Poultry Parenting©

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Many of our birds here on the little farm have very distinct personalities.   We have our favorites that are almost like our children, others seem totally oblivious to our presence, and a couple have been downright nasty little cusses.  A rooster named Rocky tried to fight us every time we got near him until he went for a swim amidst light fluffy dumplings and rich golden roo…, chicken, broth.    The more personable of the lot know they’re going to live a charmed life and the others are subject to my grandfather’s cardinal rule.  I can still hear him saying, “Do not name the farm animals.  They’ll be coming to supper and they won’t be guests”.

Last year one of our Ameracaunas hatched two chicks which were as cute as could be but seemed to have a mind of their own, squeezing between the wires in their pen and frolicking all around the yard until a quick heavy rainstorm blew up and drowned them.  This year another hen has 3 chicks which we’ve been putting up at night to protect them from predators or another sudden rain storm.  Mama doesn’t quite understand our good intentions and as we’re catching the chicks she launches into a pecking frenzy to let us know they’re her chicks and we’re not welcome.

Last night I forgot to put them into the coop until well after dark.  I’d already put on my nightgown and didn’t feel inclined to get dressed again to run out back to the chicken pen to put them up.  It’s sheltered and can’t be seen from the road so there wasn’t much chance of stories circulating about the crazy chicken lady running around outside in her gown so I bee-bopped on out dressed as I was.

Mama was doing her usual fierce pecking on my hand as I caught two of the chicks then the third chick decided to make a break for it.  I was weaving and bobbing around the chicken pen trying to catch that last chick without mama getting too feisty when I felt this tug from behind.  Mama had come up behind me, grabbed on to the hem of my gown, and with all the strength she could muster started flopping around trying to pull me away from the chick.  Imagine, if you will, a grown woman with two chicks in one hand and a net in the other trying to catch this one wayward chick with Mama yanking and pulling on the hem of my gown.  I was torn between laughing and admiring her mothering skills.  I’m sure the story about the crazy chicken lady would have been suitably embellished to reflect the incident had anyone actually seen what was going on.

I finally caught the chick and put the three of them inside the coop, mama hen strutted up the gangplank pleased as punch with herself thinking she’d taught me not to mess with her babies, and I fastened the door and headed back inside thinking to myself how a mama chicken can be so protective of her babies when there are people who aren’t as good a parent as she.     © Blissful Meals Yall, visit again soon.  The Historic Foodie

A Little Look at my Garden©

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Some time back I posted a series of articles on various vegetables I was researching for this year’s garden and I thought it might be interesting to post an update on what I actually did end up planting.  So far all is well – my plants are up and doing well.  The weather has been good for the deep South although the temperatures are creeping up with a 95 degree heat index yesterday.  With the heat usually comes a decrease in the amount of rain we see and I’ve already watered the garden once.

We probably tripled the size of the garden from last year and instead of doing the whole thing with a shovel and broadfork we had someone plow it for us.  That let me expend my labor on seeding and weeding instead of breaking up the soil.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t done in time for early things like sweet peas and potatoes.

I chose Country Gentleman and Silver Queen corn and planted it as far away from each other as possible.  We staggered the plantings so the corn is varying heights and hopefully will be harvested over a longer season.  I have enough seed and space for perhaps another 10 rows and will put that out over the next 2 or 3 weeks.

Country Gentleman

The Blue Lake green beans look good as do the Fordhook limas.  I did two plantings of these to extend the harvest so while the first are about 5 inches tall, the others have yet to sprout although after watering, that should happen by the middle of next week.

I planted 3 rows of Pennsylvania Crookneck Squash that seem to be doing well.  I bought seed from Landis Valley but also saved the seed from squash we purchased at an Amish market when we were there over Christmas.  I decided to save the purchased seed and plant the seed from the squash and I do believe every seed sprouted.  There are pies in our future providing the bugs leave some and I keep them watered.

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Image of PA crookneck squash from the Seedsavers website.

I put out 60 tomato plants hoping to be able to can and freeze enough for the year so that we avoid the bad nasties in purchased canned tomatoes.  They were chosen for hot weather and disease resistance.  I have 6 Atkinson I bought and the rest are Big Boy and Better Boy that I started from seed.  They are blooming so I have the bacon and fixings ready for my first BLT.

