2016 Gardening Plans

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I am using last year’s full scale garden as a baseline from which to increase my success rate by choosing seed varieties better suited to my climate and disease resistant in order to lessen the damage from plant diseases that exist in such an environment. I live in the lower South which means hot humid summers and generally a shortage of rainfall during the hot months when it’s needed the worst. I’ve done a great deal of research to find varieties that are disease resistant, tend to suffer less damage from insects, and which were bred to produce in hot climates. Those parameters narrowed my choices, but those I’ve chosen will hopefully produce increased yields.

CORN. Last year I planted Golden Bantam and Peaches and Cream at two week intervals over about a month and a half. The corn was not uniform in sprouting and didn’t seem to pollinate as well as it should have, some of it not producing anything. In hind sight I should have watered it more but my research indicates the sugar enhanced varieties seem more plagued with these problems. This year I’m planting an old standard – Silver Queen which is a standard sweet corn. Most sources refer to it, and other standard sweet corn varieties, as a vigorous plant and a reliable producer.

There are three types of sweet corn:
(SU) is the oldest of the sweet corns, it contains more sugar than field corn, but less than the next two types. Su corns are open-pollinated meaning one can save seed from this year’s crop for next year’s planting. (They are not hybrid seed). Silver Queen is a white su variety. I toyed with the idea of planting Country Gentleman and Stowell’s Evergreen and will eventually try both. Su corns also come in multi-colored varieties, particularly of interest to me were Black Mexican/Aztec and Bloody Butcher.

(SE) is sweeter than su, but less hardy. Peaches and cream is an se corn and Silver King is an se version of the su Silver Queen.

(sh2) is a supersweet corn with 4 to 10 times the sugar content of su corn. It is even less hardy than se corn, requiring higher germination temperatures and more care with planting depth. I did not consider anything beyond these three and limited myself to only the su varieties.

I plan to soak my seed corn in clean water overnight before planting to speed the germination process and lessen the chance of rot. Sweet corn benefits from slightly shaking the stalks to release pollen onto the silks or brushing the tassels then the silks to help with pollination, and the sections where I did this last year did produce better.

When preparing the corn for freezing one can cut the kernels off the raw ears and scrape the cobs for creamy corn or blanch the whole ears then cut off the kernels for whole kernel corn.

BEANS. Last year I planted Roma bush and wax beans. We had beans to eat but I didn’t plant enough to can any. The Roma beans tended to get tough at a small size which may mean they didn’t receive enough water, but at any rate this year I’m going with old stand-by’s. I plan to do bush beans for a bumper crop to can and pole beans which will hopefully continue to bear throughout the summer for fresh eating.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (and others) advises that green beans do not do well when the temperatures are consistently above 90 degrees. They say that yard long beans, also called asparagus beans, and lima beans do OK in hot weather. I hope to get my beans out early enough and go with an asparagus bean as a later planting.

I’ve chosen the following:

BLUE LAKE 47 BUSH: Burpee lists the first as, “a very flavorful, stringless bean”, and it received pretty good kudos on reviews. It is a “tender” plant meaning it needs warm soil and night time temperatures well above freezing.

KENTUCKY WONDER POLE: an older variety that seems to have stood the test of time. One can save seed for the next year.

I seriously considered Contender, Provider, Rattlesnake, Jade, and green or red asparagus beans and may choose one of them to go along with the two I’ve already purchased.

TOMATOES. While I love the idea of planting heirloom tomatoes, I’ve given up on them for now. I’ve planted them several years now and the plants suffer severely from disease and do not produce tomatoes. Last year I planted the hybrid Atkinson in the garden and had tomatoes to eat and canned a dozen quarts or so while all I got from the 8 or 10 heirlooms in the raised beds was 2 small pear tomatoes.

This year I gave myself some very strict search parameters. 1. Varieties have to be bred for hot climates; and 2. They have to be among the highest ranked with regard to disease resistance. Perhaps thirdly, I considered reviews from people who live in similar climates, expense, and availability. The Atkinson, bred by Auburn U. is resistant to only Fusarium wilt and nematodes. I think I can do better this year.

Besides Atkinson, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s list of disease resistance includes:
Early Girl: VF
Better Boy: V, F, N, AS, St
Celebrity: V, F1,1, N, TMV, AS, St
Park’s Whopper: V, F, N, TMV
Park’s Whopper Improved: V, F1,2, N, TMV
Big Beef: AS, F1,2, L, N, TMV, V, St
BHN-444: F1,2, V, TSWV, TMV
BHN-640: TSWV, V, F1,2, N, TMV, AS, St
Amelia: TSWV, F1,2,3, V, N, St
Floralina: F1,2,3, V1, AS, St
Florida 47 (heat set): AS, V1,2, St
Florida 91, AS, St, V, F1,2
Mountain Fresh Plus: F1,2,3, N, TMV, V1,2, EB
Mountain Spring: V, F1,2, St
Mountain Crest V, F1,2
Quincy F1,2, V, TSWV
Crista: V1, F1,2,3, TSWV, N
Beefmaster: V, F, N, AS, St
First Lady: AS, F1,2, N, TMV, V
Sun Leaper: F1,2, St, V
Patio: F1, AS, St
Solar Fire: V, F1,2,3, St
Quick Pick: V, F1, N, TMV
Estiva: F1,2, TMV, V

So far I’ve ordered Better Boy and Big Beef, both indeterminate varieties, meaning they will continue to grow and produce until frost. Determinate, on the other hand, means the vines will have a burst of growth, bear a heavy crop, and then be done for the summer. People who can a lot of tomatoes like them to ripen all at once and prefer determinate varieties. I’m considering for my next order Celebrity, BHN-640, Amelia, Mountain Fresh Plus, Crista, First Lady, Florida 91, or Solar Fire (also heat set) with Amelia, BHN-640, and Mountain Fresh Plus or Solar Fire receiving more serious consideration. The best choice in a paste tomato seems to be Muriel: V, F1,2, N, AS, BKS, TSWV.

