“honey from a weed”

Category : Books, Farm, Kitchen, Nature
Date : January 15, 2018

“As Carl Wilkens wrote when we make something with our hands, it changes the way we feel, which changes the way we think, which changes the way we act.” (1)

To make something whole. What does that mean exactly? Does that mean to construct an object from start to finish, as one would carve a bowl from a burl? Or perhaps, to take a discarded or broken item and make it anew, to renew it? To find food, an entire meal, from items deemed ‘weeds’?

As a way to transition into this new year, I set my mind to reading and listening to works by writers and makers. Terry Tempest Williams has been reading me her book on the sacred lands of our National Parks, The Hour of the Land. Many artists have been telling me their ‘making history’ via the Make/Time podcast series. And Adam Federman revealed the life of Patience Gray to me in his new biography, Fasting and Feasting.

Patience Gray, author of the legendary cookbook Honey from a Weed, lived what one could term a spare life, for she and her partner Norman Mommens chose to live “…for more than thirty years in a remote corner of southern Italy–without electricity, modern plumbing, or telephone.” (2) Yet, their lives were rich for the food she gathered and cooked, and for the sculptures he carved from marble, and for the landscape in which they situated themselves.

Gray was quite concerned with the dangers of “consumerland” and wrote about integrating life and art together in her columns for the Observer. In her 1960 article, “Crafts from Obscurity,” she noted, “Can you be touched by the delicate pinks, mauves, magentas, poppy tones in woven hangings without first having seen rock roses, wild mallows, oleander, or cornfields ablaze with poppy, in a landscape of scrub and stone?…Once the outside world has broken in with its promise of Lambrettas and refrigerators and hire-purchase, the self-sufficiency of a village culture is finished.”(3)

What would Gray say to our ‘interconnected world’? Would she relish in the internet and one’s ability to glean information in an instant? It seems rather unlikely, especially as she alludes to these types of modern burdens in an interview on the BBC:

“Life has become burdensome, in a way, in its demands on people. And I can lead them to a bit of daydreaming, which is rather out of fashion now, isn’t it? You could say that I have sort of responded against the present time where I feel that nothing is sacred. It’s a counterpoint to that. Because things are sacred. That’s what I feel.” (4)

Gray wanted her readers to not only daydream but to gather food and sustenance for the mind and soul. “Living in the wild, it has often seemed that we are living on the margins of literacy. This led to reading the landscape and learning from people, that is to first hand experience.” (5)

Each year, I attempt to delve deeper into the landscape directly outside of our front door, not only by observing the seasonal differences, but by also using what is directly at hand for food, healing and dyeing. Over the next months, chapter by chapter, Patience Gray will be my guide to not only the realm of daydreaming, but to the logistics of making whole through our environs.



Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of the Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks, (New York, Sarah Crichton Books, 2016), pg. 140 (1)

Adam Federman, Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray, (White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017), Introduction(2), pg. 89 (3), pg. 304 (4.).

Patience Gray, Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cycllades and Apulia, (New York: Harper and Row,1987), pg. 11. (5)

Note: Tune into the Make/Time podcast series.

in common

Category : Farm, Kitchen, Nature, Textiles
Date : July 31, 2017

Sometimes the most wildly different can be the most similar. What do the minimally elegant garments worn by Georgia O’Keeffe and the wildly exuberant clothes of the Counter Culture have in common? The clue may be found in the subtitle, “Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture.” Yes, the handmade. Both O’Keeffe and members of the Counter Culture movement used their hands to make their garments.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s hand sewn silk garments.


Recently I had the fortune of seeing Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn Museum and Counter-Couture at the Museum of Art and Design. When one enters the first room of the O’Keeffe show, there are four white silk dresses, and upon examination, one may see the perfectly tiny, couture quality stitching. All made by O’Keeffe. Throughout her life, she continued to sew her own clothing. There is not much pattern found in the O’Keeffe clothing, mainly black and white and the occasional rainbow of color in her wrap dresses, yet the opposite rules for the counter-culture: pattern upon pattern, jubilant tie-dye, proliferating embroidered floral motifs, wildly textured crochet – vividly, abundantly they exploit the hand-sewn in their garments.

