Merry Christmas and God Bless


No, these guys aren’t coming to dinner, however, one of their duck friends won’t be so lucky.  Having just returned from a trip to Pennsylvania visiting relatives and antique shopping, I chose not to take the time to kill, pluck, and roast a bird, but to make a simple Colonial era meal much as any woman might have made 200 years ago.  Any good cook knows simple basic ingredients can be as rich as king’s fare if well prepared.

Roasted poultry wasn’t always practical for common folk so I deliberately chose something else.  For settlers new to their homestead firewood might have been in short supply.  The bird might not have been hefty enough to feed all in attendance requiring the housewife to stretch it by various means.  Perhaps, as in our case, there are only the two who will partake of the meal and for practicality it is kept to appropriate proportions.  Last, but not least, also as in our case, attending mass Christmas morning requires advance preparation today and might preclude lengthy cooking processes such as roasting the fatted turkey or goose tomorrow.

Our meal will be made from items on-hand without a trip to the mercantile to stock up, yet I think Mr. Brady will find himself as happy as can be with what will be set before him.  Feel free to visit again in a couple of days and see what our fare shall be.  Until then, Blissful Meals, and may God bless you.  – Victoria Brady, thehistoricfoodie.





This piece picks up where part I left off with part I.  Now that we’ve established how the dovecot housed the pigeons who raised the squab that goes on our dinner tables, how was it prepared?

McCall's Fish and Fowl Cookbook, 1974 edition.jpg

[McCall’s Fish and Fowl cookbook, 1974]

“The blue house-pigeon is the variety principally reared for the table in this country, and is produced from our farmyards in great numbers.  When young, and still fed by their parents, they are most preferable for the table, and are called squabs; under six months they are denominated squeakers, and at six months they begin to breed.  Their flesh is accounted savoury, delicate, and stimulating, and the dark-coloured birds are considered to have the highest flavor, whilst the light are esteemed to have the more delicate flesh”.

That delicate flesh was prepared in a myriad of ways, 18th century cookery books can contain some 20 different receipts for preparing it.  Clermont and others from the early 19th century used the same receipts:  White Fricassee of Pigeon, Fricassee of Pigeons with Green Peas, Fricasee of Pigeons, country fashion, Pigeons Masqueraded, Pigeons of a fine bright Colour, Pigeons stuffed with Pistachio Nuts, Pigeons au Court Bouillon, Pigeons a la Sainte Menehoult, Pigeons Glazed and served with Stewed Greens, Pigeons Perigord, Pigeons au Cingara, Roasted Pigeons with different Sauces and Ragouts, Pigeons with Basil, Hodgepodge of Pigeons Spanish Style, Pigeons in Cowl Pontiff Sauce, Pigeons with Craw-fish Cullis, (this had notes regarding au Gratin, and Pigeon Parmesan as well), Pigeons a la Bry with Italian Sauce, Pigeons with Cream and Craw-fish as a Fricassee, Pigeons with Craw-fish Butter, Pigeons accompanied with Craw-fish, Pigeons in a delightful Manner, Pigeons Royal Fashion, Pigeons Masked with Ravigotte Sauce, Pigeons with Cream Sauce, Pigeons glazed or with Parmesan Cheese, Pigeons a la Fiane, Pigeons as if Alive with Fricandeaux, Brown Pigeons, Pigeons the Clergyman’s Fashion, Pigeons in a Hurry, Pigeons with a Ragout, Pigeons with Marrow, Pigeons Provence Fashion, Pigeons like Hedge-hogs, Pigeons the Comptroller’s Manner, Pigeons in Cowl with Onions, Pigeons like a Toad, Flatted Pigeons, Pigeons the Princess’s Fashion (because of their preparation), Stewed Pigeon with blood, Pigeons dobed with or without Fennel, Pigeons the Cardinal’s Fashion, Pigeons the German Fashion, Pigeons farced with Shallots, Matlot of Pigeons, Pigeons of a Game Flavour in Moulds or in Paste, Pigeons masked with Cauliflowers, and Pigeons with Truffels.

