Lettuce Through Time©

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A nice gentleman contacted me recently with a question about 18th century lettuce and I promised to share some information.  His question was about period recipes for cooking lettuce and whether lettuce then was anything like what we have now.

Long leaved, cos type lettuce is ancient and depicted in wall and tomb paintings as early as 4500 B.C.  Lettuce is found among plants accompanying the Egyptian god, Min [4th Millennium BCE].

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Cabbage-leaved lettuce is traced from 1543.  Columella knew a few different varieties, and documented the Romans eating young tender lettuce and cooking older and tougher lettuce.  They ate lettuce with hot dressing on it much like the wilted lettuce salads popular in the 20th century.  Lettuce was cultivated to improve its texture and flavor and by the medieval era there were distinct varieties of three types – heading, loose-leaf, and tall or cos.  William Woys Weaver credits the name Romaine, a cos, to it being grown in the papal gardens of Rome, although the name Romaine isn’t commonly found until the latter third of the 19th century.

“Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery”, 1744 is a good early source showing varieties during the 18th century.  Some of those listed are available through heirloom seed companies.  Dr. Weaver, in his heirloom vegetable treatise, tells us some of the early varieties later underwent name changes requiring some gardening knowledge to identify them and locate seed.  For example, Green Capuchin is now Tennisball and Silesia is now White-Seeded Simpson or Early Curled Simpson.

Cos lettuce was common during the 18th century.  Accounts such as the one from “The New London Family Cook” instructing the gardener to tie up the leaves of cos lettuce, “the same as endive”, to shield the inner leaves from the sun rendering them tender and crisp indicates that without special care some lettuce was tough.  The center leaves would have been preferred for salads while the outer leaves would have benefitted from cooking.

Jamie Oliver's braised peas with spring onions and lettuce

Jamie Oliver’s braised peas and lettuce

Lettuce that formed a loose head was called cabbage lettuce and that which produced tall leafy to very loose-headed plants was cos.  The varieties were divided further by season – that which could withstand a European winter, spring lettuce that headed rapidly, summer lettuce which were usually larger than spring lettuce and which tolerated more heat without bolting as fast.  Cutting lettuces never form a head and are harvested a few leaves at a time as the plants grow.  This is sometimes referred to as cut and come again.  Southern Europe also had a, “perennial lettuce”, which resembled dandelion.

Lettuces varied in depth of color from very pale to very dark green.

In John Randolph’s eminent Gardening Treatise penned in 18th century Virginia, we see the cutting lettuce, Cabbage lettuce, and cos.  Randolph found the cabbage lettuce the least pleasing of the three.  “This sort of lettuce is the worst of all the kinds in my opinion.  It is the most watery and flashy, does not grow to the size that many of the other sorts will do, and very soon runs to seed”.

Randolph found the cos the, “sweetest and finest”, because it washed the easiest, it remained longer before bolting, and, it was the, “crispest and most delicious of them all”.

Salads, raw and cooked, date to ancient times, however, here we will look only at ways in which lettuce was cooked.  It was put into soup, made into ragout, cooked with green peas, etc.  Elizabeth Lea [1859] had this advice for her readers, “Where there is a large family, it is a good and economical way to cut the fat of ham in small pieces, fry it, and make a gravy with flour, water and pepper to eat with lettuce.  To cook lettuce you must fry a little ham; put a spoonful of vinegar into the gravy; cut the lettuce, put it in the pan; give it a stir, and then dish it”.  Your author remembers the delight of eating this prepared by her aunt Dora, who was a master of the “use what’s in the garden and larder” method of cooking before it became trendy with preppers.

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TO MAKE GREEN PEASE SOUP.  “The New Book of Cookery”.  1782.  Take a small knuckle of veal, and a pint and a half of old green pease; put them in a saucepan with five or six quarts of water, a few blades of mace, a small onion stuck with cloves, some sweet herbs, salt, and whole pepper;  cover them close, and boil them;  then strain the liquor through a sieve, and put it in a fresh saucepan, with a pint of young pease, a lettuce, the heart of a cabbage, and three or four heads of celery, cut small;  cover the pan and let them stew an hour.  Pour the soup into your dish, and serve it up with the crust of a French roll.

EGGS WITH LETTUCE.  “The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy.  Glasse.  1786.  Scald some cabbage-lettuce in fair water, squeeze them well, then slice them and toss them up in a saucepan with a piece of butter;  season them with pepper, salt, and a little nutmeg.  Let them stew half an hour, chop them well together; when they are enough, lay them in your dish, fry some eggs nicely in butter and lay on them.  Garnish with Seville orange.

TURKISH MINCE.  “Domestic Economy and Cookery”.  1827.  Mince hard [boiled] eggs, white meat, and suet in equal quantities, season with sweet herbs and spices, mix it with boiled chopped lettuce, bread crums [sic], a little butter and a raw egg or two; dip lettuce, vine, or cabbage-leaves into boiling water, roll up the mince in them, and fry them of a nice light brown, or bake them in a quick oven, buttering them from a buttering pan, which is a better method than laying on bits; when rolled up for frying, fix the leaves with a little egg; meat may be used instead of egg.