I have plenty of pickles and relish made last year so I want a good slicing cucumber. The slim Japanese eggplant didn’t do nearly as well as the larger Black Beauty which bore fruit until frost. I’m going with Green Arrow peas and when those come up I’ll probably replace them with Lady cream peas. My potatoes had a wonderful flavor but I got them out late so the harvest wasn’t as bountiful as I would have liked. This year I’m going with just round red potatoes and get them in the ground earlier. My purple top turnips did well so I’m sticking with those. I purchased seed from Landis Valley’s heritage seed program for Pennsylvania Crookneck Squash (supposed to have some resistance to bugs), ground cherry, and salsify which should just about fill the available space.

Anyone in a similar climate please feel free to leave a comment on varieties you’ve had success with or growing tips you’d like to share. Enjoy your gardens and Blissful Meals. – The Historic Foodie ©

V = Verticillium Wilt
F or F1 = Fusarium Wilt, Race 1
F2 = Fusarium Wilt, Race 2
F3 = Fusarium Wilt Race 3
St = Stemphylium (gray leaf spot)
EB = Early Blight
N = Nematodes
TMV = Tomato Mosaic Virus
TSWV = Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
AS = Alternaria Stem Canker
BKS = Bacterial Speck

A History of Tame Rabbits

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Early writers claimed the Romans found rabbits in Spain about 200 BC and may have been the first to keep rabbits, putting them in large walled pens and letting them breed freely. They supposedly introduced rabbits to Britain when they invaded in AD 43. By the 5th century, Catholic monks in France were raising rabbits for meat. On days when Catholics were not allowed to eat meat they could eat fish, but it wasn’t always available so, in the absence of fish, Pope Gregory I officially proclaimed laurice (unborn and newborn rabbit) to be classed as fish so it could be eaten on those days. Oddly enough, the oldest sources on cookery and rearing livestock often include rabbits in the category of poultry.

Tame rabbits in Britain date from roughly the 12th century and through the Middle Ages the practice spread into other parts of Europe. The Ghent Giant (later called the Flemish Giant) was a distinct breed by the 16th century.

Should one consider rabbits in their historical context, it would be natural to wonder what a tame rabbit looked like in the early to mid-1700’s. “Those tame rabbits vary in colour, as all other domestic animals; black, white, and grey are, however, the only which this sport of nature seems limited to. I call grey that mixture of sallow, black, and ash-colour, which forms the usual colour of rabbits and hares. Black rabbits are the most rare; but there are many quite white, many quite grey, and many of a mixed colour. All wild rabbits are grey, and, among the tame, it is also the prevailing colour; for in most litters there are frequently grey rabbits, and even in greatest number, though the sire and dam are both white, or both black, or one black and the other white.”

Such is the case with mine. They are a cross of a New Zealand Black and a New Zealand White and all are a lovely shade of “grey”, though the parents have produced all white, all black, or black and white mixed.

Various books indicate tame rabbits should be ready to butcher at 12 weeks old provided they’ve received adequate and regular food up to that point, feeding them longer resulted in the cost of the meat per pound exceeding the value of the animal.

Disease was avoided “in great measure” by keeping the cages clean and not allowing the bedding, usually hay, to become soiled and sodden in urine. Mesh on the bottom of the hutch allowed the waste to drop through into trays that could be removed and cleaned. Doing so prevented the ammonia from the urine irritating the rabbits’ eyes, and droppings soiling their fur.

In-breeding generation after generation often resulted in poor quality offspring and was to be avoided; by replacing breeding does every three to four years. The breeding season lasted from February through October or into November. Giving birth was called kindling. Just before a doe was ready to kindle she prepared a nest and lined it with fur she pulled out of her own coat.

The same writer claimed that once the young were two or three weeks old the doe should be allowed access with the buck again on two consecutive days so that no time was lost in bringing on a second litter. When the young were one month of age they were taken away from the mother and housed in their own compartment. If timed right, that gave the doe time to prepare for the birth of the next litter. Ames told his readers a rabbit could breed eleven times per year producing six to eight rabbits in each litter. “Thus at the end of four years a pair of Rabbits would produce nearly a million and a half”.

Writers noted does were capable of rearing young by the time they reached five to six months of age and that the gestation period for rabbits was thirty to thirty one days. Does were to be put with bucks only for mating to prevent fighting and injury.

Feeding costs were controlled by growing produce on a small scale to feed them and the rabbit manure so nourished the soil that a small space yielded a maximum amount of vegetables. A writer in the late Victorian era advised that a pound of hay per week was sufficient for a doe with a couple of tablespoons of oats or barley and a little green food or a root such as a parsnip, carrot, Jerusalem artichoke, potato, or turnip. This was increased somewhat after having a litter and he advised adding a little skim milk with the dry food.

He thought food like cabbage leaves that contained a great deal of moisture caused diarrhea in rabbits and advised air-drying it somewhat before offering it. Recommended dry food included hay, clover-hay, oats, barley, bran, peas and beans. He also approved of chicory in the rabbits’ diet. Ames told his readers feed could include fresh clover, corn leaves, apples, beets, and lettuce.

Methods of cooking rabbit varied, some authors indicating any recipe for chicken worked equally well with rabbit. The earliest recipes refer to rabbit as coney so don’t limit yourself to too narrow a search. The meat was simmered and served with onion sauce, made into pies, curried, or roasted. Tame rabbits were larger than wild ones and their flesh considered delicate and nutritive, “very little inferior to chicken…”.

