bake a cake & vote

Category : Books, Colonial, Kitchen
Date : November 1, 2016

Long before women were granted the right to vote (the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 26, 1920), they were helping bring men out to cast their vote. One might ask how this was accomplished? Meet the “Election Day Cake”.

img_0584

The City of Hartford, CT notes expenses for “sundries” including “cake” in 1771 and paid a Mrs Ledlie for making it. In the colonies, this cake would have been served for mustering, a time for men to assemble and practice militia skills. However, after the American Revolution, the cake was served on election days. Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, from 1796, provides a written recipe for the cake:

“Thirty quarts of flour, ten pound butter, fourteen pounds sugar, twelve pounds raisins, three dozen eggs, one pint wine, one quart brandy, four ounces cinnamon, four ounces fine colander seed, three ounces ground alspice; wet the flour with milk to the consistency of bread over night, adding one quart yeast; the next morning work the butter and sugar together for half an hour, which will render the cake much lighter and whiter; when it has risen light, work in every other ingredient except the plumbs, which work in when going in the oven.”

Men journeyed to towns to cast their vote and waited there for the results to be announced. Women provided these cakes, baking them in large community ovens and vying for the right to be deemed the best cake maker. One can only imagine that women also counseled their husbands on how to vote. Abigail Adams, in her letter dated March 31, 1776, wisely advised John Adams “…to remember the ladies,” when the Continental Congress was writing their new Code of Laws.

A modern challenge has been set by the bakers Susannah Gebhart and Maia Surdam of OWL Bakery in Asheville, NC in their campaign, “Make America Cake Again.” Participating bakeries will be selling and serving a modern version to patrons during the election season and donating a percentage of the proceeds to The League of Women Voters. In the autumn issue of the journal Comestible, Sarah Owens of BK17 Bakery, a participating baker, provides a recipe for the cake, noting that this cake is made with a sourdough starter.

Do you have a sourdough starter in your refrigerator? If not, see recipe below. If so, now is the time to muster, bake that Election Day cake, cast your ballot and invite your friends around to await the results.

Note:  A basic sourdough starter: combine 1 tablespoon dry yeast, 2 ½ cups warm water, 2 teaspoons of sugar, honey or molasses, and 2 ½ cups of flour. Mix well and pour contents into a sealable glass jar and cover accordingly. Let it ferment for five days, either on your counter or in the refrigerator, stirring daily, and then keep refrigerated, using a cup or so of the starter regularly for your breads. You can feed this starter simply by adding flour, water and a bit of sugar from time to time.

https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/ElectionCake.htm Accessed on 11/1/2016 and used for the chronology of “Election Cake.”

Abigail Adams letter transcript. Accessed on 11/1/2016, https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17760331aa

Sarah Owens, “Election Cake: A Call to Bake,” Comestible Journal, Issue 3, Autumn 2016, pgs. 56-58.  Please note, one can purchase the beautiful Comestible  here for Owens’ recipe as well as others.

Second Note:  OWL is hosting an Election Day Community Event tonight, November 1.  Also their website provides recipes for the home baker. http://www.owlbakery.com/electioncake/

 


write me a letter

Category : Books, Correspondence
Date : September 20, 2016

One of my great pleasures is walking to the mailbox at the end of our driveway and finding inside a personal letter. Handwritten letters are few and far between these days, almost extinct. Otherwise, news, messages and letters arrive instantaneously, delivered electronically, in a consistent typed format. The unique marks of the writer’s hand are gone, no slanting type, no almost indistinguishable smudged words, and no creased paper to unfold and re-fold, rereading as the spirit moves. We don’t think twice about not having access to information, unless we are ‘out of range’ from a cell tower. Remember when the fax machine, the telephone and the telegraph served as the new comers on the block, and their relative speed of transmission then could be termed ‘lightning’?

