© 2016 - 2019 Friends of the D.D. Collins House

Crops

We are growing some small areas of crops that were popular in the mid-1800s.

 

Click the seed packets framed in gold to read about the crop ~ fun facts from yesterday to today, and recipes to delight the taste buds . . .

 
Broom Corn

One of our first seed sowings will be for broom corn.

Did you know this about broom corn? ~

Humble Beginnings . . .

It all begins with seeds.

Panicles are harvested.

Some become sweepers ~

Photo taken by Carolyn Welch

August 4, 2017

Seeds become seedlings.

Then cleaned and bundled.

Some become wreaths ~

They grow and grow.

Some become whisk brooms.

And festive decor that made home oh so sweet!

Broom Corn growing behind the D.D. Collins House outhouse has tasseled just in time for the full moon on August 7, 2017.

 

Potatoes in a gunny sack

Potato

We take them for granted and love them dearly, but . . .

Did you know this about the little starchy tuber? ~​

The lowly potato began its tubers (a little potato humor, if you will) in the Andes mountains of South America where they are indigenous.  Although the first archaeologically verified tuber remains are dated to 2,500 BC in the coastal area of Ancon (central Peru), it was first domesticated in Peru and northeastern Bolivia between 8,000 BC and 5,000 BC.

Spanish Conquistadors Save The Old World ~

The Spanish conquistadors discovered a love for the potato during their conquest of the Inca Empire. The Spanish introduced the potato to Europe in the second half of the 16th century, but European farmers were distrustful of the crop since it grew underground in "Satan's realm." The British also had a tendency to eat the newcomer uncooked, producing a rather bitter experience. However,  skepticism of the potato was short-lived due to the persistent fervor for the staple by mariners who spread the love of the spud from port to port. As a matter of fact, conservative estimates reveal that the potato was responsible for more than a quarter of the growth in population and urbanization of the Old World between 1700 and 1900. 

Spanish conquest of the Inca

Map of Inca Empire 1463 - 1532

Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro (c.1476-1541), who conquered the Inca

Trouble in the 1840s ~

Of course it is well-known that the Irish took to the potato, perhaps more than the rest of Europe. The potato was the preeminent staple for the Irish people in the 1840s. The potato was also the main staple for the Incan people of the Andes for over a millennia. There were over 3,000 varieties developed by their peoples alone.

 

Then came the Great Potato Blight. It began in a remote Mexican valley. A fungus that caused mildew to form on all parts of the potato plant spread throughout Western Europe in 1840. The highly infectious spores rod the moist winds of the unusually cool and overcast summers of 1845 through 1847. British naval officers described seeing thirty-two miles of potatoes in full bloom, and the next day seeing "the whole face of the country was changed; the stalk remained bright green, but the leaves were all scorched black."  Within a week, the stems, roots and tubers turned black with rot.

The potato had become the main crop of Ireland. It was used not only as sustenance to the poor population, it was used as payment to the landowners. The Irish peasants lost their homes, their farmland, and their lives due to starvation because of the terrible blight. By 1848 an eighth of the Irish population had perished.

Evictions in 1845 Ireland

Headlines in Ireland, 1845

Potato Blight

Can You Eat Ten A Day? ~

No, not ten potatoes a day, how about ten pounds of potatoes a day? Yep, if you were in the poor house paying off a debt in Ireland, that's what a man ate. This excerpt is from DoChara, about the importance of the potato to the Irish:

"A report on the food given provided for inhabitants of workhouses in 1840 would have been an extreme, but not untypical, example of the diet of the poor."

 

Click the image to read more ~

What's in a name, Papa? ~

A little bit Spanish, a little bit South American . . . and we get "potato." Our English word, potato is taken from the Spanish word, patata. Patata is taken from the Taino (a people of the Caribbean influenced by the Spanish conquest) word, batata which was combined with the Quechuan (one of the peoples of the Andes) word, papa.