The illustrious Hannah Glasse included in her The Art of Cookery how to roast them, how to sauce them, fricassee them, how to make Rabbit Surprise, and how to dress rabbits in casserole. Her FRICASSEE of RABBIT recipe instructed the cook to simmer the rabbits with sweet herbs and an onion until tender then remove the rabbit to a platter. To the pan juices was to be added a little butter rolled in flour to thicken the sauce and a half pint of cream and the yolk of an egg beaten well, some fresh or pickled mushrooms, and lastly the juice of half a lemon. It was necessary to stir well after adding the lemon juice so that the mixture didn’t curdle and remove it from the heat. When served, the fricassee was garnished with sliced lemon. Another version contained mace, nutmeg, and a glass of white wine.

Mrs. Frazer and Susanna MacIver’s SMOTHERED RABBIT:
Truss them as you do a roasted hare; put them into as much boiling water as will cover them; peel a good many onions, and boil them in water whole; take some of the liquor the rabbits are boiled in, and put in a good piece of butter knead in flour; then put in the onions amongst it, keeping them breaking until the sauce be pretty thick; dish the rabbits, and pour the sauce over them all, except the heads. The same sauce serves for boiled geese or ducks.

RABBITS EN CASSEROLE. (1823)
Cut your rabbits into quarters…then shake some flour over them, and fry them in lard or butter. Then put them into an earthen pipkin, with a quart of good broth, a glass of white wine, a little pepper and salt, a bunch of sweet-herbs, and a small piece of butter rolled in flour. Cover them close, and let them stew half an hour; then dish them up and pour the sauce over them. Garnish with Seville oranges cut into thin slices and notched.

John Perkins’ RABBITS PULLED. (Pulled referred to taking meat off the bone)
Half boil your rabbits, with an onion, a little whole pepper, a bunch of sweet herbs, and a piece of lemon-peel; pull the flesh into flakes, put to it a little of the liquor, a piece of butter mixed with flour, pepper, salt, nutmeg, chopped parsley, and the liver boiled and bruised; boil this up, shaking it round.

Good luck to anyone with an interest in raising rabbits and as for eating them, I wish for you Blissful Meals. – The Historic Foodie

Bib:
“Bees, Rabbits, & Pigeons”. Ward, Lock & Co. London. 1882.
Ames, D. F. “Cottage Comforts”. New York. 1838.
Perkins, John. “Every Woman Her Own Housekeeper”. 1796. London.
“The Universal Magazine”. Vol. 46. April 1770.
“Cassell’s Household Guide”. 1869.
“An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy”. 1845.
Farley, John. “The London Art of Cookery and Housekeeper’s Complete Assistant”. 1785.
Henderson, William Augustus, Schnebbelie, Jacob Christopher. “The Housekeeper’s Instructor”. 1823. London.
Radcliffe, M. “A Modern System of Domestic Cookery”. 1823.
“The Complete Farmer, Or a General Dictionary of Husbandry. 1793.
“The Complete Farmer”. 1767, 1777, and 1810.
Hale, Thomas. “A Compleat Body of Husbandry”. 1758.
Huish, Robert. “The Female’s Friend”. 1837.
McIver, Susanna. “Cookery and Pastry”. 1789. London.
Frazer, Mrs. “The Practice of Cookery, Pastry, Pickling, Preserving, etc.” 1795.
Glasse, Hannah. “The Art of Cookery”. 1788 and 1791. London.

A Quick Look at Pie Birds

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It’s not uncommon to go into a flea market and see a vintage kitchenware dealer offering pie birds for sale. They’re usually modern-made and pretty inexpensive. Those found in antiques stores are usually a little more expensive and not quite as common in design. Pie birds conjure up pleasant memories of grandmother’s kitchen and to be honest, they’re just plain adorable, but the pie bird (also known as a pie vent, pie whistle, or pie funnel) was initially a plain round funnel-shaped ceramic or stoneware utilitarian piece. They do not whistle regardless of what you choose to call them.

From the last years of the Victorian era, English cooks often used devices to vent steam from a bubbling pie in order to keep the contents from oozing out onto the hot surface of the oven leaving a mess that was anything but pleasant to clean up. The decorative bird shapes came later.

Grace Seccombe, born in Staffordshire, England in 1880, designed various pottery pieces including a pie bird design registered in 1933. Because Grace was living in Australia when her designs were recorded, the distinction of creating the first English pie bird usually goes to Clarice Cliff, born Jan. 20, 1899 also in Staffordshire. Clarice’s design was registered by A. J. Wilkinson Ltd. on Jan. 18, 1936. The registration number, 809138, can be found on the base of the pieces. She is thought to have designed only the one pie bird.

Interestingly, Clarice later married the director of the A. J. Wilkinson Co., Colley Shorter.

Another British maker is somewhat of a mystery. The Thomas M. Nutbrown Co., manufacturers of various kitchen wares, opened in 1927 on Walker St., Blackpool. The company was registered in 1932. It was later parented by the Stephenson Mills Co., a subsidiary of the Eddy Match Co. Several patents were recorded for pie funnels of various designs, but this writer could make no definite connection between the Thomas Nutbrown Co. and any individual of the same name. At any rate, pieces made by the company survive with the “Nutbrown” stamp either on their base or inside the base.

Pie funnels were routinely used through the early 1940’s after which they were often relegated to the back of a drawer and left to be rediscovered by collectors decades later. Perhaps the post-war economic boom made it easy to purchase newfangled gadgets and the humble pie bird paled in comparison. Pie vents can be found in the shape of owls, elephants, quail, ducks, cows, chickens, people, etc. Some are quite decorative and colorful and because they are so small can be exhibited in a very small space unlike many other kitchen collectibles.

Before paying big bucks for pie birds do your homework because there are sellers who have made careers out of making new pieces look like well-used vintage pieces in order to sell them for amounts far greater than their actual value. There is a web site and numerous books on pie birds, or pie funnels if you prefer, with photos of makers’ marks and advice for determining if the piece is actually a pie bird and not a lone salt or pepper shaker. The time to do homework is before spending several hundred dollars for a pie bird that proves to be worth twenty bucks or less.