Backyard Chickens photo credit.jpg

Photo credit:  Backyard Chickens website.  1. Turkey, 2. Goose, 3. Barbary Duck (Muscovy), 4. Guinea fowl, 5. Mallard, 6. Poussin, (Cornish Rock Game hen/baby cornish X), 7. Quail, 8. Partridge, 9. Pigeon squab, 10. Pheasant, 11. Chicken, 12. Aylesbury duck (pekin)

Pigeon eggs are edible but due to their diminutive size were used more for garnish than substance, often boiled pigeon egg yolks were served in soups.  Descriptions of Chinese meals, whether served in China or the U.S. often included pigeon eggs.


[Source:  Beeton’s Book of Household Management.  #8 is roasted pigeons.]

PIGEONS.  Boil the pigeons by themselves for a quarter of an hour; with a proper quantity of bacon cut square, laid in the middle of the dish.  Stew some spinach, and lay the pigeons on the spinach.  Garnish with parsley dried crisp before the fire.  [1831]

CONSOMME COLONBINE.  Prepare a good tablespoonful of carrot pearls and one of turnip pearls, keeping the latter very white.  Cook them in the ordinary way, and put them in the soup-tureen with one tablespoonful of very green peas, one tablespoonful of a julienne of roast pigeon fillets, and six poached pigeons’ eggs, which latter should be sent to the table in a timbale at the same time as the consommé.  Pour over the other garnish one quart of very clear boiling consommé and serve at once.  This soup can only appear on menus when pigeon’s eggs are in season.  [1912]

SOUP WITH PIGEONS AND POACHED EGGS.  Truss the pigeons as for a pie, and half fill them with forcemeat, having plenty of forced mushrooms pounded in it.  Scald and drain them dry; and put them in a stew-pan with a pint of veal broth.  Stew till done; then make hot two quarts of veal broth, and add to it some carrots, turnips, peeled button onions, and celery heads in lengths of two inches.  Steam the vegetables separately before putting them into the broth.  Season with salt and make it boil; and five minutes before serving add the pigeons, and a liaison of four poached eggs in the tureen.  [1836]

STEWED PIGEON.  6 pigeons, a few slices of bacon, 3 oz. of butter, 2 tablespoonfuls of minced parsley, sufficient stock…to cover the pigeons, thickening of butter and flour, 1 tablespoonful of mushroom ketchup, 1 tablespoonful of port wine. . .Mince the livers and add these to the parsley and butter, and put it into the insides of the birds.  Truss them with the legs inward, and put them into a stewpan, with a few slices of bacon placed under and over them; add the stock, and stew gently for rather more than ½ hour.  Dish the pigeons, strain the gravy, thicken it with butter and flour, add the ketchup and port wine, give one boil, pour over the pigeons and serve. . .Seasonable from April to September.   Sarah J. Hale advised using the same liver mixture to stuff pigeons for roasting [1857]

PIGEON PYE.  Your crust must be good, and force [stuff] your Pigeons with good Force-meat; then lay some at the Bottom of your Crust, and your Pigeons a Top; lay your Giblets between with some hard Eggs; Asparagus Tops, Coxcombs and Sweetbreads; put a piece of Butter on top of your Pigeons, and a little Liquor, [broth] so lid and bake it; put in a little Gravy and Butter when you open it.  [1732]  Note:  When butchering, I have saved rooster combs and cooked them for period recipes, however, I found it more for garnish than for adding anything substantial to the dish.

PIGEONS COMPOTE.  Skewer six young pigeons in the same manner as for boiling, put forcemeat into the craws, lard them down the breast, and fry them brown.  Put them into strong brown gravy, and when they have stewed three quarters of an hour, thicken it with a lump of butter rolled in flour.  Make your forcemeat in this manner.  Grate the crumbs of half a penny loaf, and scrape a quarter of a pound of fat bacon, which will answer the purpose better than suet.  Chop a little parsley and thyme, two shallots, or an onion, some lemon-peel, and a little nutmeg grated; season them with pepper and salt, and mix them up with eggs.  When you serve them up, strain your gravy over them, and lay forcemeat balls around them.  [1785]

PIGEON PIE.  1 ½ lb. of rump-steak, 2 or 3 pigeons, 3 slices of ham, pepper and salt to taste, 2 oz. of butter, 4 eggs, puff crust.  Cut the steak into pieces about 3 inches square, and with it line the bottom of a pie-dish, seasoning it well with pepper and salt.  Clean the pigeons, rub them with pepper and salt inside and out, and put into the body of each rather more than ½ oz. of butter; lay them on the steak, and a piece of ham on each pigeon.  Add the yolks of 4 eggs, and half fill the dish with stock; place a border of puff paste round the edge of the dish, put on the cover, and ornament it in any way that may be preferred.  Clean three of the feet, and place them in a hole made in the crust at the top; this shows what kind of pie it is.  Glaze the crust,–that is to say, brush it over with the yolk of an egg,–and bake it in a well-heated oven for about 1 ¼ hour.  When liked, a seasoning of pounded mace may be added.