LAITUES AU JUS.  “How to Cook Vegetables in one Hundred Different Ways”.  1868.  Blanch the lettuces for about five minutes in boiling water, drain them; place some nice slices of bacon in a stewpan;  lay the lettuces upon them; add sufficient strong gravy [broth];  simmer for a quarter of an hour, and serve with the strained gravy.

LAITUES FARCIES.  “How to Cook Vegetables in one Hundred Different Ways”.  1868.  Remove the outer leaves from some good large white lettuces, blanch these for a few minutes in boiling water;  drain them;  make them hollow by cutting out from the stalk end;  fill them with a very good white forcemeat, and stew them gently in consommé, or braise them.  Serve with the gravy poured over.

LETTUCES—LAITUES AU LARD.  “The Treasury of French Cookery.  1866.  The salad being made, salt and pepper are added in the requisite quantities.  Cut bacon up in small dice.  Melt it in a heater [cook].  Pour it very hot over the lettuces.  A little vinegar is immediately put into the heater, and when warm is poured over the salad.

LETTUCE SOUP.  “The Master Books of Soups”.  1900.  2 pints veal stock, 1 large head of lettuce, 1 oz. butter, 1 oz. flour, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, salt and paprika.

Cook lettuce in 1 pint of the stock and press through a sieve.  Heat butter in a pan and add flour and the other 1 pint of stock.  Cook till smooth and creamy.  Add lettuce pureé, season to taste, re-heat, add lemon juice, and serve.

“Inferior heads, or the lettuce which does not form heads, is very nice if cooked just like spinach and dressed with cream.  Some varieties which have large white veins and mid-ribs may be made to serve a double purpose.  Strip out the thin parts of the leaf for use in the salads and then cook the stems and dress them just like asparagus.  It will make a substitute for asparagus which will go unsuspected with a good many people”.  – Cutler.  1903.

See:  Vilmorin-Andrieux, “The Vegetable Garden”, 1920.  Randolph, John, “A Treatise on Gardening”, mid-18th c.  Weaver, William Woys.  “Heirloom Vegetable Gardening:  A Master Gardener’s Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History”.  1997.  Weaver.  “100 Vegetables and Where they Came From”.  2000.  Lindquist, K.  “On the Origin of Cultivated Lettuce”.  Landskrona, Sweden.  April 1960.  Eaton, Katherine.  “Ancient Egyptian Temple Ritual:  Performance, Pastterns, and Practice”.  2013.  Cookery books listed above.

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Spooners and Spoon Holders: Gone the way of the Dodo Bird.©

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This might be considered a companion piece to yesterday’s post on Celery Vases in that with one significant difference it might be hard for today’s collector to tell the difference between a spoon holder and a celery vase.  In short, celery vases are tall enough to easily hold celery stalks while spooners, sometimes called spoon holders, were much shorter so that the handles of the spoons stood above the rim of the holder.

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Spooners sometimes looked like handled sugar bowls, however, the absence of a ring in which a lid would have seated will confirm the piece is a spooner rather than a sugar bowl.

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Knives and forks were usually kept in drawers while spoons were kept in spooners on the table.  Spooners were made of cut glass, silver, white metal, Brittania ware, etc.  The glass ones were clear, colored, or clear with colored accents.  Spooners were squat or sometimes on bases increasing the height of the overall piece without making the container too tall to hold the spoons.  Silver bases with glass inserts and round, silver combination sugar bowl and spoon holders also decorated many a Victorian table.  A spooner might have one handle or two.

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Spooners were often offered as prizes at agricultural fairs, given as prizes for subscriptions to magazines,  or given as wedding or anniversary gifts.  Miss Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, daughter of William Astor and great grand-daughter of John Jacob Astor, received a silver spoon holder and “several sets” of silver spoons when she married Marshall Orme Wilson in 1884.

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Silver spooners were one of the souvenirs of the 1903 World’s Fair and I found them listed in household inventories and appraisals into the 1920’s, but while those who had them sometimes continued to use them after they were no longer advertised for sale, by the 1930’s spooners were rarely seen except in museums or antiques shops.  And now, gentle reader, I bid you adieu and Blissful Meals.©

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CELERY: More than Mirapoix©

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Not all modern gardeners have grown celery so one might doubt its popularity in times past, but I have yet to see a gardening treatise or catalog that doesn’t discuss growing celery.  Cookery books encouraged the liberal use of it as a seasoning and as a salad which might have been as simple as crisp celery in a celery vase.

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The Victorian celery vase or glass was an essential part of a well-dressed table from the 1820’s into the 1910’s although some journals advised readers the celery vase was being phased out in favor of a boat-like dish in the 1890’s.  The vases grew in popularity until mass-production flooded the market.

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“Celery is sometimes chopped small and mixed with a dressing made as directed for lettuce; but the usual way of preparing them is to scrape and wash them clean, and let them lie in cold water till just before they are to be sent to the table; then wipe them dry, split the ends of the stalks, leaving on a few of the green leaves, and send them to table in celery glasses.  Celery should be kept in a cellar, and the roots covered with tan to keep them from wilting.”  – The Kentucky Housewife.  1839.