Then there's "spud." Originally this refers to digging in the soil, what we do to plant and harvest potatoes. Although the origin is unknown, it is thought that it is related to the Dutch word, "spyd" a term used for a short knife or dagger taken from the Latin "spad" a word root meaning "sword." Add a bit of Spanish, "espada" to the English word, "spade" or "spadroon" and refer back to the 16th century where the word "spud" originates referring to a variety of digging tools. Then around 1845 "spud" became the slang term for potato as a derogatory term. 

In the 19th century there was an activist group dedicated to keeping the potato out of Britain, considering it to be an unwholesome food. This group was called The Society for the Prevention of an Unwholesome Diet, i.e. S.P.U.D. However, the false news of the day attributing the nickname for potato to this group has been proven totally false.

They Knew How to Cook 'em in 1840 ~

How about a tasty recipe circa 1840? It was called Colcannon style and came here in the 1840s with the Irish immigrants. If you want to know all about what Colcannon means, just click the photo of the dish and you'll be magically transported to the wonderful website, 1840 Farm from whence the recipe derived. In the meantime, here's a wonderful and simple recipe for some pretty tasty spuds to delight your buds ~

Colcannon Style Mashed Potatoes
Ingredients

One half head of green cabbage, core removed and finely shredded

1 leek, halved lengthwise, sliced thinly, and soaked and drained to remove grit

1 Tablespoon lard or butter

1 cup bone broth or high quality stock

½ cup whole milk

¼ cup heavy cream

3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and cut into 2” cubes

Butter for serving

Salt and pepper to taste

Click the photo to visit 1840 Farm and learn all about what Colcannon style means . . .

Instructions:
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, melt the lard or butter, coating the bottom surface of the pan. Add the cabbage and washed and cleaned leeks. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until translucent. Add bone broth, milk, and cream to the pot and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low to steep the flavor of the cabbage and leeks into the liquid. Keep the mixture warm as you prepare the potatoes.

  2. In a large pot, combine the cubed potatoes with enough cold water to cover and allow them to move freely as they boil. Place the pot over a burner on high heat, bringing it to a rapid boil. Reduce the heat as needed to maintain the boil but prevent the pot from boiling over. Continue to cook until the potatoes are fork or knife tender, approximately 15 minutes.

  3. Immediately remove the pot from the heat and drain the potatoes in a colander. Allow the hot potatoes to drain for a few minutes before continuing. You can use a potato ricer to break down the potatoes or return the cubed potatoes to the boiling pot to mash using an old fashioned potato masher. Take care to mash the potatoes without overworking them.

  4. Add half of the warm liquid mixture to the pot, stirring it into the mashed potatoes. Continue adding more liquid until the mashed potatoes are the desired consistency. If you find that you need more liquid, simply warm a bit of bone broth, cream, or milk before adding it to the potato mixture. Taste the potatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot with an ample topping of butter.

By Jennifer from 1840 Farm

Wiki-Note ~

In 2014, world production of potatoes was 382 million tons, an increase of 4% over 2013 amounts and led by China with 25% of the world total (table). Other major producers were India, Russia, Ukraine and the United States.

Wikipedia

 

A blossom oh so sweet

Sweet Potato

This sweetie is a very distant relative of the white potato, and a member of, yes, you guessed it, the Morning Glory family . . .

The science is kind of like understanding a royal lineage, ~​

For those with a curiously scientific mind, sweet potatoes are members of the Convolvulaceae family, i.e. the morning glory family, home to more than 1,000 species of flowering plant. They do not belong to the nightshade family (Solanaceae, that the white potato belongs to); however they both belong to the taxonomic order of Solanales. Confusing? No matter, just know they have been loved for quite some time . . .

On a not so distant continent long, long ago ~

The origin is thought to be in the Americas, more likely Central America but possibly South America. While Sweet potato remnants have been discovered in Peru dating well before 8,000 BC, scientists believe they were cultivated well before that between the Yucatán Penninsula of Mexico and the mouth of the Orinoco River of Venezuala and were spread to Peru by the Caribbean peoples of the area. Scientists believe this because the lower molecular density of the Peruvian region would not support the sweet potato as a native to the region.It is believed that the Polynesians introduced the sweet potato to their culture from travels to South America by 700 AD, then on to Hawaii and New Zealand.