I planted a row of Aunt Molly’s ground cherries or husk tomatoes if you prefer that have yet to sprout but if for some reason they don’t I have enough seed to replant.  I’m waffling in my decision as to whether to wait or reseed.

There is a row of salsify and a row of scorzonera.  The latter, which was referred to as viper’s grass in times past, is pushing through the soil surface and from its appearance it is easy to see how it got that name.

I had asparagus, but I’m waiting for it to be established better before cutting any.  I had about a 50% grow rate on my Jerusalem artichokes.  I’m not sure why only about half sprouted.  Moles or armadillos could be the culprits or perhaps the tubers weren’t as healthy as they should have been when they went in the ground.  I will probably harvest them and replant the bulk of them so as to amass a larger bed for next year rather than cooking them up this winter.

A couple of kinds of cucumbers and a few radishes are tucked away here and there, all up but not ready to harvest.

The basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary, shallots, and elephant garlic are in raised beds surrounded by chicken wire to keep hungry geese, chickens, and guineas from helping themselves.

There are baby ducks, chicks, rabbits, and a single gosling that have hatched so we butchered some of the older chickens and a couple of drakes last weekend and put them into the freezer.  Our ratio of roosters and drakes was higher than it should be so this helped to correct that and give the hens a break.  The roast duck followed by a nice barley vegetable soup made from boiling down the rest of the duck was pretty good.

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As always, gentle reader, I leave you with the wish for Blissful Meals!  ©  – Victoria, the Historic Foodie, thehistoricfoodie.wordpress.com.

MORE VARIETIES OF HEIRLOOM CORN©

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As I’m choosing the vegetables that will get planted in my garden this year I’m adding my insane research results to the blog.  I’ve chosen Silver Queen and Country Gentleman for my corn this year and I’m happy with those choices for now.  The other varieties below will get planted eventually, but a couple at a time.  This will finish my walk down the heirloom corn garden path.  [Maybe]

Bear Paw.  A popcorn created by Glenn Thomson of Vermont and grown between 1930 and the mid-1960’s.  It was served in the Vermont exhibition of the World’s Fair.  It is available today.  Plants are about 4 to 5 ft.  The ears are flattened and split at the silk end, some said resembling a bear paw. An ear can actually split into more than two resembling a crude hand shape.  While it isn’t as old a variety as the rest of the list, I’ve included it because of its uniqueness. It is available from Seed Savers Exchange, cherrygal.com, etc.

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Black Mexican.   “If you have never tried Black Mexican corn you should do so…It is said to contain a higher percentage of sugar than any other variety.  The only thing against it is its appearance.  The fresh kernels are a beautiful blue-black, but in the pot they lose their life and luster.  The cooked ears are about as unattractive as black bean soup, but the flavor is delicious beyond words”.  – “Country Life in America”.  July 1904.

Some period sources said it was not preferred by 19th/early 20th century market growers because the corn turns from white to very dark as it ages and customers could tell if it wasn’t at its prime by the color.  It is very interesting to see the color change.  Others found that it crossed too easily with other corns, though there was no real discernible difference.  “There is no evidence, however, that this variety crosses more readily than others, but when crosses of Black Mexican and other varieties do occur, the effects are more readily seen.”  ““Bulletin”.  Issues 183-191.  Dept. Ag.  1911.  Corbett, Lee.  “Garden Farming”.  1913.

The name is misleading.  It was apparently first bred in New York, probably from Iroquois Black Puckers.  Some period sources dated it from 1864, but it was found by this writer earlier in the Essex Agricultural Society’s “Transactions” in 1857.    “Several collections of excellent sweet corn were exhibited by S. A. Merrill, of Salem, and others, but among them all we did not find any specimens of the Black Mexican.  Of ten varieties which we tested the past season, this was decidedly the sweetest.  The ear is rather below the average size and matures somewhat late, the kernels when ripe being of a rich, dark, purple color, but when in the milk but slightly tinged with purple…Black Mexican is prolific, will bear close planting, and we can confidently recommend it to the gardeners and farmers of Essex”.

In 1866, Fearing Burr called it, “Black Sweet, or Mexican.  Slate Sweet” and said it was sweet, tender, and well flavored, “remains a long period in condition for use”, and aside from its color which some found objectionable was well worth cultivation.  Black Mexican was offered by James J. H. Gregory of Marblehead, Mass. In his 1863 catalog.