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Pies Aren’t Always Sweet

In former times a chicken or turkey pie was commonly served as a main dish, maybe with a few additional dishes of vegetables or pickles and perhaps bread and fresh butter.  The type and amounts of ingredients varied with each cook, but the basics were chopped meat, potatoes, carrots, onions, and perhaps chopped parsley with a nice chicken gravy to bind it all together.  This mixture was sandwiched between two rich crusts and baked until the crust was a nice golden brown.

One usually made openings in the top crust through which steam could rise venting the bubbling filling.  This year my husband surprised me with a couple of pie birds in my Christmas goodies, and I couldn’t rest until I used one.  The photos show one the chicken pie before it was baked and after with the pie bird’s head peeking through the top crust.  The pie bird did its job and the pie came out quite lovely, not to mention tasty.

As old man Winter blows his chilly breath around every corner and the temperatures plummet outdoors, try Grandma’s way of warming her family by baking a chicken pie of your own.  If you’re industrious as I was, whip up an old-fashioned egg custard flavored with just the right amount of nutmeg and gently slide it in beside your chicken pie.  Oh my, how the aroma lifts the spirits while the pie warms the insides.

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When it Isn’t a Potato

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I like the idea of planting once and harvesting multiple times and oca fits the bill. As I make long-term plans for a perennial garden, I’m giving serious thought to growing it. In USDA zones 7 through 10, oca (Oxalis tuberosa) can be considered a perennial. Oca has been cultivated for centuries for its tubers, second in popularity to the potato. Underground tubers are crunchy and beautifully colored. Fleshy stems bear green cloverlike leaves that can be eaten in salads and yellow flowers.

Tubers should be planted 2 to 3 inches deep and about 12 inches apart. They will grow in large containers but the tubers will probably be smaller. Oca prefers cool summer nights and winters with late or no frosts for best tuber development. Aging tubers in the open air after digging renders them sweeter.

Ocas and papas (potatoes) were said to be the chief roots for food in the Indies and cultivated by the Incas. – J. de Acosta, 1588-90, quoted in the American Journal of Science. Vol. 125. 1883.

Tubers with a yellow skin (oca blanca) and with a red skin (oca colorada) were the first taken to Europe and Thompson dated their introduction to 1829. While this writer found no other hard evidence to support the exact date of 1829, certainly by the early 1830’s they were known there. – Thompson, Robert. The Gardener’s Assistant. 1878. London.

Oca, or oxalic tuberosa, was commonly found in Peru and Bolivia, and early books note it was cooked in Chili as well. Royle noted it had been introduced into England for its “tubers like small potatoes” by the 1830’s. – Royle, John Forbes. Illustrations of the Botany and Other Branches of the Natural History of the Himalayan Mountains. 1839.

By this early date the plant was not unnoticed in the U.S. either. The New England Farmer and Horticultural Journal told its readership that the “oxalis tuberosa, found in Chili” had a root similar to a potato. – May 1, 1833.

The plant was found in the highlands of Mexico where the “tuberous wood-sorrel” and “eatable-rooted nasturtium” were consumed in place of the yams found in other locales. – The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Information.

“A plant related to our common sheep sorrel, widely cultivated in Peru and Bolivia for the sake of its fleshy rootstocks, which are an important article of food. In some districts ocas are second only to potatoes, while in others ullueus are more important, or at least are sold more generally in the native markets. Ocas are eaten raw as well as cooked, and are also frozen and dried. Ocas prepared in this way are called caya, a term corresponding to…chunyo, the name of the dried potatoes. Raw ocas when first dug have a distinctly acid taste, like sheep sorrel, but this is lost after the tubers have been exposed to the sun. The plant attains a height of 1 foot or more and has the general appearance of a large sheep sorrel. The flowers are yellow and the leaflets are folded at night or in wet weather, the same as sheep sorrel. The varieties are numerous, though much fewer than in the case of the potato. Some are preferred for eating raw and others for the making of caya. The texture of the tubers is very tender, crisp, and juicy. In form, some are nearly cylindrical, while others are slender at the base and strongly thickened at the end. The colors vary from white or light pink through darker pinks or yellows to deep purplish red. The range of colors is much the same as in the ullucu, but no deep-yellow varieties were seen, nor any with spots, except that some have bands of deeper color across the eyes. In addition to the pleasing coloration, the surface of the tubers is smooth and clear, so that the general appearance is very attractive. If the taste should prove acceptable, ocas might become very popular for salads and pickles, if not for other purposes. The nature and habits of the plant indicate that it may be adapted to acid soils, which would be a distinct advantage in some parts of the United States”. – Plant Inventory. 1917.

While many today find the flavor appealing on its own merit, in 1860, the Senate and Department of Agriculture, obviously compared it to the potato when they called the oca, “a scanty substitute for more generous means of nutriment”. The oca obviously did not catch on as well as the potato, but for those who want to experiment with perennials, it may be worth a trial to see how well it works for you. – Report. Dept. of Ag. 1860.

Now that we’ve considered growing it, how do we eat it? Aside from adding leaves to salads, it can be boiled, baked, fried, put into fresh salads, or pickled. Pigs are said to relish both the tubers and leafy tops so even if it doesn’t become a daily staple, one couldn’t really go wrong in establishing it in the perennial garden. Happy Gardening & Blissful Meals, all!

ROSELLE: An Almost Forgotten Plant

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Roselle, or Jamaica Sorrel, was also called the Florida Cranberry, though it is in no sense of the word a cranberry from a horticultural standpoint. It is in reality a Hibiscus (H. Sabdariffa), akin to okra, which is H. Esculentus. In growth it is a strong, tall growing plant from five to seven feet in height and revels in hot weather. For years it has been widely cultivated in the tropics. It does require a long growing period to mature.