 

Because of a major crop failure in 1594, sweet potatoes were encouraged as an alternate crop in China. The next stop was Japan and by 1735 they were planted as a major crop for Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune's private garden. By 1764 Korea joined in on adding them to their major crop production. The popularity of the sweet potato grew throughout Asia because it was a crop that could be depended upon to survive the horrific typhoon flooding that destroyed other staple crops.

Sweet Potatoes in a garden

Sweet Potatoes under their crown

Sweet Potatoes  harvested

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue ~

Christopher Columbus introduced the potato to Spain from his voyages to the New World. The Europeans adored the sweet potato and here is where some historical confusion sets in. The Europeans referred to the sweet potato simply as "potatoes", so historical data and recipes from the late 1400's to the mid-1800s that referred to potatoes likely were really referring to their beloved sweet potato since the white potato had not been introduced yet (see above about Potato).  

Map of Columbus' Voyages

Well-wishers as Columbus sets off to the New World

Christopher Columbus

A wonder food for ages ~

The sweet potato was considered to be a wonder food for  several hundred years. John Gerard, an English botanist and author of the botanical bible of the time, "Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes" (1597) , stated that the sweet potato, "comforts, strengthens, and nourishes the body," and that it was a good aphrodisiac “procuring bodily lust.” He not only gave a description of the plant, he also gave suggested recipes and suggestions for preparation, "eaten- roasted and infused with wine, boiled with prunes, or roasted with oil, vinegar, and salt."

 

The aphrodisiac aspect of the sweet potato helped make it popular with 16th century aristocracy. Henry VIII was known to consume massive amounts of sweet potatoes and spiced sweet potato pie.  Even Shakespeare was in on the act. In the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (1602) Falstaff exclaims,  “Let the sky rain potatoes. Let it thunder to the tune of ‘Greensleeves,’ hail kissing-comfits and snow eryngoes!” It was also claimed that eating a sweet potato tarte would give men and women courage in a popular recipe book of the day, "Book of Cookerie," (1620, 1629) by Thomas Dawson.

As we learned in the history of the potato above, the white potato was introduced in the second half of the 16th century. Now the beloved sweet potato had a new competitor that people also started referring to as "potato." Of course, they felt the white potato was from "Satan's realm" below the ground (don't forget there was pewter-based lead poisoning issues at the time; hence their compromised logic since the sweet potato also grows underground). 

The white potato was considered a good food for the poor (the average Irish man ate 13 pounds of potatoes a day - or about 65 potatoes) as well as fodder for animals. White potatoes were referred to as "Devil's Apples" and "Poor man's potatoes," whereas the sweet potato was promoted for the rich. Aristocratic women of the day even wore hats crowned in sweet potato blossoms as the rage of the day while wearing white potato blossoms to promote the worth of it to the common folk.

Sweet potatoes ~John Gerard's 'Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes" (1597) 

1719 illustration by

Maria Sibylla Merian 

White potato blossoms

Sweet potato blossoms

Sweet potato botanical drawing

Deeper is sweeter, lighter is fluffier ~

There are more than 400 varieties of sweet potato around the world, so there is one to match your palette or cuisine de préférence. There are even white sweet potatoes with a fluffier texture. The colors range from white and pink to deep orange and even dark red and purple varieties (not easy to find in the USA). The rule of thumb is the lighter the fluffier, the darker the color, the sweeter and softer the flesh and the more packed with nutrition and vitamins.

White Sweet Potato

Covington Orange Sweet Potato

Japanese Red Sweet Potato

O'Henry Yellow Sweet Potato

Stokes Purple Sweet Potato

Let's cook these sweeties ~

Dare to be daring and explore some recipes of the 1800s, as well as some with a new twist . . .

Click the picture for the recipe.

Click the picture for the recipe.

Click the picture for the recipe.