It is available today from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Victory Seed, and others.  Seed may be Aztec Black or an Aztec Black cross.

Country Gentleman.  “Very desirable”.  Still available today.  See previous post.

Country Gentleman

Golden Bantam.  Stalks 4 ft.  5 in. ears.  Tender skin on the kernels.   Golden Bantam was featured in the Burpee catalog in 1902. In the 1903, W. A. Burpee Farm Annual said William Chambers of Greenfield, Mass.  grew this corn long before his neighbors had ripe corn for their tables but would never sell seed.  Mr. Chambers died ca. 1891 and his corn was grown and the seed kept pure by Mr. J. G. Pickett, also of Greenfield.  E. L. Coy of New York, who was a friend of W. Atlee Burpee, was served some Golden Bantam at a meal when visiting in Greenfield.

Mr. Coy purchased all the seed he could from Mr. Pickett and sent them to Mr. Burpee claiming it was the sweetest and richest corn he’d ever eaten.  It was Burpee who named the variety when he released it to the public in 1902, otherwise it should rightly be called Chambers’ Sweet Corn.

Mr. Chambers is thought to have bred his corn from seed obtained by James J. H. Gregory of Marblehead, Mass which was called Golden Sweet.  Golden Sweet was a cross between a yellow field corn and Darling’s Early, possibly the first named sweet corn variety.  Golden Bantam is still available while  Golden Sweet and Darling’s Early have fallen by the wayside.

“The name and fame of Golden Bantam Corn is known everywhere.  It has the call in summer when fresh corn is on the market.”  Carpenter’s Golden Sweet was a later improvement of Golden Bantam.  – Blackmore.  “Merchant’s Manual of Advertising”.  1921.  See also:  “Vegetables of New York”.  1934.

Howling Mob.  C. D. Keller of Toledo, Ohio developed this corn and named it because he said customers were so anxious to get it at markets they became a “howling mob” when it was offered for sale.  Not much is found on Mr. Keller other than classified ads for seed sales.  Howling Mob was introduced in 1905 and remains available today from R. H. Shumway.  It grows to 6 or 7 feet and ears are 8 to 9 inches long with 12 to 14 rows of kernels.  This corn came very close to being lost.

Stowell’s Evergreen.  See previous post.

Bloody Butcher.  This is a beautiful dark red corn, the color of which was likened to blood.  Some accounts say it was being grown at least as early as 1845, but this writer found no mention of it earlier than the 1870’s.  In 1919, Lamkin claimed Colby Bloody Butcher was grown in Missouri for the “past 25 years” – which would have been sometime around 1894.

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Bloody Butcher, from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange website

It is a dent corn and a tall one reaching 10 to 12 feet.  It supposedly produces two to six ears per stalk.  The cobs vary in color from pink to red.  It is primarily used for flour, grits, or meal but can be eaten when young and fresh.

“Bloody Butcher is a name applied to corn having a deep-red grain.  The cap, or rather the crown, end of the kernels varies in color for the different varieties, but are usually lighter in color than the remainder of the kernel.  The Colby Bloody Butcher is the only variety of this class that has proved to be an outstanding one…As a rule Bloody Butcher corn is not any more productive than corn of any other color”.  – “Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture”.  1921.

Hickory King.  This dent corn is available in white or yellow.  It is well known in the South as a hominy corn.  “Hickory King corn was originated by A. O. Lee, Bartee, Va.  I understand that there is a railroad station called Hickory near his place which furnishes the name of this reliable variety…The Hickory King corn is remarkable for having the largest kernels and the smallest cob in proportion to depth of kernels…”.  – Eyck, Albert.  “Corn”.  1914.

Leaming’s.  Jacob Spicer Leaming [1815-1885] of Clinton Co., Ohio is credited with developing this yellow dent corn.  His ancestors are outlined in a “Report” published by the Ohio Corn Improvement Assoc. in 1910 and that source was also an account of the development of his corn.  The article from which the Association quoted was published by his son in 1888. His corn was so much appreciated that the publication says, “the best part of him is still above ground, and the memory of him grows green each year in a thousand tasseled fields”.

Mr. Leaming’s father, Christopher, was growing corn with the help of his sons, one of whom was 10-year old Jacob Spicer Leaming, by 1826.

“In 1855, Mr. [Jacob Spicer] Leaming was driving a wagon in Hamilton County and stopped at a wayside corn field to ask some men husking corn in the field if they might sell him enough corn to feed his horses.  He was so impressed with the corn that he bought a bushel of corn for seed.