Garments on view in Counter-Couture


The Counter-Couture wall text states:

“The works on display reflect the ethos of a generation of makers and wearers who-against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement–rejected ideals of the American Dream, which they identified as rooted in consumerism and waste, social conformity in personal appearance and behavior, and a political establishment invested in maintaining the status quo. They embraced a vision of a new, homegrown civilization rooted in self-reliance, resistance to mass-market consumerism, an affirmative connection to nature, and forms of communal engagement to forge new relationships between self and Other.”

Step back. Look. Examine. And now ponder self-reliance.   In one of the exhibition videos, O’Keeffe talks about growing her own food and working hard to make a garden, so she would not have to undertake the long drive down the mountain to purchase food. We see her kneeling amidst the rows of food and picking lettuce, carefully placing it into a folded newspaper. Similarly, the Counter Culture was rooted in the Back-to-Land movement, growing their own food and living off the land, often residing in communes practicing “sustainable agriculture and permaculture, bartering, self-reliance and pacifism.”

Georgia O’Keeffe’s sewing kit


How did we go so wrongly awry from these self-reliant times in the 1960s and 1970s? Furthermore, how did we get so far from making and growing to boxes of sugar-laden cereals on the store shelves and cheap t-shirts bearing company logos made in sweat shops in other countries? More importantly, where can we go now for inspiration and guidance?

The newly formed Food and Fibers Project asks us to question where our food comes from, who makes our clothes, and how we can better connect both fiber and food to the land. Their mission states, “There are so many intersections of food and fashion, from the soil that grows our food and fiber, to the plants we can both eat and dye textiles with, to the political acts of cooking our own food and mending our own clothes.”

Garments on view in Counter-Couture


Summer seems the ideal time to start on a new path, making ‘re-connections’ as Food and Fibers states. Shop at your local farmer’s market, filling your basket with greens and fruit for your next meal. Make a garment from organic cotton grown in the USA with a pattern from Alabama Chanin. Visit a sheep farm and purchase yarn to make a hat or pair of socks for cooler days to come. Fire up a dye pot from plants grown on the land and re-dye faded, stained clothes from your closet, rendering anew. Mend those blue jeans with the holes in the knees instead of purchasing a new pair.

Each and every time one contemplates a purchase, ask who made this, or where was it grown? The time to ponder and choose is now.

Quoted text from exhibition wall text of Counter-Couture Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture, Museum of Art and Design. On view until August 20, 2017.


bake a cake & vote

Category : Books, 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”.


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/



Category : Kitchen
Date : November 26, 2014

Pumpkin pie season is upon us. Time to pull those familiar, readily accessible and relatively inexpensive spices off the shelf—-cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg.   In my mother’s kitchen, whole nutmegs were stored in a bear-shaped glass jar once filled with Domino ‘Sugar ‘n Cinnamon.’   She liked the bear container and reused it, not as a matter of thrift, per se, but for pleasure. If she lived in New Amsterdam in the 1660s, she would have locked her precious nutmegs away, according to the historian Janet Zimmerman.


Indeed, the nutmeg tree was

“…native to only a single spot on the planet: the tiny volcanic island of Run in the south of the Banda Sea [surrounding a large part of the Indonesian archipelago]. Hyperbolic western herbalists credited the nutmeg with prolonging life, health, and youth; depending on one’s written source, the nutmeg was the ultimate aphrodisiac or the complete cure-all. All of Europe’s seafaring powers hoped to obtain their own nutmeg tree with which to start plantations outside the Dutch-controlled Moluccas.”

In the kitchens of New Amsterdam, nutmeg found its way into both savory and sweet dishes. In his latest informative, exquisite book, The New American Herbal, Stephen Orr provides a recipe for “an old Dutch spice” Koekkruiden,

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, preferably freshly grated
2 teaspoons of ground ginger
4 cardamon pods, crushed,
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground aniseeds 

When preparing your Koekkrudien, take a moment and roll one of those tiny nutmegs around in your hands, as I just did, recalling how cheap and easy it was to purchase, as are many commodities in our day and age. In contrast, I remembered that the prized nutmeg once commanded a ridiculously high price and precipitated bloody battles on the far-flung island of Run (part of modern day Indonesia).