“The flowers are solitary, with a red and thick calyx. These calices, when cooked, make an excellent sauce or jelly, almost identical in flavor and color with the better known cranberry of the North. It is this fact that has given it the name of the Florida Cranberry. A few plants in the garden will supply all family needs for pies, sauces, jellies and coloring matter, the same as the cranberry, and at a far lesser cost than that of purchasing the Northern grown product. Unlike the okra, however, the green seed pod is not edible”. (-Bateman, Lee. Florida Trucking for Beginners. 1913).

Bateman spoke of roselle being grown in south to mid-Florida, however, two years prior Kennerly felt it would do well outside that area. It was noted growing in California. “This is an annual plant that has been sufficiently tested to prove it will grow to perfection in this climate. The fruit resembles Scarlet Podded Okra…It is a native of Australia, and great quantities of it are shipped from this point to all parts of Europe every season and net a handsome profit. Any land that will grow okra will grow the Florida cranberry.” – Kennerly, Clarence Hickman. 1911.

Its history is rooted in the Old World Tropics and it was introduced to the West Indies and elsewhere in tropical America. Hans Sloane, reported on it being grown in Jamaica as early as 1707. He found it in most gardens there and said of it, “The capsular leaves are made use of for making Tarts, Gellies, and Wine, to be used in fevers and hot distempers, to allay heat and quench thirst”. – Yearbook of Agriculture.

The first improved strain was named Victor, however, the author has found no source for Victor today. P. J. Wester, Special Agent in the bureau of Plant Industry, is credited with tweaking it from wild strains. In 1904, he began collecting seed from plants bearing the largest calyces and which showed the most desirable characteristics. By 1906, the second generation of plants under his care possessed the qualities he sought and the strain continued from those plants. He described it as a slow-maturing plant. In fact, if planted in February or March it may not produce until around October.

A late Victorian writer said the flowers on the plant open at sunrise and close about noon. The flowers are beautiful and look like hibiscus flowers. In addition to pies, sauce, and jelly he claimed the fruit made good wine and “temperance drinks”. – The Florida Agriculturist. Vol. 25. 1898.

Making it even more versatile in the kitchen, a writer informed us in 1909 that a salad could be made of stems, leaves and calices “just as turnip salad… A syrup that can be used for coloring purposes can be made of calices or stems and leaves. This may be boiled in the ordinary way and sealed in bottles for future use.” – Transactions of the Florida State Horticultural Society. 1909.

In that vein, The Country Gentleman told its readers that the bottled juice makes a superb drink and can be used in punches. – April 29, 1916.

Some In addition to its uses in the kitchen, in some parts of the world the plant is used for fiber. China and Thailand are the largest producers today. Thai Red roselle can be purchased from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. It is said to be the earliest variety to begin flowering in trials in Virginia for the Seed Exchange.

“DIRECTIONS FOR MAKING THE JELLY.
Pick the pods that grow at the junction of each leaf, boil them and strain through a cloth or sieve, add a pint of sugar to each pint of juice, and boil again until it thickens and set aside to cool, when it will form a perfect jelly.” – Kennerly. 1911.

ROSELLE SAUCE.
Pick and wash the roselle berries, trim off the tip ends that seem withered. Cut off stems close up around the calyx. Then split open one side, thus letting the center part drop out. The outside part of the berry is the only edible portion. Now wash them again and put two cupfuls in a saucepan, add one-half cupful of cold water and a scant half-cupful of sugar. Cook, stirring constantly, about five minutes, or until soft. Then turn out in earthen bowl and eat cold with turkey or chicken. They are less sour and bitter than the cranberry and have a delicious flavor. – The Florida Tropical Cookbook. 1912.

ROSELLE PIE
Trim and wash the roselles. Take the centers out. Fill crust, add one-quarter cupful of sugar, two or three tablespoonfuls of water, a sifting of flour and some tiny pieces of lemon. Put on upper crust and bake fifteen minutes in hot oven. – The Florida Tropical Cookbook.

Growing my Own

Our fourth of July tradition is somewhat different from most Southerners in that we have roast turkey instead of BBQ.  We didn’t set out to create a holiday tradition, somehow it just evolved because we like turkey and usually have some in the freezer that need to be cooked about now.  After this year we expect to be eating turkeys produced right here at home – beginning with our Thanksgiving dinner.  Our turkeys have had no hormones or medicated feed and have enjoyed fresh grass, greens, clover, etc, whenever we could gather it.

Dinner today is turkey cooked in the rotisserie with a mixture of butter, chopped sage and rosemary, onion powder, salt and pepper stuffed under the skin.  Fixings are fresh from the garden – Yukon gold potatoes, sauteed Swiss chard, fried okra and eggplant with sliced tomatoes.  Dessert is a dreamy pie I made from Hubbard squash from the garden and eggs from our hens.  No nasty preservatives in this food!

The ingredients for our dinner and the methods of cookery are much the same as one would have found in decades or even centuries past.  I routinely consult my collection of gardening treatises and cookbooks when planting, harvesting, and cooking.

Growing my squash

Growing my squash

Eggplant in the garden

Eggplant in the garden

Bourbon red turkeys

Bourbon red turkeys

Swiss Chard grown on my patio.

Swiss Chard grown on my patio.  The wire is to keep the geese out.  They ate my kale, roots and all.

Pemmican: It Wasn’t Just for Native Americans

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I love the idea of any food that is billed as coming from the wilds of North America.  Pemmican was just such a survival food.  “The word is from Cree pĭmĭkân, manufactured grease”, or one who makes grease.  “The word is cognate with Abnaki pĕmĭkân.   It was made from whatever meat was the most abundant in a particular region.  In the northernmost areas reindeer was used, in milder climates buffalo was usually specified as being prevalent although deer and other animals were used.

The process was pretty much the same regardless of the type of meat used. After removing fat and gristle the meat was sliced, hung to dry, perhaps smoked as it dried, and then pounded to a powder.  The meat powder was mixed with fat, many accounts specify the fat came from marrow in the bones of the animal, and dried fruit was sometimes incorporated.  Once well mixed the mass was packed into skin bags and the bags sewn shut.  It kept several years as long as it was stored away from excess moisture.  Natives also stored it away in woven baskets.