He first planted the corn in 1856 and spent some 30 years improving it.  After his 1856 crop was harvested he shared seed with several neighbors and the seed became known as Leaming’s corn.

Jacob was awarded a silver medal for his corn at the Paris World’s Fair in 1884.  He died the following year.  In 1900 Jacob’s son, Peter D. Leaming, took a bronze medal at the Paris Exposition for his seed corn – the corn his father developed.

Leaming’s corn, probably the Improved Leaming, is rare, but available today from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Neal’s Paymaster.  William H. Neal bred this variety from Tennessee Red Cob.  “An interesting story was published recently in a Tennessee newspaper relative to the manner in which W. H. Neal, of the Maple Dale Farm, Wilson county, Tennessee, had developed since 1898 what is known as Neal’s Paymaster corn, said to be largely responsible for the excellent yield in that state this year.”  The experts at the Tennessee Agricultural Dept. recommended it for Tennessee and other states.  – “The Seed World”.  Dec. 16, 1921.   It is available from Sandhill Preservation.

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Tennessee Red Cob

Luther Hill sweet corn.  Luther Hill developed this about 1902 in Sussex Co., New Jersey.  Mr. Hill was the horticulturist at Rutgers University.  Luther Hill Sweet was used to breed Silver Queen corn.  It can produce two years per stalk.  It is rare, but available today from the Sustainable Seed Co. and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  It has a short ripening period allowing for quick processing for the freezer.

Gaspe Flint.  Supposedly documented by Jacques Cartier in 1534 and named for the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec.  The plants reach to only about 2 ½ feet with cobs about 4 inches.  It is available from Heritage Harvest Seed Co. and Sherck’s Heirloom Vegetables, Plants, & Seeds.

Japonica Striped Maize, aka Japanese corn.  This is a beautiful corn with striped white and pink in the leaves.  It was touted as new in 1867 by the “Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and All Useful Discoveries and Improvements in Rural Affairs”.  The seed was brought from Japan by Thomas Hogg. – “Genetics Laboratory Manual”.  1918.

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From the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange website.  Why not order today?

“American Agriculturist” printed a piece on the corn in March 1866 saying Hogg sent the seed to his brother from Japan.  The author said when the plants were about two feet high they were also streaked with rose color in the leaves but claimed the pink dissipated as the plants got older.

“The Japanese corn has a very peculiar appearance, the leaves being striped with white”.  – “Report”.  Vol. 18-20.  1893.

“A variety of Japanese corn has been successfully grown for several years on the grounds of Cornell University.  While it produced good sized ears, it is not so valuable as the ordinary variety under cultivation.  Its distinctive feature is that its leaves are striped similar to ribbon grass”.  – “The Cultivator & Country Gentleman”.  March 14, 1895.

Seed are available from several sources including Heritage Harvest Seed.

Tom Thumb Popcorn.  The earliest origins of this yellow variety are unknown, but it was found in the “Annual Report” of 1889.  It was featured in John Lewis Child’s catalog 10 years later in 1899.  Plants are said to be very productive but a diminutive 2 feet tall with ears about 2 to 3 inches.  Childs recommended it for city or village lots where space was limited.  It is available from Heritage Harvest Seed.

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Truckers Favorite.  Trucker’s Favorite is an heirloom dent corn.  The December 1913 issue of “The Southern Planter” noted that Mr. Charles G. Diessner had received 2nd prize at a fair for his Truckers Favorite corn.  Mention of it was found in 1905 in a publication by the University of Maryland, “Control Series”.

“There is no early garden corn so extensively grown in the South as Trucker’s Favorite corn.  It is much hardier than any sugar corn and can be planted weeks earlier, and is ready for the table or market in about 70 days.  Although not a sugar corn, it makes the finest roasting ears.” – T. W. Woods Seed Co.  1938.

It can be eaten fresh or dried for flour or meal.  Sources describe it as heat tolerant, thus its popularity in the hot humid South.  Seed are available from My Patriot Supply, Sustainable Seed Co., Gurney’s, St. Clare’s Seeds, etc.