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When celery was served at table, those who desired to do so, helped themselves to a stalk, dipped it in a little salt on one’s plate and ate it.  The celery was expected to be tender and crisp when served alone.  “To Crisp Celery.  Let it lie in ice water two hours before serving.  To fringe the stalk, stick several coarse needles into a cork and draw the stalk half way from the top several times, and lay in the refrigerator to curl and crisp”.  – Vaughn’s Seed Store.  1898.

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Celery was no exception to the “waste not,  want not” approach to food.  “There need never be any part of a bunch of celery wasted.  Serve the small, white stalks whole with salt, or cut fine and dressed as a salad.  Cut the larger stalks into short pieces, cook in boiling salted water and cover with cream sauce.  The very coarsest pieces may be boiled and strained for soup.  Nearly all soups may be improved by the addition of celery.  Dry the leaves in the oven, then chop or rub fine and they are nice for seasoning soups”.  1904.

Now, gentle reader, let us look at recipes for various prepared dishes of celery which might dress our table for that next special occasion meal.

Celery Salt.  1904.  This is very nice to season oysters, gravies, soups, etc.  Dry and grate the roots of celery and mix with one-third the quantity of salt.  Put into bottles and keep tightly corked.

Celery Fried.  1786.  When boiled, dip it in batter, fry it of a light brown, and dry; pour over melted butter.

Celery to fry.  1818.  Cut off the heads, and green tops of six or eight heads of celery; take off the outside stalks, pare the roots clean have ready half a pint of white wine, the yolks of three eggs beaten fine, salt and nutmeg; mix all together with flour into a batter, into which dip every head, and fry them in butter; when done, lay them in your dish, and pour melted butter over them.

Celery Sauce.  1818.  Boil celery heads three inches long, in a little stock, till nearly done and the liquor almost wasted away, then add some béchamel. . .

Celery Fritters.  1909.  Make a batter of two eggs, one cupful of milk, a tablespoonful of melted butter, one cupful of flour, and a pinch of salt.  Boil until tender in salted water stalks of celery cut into four inch lengths, drain, cool, and dry.  Dip in batter, fry in deep fat, drain, and serve with Hollandaise Sauce.

Creamed Celery.  1909.  Clean, trim, and cut the celery into short pieces.  Boil until tender in salted water, drain, and reheat in a Cream Sauce.  Sprinkle with grated nutmeg if desired.  Diced cooked carrots may be added to Creamed Celery.

Cabbage and Celery Cooked.  1909.  Cut cabbage fine, and soak in salt water, drain and add equal amount of chopped celery, cook until tender, drain and sift a little dry flour over the hot cabbage and celery, cook the flour, add milk, when done add one beaten egg; serve at once.

Escalloped Celery.  1909.  Chop celery very fine or cut in half-inch lengths and cook until tender in boiling salted water to cover.  Drain and reheat in a cream or White Sauce.  Put into a buttered baking-dish in layers, sprinkling each layer with grated cheese or crumbs or both crumbs and grated cheese.  Have crumbs and cheese on top, dot with butter, and brown in the oven.  Oysters also may be put between the layers.

Celery-Potato Croquettes.  To a pint of mashed potatoes add half a teacup of cooked celery, season with a tablespoon of butter, half a teaspoon of salt, a dash of white pepper; add the yolk of one egg.  Roll in shape of a small cylinder three inches long and one and a fourth inches thick.  Dip them in the beaten white of egg, roll in cracker or bread crumbs and fry.

Cream of Celery Soup.  1909.  One-third cup of celery cut in pieces, two cups of boiling water, one sliced onion, two teaspoons of butter, three tablespoons of flour, three cups of milk, salt and pepper to taste.  Cook celery till soft, rub through sieve, scald milk with onion in it, add to celery, bind and season.

Stuffed Celery.  1913.  Mix cream cheese with enough cream to moisten it; season with salt and cayenne; chop 8 olives and ½ lb. English walnuts and mix with cheese.  Select short wide pieces of celery, trim off most of the leaves and fill with cheese mixture.

MUSCOVIES, South American Water Fowl©

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The case of the Muscovy water fowl of South America is not the first time I’ve looked at archaeology books for a look at poultry origins although they might seem an odd place to look.  Sometimes one of the best records comes from these sources.  Silverman and Isbell noted they were kept by natives in South and Central America prior to Columbus’ second voyage in 1494 and Roberts likewise documented them through Diego Alvarez Chanca in 1494.  [The latter was a Spanish physician and companion of Christopher Columbus.]  By 1555 they were documented in Europe and, “in the lesser Antilles, along the Caribbean shores of South America, and into Honduras and Mexico”.  They attribute the culture of the Muscovy to the Aztecs.

In 1891, H. S. Babcock wrote in “American Agriculturist” that Muscovies were rarely seen in New England and the Northern states, but were kept in larger percentages the farther South one traveled.  There he said the Pekins, Cayugas, and Rouens common in the North were much fewer in number while Southern farms with Muscovies were plentiful.