Making-Pemmican

An account published in 1860 stated that the pemmican was packed tightly into tin canisters leaving a little space at the top, and allowed to cool after which the tin was filled to the brim with hot melted lard.  A lid was then soldered onto the canister sealing in the pemmican.  – The Household Monthly.  March 1860.

Any berries that were available were probably added to sweeten the pemmican, but a few of the fruits I was able to document as an ingredient included June Berry (also called pemmican berry because it was frequently used in that manner), choke cherry, Saskatoon, Service berries, cranberries, Manzanita, blueberries, Juniper berries, currants, etc.

“Sweet pemmican is a superior kind of pemmican in which the fat used is obtained from marrow by boiling broken bones in water.  Fish pemmican is a pemmican made by the Indians of the remote regions of the N. W. by pounding dried fish and mixing the product with sturgeon oil.  The Eskimo of Alaska make a pemmican by mixing chewed deer meat with deer suet and seal-oil.”

Pemmican was made into soup by hunters, trappers, arctic explorers, etc. called Robbiboe, or by the Canadian French rababou.  To make it the pemmican was mixed with a little flour and water and boiled.

Sir Alexander Mackenzie can be consulted for an idea of the weight of the packs of pemmican.  For a journey from Montreal south on the St. Lawrence River he noted the party carried four bags and a half of pemmican, weighing from eighty-five to ninety pounds each in addition to other supplies.  – Mackenzie, Alexander, Sir.  Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence Through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans in the Years 1789 and 1793.  1814.  New York.

Robert Huish wrote of a party that carried along an amazing sixty bags each weighing ninety pounds.  Gould tells us that, “one bison cow in good condition furnished dried meat and fat enough to make a bag of pemmican weighing ninety pounds”.  Given that, it becomes clear how much less the meat weighed after processing having removed the bones, skin, etc. and through evaporation in the drying process.

A Narrative of the Voyages and Travels of Captain Beechey:  To the Pacific and Behring’s Straits and The Travels of Capt. Back, R. N. to the Great Fish River and Arctic Seas.  1836.  London.  Gould, Augustus Addison.  The Naturalist’s Library:  Containing Scientific and Popular Descriptions of Natural History.  1833.  Massachusetts.

Hamilton reckoned one pound of pemmican was equal to five pounds of meat.  – Hamilton, William.  My Sixty Years on the Plains.  1905.  NY.

The following recipe came from Frances Owens’s book, Mrs. Owens’ Cook Book, 1903“Pemmican is made of the lean portions of venison, buffalo, etc.  The Indian method is to remove the fat from the lean, dry the lean in the sun; then make a bag of the skin of the animal, and put the lean pieces in loosely.  To this must be added the fat of the animal, rendered into tallow, and poured in quite hot.  This will cause the spaces to be filled.  When cold, put away for future use.  In civilized life, a jar can be used in place of the bag.  Pemmican may be cooked same as sausage, or eaten as dried beef.  It is invaluable in long land explorations, and is of great use in sea voyages.”

For those who prefer more of an actual recipe than a method summary, Mrs. Saray Tyson Rorer offered one, although it varied in method.  ¼ pound of lean beef put twice through a meat chopper, ¼ pound of marrow from the leg or shin bone of an ox.

Chop the marrow with a silver knife and remove the fibre.  Mix the beef and marrow thoroughly, a half saltspoonful of salt and stand at once in a cold place.  – Mrs. Rorer’s Diet for the Sick.  1914.

Blissful meals, yall.  – thehistoricfoodie.wordpress.com©

See:  Hodge, Frederick Webb.  Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico.  Washington Government Printing Office.  1912.

Witch Hazel, a True North American Plant

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“Witch hazel is a shrub that everybody in New England, who goes into the woodland, knows by sight.  Its botanical term is Hamamelis Virginica, given it many years ago in honor of the early settlers of Virginia, who, before ascertaining the medical worth of the leaves and bark, used the twigs with success as divining rods”.  Witch hazel was described as growing from eight to fifteen feet by the age of five or six years.   It was not to be confused with a much shorter shrub (rarely more than five feet tall) by the name of hazel – the latter was the nut-bearing hazelnut.  The two are not related although witch hazel seeds/nuts are also edible.

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The plant goes by several other names including spotted alder, striped alder, tobacco-wood, winter-bloom, snapping-hazel, and, of course, Southern witch-hazel.

The latter was not thought to possess any of the qualities of the true witch hazel though that writer noted that unscrupulous gatherers of the witch-hazel leaves and bark did often try to pass of the one for the other.  “…the fraud is detected at once by the taste.  There is a similarity in appearance of the leaves and bark, but the flavor is almost as different as chalk from cheese.”

About November witch hazel trees have tiny yellow flowers emerge that expand throughout winter.  There are “nubbins”, one might refer to as nuts or seeds, which are interspersed amongst the blooms.

Witch hazel has a rather unusual way of dispersing its seed.   The seeds are kept over winter and ripen them the next fall when its flowers are expanding… “when the pod bursts open, snapping them several feet away.  If the branches are gathered before the seeds are scattered the pods will open in the house and throw their seeds across the room.”  Most sources noted seeds being flung 10 to 20 feet, but Gibson claimed he’d seen them thrown up to 45 feet away from the host shrub.  – Dowd, Mary Alice.  Our Common Wild Flowers at Springtime and Autumn.  1906.  Boston.

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After an encounter with it William Hamilton Gibson said of witch hazel:  “I had been attracted by a bush which showed an unusual profusion of bloom and while standing close beside it in admiration I was suddenly stung on the cheek by some missile and the next instant shot in the eye by another, the mysterious marksman having apparently let go both barrels of his little gun directly in my face.  I soon discovered him, an army of them,–in fact a saucy legion, all grinning with open mouths and white teeth exposed and their double-barreled guns loaded to the muzzle ready to shoot whenever the whim should take them”.  – The Nature Study Review.  Nov. 1919.