May your soil be fertile, your crop abundant, and your meals truly blissful, Vickie (The Historic Foodie).  ©

In Search of the Shakebag Fowl

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Malays Fowls by Jean Bungartz for ‘Geflügel-Album’, 1885

In studying chickens one cannot merely search for the modern name of the chicken to know what early sorts were like as names sometimes came about after a group of fowl were improved upon enough to merit some distinction.  I invite you to join me as I travel down the path in search of an intriguing bird known as the Shakebag fowl.

Numerous sources from 1800-1810 state that the fowl got its name from being held in a bag while the owner cried that he would take any comers who wished to pit their cocks against his in a cock-fight.  The chicken was kept in a bag, out of sight, so the competitors could not judge the size and disposition of the bird they’d be pitted against.  At the start of the match the bag would be turned upside down and the bird “shaken” out thus they came to be called Shakebag fowl.  As one would imagine, Moubray classed the Shakebag as a game chicken and their breeder was described in 1853 as being an enthusiastic cock-fighter.  – Dixon, Edmund Saul & Kerr, J. J.  “A Treatise on the History and Management of Ornamental and Domestic Poultry”.  Philadelphia.  1853.

They are often discussed when observing the Dorking which most agreed descended from crosses with the Shakebags.  Dickson said, “It is very probable that this large breed is a cross between the Malay, or shack-back [shake-bag,] and the game variety.”  Another writer put forth the same hypothesis in the “Scottish Quarterly Journal of Agriculture”, vol. VI, p. 381.  Dickson’s wording seems to indicate that the Malay and the Shakebag were one and the same.  – “The Cultivator”.  Vol. 6.  Feb. 1849.

Bennett tells us he has no doubt.  The Shakebag fowl possessed too many points of affinity with the Malay for him to doubt the association.  The plumage of the cock was described as extremely brilliant and gaudy.  In 1850 he claimed the first presence of these fowls he had knowledge of in the U.S. were imported by Mr. John L. Tucker of Tremont House in Boston.  He did not give a date for the importation.  At the time of that writing Mr. James S. Parker of Samoset House, Plymouth supposedly had Shakebags among his fowl but pronounced them exceedingly rare in this country, this being the only importation Bennett was aware of.

English writers disputed Bennett’s claim regarding Misters Tucker and Parker saying instead that Moubray had declared the breed already extinct “for some years” in 1816 – some 34 years before Bennett’s statement of seeing them in the U.S in 1850.  They thought the fowl that Tucker and Parker possessed were average dunghill fowl.  – “The New England Farmer”.  Vol. 2.  June 8, 1850.

“The average weight [of the Shakebag] is from eight to fourteen pounds.  The hens are good layers, and the eggs have every mark of the East Indian origin of the race, being dark-colored and large yolked.  The cocks are remarkable for their prowess”.  – Bennett, John C.  “The Poultry Book”.

Richardson said, “A good many years ago, there used to be a variety of fowl much in request in England, called the ‘Shakebag’, or the ‘Duke of Leeds’ fowl’, his grace, of that name, about sixty or seventy years ago having been a great amateur breeder of them.  These fowl were as large as the Malays, but differed from them in the superior whiteness and tenderness of their flesh, as also in their very superior fighting abilities”.  Calculating back from 1847 he was saying the duke was breeding the Shackbags between 1772 and 1787.  Note the use of the words “used to be” strengthening the claim they were already extinct by 1847.  – Richardson, H. D.  “Domestic Fowl:  Their Natural History…”.  Dublin.  1847.

The “New England Farmer”, June 8, 1850, noted that the Shakebag had been extinct for a good many years, but if speculation on its crosses is accurate, some of its traits live on in fowl by other names.  Not all breeders agreed with the Malay being used in the cross.  Some authors felt the Shakebags were crossed with the Java rather than Malay.  – Tucker, I.  “The Pictorial Cultivator”.  Aug. 1850.

Moubray wrote in 1816, “The only one I ever possessed was a red one, in 1784, weighing about ten pounds, which was provided for me, at the price of one guinea, by Goff, the dealer, who then lived upon Holborn Hill, in London, and who, at the end of two years, received him back at half a guinea, having allowed me, in the interim, three shillings and sixpence each for such thoroughbred cock chickens as I chose to send him”.  The Duke of Leeds, or Shakebag, fowl was already said to be rare prompting its cross with the Malays and other breeds.  The Malay cross retained the size of the bird, but the flesh deteriorated in color and delicacy of flavor.  – “Moubray’s Treatise on Domestic and Ornamental Poultry”.  London.  1854.