Let’s go further back in time and situate ourselves in the New England Colonies in the 1630s. Colonists settled along the coast of modern day Long Island (NY), Connecticut and Massachusetts, and eventually further inland, inhabiting Hartford (CT), Windsor (CT) and Springfield (MA).  How were letters ‘transmitted’ between these and other settlements? No real roads, nor maps existed, and certainly no postal system. Katherine Grandjean thoroughly examines the ways and means in her book, American Passage: The Communications Frontier in Early New England. She points to the materials needed for a letter: paper, ink quill, and wax. Ink and quills could be made from various found materials.   She notes “most colonists brewed their own” ink from a variety of materials: oak galls, charcoal and soot, mixed with various mediums, including water, vinegar, wine and gum arabic. Quills were made from turkey feathers. There were no paper mills in the colonies until 1690, when the first mill opened in Germantown, PA; prior to that, all paper was imported (and thus a scarce and treasured commodity). “Their letters were more irregularly shaped, more congested with script, and more likely to show evidence of ripping and cutting, to make use of excess.” Once written, the missive was folded and sealed with imported European wax for secure passage.

Grandjean tracks the disbursement of the Winthrop family correspondence (John Winthrop arrived in 1630), consisting of 2,856 letters, which have been miraculously saved and archived. She notes that in many instances, the writer and/or recipient would name the courier, a neighbor or a vessel, perhaps. “But the letters also contain glimpses of something else: a marked reliance on Indians. They reflect a hidden geography of Native travelers, weaving across the northeast with English news in hand”. Indeed, the Native Indians knew the paths that laced together the various new communities, making hand carrying more efficient and reliable. Letters contained reports of births and deaths, requests for payment, medical advice, accounts of skirmishes and possible wars. Colonists relied on letters as ‘news’ since no newspapers existed. “But colonial communications were part of the appropriations that accompanied English settlement. Just as their livestock, those famous bovine invaders, overran Native fields and villages, the English themselves–the human wanderers of the northeast–also pulsed through Native Space.”

Imagine being in your cabin preparing a meager meal or working in the woods clearing land for a field or road, and you look up, as a known Indian approaches you with a letter in hand. No regular time or route, and certainly not anticipated. A small conversation would ensue and an exchange of some type as payment. Now, in your hand, held within a very small packet of paper, information, sentiments, observations from another outpost!

ah_catlin1

George Catlin letter to D. S. Gregory, July 19-August 21, 1834 Image courtesy of Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution and Princeton Architectural Press

 

So, dear reader, take the time over the next few weeks to put pen to paper and write a letter or postcard. Enlist a friend or two to start a pen pal group. If you are seeking inspiration, pick up a copy of the book, Pen to Paper: artists’ handwritten letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art edited by Mary Savig. Examine the writing styles, the placement of the text on the pages, the inclusion of a drawn image or collaged element, and take up your pen and paper. Dash off some thoughts and mail them off a friend.

Katherine Grandjean, American Passage: The Communications Frontier in Early New England, (Harvard University Press, 2015), 240, 48, 49, 53, 64, 215.

Pen to Paper: artists’ handwritten letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, edited by Mary Savig, (Princeton Architectural Press, 2016), pas 42-43.

NOTE: Pen to Paper may also be viewed online in this exhibit on Handwritten: a space for pen + paper.

Thanks to the Bidwell House Museum for sponsoring Katherine Grandjean’s enlightening lecture, “Paper Pilgrims:  Letter writing and Communications in Early America this summer.


naturalists

Category : Books, Nature, Plants
Date : August 22, 2016

What is a naturalist? Must a naturalist be a scientist? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of a naturalist is “…a person who studies plants and animals as they live in nature.” By this definition, then, anyone of us could be a naturalist if we paid close attention to the world outside. And by extension, if one took notes, made charts and kept detailed accounts of these observations over space and time, might this person be termed a “Naturalist extraordinaire”?

At the moment, I am reading two books by Naturalist extraordinaires: Thoreau’s Wildflowers (masterfully edited and introduced by Geoff Wisner) and Natural Color. Each author, Henry David Thoreau and Sasha Duerr, respectively, defines their location by the surrounding indigenous plants. Duerr’s environs are the hills of Berkeley, CA, whilst Thoreau lived across the continent in Concord, MA. Separated by land and centuries, they are anchored together in their respect for the natural world and the desire to caretake.