No fish story ~

Help your aquarium-bound fish that suffer from potentially deadly constipation by introducing some blanched sweet potato into their diet. The fiber is good for them, too.  And . . . another novel idea, the addition of sweet potato plants help your aquarium environment. The plants offer an unique filtration system that absorb and remove all types of waste created by fish, excess food, decaying materials, and even heavy metals. It creates an additional surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow on, thus providing an additional biological filtration system to assist the mechanical system in place. This is also a way to add an aesthetically pleasing way to aerate and add oxygen to the water for your fish. The more plants in an aquarium, the less likely algae will grow and the more the aquarium will be environmentally balanced so less maintenance is needed. The plants also create a home territory for the different fish species to thrive so they have cover and protection. The more plants there are, the more fish can be added so it's a win-win situation for the fish and the humans who enjoy them!

Outdoor pond with sweet potato 

Outdoor aquarium with live plants 

Aquarium with live plants 

Sweet Potato slip planted in the vegetable garden at the Collins House

 
Beets

People either love them or hate them; and you'll learn why as we stroll through the garden and uncover the mysteries of ye olde beetroot . . .

As the love grew, the color deepened, too ~​

Rootbeets once were a lighter and pinker color. As the love for this wonder food deepened, cultivators grew them darker, and more crimson in color.  They are a cousin to the sugar beet, which is a white fleshed crop used more specifically for sugar production as well as the major ethanol production commodity in Brazil. The molasses from sugar beets is also used to distill some Russian vodkas . . .

More commonly  just called beets now, but in times past referred to as beetroot.

In the beginning ~

Long, long ago "beta" did not refer to video tape or the testing stage in internet technology and development. It referred to Beta Vulgaris, or sea beet (marina). Beta is the ancient Latin word for "beets" and originates from Celtic. It evolved to the Olde English "bete" in the 1400s. They were claimed to have grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and are native to the Mediterranean region. The Greek philosopher, Theophrastus, wrote about beets around 300 BC comparing them to radishes.  Beet remains have been excavated from the Saqqara pyramid in Egypt as well as from the Neolithic, Aartswoud in the Netherlands.  

1891 botanical drawing of

Beta Vulgaris

Step Pyramid, Saqqara, Egypt

Theophrastus,

the Greek philosopher

Drawing of a wild sea beet

The Ancients knew ~

Many cultures believe if a man and woman eat from the same beet, they will fall in love. It was thought to have an aphrodisiac quality in Ancient Greece and Roman times. Red beets were hung on the walls of the houses of ill repute in 740 AD and then again in the early 20th century because of that philosophy. A bunch of beets was an old symbol of love, lust, and wealth.  Beets were considered to be worth their weight in silver in Delphi. Because of their value, beets were often made as an offering to the Greek god Apollo to ensure wealth and prosperity. The roots were used more medicinally until Roman times to treat fever and gastronomical irregularities. Hippocrates used beet leaves as binding for wounds. 

Apollo, 

Greek god of sun and healing

Aphrodite,

goddess of love

Hippocrates

Rooted in good health ~

There are three types of beets: sugar beets, beetroot, and manglewertzle (a forage beet left in-ground for livestock in winter). People have been eating and cultivating beet greens, a close relative to Swiss chard, from the beetroot; but the beetroot was seldom eaten. In the 1740s the Polish discovered how to produce sugar from the sugar beet and began major cultivation of sugar beets for the sugar. The political "hot potato" of the day had to do with sugar beet production. In 1813 Napoleon placed an embargo on the import of sugar from Caribbean sugar beet plantations to encourage sugar beet production in Europe.  

 

Beetroot cultivation for human consumption was not very popular, but the advantages of this crop to feed the starving masses was a cause of the day. Remember, in the 1800s there were wars throughout Europe, famine from the potato blight, as well as natural disasters. Survival of the general population was a major concern. People began to discover that the beetroot had much more to offer than just greens; and it was easy to cultivate. However, it was not very palatable for many.

 

What to do? 

Put the problem into the hands of the expertise of the connoisseurs of the day. More specifically, the French chefs of the 1800s created recipes for roasting the lowly beetroot that proved to save the day and turn an unpopular vegetable into the craze of the day.