To understand the crossing, it may be helpful to know the same source included under the name Malay fowl known as the Jersey Blue, the Bucks County, and “Boobies”.

Since the only illustration found of the Shakebag was questioned as to its accuracy when published in the mid-19th century, this writer proposes no physical description of the shape or coloring of the birds other than to imagine the color to have been similar to some sort of modern game bird and based upon period descriptions to note they were bigger than an average game chicken.  Perhaps someone else has found a better description and will comment on it.  Blissful Meals yall – Victoria Brady (The Historic Foodie).  Please do not circulate articles from the Historic Foodie blog, in all or in part, without permission and without quoting the source. ©

 

More on the Dominique©

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Illustrations:  Period illustrations of the Dominique rooster and the markings in a single feather.

While the Dominique chicken is universally recognized as perhaps the oldest breed in America there are few written references using the name “Dominique” that can be found in the usual pre-19th century sources.  The reason being, the name Dominique wasn’t applied until later and the breed was just considered a typical barnyard fowl until it reproduced so many generations that its characteristics prompted some to recognize it as a distinct breed deserving of a name.  Dominiques were exhibited by four breeders at the first American poultry show held in Boston in Nov. 1849.  It was already considered an old breed.  Below are a few tidbits regarding the breed and the naming process.

“The Dominique is the best fowl of common stock that we have, and is the only fowl in the country that has enough distinct characteristics to entitle it to a name…They are frequently known by the name ‘Hawk-coloured fowls’…The Black Spanish are most beautiful fowls, but a winter like the past one is very disastrous to them.  Undoubtedly, with extra care in winter, they are the best layers in the world; but we would not recommend them for the general fowl of the farm by the side of the Dominique.  The Spanish for a village or city are best.”  – “The Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener” as quoted from the “Prairie Farmer”.  July 12, 1864.

“This well-known variety of our domestic fowl, there is good reason to believe, is old and distinct, though it is generally looked upon as mere ‘farm-yard fowl;’ that is, the accidental result of promiscuous crossing; but there are several forms among the farm-yard fowls, so called, that are seen to be repeated generation after generation, the counterparts of which are to be met with, scattered here and there, over this country.  So constant repetition of corresponding features would seem to declare that there are several unnoticed and undistinguished varieties of fowls which deserve to be regarded and treated as we do other distinct varieties.

The Dominique fowl, well selected and carefully bred, is a fine and useful bird.  They are distinguished as Dominique by their markings and their color, which is generally considered an indication of hardiness and fecundity…In England they are usually called ‘Cuckoo fowls,’ from the fancied resemblance of their plumage to the feathers on the Cuckoo’s breast. “  – “The American Poulterer’s Companion”.  Harper & Brothers Publishers.  New York.  1856.

Next, one might wonder where the name “Dominique” came from.  “Dr. Bennett, in his “Poultry Book”, says, “I know of no fowls which have stood the test of mixing without deteriorating better than the Dominiques.  They are said to be from the island of Dominica, but I very much doubt it.  I should incline to the opinion that they took their name from being, ‘tenants at will’ of some feudal sovereignty.  Why it is that so perfect bloods should have escaped description of poulterers, I am unable to divine…They were introduced by the French, and not a Dutch fowl, as some suppose”.  – “The American Poulterer’s Companion”.

It is uncertain just when the name Dominique came into use, however, this writer documented it as early as 1831 in “The Southern Agriculturist”, Dec. 1831.  In 1835 the “Minnesota Farmer’s Institute Annual Report” noted that a Plymouth Rock was a cross between the older Dominique and Black Javas.  An account published in the “Genessee Farmer” in 1851 referred to the “old-fashioned speckled Dominique”.  – January 1851.

In 1915 it was noted that the Dominique was known “half a century ago” (1855) as the “Little Speckled Hen”, the memory of which is still cherished by older folk.”…  That writer went on to note that the Dominique had fallen in popularity, not because it wasn’t worthy of a place of distinction, but because 20th century farmers were led to believe new breeds were better.  Thankfully through the efforts of individuals and the Dominique Specialty Club this fine heirloom breed enjoyed resurgence in popularity.  – “American Poultry Advocate”.  March 1916.