We accompany each author on a year-long journey, progressing from Spring to Winter. Duerr forages plants from Oakland sidewalks and farmer’s markets to make splendid colors, guiding us through the year with seasonal ”palettes”. Thoreau’s observations of wildflowers – through scent, leaf and flowers – provide clear images of his peregrinitions in and around Concord throughout the four seasons.  Both books are graced with sumptuous visuals (photographs by Aya Brackett in Natural Color, and detailed drawings by Barry Moser in Thoreau’s Wildflowers), better allowing us to ‘participate’ with the authors in their explorations, but more importantly helping us to refine our natural vision and to prepare us for our own observations.

Sasha Duerr, The Seasonal Color Wheel

Sasha Duerr, The Seasonal Color Wheel

As both a dyer and wildflower guide, these books are wonderful practical tools for me. Duerr, an expert natural dyer, provides not only the nuts and bolts – from gathering to extraction to finished project – but also writes a manifesto to counteract and contend with the today’s fast-paced fashion and food world.  Thoreau’s minute observations – when a plant’s leaves first emerge from the earth, how long it blooms, and when it puts out seeds – is instructive and invaluable to the naturalist in each of us.

Thoreau states:

“If a man is rich and strong anywhere it must be in his native soil. Here I have been these forty years learning the language of these fields that I may the better express myself. If I should travel to the prairies, I should much less understand them, and my past life would serve me but ill to describe them.”

Duerr posits:

“Mapping and getting to know your own neighborhood and botanical region is another way of cultivating your natural dye practice, caring for the landscape, and working in harmony with ecological systems. Working with natural color can inspire you to make an authentic stewardship of the land itself.”

It would be among my greatest pleasures to accompany Duerr and Thoreau on a nature walk, listening to their conversation as they delight in the depth and breadth of Nature’s flora.

Note: Natural Color is released on August 23, 2016. For full information on where to purchase the book and a listing of Sasha’s upcoming book signings, http://www.sashaduerr.com

www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/naturalist

Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau’s Wildflowers, edited by Goeff Wisner and illustrated by Barry Moser (Yale University Press, 2016), pg. 256.

Sasha Duerr, Natural Color, (Watson-Guptill Publications, 2016), pgs. 125, 203.

 


only what you need

Category : Nature, Plants
Date : July 20, 2016

The time draws nigh for collecting herbs for drying and dyeing. Whilst reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s thought-provoking book, Braiding Sweet Grass, I came across these guidelines for the Honorable Harvest.

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may
      take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.
Share.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

So this morning, prior to gathering St John’s Wort, I sat with the plant and thanked it for cropping up in our yard and explained that I required just a few more flowers for my oil infusion. I spoke with Calendula, introducing myself as the one who planted the seeds and congratulating the plant for blooming under the hot summer sky. I took only what I needed for future remedies, thanked them both and went on my way.

The fields are about to burst forth in a bounty of golden rod. One can bet that the bumblebees and honeybees will find the ochre-topped plants before I do. Often, there are others—insects and birds—that depend on the nectar, pollen and seeds found in some of the plants that I forage for, such as the lovely white and red clover dotting our lawn. Whilst I do not use the white clover, I do harvest some of the red clover to dry and use later in the winter. We leave as much white clover as possible for the honeybees, and we suggest that others do the same. If you doubt that honeybees utilize the clover, go outside, find a clump and just stand there. Guaranteed a bee or two will buzz by you.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweet Grass: indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants, (Milkweed Editions, 2013), pg. 183.


summertime, and the living is easy….

Category : Colonial, Farm
Date : June 29, 2016

Summer arrived early on the farm this year, with temperatures well into the nineties in late May and early June, and at this point we are at least 5 inches below normal rainfall. The heat and dryness make gardening a challenge. Mulch to the rescue! Not only does it tidy up the vegetable beds and keep weeds at bay, but the mulch saves us from watering so frequently and keeps the water in the soil for a longer time. More energy efficient all the way around.