Janet Zimmerman, The Women of the House: how a colonial she-merchant built a mansion, a fortune, and a dynasty, (Harcourt Books, 2006), pg.23.

Glynis Ridley, The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: a story of science, the high seas and the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, (Crown Publishers, 2010), pg. 199.

Stephen Orr, The New American Herbal, (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2014), pgs. 37

mrs. beeton

Category : Kitchen
Date : March 13, 2014

Yesterday was Mrs. Beeton’s birthday.  Isabella Mary Beeton (née Mayson) was born in London on March 12, 1836 and died 28 years later on 6 February 1865.  She left thousands of sheets of paper filled with recipes and practical knowledge in her book, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861.

Beeton’s husband Samuel was a publisher; Mrs. Beaton began writing advice columns for his publication, “The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine”.  She commuted from their suburban home on the train to London.  Imagine a woman clad in a large hooped crinoline of the day, seated and reading proofs, in a carriage filled with men—a trailblazer, indeed.  At first her work appeared in serial format and was later compiled into a tome of 1,112 pages.  Beeton’s work served as a practical guide for middle-class women running households during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and quickly became a bestseller, selling more than 60,000 copies during the first year.

Mrs. Beeton's Grave. Collaboration Brece Honeycutt (sculpture) & Vit Hopley (photography), Polaroid, 1994

Mrs. Beeton’s Grave. Collaboration of Brece Honeycutt (sculpture) & Vit Hopley (photography), Polaroid, 1994

I initially imagined Mrs Beeton to have been a formidable character, resembling Queen Victoria, and to have written her book after many decades of domestic service.  It was only after stumbling across her humble grave in a Lambeth cemetery in 1994 that I learned otherwise (actually, I walked right past it and my husband called it to my attention, saying, “Brece, you just walked past Mrs. Beeton’s grave.”).  The sighting of her grave, and learning of her short life, marked the beginning of my research into Mrs. Beeton and, thus, my greater understanding of her accomplishments.  There are numerous books written about her and Sam, but the most recent biography by Kathryn Hughes, The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton, gives one a good window into her accomplishments.

How many women have not been written about, and their stories just waiting to be written or corrected?  During Women’s History Month, one can participate in the third WikiWomen’s History Month:

WikiWomen’s History Month is a wiki-coordinated program of international events and edit-a-thons focused on WikiProject Women’s History and related projects such as WikiProject Women artists, WikiProject Feminism, and WikiProject Women scientists, to be held throughout in celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month in March 2014. These events can also be held ON Wiki – as themes and translation projects!”

Wouldn’t this effort please Isabella Beeton?  I think it would.


Kathryn Hughes, The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton, (Knopf, 2006).

busy day cake

Category : Kitchen
Date : August 16, 2013

Recently I drove up the nine-mile curvy road to the summit of Mt. Greylock in Adams, MA.  Once out of the car, be prepared to step into a different time, albeit not necessarily colonial.  One is now at the highest point in the state of Massachusetts – 3,491 feet above sea level.  The unimpeded and breathtaking 360 degree view from the top gives one the illusion of a different era, for at certain perspectives seeing a town or much civilization below is difficult and the natural landscape runs as far as the eye can see.

one view from Mt. Greylock

one view from Mt. Greylock

Over tea with a slice of ‘busy day cake’ with Peter Dudek (one of the partners of the Bascom Lodge Group, the operator of Bascom Lodge and facilities atop Mt. Greylock) and resident artist Sharon Butler, we discussed recent programs held in the stunning dining room.  To simply describe Dudek and Butler as exhibiting studio artists would not be doing them justice, for both are dynamic in the scope and reach of their practices.  Butler, a teacher at Brown University and University of Connecticut, writes and edits the highly respected blog “Two Coats of Paint” and is regularly asked to write for art publications and to serve as a guest lecturer and critic throughout the Northeast.  Dudek, a professor at Hunter College, curates exhibitions, makes public art, serves on non-profit boards and gives countless opportunities to other artists.