Ralph

Martin Brady with Ralph.  Ralph and his mate Alice are our first pair of Muscovies.

In 1810, “A Treatise on the Breeding, Rearing, and Fattening of Poultry” was translated from French to English where a passage notes that the Muscovy, “stocks the farm-yards of our colonies; it has long been brought into ours [in France], where it proves profitable. . . “.  France held an enormous amount of land during this time and the book did not specify whether the colonies in question were in America, Canada, or elsewhere.  The fact that the author did not specify; however, tends to infer the statement was aimed at the whole of the French colonies.

It is a distinct species from all known varieties of duck, therefore, not actually a duck at all.  As with the mule, any progeny of a Muscovy and a duck is sterile.  Early European breeders did sometimes encourage the mating of Muscovies and common ducks because the young matured quicker and made it to the table with less expense in feed.  Unlike ducks, the female Muscovy usually weighs in at about half the weight of the male and the tail feathers of the Muscovy drake do not have the signature curl of ducks.

Muscovy hens will build nests on the ground or in tree branches and both male and female are capable of flight.  English poultry author, Lewis Wright, was quoted describing the Muscovy as having a fowl temperament, however, this author has found her Muscovies to be rather more gentle than many of her Pekins and Rouens.  Mr. Babcock said in his article he found them to be quite the opposite as well.

Female Muscovies are known to be good sitters and have been used as incubators of chicken, duck and turkey eggs in France, Australia, and other countries, Australians reporting better hatch rates under Muscovy hens than under chickens or in mechanical incubators.  Muscovy eggs take 35 days to hatch.  When hens are about to sit they line their nests with feathers and down which they use to cover their eggs when they leave the nest to feed.  Your author’s biggest challenge in raising chicks of any sort is protecting the chicks from fire ants.

All primary sources consulted echo the sentiment that the Muscovy is a prolific breeder, and a voracious eater, but because it forages well and is not particular what it consumes it was considered profitable to rear.  It was agreed the Muscovy was found in the wild only in South America and in early sources was commonly called the Barbary or Guinea-duck.  Another commonality is that the Muscovy can have a strong musky smell from glands near its rump and it was advised to remove that area and the head as soon as the bird is killed, as opposed to the historical practice of allowing poultry to hang to age.  “It is then a very good dish, and as succulent as the wild duck”.

See:  “Southern Agriculturist and Register of Rural Affairs”.  Southern section of the United States.  Jan. 1831 and 1847.  “Treatise on the Breeding, Rearing, and Fattening of Poultry Chiefly Translated From the New French Dictionary on Natural History”.  London.  1810. Silverman, Helaine and Isbell, William.  “Handbook of South American Archaeology”.  2008.  Roberts, Victoria.  “British Poultry Standards”.  2008.

Scramble or Fry? Oh My!

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“In all times and in all ages, among all races and in all lands, as far back as written history and tradition can be traced, the egg has ever been regarded as chief among Nature’s most precious gifts to mankind”.  No truer statement has ever been made.  Eggs as food are dateless, and recorded recipes date from those of Apicius, famous epicure of ancient Rome.  Preparation techniques changed little initially, but in 1665 Robert May told readers about sixty-two ways of cooking eggs.

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Any bird or reptile which lays eggs may nourish a human whether it be lizard, alligator, fish, turtle, terrapin, turtle, water bird, etc. On the farm we eat duck, goose, and turkey eggs right along with the chicken eggs.

I tailor my usage according to what my hens produce and have not bought eggs in almost four years.  When my hens lay extra eggs I can look for recipes which require a larger number of eggs.  Let’s look at ways great grandma might have prepared her eggs.

The most important advice pertains to determining freshness unless gathered faithfully daily.  I use the floating in water method, keeping sinkers, discarding floaters and any that stand on end more than a slight degree.  Boiled freshly gathered eggs do not peel well.

“Eggs are not fit for any purpose unless they are perfectly fresh.  An easy method of ascertaining the freshness of an egg is to hold it toward the sun or toward a good light.  If fresh, it will be perfectly clear; if it is clear on one side and cloudy on the other, it is stale.  Another good test is to place the eggs in a pan filled with water; those that sink to the bottom are perfectly fresh; if they float at the top or stand on end in the water, they are unfit for use”.  Filippini, Alexander.  “One Hundred Ways of Cooking Eggs”.  1892.

EGGS TO CODDLE.  Mrs. Bliss.  “Practical Cook Book”.  1850.  Break the eggs and slip them separately, so as not to break the yolks, into a stew-pan of boiling water, let the whites just set, then take them up in a skimmer, drain off the water, and serve on slices of buttered toast.

EGGS AND TOMATOES.  Bliss.  Peel six tomatoes and cut them in slices into a stew-pan, add two table-spoonfuls of butter, a little salt and pepper; when they begin to stew, break in six eggs, stir well, and serve.  This is a nice dish for breakfast.