We grow onions and garlic to store and eat over the winter months. Our other crops include beans, tomatoes, peas, lettuces, greens, squash, melons, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, rhubarb and asparagus, and many herbs for seasoning and healing. We also subscribe to a CSA, our beloved Indian Line Farm, but this year the farmer is on sabbatical, so I feel more pressure than usual to have good harvests. Some varmint or fowl ate my early peas, and thus we had none. Each morning, I venture out to the garden, with my fingers crossed that noting happened overnight and to check on progress. So far, we are harvesting lettuce, greens and herbs whilst awaiting the first tomatoes, peppers and beans.

During colonial days, the kitchen garden was always under the work domain of the woman. Men worked the larger fields with corn, grains and other crops, but women often toiled there too as additional labor was needed. What happened if rain caused your crops to rot; if bugs ate all of your greens and beans; or, if lack of rain caused the garden to wither and die? There was the possibility of trading with a neighbor, but if times were lean for all, then the family would have done without.

Chores abounded for all on the colonial homestead.

Ruth Belknap sums up her 1782 day in Dover, New Hampshire in this delightfully rhyming poem.

Up in the morning I must rise
Before I've time to rub my eyes.
With half-pin'd gown, unbuckled shoe,
I haste to milk my lowing cow.
But, Oh! It makes my heart to ake,
I have no bread till I can bake,
And then, alas! it makes me sputter,
For I must churn or have no butter.
The hogs with swill too I must serve;
For hogs must eat or men will starve.
Besides, my spouse can get no cloaths
Unless I much offend my nose.
For all that try it know it's true
There is no smell like colouring blue.
Then round the parish I must ride
And make enquiry far and wide
To find some girl that is a spinner,
Then hurry home to get my dinner.
All summer long I toil & sweat,
Blister my hands, and scold & fret.
And when the summer's work is o'er,
New toils arise from Autumn's store
Corn must be husk'd, and pork be kill'd,
The house with all confusion fill'd.
O could you see the grand display
Upon our annual butchering day,--
See me look like ten thousand sluts,
My kitchen spread with grease & guts,--
You'd lift your hands surpris'd, & swear
That Mother Trisket's self were there.

Ye starch'd up folks that live in town,
That lounge upon your beds till noon,
That never tire yourselves with work,
Unless with handling knife & fork,
Come, see the sweets of country life,
Display's in Parson B[elknap's] wife.

“Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives. Documents in Early American History,” edited by Carol Berkinand Leslie Horowitz, (Northwestern University Press, 1998), pgs. 93-97, 112-3.

Note: Tim Carman’s recent article in the Washington Post, “For some growers, farmer’s markets just aren’t what they used to be,” reveals some the issues farmer’s face at these markets. Go and buy from your local farmers at your weekly market.

Note: This Friday July 1, b(RE)ce garments [my repurposed eco dyed garments] will be on sale at the Sheffield Farmer’s Market along with local produce, plants, meats, cordials and other treats. Stop by and see us in our green 1965 VW Transporter Van. The SFM is located in the Old Parish Church parking lot, just off of Route 7 in ye olde town center. (Sheffield was incorporated in 1733).


buccaneers of buzz

Category : Nature
Date : May 18, 2016
Bees are black - with Gilt Surcingles-
Buccaneers of Buzz-
Ride abroad in ostentation
And subsist on Fuzz-

Fuzz ordained - not Fuzz contingent
Marrows of the Hill.
Jugs - a Universe's fracture.
Could not jar or spill.
      

Emily Dickinson (poem 1426)

When leading a recent wildflower walk on Bartholomew’s Cobble, I asked the group to be quiet for a moment and listen for the ‘buzzing’ of the Bumblebees. Wild Ginger, Spring Beauty, Dutchman’s Breeches, Trout Lily, Bloodroot, both Purple and Yellow Violet, and the odd Dandelion carpeted the forest floor. All of the spring ephemerals provide fodder for the early foraging Bumblebee.

Wouldn’t you rather hear the buzz of the Bumblebee instead of summer’s omnipresent sound of the lawn mower, trimmer and leaf blower? As you may recall, dear reader, we have been replacing our lawn with flowerbeds and wild areas. Lately, our patch of Ajuga is the major gathering ground for the hard-at-work Bumblebees.