One of the programs that I am sorry to have missed was a presentation by Pat Willard, in which she discussed her book, America Eats ! On the Road with the WPA.  Willard unearthed a project started by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) in which out-of-work writers and photographers, employed by the WPA, were tasked with finding

“…stories about local events where food was to be served: political, church, and community fund-raisers; religious revivals; possum dinners at Elks Lodges; ladies’ tea socials; family reunions; rodeos; state fairs; harvest festivals; cemetery-cleaning parties; and hobo encampments.”

Willard has retraced the steps of these writers and drove across America in search of true American food and stories.  For the program at Bascom Lodge, chef John Dudek (Peter’s brother) and Willard created a menu true to the region with ‘busy day cake’ as the dessert.

 As I drove down the mountain, I recalled interviewing Edna Lewis in 1999 where she discussed seasonal food, different meals and menus from her childhood, and ‘busy day cake’ as part of her repertoire.  Indeed, in her The Taste of Country Cooking, Lewis describes

“A busy-day cake, or sweet bread, as it was really called, was regular cake batter, measured out and stirred in a hurry while the vegetables cooked on one end of the old wood stove and canning was carried out on the firebox end. The batter would be poured into a large biscuit pan and set into the oven to bake.”

Enjoy Lewis’ menu for  “A Busy-Day Summer Dinner”:

Chicken Gelatine, Pork-Seasoned Rape, Boiled New Onions, Sliced Tomatoes with Special Seasoning, Assorted Breads from Breakfast, Butter, Wild Blackberry Jelly, Compote of Stewed Blackberries, Busy-Day Cake or Sugar Cookies, Coffee

'a busy day summer menu' mock-up for Honeycutt sculpture, at Table, 2005

‘a busy day summer menu’ mock-up for Honeycutt sculpture, at Table, 2005

Sharon Butler will be discussing her residency on Monday August 19th at 6pm in Bascom Lodge with a dinner to follow.  I am looking forward to hearing her talk about the itinerant painters of the colonial days, her current work as well as her other residencies.  And, I made my reservations for the dinner and am looking forward to the seasonal menu of Chef Dudek.


[Pat Willard, America Eats ! On the Road with the WPA, (Bloomsbury, 2009), pg 4 downloaded from Willard’s website] [Edna Lewis, The Taste of Country Cooking, (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), pg. 82]

double or triple duty

Category : Kitchen
Date : May 19, 2013

Lydia Maria Francis Child states in The American Frugal Housewife,

“The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost.  I mean fragments of time, as well as materials.  Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to make any use of it, however trifling that use may be…”

It is weeding time here on the colonial farm.  And I much prefer to practice double or triple duty, so a few of the many weeds have actually helped me along this week.

Loads of dandelions—I separated the roots, green leaves and flowers and will make a dye bath from each part for colors ranging from yellow to pink to brown.

Barberry—the dreaded prickly invasive shrub; all of the cuttings from this plant will make a lovely permanent yellow dye.  My fingers tread particularly lightly when working with this plant.

Rhubarb—the leaves of this plant are toxic, containing oxalic acid crystals; however, they make a lovely mordant (which binds color to fiber) for animal fibers.  Meanwhile, we ate a lovely dessert last night made from the stalks.

Lydia Maria Francis Child,  The American Frugal Housewife, first lines of introduction.  Downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg and first published in 1832.

colonial cooking

Category : Kitchen
Date : May 8, 2013

Our home is a center chimney colonial—the structure was built around an enormous brick and rock construction that has 3 fireplaces.  Two of these fireplaces have iron swinging cranes for cooking as well as beehive ovens for baking.  Women were in charge of the hearth–keep the home fires burning meant literally that, and it was an irresponsible housewife that let the fire go out, the ultimate shame.  If this occurred, someone would be sent to a neighboring home to collect embers to re-start the fire.