EGGS A LA DEUX.  “Better Food”.  1917.  Cut four hard-cooked eggs in slices, add one cup of tender cooked ham cut in cubes, half a cup of fresh mushrooms broken in pieces, and two cups of white sauce.  Mix lightly, turn into a baking dish, cover with buttered crumbs and let bake until the crumbs are browned.

SCALLOPED EGGS WITH CHEESE.  “Twentieth Century Cook Book”.  1921.  4 hard-cooked eggs, 2 cups White Sauce, ½ cup cheese cut fine, ½ cup buttered crumbs.  Cut eggs in eights lengthwise; put half of them into a greased baking dish, cover with half of sauce, and sprinkle with half of cheese; repeat; cover with crumbs, and bake about fifteen minutes or until crumbs are brown.  [These were also called Eggs Au Gratin.  We had this for Father’s Day breakfast].

ASPARAGUS A LA WESTMINSTER.  Frich.  “The Housewife’s Cook Book”.  1917.  Buttered toast, scrambled eggs, grated cheese, white sauce.  Arrange scrambled eggs on buttered toast, asparagus on top of scrambled eggs, and grated cheese on top of asparagus.  Serve with hot white sauce.

EGG CROQUETTES.  “The Home Cook Book”.  1905.  Boil four eggs till they are perfectly hard.  Then rub through a fine sieve [mash], add three tablespoons of cream, a dash of pepper, a saltspoon of salt, and stir well all together.  Add also a teaspoon of butter.  Stir thoroughly and thicken with pulverized cracker stiff enough to form into balls.  Make up in little balls, roll each ball in cracker dust and drop into deep, hot fat.  When the croquettes are brown, take out with a perforated or wire spoon and drain.  Serve with crisp, hot bacon or cold with a lettuce salad.

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PICKLED EGGS.  Home.  1905.  First boil the eggs half an hour.  Drop them in cold water to cool, remove the shells and put the eggs in an earthen or glass jar.  Cover them with hot vinegar.  Or if you wish to give them a spiced flavor, pour over them vinegar in which peppers, allspice, cardamom seeds, and cloves have been boiled. . .Let them stand twenty-four hours before serving.  [Pickled eggs are a tremendous time saver when making salads and add a bit of extra flavor].

BAKED EGGS WITH MASHED POTATOES.  “The Rural Cook Book”.  1907.  The potatoes should be well seasoned, and beaten smooth with hot cream or milk and butter, so they will be very light.  Put in a buttered baking dish, and then . . . make deep little hollows in the potatoes.  Drop an uncooked egg carefully into each of these hollows, dust with salt and pepper, and dot the top with bits of butter; set in the oven until the eggs are cooked and serve at once.

STEWED SPINACH AND EGGS.  Glasse, Hannah.  “The Art of Cookery”.  1788.  Pick and wash your spinach very clean, put it into a saucepan, with a little salt; cover it close, shake the pan often.  When it is just tender, and whilst it is green, throw it into a sieve to drain, lay it into your dish.  In the mean time have a stew-pan of water boiling, break as many eggs into cups as you would poach.  When the water boils put in the eggs, have an egg-slice ready to take them out with, lay them on the spinach, and garnish the dish with orange cut into quarters, with melted butter in a cup.

THE FARMSTEAD KITCHEN GARDEN

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“The garden should be about four times as long as it is broad, unfenced when possible, near to the house and should be in miniature, a farm with the cereals, grasses, and large fruits left out.  The side farthest from the dwelling should be devoted to the perennial plants, such as grapes, currants, and other bush-fruits.  Everything should be planted in straight rows, with spaces sufficiently wide between the rows to admit of horse-hoe culture.  The grapes and blackberries might occupy one row, the raspberries and currants a second row, rhubarb, asparagus and like plants a third row.  The spaces between these various fruits should be eight feet, as it is poor economy to so crowd vines a nd bushes as to force them to struggle the year through for plant-food and moisture. . . The rows of ordinary vegetables may be thirty inches apart, except in case of such plants as onions, lettuce, and early beets.  These small, slow-growing esculents should be planted in double rows.  Starting from the last row of potatoes a thirty inch space is measured off, a row of lettuce planted, and then one foot from this a row of beets or onions; then have a space thirty inches wide and again plant double rows, if more of the small esculents are wanted.  The larger spaces may be cultivated by horse-hoe and the smaller spaces by hand-hoe.  The entire garden which is to be planted in the spring should be kept fertile and plowed early in the spring, leaving that part of it which is not designed for immediate planting unharrowed.  It may be necessary to replow.  It certainly will be necessary to cultivate several times that part of the garden which is used for late-growing crops, such as cabbage and celery. . . As a rule, the garden should not be fenced, but the chickens should be restrained by fences a part of the time; at other times they may have free access to the garden, where they are often very beneficial in reducing the insect enemies.”  – Roberts, Isaac Phillips.  “The FarmStead”.  1902.