Bumblebees pollinate many of our foods including “…every cucumber, aubergine, runner bean, black currant and pepper…” reports the scientist Dave Goulson in his book A Sting in the Tale. Goulson, founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in England, encourages all of us to consider planting “an old fashioned cottage garden” filled with “lupines, hollyhocks, scabious, lavender, chives, sage, thyme and rosemary” for the foraging Bumblebee.

One queen Bumblebee may visit up to 6,000 flowers a day. When she emerges in early spring, she gathers nectar and pollen from the early flowers in order to feed herself, lay her eggs, and store feed for the young as they incubate, thus starting the process of making a hive of new Bumblebees.  Bumbleebees don’t dither. Venture outside and watch them. They forage with vigor and direction.

Go ahead, give up the ‘american lawn’ for a patch of flowers!

“We need worms to create soil; flies and beetles and fungi to break down dung; ladybirds and hoverflies to eat greenfly; bees and butterflies to pollinate plants; plants to provide food, oxygen, fuel and medicines and hold the soil together; and bacteria to help plants fix nitrogen and to help cows digest grass. We have barely begun to understand the complexity of interactions between living creatures on earth, yet we often choose to squander the irreplaceable, to discard those things that both keep us alive and make life worth living. Perhaps if we learn to save a bee today we can save the world tomorrow?”

 

The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R.W. Franklin, (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), pg. 541.

Dave Goulson, A Sting in the Tale: My adventure with Bumblebees, (Picador, 2013), pgs.186, 222-3, 16-24, 240-1.

Note: The Emily Dickinson Museum is restoring her gardens. Incredible article in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/17/science/emily-dickinson-lost-gardens.html?ref=todayspaper


preserved, conserved & landmarked

Category : Nature
Date : March 28, 2016

Our feet have trod the paths of Bartholomew’s Cobble from time to time over the last eight years, but not until last week did I realize it is designated a National Natural Landmark. The National Park Service bestows this honor on sites “for their outstanding condition, illustrative value, rarity, diversity, and value to science and education.”

The Cobble, as it is affectionately called, started underwater as part of a sea, with sand and coral reefs, as much as 500 million years ago. At the forming of two mountain ranges, the Taconic and the Berkshire, the Cobble was born. The Cobble’s calcareous rock (formerly the ocean floor) now supports a specific diverse ecosystem and, in the spring, the calcium loving ephemeral wildflowers burst forth along the Ledges Trail. Indeed, we marvel at these wonders every year, but also savor visiting the Cobble monthly, often climbing up Hurllburt’s Hill to be awed by the sweeping northern view of the Berkshires and noting the seasonal changes in the landscape.

What is it about rambling around in the woods and up mountains, going on ‘expotitions’ as Christopher Robin termed them, that gives one great joy? Kathryn Aalto notes:

“Walking sets the mind adrift, clarifying and organizes thoughts—a vital process for writers. Walking allows a pace for discovering small, new things: how gorse has the faint smell of coconut in spring, that the red dragonflies hovering over bogs are actually rare, and that the nocturnal bird calls are from the threatened night jar.”

Indeed, it was a pleasure to wander the pages of her latest book, The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh, exploring the fictional landscape of The Hundred Acre wood and to learn that A. A. Milne (the author of the Winnie-the-Pooh series) was inspired by the very real Ashdown Forest (East Sussex, England). Ashdown Forest, it seems, is not dissimilar to The Cobble, for its geography and geology support a particular rare ecosystem, thus designating it both a “Site of Special Scientific Interest” and a “Special Area of Conservation.”

We as walkers are most fortunate to have organization such as The Trustees of Reservations (managers of the Cobble) and Friends of Ashdown Forest to maintain and support these landscapes for us to savor and ramble upon. Often, we take for granted that these and other sites will be preserved forever. However, as Heather Bellow warns in her recent article, another natural area — the Otis State Forest in Otis, MA – is now under threat by the ‘claim for eminent domain’ by Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Bellow notes that the forest, with a stand of 300-year old hemlocks, is protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution; as you can guess, Tennessee Gas, Kinder Morgan, and their stable of attorneys will be fighting the legality of Article 97 and any other law to ensure that nothing stands, literally and figuratively, in their way of seeking revenue.