Louis Eustache Ude’s version of pigeon pie was very similar, published in 1815.

BRAISED PIGEONS.  Draw [clean] and wash three young pigeons, wipe them well and stuff them with breadcrumbs that have been well seasoned and moistened with warmed butter, and cook them in a brasing pan.  Boil some spinach, chop it well, and season with salt and pepper.  Toast three slices of bread, lay them on a hot dish, spread the spinach over them, put a pigeon on each slice, and serve with a sauceboatful of gravy.

FRICASSEED PIGEONS.  . . . Cut them into pieces, and put them in a saucepan; pour in one pint each of claret and water, and a blade of mace, one onion, a bunch of sweet herbs, a little pepper and salt and one and one-half tablespoonfuls of butter that has been kneaded with a little flour.  Cover the pan, and cook slowly for three-fourths of an hour.  Remove the pieces of pigeons onto a hot dish, and keep them warm.  Strain the gravy, and stir in with it the yolks of three eggs; when thick pour it over the meat, and put some fried oysters on top.  Garnish round with croutons of fried bread, and serve.

PIGEONS IN A HOLE. . . stick their legs in their bellies as you do for boiling, and season them with pepper, salt, and beaten mace.  Put a lump of butter, of the size of a walnut, into the belly of each pigeon, and lay them in a pie dish.  Pour over them a batter made of three eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, and half a pint of good milk.  Bake them in a moderate oven, and send them up in the same dish to table.  [1806]

I leave you now, gentle reader, with visions of pies, fricassees, roasts, and all manner of good dishes, and, as always, Blissful Meals.  ©  All Rights Reserved.



, , ,

dovecot St. Georges-de-France

The reader may well ask what a dovecot is since this structure is rarely seen today although it served an important purpose in times past.  They were intended to house the dovecot pigeon which when delicately prepared graced many a serving platter.  Dovecots, pigeon cote, columbarium, pigeonnier, or doocot are the same structure while the name varied with location.


Dovecots, or their ruins, can be documented from the Roman occupation of Britain.  They were essential from the early Middle Ages through the 18th century and many were still in use during the 19th century.  They are found throughout Europe and the Middle East and were in use in the U.S. by the 1600’s.  Design varied though most were initially round houses with holes for the pigeons to enter and build nests in openings inside the dovecot.  The Medieval larger structures were limited to more well-to-do families who may have had more than one.

762px-Newbigging_doocot,_near_Aberdour_in_Fife Kim Traynor Wikipedia

[This ruined structure in Newbigging, near Aberdour in Fife, Scotland shows the nesting boxes inside after the facade deteriorated.  Photo credit:  Kim Traynor.]

Later dovecots were small structures mounted onto a building or pole.  Whatever the style, the purpose was the same – the young pigeons were collected from the nests for the table after which the breeding process started over.

William Holman Hunt, Pre-Raphaelite artist, England

[A mounted dovecot, artist William Holman Hunt.]


[Dovecot built into a roof.]

Squab may be a more recognized term than pigeon in farming and cooking circles but only age separates the one from the other.  Squab is a pigeon that has reached adult size but has not begun to fly.

Millington and many others noted the dovecot pigeon was the common blue pigeon.  He found it hardier and better suited to severe weather.  The pigeons fared well on a diet of peas, barley, and buckwheat, many foraging by day and returning to the dovecot in the evening.  May or August were said to be the best months for butchering as that is when the young were deemed best, however, this depends on location.

There is an abundance of historical references of statutes governing the building of dovecots in Scotland due to the damage the birds sometimes did to neighboring crops of grain.

Craigievar Castle dovecot, Scotland

[Craigievar Castle, doocot in the foreground, Scotland.]