Cardinals: The South’s Colorful Songster

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This past weekend I found a bird nest in one of my climbing rose bushes and carefully watched to see what sort of bird had laid the three eggs in it.  Wild birds are Nature’s adornment for the farmstead and it turned out my visiting nester is a female cardinal.  I wish her great success in hatching the eggs although her choice of nesting site is going to make caring for the roses a little difficult for a few weeks.  I really hope a snake doesn’t make a meal of her babies and we can enjoy their beauty and song as they discover their wings and take flight.  Its song is so pleasing as to have earned it the nickname Virginia Nightingale as early as 1834 and likely much earlier.   Let’s see what our forebears had to say about this lovely songster.

“The Cardinals are noted singers.  Both sexes sing, but the song of the male is more frequent and a louder and clearer whistle. . .To the young in the nest he [the male] is an untiring provider of worms and grubs, and thus most useful in the garden.  Nothing can be more comical than his behavior when he first conducts his young family out into the world while his mate is engaged with her second sitting.  He is as fussy as any young mother, hopping about in great excitement, and appearing to think the whole world thirsting for the life of his pretty little ones”.  – “Birds & Nature Magazine”.  June 1904.

“After the robin the cardinal’s nest is the easiest to find, and perhaps the most common.  Nests are usually placed low in bushes, or at moderate heights in thickets and saplings.  Grape-vine tangles and porch trellises are favorite places and occasionally nests are saddled upon horizontal limbs of trees.

In construction the nest varies from tidy to disreputable, according to skill and season.  A typical one is composed externally of long stiff weeds and leaf stems, and measures roughly seven inches across, with an extreme of thirteen inches.  Next comes a mat of dead leaves, mostly beech [no beech near us].  Inside this in turn is a tough basket work of grape-vine bark and a lining of fine fresh grass cured in the nest.  It measures, inside, three and a quarter inches in width and two and a half in depth.

The eggs are quite variable; even those in the same nest are hard to reconcile, both as to shape and markings.  Because of the similarity in appearance, cowbirds’ eggs are easily imposed upon the cardinal.  Professor Jones and I once found a nest with the bird on whose three eggs were to the best of our judgement the combined products of as many cowbirds.

The young hatch out in about fourteen days, and are ready to leave the nest in ten days more.  The father is especially devoted to his offspring, and often cares for them while the female is busy with another nest. “   Have a delightful summer, gentle reader, and visit often.  “Birds and Nature in Natural Colors”.   1914.

American Beauty Berry

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Either I just never paid attention to it or the native American Beautyberry bush was not common in my niche of southern middle Tennessee and Northwest Alabama because one of the first things I noticed when I moved farther South was a bush with the most remarkably striking purple berries.  The small berries grow in a ball shape around the ends of the limbs so that while the berries are small from a distance the purple is quite striking against a green backdrop.

I quickly purchased a bush which I promptly transplanted when we moved to the farm only to find them growing wild anywhere the guineas or wild birds dropped seed.  I have let most of them grow wherever they decide to volunteer.  It is a large sprawling shrub if left to its own devices or it can be pruned in winter to control its size.  There is a white berried variety, however, in my opinion it can’t compare with the purple.

Beauty bush is native to the southeastern U.S. and is referred to as American beautyberry, sourbush, bunchberry, and falsely as French mulberry by some.  It is not a mulberry nor is it French.

It can be propagated from seed or softwood cuttings.  If preferred, it can be grown in a container.

It looks quite nice in fresh flower arrangements.  Berries are also edible.  While they don’t impress me much in flavor fresh off the bush they can be used to make jelly, tea, and wine.

Many sources indicate they repel mosquitoes and biting insects.  Charles T. Bryson, botanist in Stoneville, Miss. reported that his grandfather cut branches with the leaves still on and crushed the leaves then put them between the horse and the harness to repel deerflies, horseflies, and mosquitoes.  Forty years later he still crushes leaves and rubs them on his skin to repel insects.  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060703091932.htm

The USDA Agricultural Research Service at the University of Mississippi conducted experiments and concluded that infusions of leaves and stems did, in fact, repel ticks, mosquitoes, and possibly fire ants.  The naturally occurring compounds in beautyberry that repel insects are callicarpenal, intermedeol, and spathulenol.  All three chemicals repulsed mosquitoes that carry malaria and yellow fever.  Mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus were not tested in the study.  The USDA-ARS has since filed for a patent using callicarpenal as an anthropod repellent.  Seeing such an insect repellent on the market is not likely to happen any time soon, however, as it can take years to register a product with the EPA and conduct the exhaustive tests required.  In the meantime I recommend planting your own beautyberries and either rubbing the crushed leaves on the skin or trying a recipe for making beautyberry spray or cream.  Don’t forget to whip up a snack while you’re at it – perhaps pound cake with a little beautyberry jelly and whipped cream on top.   https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/download/3640/PDF

BEAUTY BERRY JELLY.

1 ½ quarts of berries, washed and cleaned.  Put in a heavy pot and cover with 2 quarts of water.  Boil 15 to 20 minutes and strain.  Bring 3 cups of the juice to a boil.  Add 1 package of Sure-Jell, 4 ½ cups sugar, and the juice of one lemon.  Bring to a second boil and boil for two minutes.  Remove from the heat, skim off any foam and then pour the jelly into sterilized jars and put on flats and rings.