Kathryn Aalto, The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: a walk through the forest that inspired the Hundred Acre Wood, (Timber Press, 2015), pgs. 110, 198-199, 214, 209.

Heather Bellow, “Kinder Morgan pipeline project scorns state constitution, could set precedent,” The Berkshire Edge, accessed on 3/25/2016

Note: This spring, trained guides (myself included) will be giving daily tours of the wildflowers during the Cobble’s Spring Wildflower Festival, Saturday April 16-Friday May 6. Tours depart at 10, 12 and 2pm. For more information, Bartholomew’s Cobble, 105 Weatogue Road, Sheffield MA 01257, 413-298-3239 x 3008.

Note: As of Friday March 25, FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) has issued a Request for Additional Information to Tennessee Gas Pipeline (Kinder Morgan’s subsidiary). For the full request letter, please read, “FERC to Kinder Morgan, ‘Sandisfield Pipeline? Not so fast,” in the Berkshire Edge.


earning and learning

Category : Farm
Date : March 21, 2016

Growing up, a jar of sourwood honey was a permanent fixture on our kitchen table. Maple syrup and sugar was exotic to us, and a rare, relished treat.

Since moving to the colonial farm, we observe maple sap lines that snake through woods, and galvanized buckets that gleam in the sun. This year, the maple harvest began earlier than usual, as reported by Paul Post in The New York Times. Maple farmers are hoping that the required conditions – warm days and cold nights – will continue, enabling them to harvest prior to the trees budding out. If the weather becomes consistently warm, the sap will stop running.

IMG_6544Each year, I ponder harvesting from our sugar bush and wonder if we are wasting nature’s sweet sap. So, when I saw Helen and Scott Nearing’s The Maple Sugar Book on the second-hand shelf, I snapped it up. The Nearings moved to the Green Mountains in Vermont and sought to make “an honest living”, and found that sugaring was the answer. Their wisely written book walks one through practical advice: how and when to harvest; methods of making syrup; and a business and marketing plan, right down to packaging and the dollars and cents of the enterprise.

In the final chapters, they elucidate a plan for living off the land in a mindful manner, and conclude with the following:

We have earned from maple and found a means of livelihood. We have also learned from maple. The occupation of sugaring has been a thorough-going education and broadened our contacts with life in its many aspects. The young Thoreau in his Journal wrote, “Had a dispute with father about the use of my making this sugar…He said it took me from my studies. I said I made it my study and felt as if I had been to a university.” A complete syrup and sugar maker comprises in himself a woodcutter, a forester, a botanist, an ecologist, a meteorologist, an agronomist, a chemist, a cook, an economist, and a merchant. Sugaring is an art, an education, and a maintenance. “May it long be the mission of the maple thus to sweeten the cup of life.”

Last year when maple buckets were advertised for sale in our local “Shopper’s Guide,” I did not call about them. Now, I am on the look out, knowing that there are many lessons to be learned.

Paul Post, “Maple Syrup Makers in New York Savor Aftertaste of a Mild Winter”, The New York Times, published on February 21, 2016 and accessed on March 2, 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/nyregion/maple-syrup-makers-in-new-york-savor-aftertaste-of-a-mild-winter.html

Helen and Scott Nearing, The Maple Sugar Book, Together with Remarks on Pioneering as a Way of Living in the Twentieth Century, (Schocken Books, New York, 1971), pgs. Xii, 246.

Note: for more information on Helen and Scott Nearing visit their Forest Farm in Harborside, Maine, http://goodlife.org


harnessing & harvesting

Category : Farm
Date : February 15, 2016

A few year’s back, M built us a hoop house for winter greens, using Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest as a general guide. With luck, this cold snap will not harm the lettuces, kales and other greens happily growing under the winter sun. Every time I open the hoop house door and step inside, the accumulated heat amazes me. Harnessing and harvesting seem to be two homesteader goals.