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“Medicinally, witch hazel is an astringent.  Both bark and leaves contain tannic acid in large quantities, but the greater percentage is in the bark.”  The bark was stripped off and distilled for its oil.  It was used for treating acute derangements of the stomach.  How often was it taken?  “People do not buy it by the four or eight-ounce bottle now, but by the quart or gallon, and every medicine chest is not properly equipped unless it has a liberal supply…”.  – Good Housekeeping.  Aug. 1894.

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North American witch hazel was named for its resemblance to the English and Scottish Witch or Wych elm which produced a rather large, though seldom straight tree.  The Witch elm was used for bent-wood work, boat frames, etc.  The wych-elm or Eurasian elm Ulmus glabra, has large rough leaves, grows primarily in woodlands or near flowing water.   It has clusters of flowers and winged fruits.  The old English prefix wych, or witch meant “bend”)so named because the tree had pliant branches.

There are accounts of hazel and witch hazel being used for fishing rods or poles, and it is difficult to know from many accounts whether the writer meant the hazel [hazelnut], the witch hazel, or the wych-elm that was used in olden times in England.  While witch hazel is native to North America (with versions also native to Japan and China) it put in an appearance across the pond early on.

Hamamelis virginiana was one of the first New World plants to be adopted for ornamental use by European horticulturists. As early as the mid-17th century, the plant was growing in private botanical collections in London. And it’s been a perennial favorite ever since.”  – The Brooklyn Botanic Garden website.  http://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/winsome_witch-hazel.

The Positive Medicine web site in the UK noted a collaborative effort between John Bartram  and an English gardener to distribute witch hazel in England.  Peter Collinson, an English cloth trader and avid gardener bought various plants and seeds from America and distributed them to English botanical gardens.

“The Father of Fishing, Izaac Walton, can be consulted for an account of making rods.  By Walton’s time  hazel as in hazelnut, witch hazel, and the wych elm for which the North American witch hazel is named were all growing in England.

An account of rod-making in England from April 22, 1870 may be of interest.  “I have been told, very good fly rods may be made of mountain ash, also of wych elm and of hazel…”.  – English Mechanic and Mirror of Science.

An American writer thought witch hazel wasn’t of much interest to the professional rod maker or fisherman, but that, “many a witch hazel fish-pole has augmented the truant boy’s strong of forbidden fruit down the creek bank in the first warm days of spring.  Down South where witch hazel is scarce and scrubby, its cousin, the famous red gum, is cut short in its career and lifts fish from the ‘Swanee’ river and other southern streams famous in song and story.”  – Hardwood Record.  June 10, 1917.

Another American wrote, “He had a witch-hazel pole which he had cut in the winter and from which he had scraped the bark, to make it look nice.  He kept it on the rafters of the woodshed…”.  Munn, Charles Clark.  Boyhood Days on the Farm:  A Story for Young and Old Boys.  1907.  Boston.

Because the forked branches were thought to possess magical powers of pointing to hidden streams or veins of metal [gold, silver, coal] they were used as divining rods by well diggers and would-be miners.  It was sometimes referred to as the witch of the woods because it bloomed out of cycle with most other plants and shrubs.

By the turn of the century infusions of witch hazel were being combined with alcohol to make an astringent lotion for external inflammations.  An advertisement in the Index of Diseases and Remedies claimed it was the best preparation for use in sprains, bruises, prevention of ecchymosis, leucorrhea, etc.  “It [miscible with water] may be used internally in the same doses as the fluid extract.”

Native Americans, “put great faith in it as a sedative and application to external hurts and inflammations.  They still the leaves and bark, and bathe sprained joints and muscles.  They apply it for all their burns, bruises, and aches.  It quickly takes out the smart and sting and allays the inflammation, lessening the swelling and restoring the hurt to a normal condition.  Likewise I have seen them use it for weak and sore eyes, sores in the ear, nose, throat, or mouth, and for sore throat too.  As a relief to the bites of insects most of us are familiar with it, while many of us have used it with good results for our lame backs and rheumatism…”.  The penner of those lines noted Indian women mixed it with oil and used it as a beauty product for the skin.  – Life and Health Magazine.  April 1912.

The following description may help interested parties to find the bush in the wild or to know when purchasing if they are indeed purchasing true witch hazel.  “The witch hazel leaf is nearly as broad as it is long, bluntly pointed at its tip, with a stem generally less than one-half inch in length.  The sides are unequal in size and shape and the edges are roughly scalloped.”.

Witch hazel tea may be purchased as can the dried leaves.  Leaves can be gathered from nature and stored away to make tea and poultices as needed.  It’s hard to beat a plant that can supply you with medicine, fishing poles, and winter blooms.  Blissful meals yall, – thehistoricfoodie©

What Surprises are Lurking in the Milk in Your Fridge?

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Have you ever considered there could be anything other than fresh natural milk in the milk product you offer your children?

In 1994 artificial growth hormones made their way into our milk supply and with the exception of some organic milk hormone-laced milk became pretty much standard within 2 or 3 years.  How can this be and more importantly WHY?

It seems that cows injected with recombinant bovine somatropine (rBST) and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) tend to produce approximately one gallon per day more milk than cows not treated with it – at least for a while.  If we were a starving third world nation boosting quantity might take precedence over health concerns but as we’ll see, using it seems to benefit only one faction – the company that produces the hormones.

First, from a farmer’s perspective, a little research shows that the hormones aren’t good for the cows and they certainly aren’t good for people.  Cows have more problems with cystic ovaries and uterine disorders, lower birth weight and shorter periods of gestation, and a greater risk of clinical mastitis (an udder infection) that requires antibiotics.