Pigeon has been kept as livestock and eaten since antiquity.  “No farm-yard can be considered complete without a well stocked dovecot, the contents of which make the owner a most ample return, and repay him abundantly for the depredations which the pigeons are wont to make upon his ripening corn.  He commands a supply of delicious young birds for his table; and he has the tillage from the dovecot, which is of vast advantage to his barley land.  Moreover, the pigeons render him an essential service, by consuming millions of seeds which fall in the autumn, and which, if allowed to remain on the ground, would rise up the following year, in all the rank exuberance of weed, and choke the wholesome plant. . .

800px-Les_Très_Riches_Heures_du_duc_de_Berry_février 1416 Limburg Brothers

[Painting showing dovecot on the right, 1416.  One might notice the pigeons on the ground and the bee skeps along the fence.]

Our ancestors generally built their dovecot in an open field, apart from the farm-yard; fearing, probably, that the noise and bustle occasioned by the rustic votaries of good Mother Eleusina might interrupt the process of incubation, where the dovecots placed in the midst of the buildings dedicated to husbandry.”

Not everyone agreed with locating the dovecot in isolated locations, and this logic may have changed through the decades and centuries.  “The proper place for the pigeon-house is the poultry-yard; but it does very well near dwellings, stables, brewhouses, bakehouses, or such offices.  Some persons keep pigeons in rooms, and have them making their nests on the floor”.  Roosting where rats and cats could access the nests usually meant wanton destruction of the young pigeons.

450px-MazorColumbarium author Etan Tal, Wikipedia

[Mazor columbarium, photo credit:  Etan Tal, Wikipedia.]

dovecot, Shirley Plantation Charles City County, VA

[Dovecot from Shirley Plantation, Charles City Co., Virginia.  1600’s.  Plantation est. 1613.  Below is a view from inside this dovecot.]

Inside the dovecot on Shirley Plantation, Charles City County, VA

dovecot nests, source unknown

[Inside nests in a dovecot, location and author unknown.]

inside a dovecot

[If you are wondering, gentle reader, how the young pigeons were collected from inside the dovecots, this is an excellent reproduction of the system in use for generations.  The ladder is attached by wooden arms, at top and bottom, to the center pole and fits just inside the outer wall of the structure.  The gentleman can climb up and down, and pull himself around on the ladder without having to come down.  It is actually a very efficient retrieval method.]

I wonder how vehemently Dear Husband would object to building a reproduction of one of the smaller older structures, maybe a platform for deer hunting, drying vegetables and seeds, etc. . . .  I believe that’s called multi-tasking by those not rooted in the past as we are.  Blissful Meals, all.  Part II to follow.  © All rights reserved.




The Muscovy is easily identified by the caruncle, red in color, covering the cheeks, extending behind the eyes, and swollen at the root of the bill.  It is generally larger than common ducks.  Wild Muscovy males are brownish black with white patches on the wings, the female similarly but more obscurely colored.  Domesticated examples vary considerably in color.

Domestication of Muscovys has been estimated as early as AD 50, although accounts are spotty.  What seems widely accepted is that the Spanish conquistadors of the 16th century kept them and took them home from where they spread throughout Europe.  Brown claimed the earliest mention of these ducks was in French, 1670, and they were called Turkish duck.  Willughby who died in 1672 called it, “a wild Brazilian duck of the bigness of a goose”, and described the Muscovy excellently.


“It is in this kind the biggest of all we have hitherto seen.  The colour both of male and female is for the most part a purplish black.  Yet I once saw a duck of this kind purely white.  About the Nosthrils and the Eyes it hath red Caruncles.  It hath a hoarse voice; and scarce audible, unless when it is angry.  Its Eyes are rounder than ordinary:  Those of the young ones at first are of a sordid green, afterwards become continually whiter and whiter”.  – Ray, John (1627-1705) and Willughby, Francis (1635-1672).  “The Ornithology of Francis Willughby of Moddleton in the County of Warwick Esq, fellow of the Royal Society in three books . . .

DNA testing is underway and currently held notions may or may not change as results are compiled.

Eighteenth century fishermen often used Muscovy quills to make floats for slow waters.  This practice was still commonly described almost a century later.  – The Laboratory; Or, School of Arts.  1799.  London.

Some initially claimed the Muscovy was from Eastern Europe although that claim was later refuted.  Observers wrote in the early Victorian era that in its native South America nests were in trees but as soon as the ducklings hatched the hen took them one by one to the water.  Eggs are greenish white, roundish, and average from 12 to 18 eggs.  Nineteenth century breeders noted the Muscovy was a faithful sitter and should be allowed to hatch her own young.  – The Farmer’s Magazine.  April, 1858.