BEAUTYBERRY INSECT REPELLENT.

Use a combination of chopped stems and bark and leaves.  Put 1 to 2 cups of chopped leaves and stems in a quart jar and fill with boiling water.  Let set at least 4 hours or overnight.  Strain.  Fill an 8 ounce spray bottle half full of the infusion.  Add witch hazel almost to the top – leave a 2 ounce space. Add essential oil of your choice.  Shake before using.

BEAUTYBERRY INSECT REPELLENT CREAM.

Make the infusion as in the previous recipe.  Put 1 ½ cups of infusion in the blender.  Put 1 cup neem oil and 1 ounce of beeswax in a small pot and heat until melted.  Turn on the blender and slowly pour in the oil mixture.  It will thicken and become a cream.

Croquettes: Tasty Pockets of Goodness©

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Photo:  Wikipedia

Salmon comes to mind when one thinks about croquettes, however, croquettes can be made out of any chopped meat – with or without potato and parsley, rice, pasta, grain, vegetable, fruit and even nuts.  They were, and remain, an economical way to turn left-overs into a tasty new dish.

Croquettes were were either made by hand shaping the meat mixture into a cone or flat cake or shaped in a croquette mold.  They were then dipped in egg, rolled in crumbs, and fried brown.  “The ideal croquette should be soft and creamy inside when served, and yet keep its shape, and be crisp and brown outside . . .The derivation of the word croquette hints at something crisp or crackling.”  Molds were first buttered then sprinkled with crumbs for the first croquette then subsequently sprinkled with crumbs before molding the remaining mixture.

“MYSTERY” CROQUETTES.  “Mrs. Owens’ New Cook Book”.  [This is an excellent recipe which can be used to make any sort of croquette.]  Take any bits of cold fish, flesh, or fowl, any or all, chop fine with 2 hard boiled eggs and ½ cup cold potatoes.  To a pint of the mixture add a raw egg, a scant tablespoon flour and a teaspoon of melted butter.  Form into croquettes; dip in egg and sifted crumbs and fry in hot fat.

CHICKEN CROQUETTES.  “Southern Cooking”.  1912.  For Chicken Croquettes.  To make one dozen croquettes.  Select three and one half pounds of chicken and boil well done, take the meat and chop very fine, use one pint of flour, 2 raw eggs, parsley, salt and pepper.  [Shape into patties and fry in butter.]

TURKEY CROQUETTES SEASONED WITH POTATO AND EGGS.  “Palatable Dishes”.  1891.  Cut the meat from one turkey, removing all fat, skin, gristle, and bones.  Mash about eight cold boiled potatoes.  Chop finely six hard-boiled eggs.  Mix these ingredients well together; add a gill of white wine, salt and pepper to taste.  Make into croquettes, and brown them nicely in butter, serving them very hot.

CROQUETTES OF CRABS.  “Palatable Dishes”.  1891.  One pint of solid meat.  After the crabs are boiled and the meat is picked out, measure it.  Put in a double saucepan, half a pint of cream.  Rub to a cream one heaping tablespoonful of butter and three heaping tablespoonfuls of sifted flour, then stir this into the hot cream gradually; stir rapidly until you have a thick, smooth paste.  Now add the beaten yolks of two eggs; take from the fire, then add one tablespoonful of chopped parsley, half a teaspoonful of onion juice, a pinch of cayenne pepper, one even teaspoonful of salt, and two hard-boiled eggs chopped very fine; mix thoroughly.  Now add the crab meat and set aside to cool; then form into little cones or pyramids, dip in egg and fine bread-crumbs.  Fry a rich brown in boiling hot fat, garnish with parsley or water-cress.  Serve hot with cream sauce.  Hard-shell crabs are the best for croquettes; it will take one dozen to make a pint of meat.

SAUSAGE CROQUETTES.  “Palatable Dishes”.  Take one pound of nicely seasoned sausage meat, two raw potatoes grated fine, half a cupful of grated bread-crumbs, one egg beaten light, one tablespoonful of chopped parsley or celery, three tablespoonfuls of milk, salt, and pepper to taste.  Mix all well together.  Make into little patties or rolls; fry in the spider [skillet] in a little half butter and lard.  Serve hot, garnished with parsley.

SALMON CROQUETTES:  “Mrs. Owens’ New Cook Book”.  1897.  One can salmon, an equal quantity of mashed potatoes.  Make into little cakes, roll in white of egg and rolled cracker and fry.

SALMON CROQUETTES:  “Mrs. Owens”.  #2:  One cup picked up salmon, ½ cup mashed potatoes and ½ cup bread crumbs.  Heat a cup of milk to boiling and stir into it 1 tablespoon butter made smooth with 2 tablespoons flour.  Add to this 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, the salmon, potato, and bread crumbs.  Season palatably with pepper and salt and pour into a buttered platter to cool.  Form into shapes, dip in egg and crumbs and fry in hot fat until brown.