Postell claimed that prior to the Civil War planters often did not allow any other breed on their places because the Dominiques were such good foragers and were considered a top notch all-purpose breed.  The writer also referred to “new” Dominiques which were undoubtedly Barred Rocks, in fact, many used “Dominique” to refer to the barred pattern of any breed.  – Postell, Jehu Glenn.  “All About Poultry”.  1911.

Let’s look at a few more quotes regarding the early origin of the breed under the name Dominique while noting that the multiple references to “the old gray hen” and the like may well have referred to these chickens.  This old fashioned breed is said to have been brought over by the early Puritans, and wherever bred in purity is acknowledged to be one of the best, hardiest, and most beautiful of all domestic fowls.  They are without doubt the oldest of the distinctive American breed, being mentioned in the earliest poultry books, as an indigenous and valued variety.” -Profits in Poultry, Useful and Ornamental Breeds, 1886.

“The poultry-keepers of the country (USA) are ever hankering after something new. But it is not of any use to find a new breed unless it is manifest improvement, either in size, prolificness, good looks or some other respect, such as hardiness. The American Dominique is pre-eminently an old breed. Our great-grandfathers had these fowls.” -Poultry World, 1887.

Please do not republish without permission and inclusion of credit. ©

American Dominiques as I Know Them©

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Dominiques were brought to America early on and though they once faced extinction have recovered.  They will be my next acquisition for the poultry yard we call home.  The following is an exact account of the lovely chickens published in 1920.

“In color they resemble the Barred Plymouth Rock.  In size they are not so large, they have a longer tail, and a rose comb.  Dominiques are one of the oldest varieties and a pure American breed.  They are very hardy; chicks grow rapidly and mature early.  The pullets often begin laying when five to six months old.  The hens not being clumsy and heavy, make excellent setters and splendid mothers.  They seldom break an egg while setting.

American Dominiques are excellent layers of eggs.  The color of the shells is from a light to a dark brown, and the eggs are of good size.  The birds make splendid table fowls, many claiming them superior to all others.  They have a fine yellow skin, dress well, and are plump at all ages.  The birds are active, and are very gay, stylish and fine in appearance.

They are well adapted for confinement in yards, or if left to roam at will they are good foragers.  On account of their old-fashioned ‘dominecker’ color, they are adapted for city, country or village poultry keepers; the soot, smoke or dirt will not mar their appearance; their homespun clothes are always clean and attractive.

For general utility they have few, if any superiors.  In weight they are large enough for most people not as heavy as the Plymouth Rock and heavier than the Leghorns.  Having a rose comb and being a rugged and hardy fowl the American Dominiques are a splendid fowl for our northern climate.

Many people want a rose combed bird; they also want an intermediate one in size—something between the Leghorn and the Rock—one as active and prolific a layer as the Leghorn, yet carrying some of the meat properties of the Plymouth Rock.  To these people I would recommend the old Dominiques which have been my favorites for years.  As chicks they feather more quickly than the Rock, mature more quickly and are more active.

The present day Barred Rock is the result of crossing a Dominique male on Black Cochin hens.  The barring of the Dominique is not the same straight across the feather barring found in the Rock, nor does it show the same black and white contrasts between the light and dark bar.  The Standard calls for irregular barring and the color should be of a bluish tone.  On full blooded birds, the last bar at the tip of the feather is shaped like a new moon.

Double mating is not required as the Standard calls for a male one or two shades lighter than the female.  The Standard under color is slate.

The Standard weights are cock, 7 lbs.; cockerel, 6 lbs.; hen, 5 lbs.; pullet, 4 lbs.  The Dominique has red earlobes and lays brown shelled eggs like the Rock, but has much more plumage—more like the Leghorn.  W. F. Gernetzky.”  – “American Poultry Journal”.  July 1920.  Please do not republish without permission and inclusion of credit. ©

Sweet Corn Our Ancestors Would Recognize©

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Country Gentleman
I’m interested in vegetables, small farm animals, and poultry which have stood the test of time and there are a great many varieties my grandparents knew that are still around. I’ve been particularly interested in Country Gentleman and Stowell’s Evergreen corn. Hugh Findley recommended both varieties for the home gardener in his “Practical Gardening: Vegetables and Fruits”, published in 1918.

Sweet corn began as a mutation in standard field corn which was then improved upon over several generations until a stable variety was produced. Sweet corn was known to Native Americans and documented in the U.S. in the 1770’s.

