks.  John Perkins instructed in 1808 using bay leaves in pickling and making mushroom ketchup, and cooking a pig, pigeons, fish, beef, eels, poultry, and mutton.

In 1837, Beauvilliers’ “A Complete System of French Domestic Cookery” used the term “bay leaf” 52 times, using it for cooking mushrooms, pickled veal, put into bouquet garni (little bundles of parsley, green onions or scallions, thyme, basil, and bay leaf used for seasoning), soup, sauces including bechemel, brines for marinating and pickling, fish, meat, and various other made dishes.

One of the less common uses was in custard found in Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury’s cookery book (1844).  “One quart of cream, twelve eggs, the whites of four, the rind of one lemon, boiled in the cream, with a small quantity of nutmeg and a bay-leaf, bitter and sweet almonds one ounce each, a little ratafia and orange-flower water; sweeten to your taste.  The cream must be quite cold before the eggs are added.  When mixed, it must just be made to boil, and then fill your cups.”  Ratafia in this instance most likely refers to a liqueur flavored with almonds or kernels from peaches, apricots, or cherries.  It also can mean an almond flavored cookie or macaroon.

John Nott.  “The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary”.  1737.  Hare Pye.  Break the bones of the Hare, lard it well, and season it with salt, pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and a bay leaf; lay slices of bacon at the bottom of your pye, put in the hare and lay slices of bacon over it, and lid it up; when it is bak’d pour in melted Butter, and stop the hole of the pye, and set it to cool.

Note:  Today most people prefer to cook the meat and debone it before baking it in the pie.  Larding refers to inserting small slivers of fat into the meat to keep it from drying out as it cooks.

Clermont utilized fish in making soup and sauces. 1844. “Take what kind of fish you think proper…cut in slices, and put them into your stew-pan, with a little butter, sliced onions…parsley, thyme, bay-leaf, basil, a clove of garlick [sic], carrots, and parsneps [sic]; soak it until it forms a slight glaze on the bottom; add to it the former broth and boil on a slow fire for about an hour; sift [strain] it clear.  It will serve for soups and sauces”.

I especially love cooking instructions when they come from sources other than cookbooks.  This is just such a one.  Pickling the fish in spices and vinegar preserved it without refrigeration.   “When more fish is caught than can be made use of, or kept without being ‘spiled’ [spoiled], cut it into slices about an inch thick.  (Every mess should lay in supplies of whole pepper, dried bay’s leaf, and all-spice, or pimento…)!  Wipe the fish dry, and lay it in a large jar [or crock], as follows:  after having pounded all-spice, black pepper, and salt, and mixed it well together, and rubbed the fish well with the mixture, lay the slices in regular tiers; and between every tier a bay-leaf, and so on, ‘chock up’ to the top, pressing the whole pretty well, or ‘handsomely,’ and then pour the vinegar down by the side, not the middle of the jar, until the jar is quite full.  Cover it over with brown paper, if to be had, if not, a bit of old canvass; tie it close, hand it over to the cook for a quiet corner in the oven, and when done, lay it by to cool;–and there’s a supply that will keep till all’s blue again.”  – “Jack Tench:  or, The Midshipman Turned Idler”.  1841.

Beuf [beef] a la Vinegrette.  Charlotte Mason.  “The Lady’s Assistant”.  1777.

Cut a slice of beef from the round three inches thick, with very little fat; stew it in water and a glass of white wine, seasoned with salt, pepper, cloves, a bunch of sweet herbs, and a bay-leaf; let it boil till the liquor is almost consumed, and when it is cold serve it up; what liquor remains, strain it off and mix it with a little vinegar.

Those who may want to add bay to their herb garden should be able to find seedlings at a nursery or they can be started from cuttings.  They are also called sweet bay and bay laurel.  They are evergreen and flower in the spring.  They may be grown in full sun or partial shade and one might let the weather govern the location for planting.  Partial shade might be better where the norm is extremely hot summers.  The size of the mature tree can be controlled by planting it in a container or through pruning.  It is hardy to 23 degrees, but can withstand a little colder if planted in a sheltered location.

As always, I wish you Blissful Meals, especially as we approach Christmas with all its splendor.  God Bless and merry Christmas one and all.  ©The Historic Foodie

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