GREEN [FRESH] CORN CROQUETTES.  “Mrs. Owens”.  1 quart young, tender, grated green corn, 1 cup sifted flour, 1 cup sweet milk, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 eggs, 1 saltspoon salt [to taste], and same of pepper.  Grate the corn [cut from the cob] as fine as possible, and mix with the flour, pepper and salt.  Warm the milk and melt the butter in it.  Add the corn, stir hard, and let cool.  Then stir the eggs beaten very light, the whites added last.  Work into small oval balls, and fry in hot fat.  Drain and serve hot.

SWEET POTATO CROQUETTES.  “Palatable Dishes”.  When boiled and mashed, take one pint and a half of the potato, mash them smooth, and beat into them three-quarters of a cupful of hot milk, one teaspoonful of salt, and three heaping gablespoonfuls of butter.  Beat two eggs light and add them to the mixture, beating in thoroughly.  Now form into croquettes.  Dip into egg, then bread-crumbs, and fry in hot fat until a rich brown.  Serve immediately.

POTATO CROQUETTES.  Season cold mashed potato with pepper, salt, and nutmeg.  Beat to a cream with a tablespoon of melted butter to every cup of potato.  Bind with 2 beaten eggs, and add 1 teaspoon minced parsley.  Roll into oval balls, dip in beaten egg, then in bread crumbs, and fry.

HOMINY CROQUETTES.  “Housekeeper’s and Mothers’ Manual”.  1895.  Soften a cupful of cold, boiled hominy or hominy grits, with a cupful of sweet milk and a well beaten egg.  Mix thoroughly and season with salt and butter and a dash of pepper.  Form into croquettes, dip in beaten egg and cracker dust and fry in boiling lard.

CHEESE CROQUETTES.  “The Warren Cook Book.”  1920.  2 cups grated cheese, 1 cup fine bread crumbs, salt and cayenne to taste; form into small balls; dip into beaten eggs and fine cracker crumbs; fry in boiling fat; serve with salads.

HAM CROQUETTES.  “How We Cook in Tennessee”.  1906.  Run cold boiled ham through meat chopper, also one hard boiled egg.  To every cup of ground meat put one cup rolled bread crumbs and one hard boiled egg.  Add pepper and nutmeg to taste.  When ready to use, wet up with sweet cream, make out in croquettes and fry.

BRAIN CROQUETTES.  “How We Cook in Tennessee”.  Two sets hog brains, two eggs, cracker crumbs.  Parboil the brains, allow them to cool, chop fine, beating in the eggs and a few crumbs with salt and pepper to taste.  Make into shapes, roll in crumbs and fry in hot lard.

Poultry Waterers

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2-piece redware, 19th century

In some strange manner it intrigues me when I have a problem with poultry keeping and in doing random research find the same problem discussed a hundred years or more ago.  Such was the case with chicken waterers.  We try to use the type in which the container is filled while upside down, the base affixed, then the waterer flipped so that the water trickles out into the base as needed.  It works well usually although I confess to less than 100% comprehension of the principle by which it works even after Dear Husband has explained it multiple times, but it does not work well in a small confined space.

1875 Palatine, WV

The problem with this system is that in a small space a hen with young chicks fills the base with dirt.  In her never-ending scratching the hen plows through the sandy earth flinging the soil behind into the base of the waterer and in short order the whole contraption is completely and hopelessly clogged with no access to water.

1 gal. attributed to Grier Pottery, Chester Co., PA abt 1870

Someone identifying himself as “Cock of the Walk”, did a review of this type waterer in 1873 and described exactly the same issue.  He concluded with, “Now sir, you will excuse this long tirade when I say that my object is to request some of your correspondents to inform me if I have proved myself incapable “to run the machine,” and that he will inform me if there is to be found anything better and more efficiently adapted to the purpose of supplying water for chickens in coops.”  While this gentleman’s waterer was made of crockery and ours is plastic the principle is the same, and no, dear sir, all these years later we are still plagued with this inadequacy.

McCoy, date unknown

Just as today poultry keepers were always searching for a better waterer and as often as not they fashioned one from materials found about the home place just as we do.  “I have about a peck of good fresh sugar-trough gourd seed that I dislike to destroy.  If any one will send a two-cent stamp for mailing a package I will send some seeds free.  The gourds are large, convenient, and useful.  They make cheap and excellent troughs for watering chickens. . .”.  I suspect gourds have served as drinking vessels for countless generations.

redware waterer, 19th c, A. G. C. Dipple, Lewistown, PA mark

Prior to the second half of the Victorian era one of the best sources of information is early Dutch paintings.  Many of the paintings feature a natural water source – a spring, small creek, pond, etc. – which leads me to believe in those days prior to modern plumbing such sources may have been so common poultry simply drank from the stream or pond.  The closest thing I’ve found to a waterer from the 18th century or earlier is a shallow redware dish in a few of the paintings.

Red wing

My usual closing, “Blissful Meals”, isn’t especially appropriate but I’ll say it anyway.  I hope you enjoyed the piece.

Bib:  Poultry World.  Aug. 1881; Gleanings in Bee Culture.  April 1, 1893.