Country Gentleman is a shoe peg corn meaning the kernels are not in rows on the ear. It was so named because the kernels resembled the wooden pegs used to attach shoe soles. It was introduced in 1890 by S. D. Woodruff & Sons and remains the most popular shoe peg corn today.

Stowell’s Evergreen corn was bred by Nathaniel Stowell of Burlington, NJ. He was born on May 16, 1793 in Mass. In 1848, Stowell is said to have sold two ears of the corn to a friend for $4.00 with the stipulation that the friend keep it for his own use and not sell or distribute it. Unfortunately for Mr. Stowell, his friend valued money more than trust or friendship and sold the corn to Thoburn Seed Co. for $20,000. Thus the man who created it never profited from it while his unscrupulous “friend” enjoyed a hefty sum of money from it.

Stowell had tweaked his corn by crossing Menomony Soft and Northern Sugar Corn. It was already popular before 1850 as noted in the “Pennsylvania Farm Journal”, May 1853. “It has been introduced to the agricultural public mainly through the agency Professor Mapes; who has sent out thousands of samples of the seed to the readers of his paper in various parts of the country. He gives the following account of it in his paper for December, 1850:

Stowell’s sweet corn is a new sort, and is every way superior to any other we have seen; for, after being pulled from the ground, the stalks may be placed in a dry, cool place, free from moisture, frost, or violent currents of air, (to prevent drying,) and the grains will remain full and milky for many months. Or the ears may be pulled in August, and by tying a string loosely around the small end, to prevent the husks from drying away from the ears, they may be laid on shelves and kept moist and suitable for boiling for a year or more. This corn is hybrid, between the Menomony soft corn and the Northern Sugar corn, and was first grown by Mr. Nathan Stowell of Burlington, N.J. Near the close of the Fair of the American Institute, 1850, I presented the Managers with two ears, pulled in August, 1849, and twelve ears pulled in 1850. They were boiled and served up together, and appeared to be alike, and equal to the corn fresh from the garden.

The ears are larger than the usual sweet corn, and contain twelve rows. To save the seed, it is necessary to place the ears in strong currents of air, freed from most of the husks, and assisted slightly by fire heat when nearly dry. In damp places this corn soon moulds, and becomes worthless. The seed when dry, is but little thicker than writing paper, but is a sure grower. The stalks are very sweet, and valuable as a fodder.”

A writer in the “Rural New Yorker” tried it in 1851 and speaks thusly of it: “Until it began to tassel out, it appeared very much like enormous broom corn, and exhibited no symptoms of putting forth ears until very late in the season, when it eared rapidly and bore three very large, full ears on all the best stalks, and in some cases the fourth was fairly set. Only a very few of the stalks bore single ears. It matured rapidly and very perfectly; but it was many weeks after frost set in, and the corn was housed, and after the husks had become entirely white, before any of the kernels presented the shriveled appearance of sweet corn.

That it will do all that has been said of it I have no reason to doubt, as far as my observation through one season extends. I am satisfied it is a most valuable acquisition to our sweet corn. It grows freely, is of the first quality, and produces in my garden this season far beyond any corn I have yet seen. Besides the greater number of grains on a stalk, each ear and kernel is very large, although it dries down for seed to a very small ear and kernel. Very few of the ears have less than fourteen rows, and I have just noticed an ear of it only seven inches long, and yet it had sixteen rows, and contained more than eight hundred kernels. The day I planted this corn I planted an equal number of hills of a very superior kind of sweet corn, the kernels of which most perfectly resembled this; and although the exposure and soil were equal, yet the Stowell corn surpassed it in every respect. I shall try it another season with increased interest”.

Another writer stated in 1852 in the same New York paper said he considered it a “humbug” when he read of Stowell’s keeping qualities, but planted a trial of it anyway after which he was pleasantly surprised with its quality…”it matured in good time and produced from three to seven perfect, good ears on a stalk; and one stalk had on it sixteen – the shortest about two inches, but well filled out, and all ripe enough and good for seed”.

Professor Mapes told readers that Stowell’s Evergreen corn produced more stalks and leaves than any other and that cows preferred it to the best English hay. The drawback was that it, like all hybrids, tended to revert back to the parent corn it was bred from when saving seed.

That it is a successful variety in every respect cannot be doubted from the testimonials, and some 150 years later it can grow in our gardens as may have in our ancestors’ gardens. Blissful Meals, yall.©

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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