IMG_3688

Harvesting has already begun in West Yorkshire, UK for their annual Rhubarb Triangle Festival. Yes, I did say harvesting, dear reader. Rhubarb is grown in large darkened sheds, with

“…the only light [coming] from a couple of candles on sticks stuck casually between row upon row of vibrant red stalks fanning around us like a silent, motionless army. Despite appearances, it is actually growing so fast—an inch a day or more—that it’s apparently possible to hear the buds burst open with an audible pop.”

reports Julia Horton in the Financial Times.

IMG_3691

For two years the crops grow outside soaking up the glories of the sun in the form of carbohydrates. Then, the rhubarb is moved to the large heated sheds for winter harvest (this is done by candlelight to avoid any further photosynthesis). Farmers found that ‘forced’ rhubarb was much sweeter. According to Horton, at one point there were as many as 200 farmers sending out the sweet fruit to London via train on the “Rhubarb Express.”

Wouldn’t a pie made from one’s freshly harvested rhubarb taste divine on this winter’s day? I can only imagine and pine after a darkened shed for its growth. I’ll put that on M’s to-do list…

Notes:

Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb in Wakefield, Yorkshire from February 19-21, 2016.

Martin Parr exhibition, “The Rhubarb Triangle and Other Stores: Photographs” is currently on view at The Hepworth Wakefield until 12 June 2016.

Julia Horton, “Postcard from…Yorkshire,” FT Weekend, February 13-14, 2016, Life and Arts Section, pg. 6.


books, books & more books

Category : Books
Date : January 19, 2016

Imagine if there were only four or five books on your shelf? Doesn’t that seem unfathomable in today’s world, where for the fortunate, books and digital media abound? At times, choosing what to read, and in what format, is difficult.  It is also hard to envision our world without public libraries.

Whilst concurrently reading two books about the Puritans, I was stopped in my tracks by the description that both authors, Eve LaPlante and Stacy Schiff, paint of the early colonial bookshelf, or lack there of.

IMG_5995

LaPlante reports that the Geneva Bible (the first translation of the Bible into English in 1560) was known to accompany the Puritans aboard the Mayflower in 1620. But she further explains:

“On a more practical level, the Holy Bible was one of the few texts available to the colonists of New England, who prior to 1660 had no active printing presses and imported little reading matter from London or Holland. A few of the best-educated men here, including the ministers, had libraries of biblical commentaries and works of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and some even wrote poetry, but dramatists and composers did not exist on this continent. The novel, of course, had yet to be invented. Most homes contained fewer than four books, at least one was the Bible. According to early Massachusetts probate records, the Bible was present in more than half of the households, and some houses had two or three. In addition, there was often a book of psalms, a primer, an almanac, a catechism or a chapbook—a small book of stories, songs or rhymes.”

Furthermore, Schiff states, “While all of Shakespeare’s plays existed [in 1690], no copy had turned up in North America…”. Imagine, no Shakespeare or theater? But then again, the early settlers were Puritans. [Theater companies worldwide are celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this year through multitudinous productions of his plays.]

IMG_5991

Both the Schiff and LaPlante books are borrowed from our local library using the “Inter-Library Loan” program. In Massachusetts, if one’s library does not have a copy, the book may be requested from the state-wide library system through this program. Thus, the books available are practically limitless.

Have you ever used the “Library Value Calculator” designed by the Massachusetts Library Association? One inputs the number of resources used/borrowed and the software calculates the associated dollar value of these borrowings. Have a whirl and be amazed at the value provided by one’s public library. I am a card-carrying member (of our library) and proud of it.

Eve LaPlante, American Jezebel: the uncommon life of Anne Hutchinson, the woman who defied the Puritans, (Harper Collins, 2005), pgs. 42-43.

Stacy Schiff, The Witches Salem, 1692, (Little, Brown and Company, 2015), pg. 48.

[Hart House, circa 1680, Ipswich, MA formerly Agawam, Metropolitan Museum of Art Period Room]

Website by Roundhex. Adapted from Workality Plus by Northeme. Powered by WordPress
@