Beet greens have red veins

Swiss Chard similar to beet greens

Powerhouse of nutrition

Red as a beet ~

That beet red color is strong as can be. Ladies in the 19th century used beet juice to rouge their cheeks and redden their lips to give the impression of glowing health. Even Aphrodite, the goddess of love, ate beets to enhance her appeal. Today beet juice is used to enhance the color of tomato paste, sauces, sweets and jams. There are also many varieties that are not so red including yellow, orange, as well as candy cane red and white striped varieties. 

White and red beets

Red and white striped beets

Oranges, purples and pinks

Don't beet around the bush, let's eat some beets ~

Some people love them. Some people loathe them. Wanna know the reason? Of course, you do!  Beets contain the chemical, geosmin. Well beet that! What on earth is geosmin?  It is an organic compound produced by microbes in the soil. Geosmin gives off a smell like freshly plowed earth or a field after a rainstorm. Beet cultivators are busy producing varieties that have more and less geosmin for those who like that earthy flavor and those who are a little too sensitive to it.  You can acquire a taste for beets and the links below have great beet recipes ~ some may have been popular in the 1800s, too. There is a beet for every course of your meal!

Pickled Beets from

Taste of Home

click photo to visit site

French Peasant Beets from

Epicurious

click photo to visit site

Heart Beet Rawvioli from

My New Roots

click photo to visit site

Red Beet Cake from

Encyclopedia of Food

click photo to visit site

 
Watermelons

The history of this fruit of the vine is bittersweet; and to discover the true history is a sticky feat . . .

Africa, it could be, but ~​

Archaeological botanists can't quite agree to the origin of this sweet baby. Although most agree the watermelon is native to Africa, they disagree on whether it is from the north, south or tropical regions dating back about 2,500 years ago. Then there's this little issue that involves King Tut's tomb and others as well. You see there are Egyptian hieroglyphs dating some 4,000 to 5,000 years ago depicting watermelons. 

Watermelon, a summertime favorite!

Egyptian hieroglyph of watermelons

So we have this little discrepancy, but it is actually a fairly large discrepancy as you will see. If you take a look at the image of the hieroglyph, you see large oval melons. Undoubtedly these are tasty melons given their prominence in the scene. This is where the problem arises. You see, the fruit that started the watermelon dynasty was neither large nor sweet. As a matter of fact it was a small green bulbous, bitter fruit covered in fuzz. It took generations upon generations to develop the sweet watermelons that were depicted by the Egyptians, as well as those described in ancient Hebrew texts.  Watermelon seeds were even found at a 5,000 year old archaeological site in Libya.Yes, even the scientific name is wrong, Citrullus lanatus. "Lanatus" means “hairy” in Latin; and as you know, there be not one fuzz of a hair on that green rind so smooth and shiny. So there you have it ~ the watermelon is a mystery.

You'll never guess what it really is ~

The watermelon is a flowering vine plant. It is not a vegetable. It is not a fruit, no siree. It is a . . . pepos.  A pepos is a berry with a juicy center with seeds and surrounded by a hard, leathery rind. You could eat a different kind of watermelon every day for more than three years and still not experience the more than 1,200 different varieties in the world. They come in a variety of colors from white to deep golden yellow, and, of course, shades of pink to deep red. Leave it to the Japanese to create a way to grow their favorite melons in a variety of shapes to not only save space in their markets but on their tables as well. Yes, there are square, perfectly round and even heart-shaped melons thanks to them. However, did you hear the one about the rare Japanese moonmelon? If you did, you're not alone, but true it's not, at least it has not been cultivated . . . yet.  

A variety of oh so sweet colors

Striped and solid, oval and round

If you see  a melon that's colored blue,

it's not true . . . yet!

Rinds in a variety of colors, too

Squares, hearts and perfectly round

thanks to Japanese bonsai creativity

A favorite of botanists ~

The watermelon has been a favorite of botanists for centuries. It has been pictured in medicinal and herbal encyclopedias and recommended by the likes of Hippocrates, Dioscorides, Pliny the Elder and more who prescribed it as a diuretic, a cooling food, and treatment for children with heatstroke.