What does such an inflammation mean for our milk supply?  “The most obvious symptoms of clinical mastitis are abnormalities in:  The udder such as swelling, heat, hardness, redness, or pain; and the milk such as a watery appearance, flakes, clots, or pus”.  Yum.

Treated cows may begin to have reduced milk yield, increased body temperature, lack of appetite, sunken eyes, diarrhea and dehydration, and reduction in mobility due to pain in the udder or lethargy.  The UK study from which this information came says also that while the overall protein content in the milk may be unaffected, changes in the types of protein present may be affected by the leaching of low-quality blood serum proteins into the milk.  Casein, an important protein, can be significantly reduced and casein is closely linked to calcium levels in the milk.

Milk with pus in it sure sounds tasty on my cereal or in the ice cream we go through by the gallon.  Think it doesn’t make it into your Turtle Tracks?  Then why did Breyer’s Ice Cream recently announce that it is going to stop making ice cream from milk impregnated with growth hormones due to consumer demand?

Canada, the European Union (some 27 countries), Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have had bans in place on rBGH, yet the U.S. has no restrictions and Monsanto, the producer of the hormones, filed a lawsuit against a dairy that advertised their milk contained no growth hormones. It seems pointing out that a brand of milk comes from hormone-free cows causes consumers to wonder what is in other brands then start to wonder how consumption of it affects them.

The potential for health endangerment from these dairy products varies greatly from one source to another, and like many situations it comes down to the consumer making an educated decision on whether or not they’re willing to chance it.

The www.cancer.org website downplays the risk of increased Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) levels in milk produced by cows that have received growth hormone but concludes its report with, “The evidence for potential harm to humans is inconclusive.”  They also conclude that the increased use of antibiotics necessary to clear up rBGH induced mastitis in cows does promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the extent of harm in humans is unclear.  Really?  We’re being told not to over-use antibiotics because it may have the same affect, but it’s OK to pass on antibiotics to our children through the milk they drink?

What is IGF-1?  “An elevated content of IGF-1 has been suggested to have adverse implications for human health and cancer frequency”.

Milk from rBGH-treated cows does have much higher levels of IGF-1 according to www.responsibletechnology.org, and puts consumers at, “a high risk factor for breast, prostate, colon, lung, and other cancers.”  They feel that levels of IGF-1 can be up to 10% higher than in milk from un-treated cows.  Their studies indicated that milk from rBGH-treated cows with increased IGF-1 levels may increase the rate of fraternal twin births in humans.  In the U.S. the number of fraternal twins was said to have grown at twice the rate as the UK where rBGH is banned.

Is the danger being downplayed for economic reasons?  The Responsible Technology website, notes that after being sued by Monsanto in 2003 Maine’s Oakhurst Dairy’s farmers’ pledge, “No Artificial Growth Hormones”, had a sentence appended which stated that according to the FDA no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from treated and untreated cows.

Responsible Technology says the studies showed milk from treated cows did contain increased IGF-1 levels and, “higher amounts of pus and antibiotic residues”, and claim further that the additional wording added to the Oakhurst label was written by the FDA’s deputy commissioner of policy, Michael Taylor, previously Monsanto’s outside attorney who, after running policy at the FDA, became vice president of Monsanto.

How do these situations come about?  Perhaps because consumers have been too complacent and let big business decide what goes into our food.  Doesn’t some agency control the safety of food additives?  Let’s look at both sides of that coin.

Oct. 25, 1998, Phil Angell, Director of Corporate Communications for Monsanto was quoted by the New York Times Magazine saying, “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food…Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible.  Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job”.  The FDA, however, issued this statement, Federal Register, Vol. 57, No. 104 (1992):  “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety”.  It would appear that no one is on watch.

Concerned consumers should definitely read the entire Responsibility Technology report for themselves found at http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/gm-hormones-in-dairy.  Be sure to follow the links to fact sheets on rBGH, and to reports from such credible sources as the Oregon Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Certified organic milk is supposed to be free of rBGH residues.   It is hard to compile a list of non-organic brands which claim to be rBGH free because the list changes as companies such as Breyers agree to use milk from untreated cows.  Read labels and do the online research, beginning with these brands:  Alda Dena, Albertson’s, Alpenrose, Andersen, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Breyers Ice Cream (recent change), Brown Cow Farm, Crowley Cheese of Vermont, Dannon, Darigold, Eberhard’s, Franklin County Cheese, Fred Meyer/Mountain Dairy, Grafton Village Cheese, Great Value, Great Hill Dairy, Horizon, Kirkland, LACTAID, Lifetime Dairy, Lochmead, Mallories, Market of Choice, New Seasons, Noris, Pacific Village, Safeway, Stonyfield Farms, Stremick’s Heritage, Sunshine, Trader Joe’s, Umpqua, and Yoplait yogurts.

RBGH free regional brands include:  (West coast) Alpenrose Dairy, Berkeley Farms, Clover Stornetta Farms, Joseph Farms Cheese, Sunshine Dairy Foods, Tillamook cheese (cheese only, they do not make all their products – for example their butter is made by Land O’ Lakes and packaged by Tillamook), Western Family, and Wilcox Family Farms.  (Midwest) Chippewa Valley Cheese, Erivan Dairy Yogurt, Promised Land Dairy, Westby Cooperative Creamery.  (East coast) Blythedale Farm Cheese, Crescent Creamery, Derle Farms (only products bearing a ‘no rbST label), Erivan Dairy Yogurt, Farmland Dairies, Oakhurst Dairy, Wilcox Dairy (only products with labels indicating rbST-free).

Stores carrying these brands can be found online but well-known ones include Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco, Albertson’s, etc.  Most stores carry Lactaid brand.  Be aware that while a brand of milk may be hormone-free, other products bearing the same brand name such as butter, ice cream, cheese, or yogurt may not be, as in the case of Tillamook.

See:  www.dairyco.org.uk

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