“Muscovy ducks are most excellent incubators.  They are used as incubators both in France and especially in Australia.  In these and possibly in other countries they hatch turkey eggs, duck eggs and even chicken eggs.  In some places in Australia five hundred Muscovys are kept for sitting on duck eggs, as it has been found that they hatch out a much larger per cent of eggs and with comparatively little trouble to their owners than either hens or incubators.

Muscovy duck eggs take thirty-five days to hatch, consequently they make very patient and steady sitters on eggs and will hatch duck, turkey or goose eggs without difficulty.  In using Muscovys you will probably need one Muscovy duck on an average to every thirty youngsters you wish to raise. . . They make their nests on the ground by hollowing out a hole with their bodies and lining it with straw.  When the ducks are about to sit, they pull feathers from their own breast and with these line the top of the nest, so that one may always know when a Muscovy duck is ready to sit. . . When the Muscovy duck leaves her nest to eat, which she will once or twice a day, she covers up the eggs with the feathers and down.  Towards the end of the hatch she will often stay off the nest a full hour without injury to the eggs.”  – Basley, A., Mrs.  “Western Poultry Book”.  1912.  Los Angeles.

“The Muscovy duck is easily fattened, and a prolific breeder, and hence, though it is also a voracious feeder, it may be rendered profitable to rear.”  Drakes and hens readily crossed with other ducks although the hybrids didn’t have the breeding capacity of the purebreds.  – The American Agriculturist. July, 1845.  NY.

The hatching success of Muscovy crosses varied from outright claims of sterility to those who said they rarely hatched signifying while it was possible for them to hatch the success rate was extremely low.

The Annual Report of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture said in 1863 that the Muscovy duck was native to South America and had formerly been known as the Guinea duck.  Other earlier sources used the name Brazilian, Peruvian, Indian, Musk, Muscovite, Turkish, and Barbary.  In the 1860’s it was still sometimes called the Barbary duck.  The report stated it had been introduced for domestication during the sixteenth century.

Its flesh was noted to be excellent in flavor.  Dixon wrote that the flavor was excellent if killed just before fully fledged [having wing feathers sufficient enough to enable the bird to fly], but it took longer in achieving growth for the table than the common duck.  “The flesh is at first high flavoured and tender, but an old bird would be rank and the toughest of tough meat.”  – Brown, Edward.  “Races of Domestic Poultry”.  1906.

With that, I bid adieu as the reader considers the merits of this odd looking duck. – Victoria Brady, The Historic Foodie. – ©Nov. 2017.

A Very Brief Look at the History of Flowers in Yesterday’s Post


, ,

Beans:  Scarlet Runner beans produce edible pods and blooms although they are so lovely in a garden setting many plant them purely for ornamentals.  A tower of Scarlet Runners in the garden adds height and color and they are gorgeous on an archway trellis.  Scarlet Runner beans should be picked while small and tender.  At least in most areas these beans are considered perennial.  They will die to the ground with frost but put up again from the roots in the spring.  Scarlet runners are native to Central America and introduced to the U.S. in the early 1700’s.


Bee Balm (Monarda):  Blossoms may be substituted  for oregano and the leaves and petals can be added to salads and fruit salads.  In old herbals this may be called horseming, Wild Oswego Tea, or Wild Bergamot.

Borage:  The leaves were cooked for greens and the fresh leaves were used in salads along with mint, sage, parsley, garlic, fennel and rosemary.  Borage flowers garnished custards, salads, soups, etc.  Its flavor is similar to cucumbers, and the flowers are a beautiful blue.  It is a welcome addition to the herb or the flower garden.


Carnations:  Carnations are edible as is dianthus.  Petals have been used in making Chartreuse (A French liqueur) since the 1600’s.

Chamomile:  Chamomile has tiny daisy-like flowers that would complement floral gardens and people once thought it possessed medicinal qualities.

398px-Matricaria_recutita_Sturm13045 chamomile 1796

Columbine:  A 15th century manuscript listed columbine in its “herbs for potage”.  When combined with six other herbs and drunk with ale it was supposed to ward off the pestilence.