Women were also in charge of food preparation and serving. Even though I have read and seen examples of open hearth colonial cooking, there are still so many questions that I have.  The upcoming weekend conference about colonial foodways being held at the Deerfield Community Center in Deerfield MA might answer a few of these questions.

the busy colonial kitchen

Foodways in the Northeast II:  at Historic Deerfield, June 21-23, 2013

Foodways in the Northeast II: A Second Helping is a three-day conference of seventeen lectures, a supporting workshop, and demonstrations on the subject of New England’s culinary history from 1600 to the present. The program complements and expands on scholarly developments presented at a previous Seminar held thirty-one years ago in Deerfield in 1982. Beginning Friday evening with the keynote speaker, John Forti of Strawbery Banke Museum, the conference will address colonial-period foodways; the foodways of schools, politics, and culinary revivals; diet and religious foods; nineteenth- century farm management; and foodways in the twentieth century. The conference will end on Sunday with a panel discussion on the renaissance in New England of artisan and slow foods, followed by comments from Caroline F. Sloat, a speaker at the 1982 Seminar.

spring lunch

Category : Kitchen
Date : May 4, 2013

Thinking of the luncheon served at Mrs. Ramey’s home, I was reminded of the prescient cookbook by Edna Lewis, The Taste of Country Cooking. She organized her 1997 cookbook by seasonal menus, emphasizing the crops at hand.

She recommends for “A Late Spring Lunch”—

Ring Mold of Chicken with Rich Wild-Mushroom Sauce

Slices of Baked Virginia Ham

Crispy Biscuits


Garden Strawberry Preserves

Salad of Grand Rapids Lettuce Leaves and Romaine

With a Vinegar, Sugar, Salt and Pepper Dressing

Carmel Pie


She also suggests that one gather the dandelion blossoms before noon when making Dandelion Wine.

Edna Lewis, The Taste of Country Cooking, (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), p 28-35

laundry lines

Category : Kitchen
Date : April 19, 2013

While tubs simmered and bubbled with bundled paper and textiles in the studio, the laundry dried on the line. Yes, the laundry line was one of the first of many innovations installed on the colonial farm. And one that perhaps always resided here, for I imagine that the women of this home hung many loads of wash out on their lines.

My grandmother—Nannie—much preferred to dry her clothes on the line instead of putting them in the modern dryer, even though for mother’s day she was given a washer and dryer—mod cons.  She hung the wash with a rhythm and beauty—clothes arranged by type and then by color. She resorted to the dryer only during inclement weather; however, she did embrace the washing machine.

When my father was a youngster, Nannie lugged the dirty diapers, clothes, sheets and towels out into the yard and boiled them in the extra large cast iron tub constructed over a brick fireplace, having first built a fire underneath.  Next, she wrung out the clothes and finally totted the laundry baskets filled with weighty wet clothes to the line, in the summer on long rows under the trees and in the winter on the lines in the basement.

husk: cast iron tub, Brece Honeycutt, 2005 photo by Mark Gulezian

husk: cast iron tub, Brece Honeycutt, 2005
photo by Mark Gulezian

As a child, I enjoyed sharing the chore hanging out the wash with Nannie. Perhaps it was a way of spending time with her, for I was not thinking of the economy of it.  In my teenage years, I wondered why she continued to lug the wash outdoors, since the dryer in closer proximity sat unused in the basement. Now, I look forward to hanging out our wash, not only for the expense it saves in dollars and oil, but also for the fragrant smelling clothes.

Do some wash. Be prepared for National Hanging Out Day on April 19th.

it’s about thyme

Category : Kitchen
Date : March 29, 2013

Indeed, as I was standing over my patch of thyme, it occurred to me that it is about time for many spring chores. First on the list: plant peas.

Mary Elizabeth Randolph put her peas in very early in hopes that her crop would sprout earlier than her cousin Thomas Jefferson’s. Yearly, they raced to see who could put the first dish on the table.


To have them in perfection, they must be quite young, gathered early in the morning, kept in a cool place, and not shelled until they are to be dressed; put salt in the water, and when it boils, put in the peas; boil them quick twenty or thirty minutes, according to their age; just before they are taken up, add a little mint chopped very fine; drain all the water from the peas, put in a bit of butter, and serve them up quite hot.

Randolph was the author of the first true American cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, published in 1824.  The receipts (now called recipes) were the first to incorporate American Indian and African American techniques, foods and recipes in cookbook form.  Randolph ran a boarding house in Richmond, VA and people so enjoyed sitting at table with her.  Another first for Randolph was her burial in what is now called Arlington National Cemetery, formally the estate of her cousin, Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis.

Today you can download her book to your Kindle or other electronic device.  Thanks to Project Gutenberg.

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