Day lilies:  Blooms may be eaten in a variety of ways and used as garnish.

Hens and chicks, aka houseleek, was used to counteract diarrhea, heal inflammation of the eyes, gout, hemorrhage, headache, and ulcers.  Planting them on thatched roofs was thought to prevent lightning strikes.  It was used to stop bleeding and treat burns and cuts.

Iris:  Iris were thought to stop coughs and convulsions, relieve bites of “venomous beasts”, treat sun burn and provoke sleep.  Roots were used in perfume, sachets, potpourris, etc. and the petals of purple iris combined with alum produced a pigment for Medieval artists.


Lavender:  Its lovely fragrance has been used for centuries to scent clothing and linens and it is also used as a culinary herb.

Lily of the Valley:  a half pound of the flowers soaked in a liter of wine then distilled was said to be, “more precious than gold”, in treating apoplexy and that mixture applied to the back of the neck was thought to give the person good common sense.  I will be placing a huge order for this fragrant lovely ASAP.


Mallow:  Mallows include hibiscus and Althea, and okra is also a member of this family of plants.  Hibiscus is edible and can be used to make a tea.  During the Middle Ages it was a common potherb with the added bonus of keeping witches away from one’s home.  The leaves were used for greens and the young green tops were added to salads.

619827cf40effd228ffa4be42ea72bb9--vintage-illustration-th-century mallow

Marigold:  Flower petals were used to add color to soups and drinks and medicinally to treat a number of complaints.  Marigolds are often used as a substitute for expensive saffron.

45484ab910e6260f7a337e89660944e9--marigold-tattoo-arm-tattoo marigold

Nasturtiums:  Buds were pickled and used like capers, leaves are edible in salads, and the petals make a lovely garnish.  This flower is often misspelled in old herbals.

Peony:  During the Middle Ages the seeds were used as a spice to flavor food.  From “Piers Plowman” we find an alewife saying she has, “pepper and peony seed and a pound of garlic and a farthingale worth of fennel seed for fasting days”.  Medicinally, it was thought to relieve epilepsy, aid in delivering babies, etc.

Periwinkle, aka Vinca:  Vinca was called, “joy of the ground” because it was thought to ward off wicked spirits.  “Whoever carries this herb with him on the skin, the devil has no power over him”. – “Hortus Sanitatis”.  “No witchery may enter the house which has this herb hanging over the door and if any witchery be already therein it will be driven out soon”.  It was thought to stay the flux, ease toothache, and temper a fever.


Primrose:  Primrose was a Middle Ages potherb used in salads and when combined with rice flour, almonds, honey, saffron, and primrose flowers, almond milk and powdered ginger made a dish known as “primrose”.

Rose:  Petals scented water to wash the hands, dried petals were used to perfume clothing and linens, used in cooking, etc.  Rosewater was popular in cooking and in some cultures remains a favorite flavoring.

Rosemary:  I plan to transplant rosemary from a raised bed to my flower garden as soon as the weather cools.  Like thyme it produces pretty flowers and both the flowers and the leaves and stems carry a welcome fragrance.  It was used during the Middle Ages in food, to make a wash for the eyes, used in a wash for the hands at table, put in amongst clothing and linens to ward off moths, etc.

Sage / Salvia:  It was used in potages (soup), salads, for sauces and in meat pies.  It flavored chicken and other meats.  It was so commonly used as a medicinal herb that people said of it, “Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden”.

Thyme:  Thyme has lovely tiny purple flowers and a pot of thyme in a strategic place within a garden adds both visually and fragrantly to the display.  Thyme, being one of the most often used culinary herbs needs no account of its use.

Yarrow:  Was used at home and on the battlefield to stop bleeding, cure a headache, aleviate heartburn, etc.  Yarrow tea supposedly was a remedy for colds.

2b7bc4629dbab49109e28f2ad6513127--botanical-prints-perennials yarrow

Yucca:  Petals are crunchy and mildly sweet.  They can be put into salads or used as a garnish.

Is it a Flower Bed or a Flower Garden?©


, ,


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

RADISHES: Spring versus Winter Varieties©


, , , , , ,


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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

SUMAC: Grow Your Own Spice©




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.

7145-uJzeDL._SY550_  bb1422d568fddc50308139ccd793515ca7205b39

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).


[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.


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©



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!



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.


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©


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.


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.