Flore medicale des Antilles

Trupin Botanical Print 1815

Citrullus Vulgaris - by J Whatman

1805 Harvard

The Arnold Arboretum

1845 Van Houtte Flores de Serres Fruit Plant

Yes, there were scandals ~

It all began when an American prisoner who saved the seeds from the most delicious melon he had ever tasted while on a prison ship during the American Revolutionary War in 1783. When he returned home to Georgia, he began growing the melons. In 1840 Nathaniel Napoleon Bradford crossed that melon with what was known as the Mountain Sweet melon and the Bradford melon was born.

The Bradford melon was so sweet and the rind so soft it could be cut with a butter knife. It was a true delicacy. So much so, it became a target for thieves. The cultivators took stealing the melon very seriously and set traps of poisoned melons to thwart the thieves. Not the best plan since the melons were sometimes mixed in with the good melons and innocent people were poisoned. The cultivators also surrounded their produce with electric fences that electrocuted trespassers, or they stood guard with shotguns over their fair melons. By the 1920's the melons all but disappeared in the markets because of their delicate rinds which created a shipping nightmare. The good news is that today the great-great-grandson of its creator, Nathan Bradford is bringing it back. If you ever get the opportunity to try one, it is claimed to be the sweetest of them all.   Click any of the Bradford melon images to visit their site ~

Bradford Farm in

Sumter, S. Carolina

Bradford melons

weigh about 30 lbs.

Click any Bradford image

to learn more!

The sweetest art of all ~

The watermelon has been subject of art through the ages. A perfect still life subject filled with color and details. It was even a popular wall hanging in the 1840's. Today's art graces not only paper or canvas, but the melon itself become a centerpiece d'art magnifique!

Theorem, Fruit on Grained Table,

by E. Halper ~1840

Carved watermelon flower

Carved watermelon seascale

Watermelon fruit bowl

Watermelon bowl of fruit salad

A sticky critter

A sweet symbol of freedom ~

Of course, we know enjoying the red watermelon is customary when we celebrate our July 4th Independence Day festivities, but did you know this little tidbit about the watermelon? Watermelons are symbolic of sweet freedom, yes indeed, they are. You see watermelons are a fairly easy crop to cultivate and create a living by planting, harvesting, and selling the wonderful fruit of your labor so to speak. Soon after Lincoln signed and decreed the emancipation proclamation effective January 1, 1863, now freed slaves planted and harvested watermelons as a means for making a living outside of the plantation system.  

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper published 1852 - 1922

Celebrate sweet freedom

Fresh from the garden ~

It's traditional to chill and carve this sweet beauty; but there is more, much more you can do.  Click each image below to explore some more culinary delights to expand your watermelon palate.

The first seedless watermelon was developed in 1940, but it has not been available in grocery stores until the 1980s. While cultivators have developed and perfected growing seedless watermelons, other cultures eat the seeds. Asia is particularly noted for using the seeds in creative ways. Some cultures dry the seeds and grind them to make flour while others roast the seeds and eat them as a snack. Watermelon seeds are rich in micro-nutrients like selenium, potassium, copper and zinc.

How to roast watermelon seeds from

The Spruce website ~ click photo to visit site.

Watermelon Seed Tea from 

Healthy Food House - click image to visit site

Sicilian Watermelon Pudding

from Saveur

click photo to visit site

Watermelon Feta Salad from The Recipe Box

click photo to visit site

Watermelon Bruchetta from Host the Toast

click photo to visit site

Watermelon Lemonade

from Cooking Classy

click photo to visit site

Chilly Watermelon Soup

from The Healthy Foodie

click photo to visit site

Seared Watermelon Steak

from The Ravenous Couple

click photo to visit site

Watermelon Rind Relish

from Attainable Sustainable

click photo to visit site

Watermelon Rind Pickles

from Alton Brown

click photo to visit site

Watermelon Taboule Stacks

from Reader's Digest

click photo to visit site

 

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

It seemed pretty simple at first. So, embark did I . . . down the garden path. What could be special about this relatively common vegetable, a large green leaf upon a stalk of ruby red? You may argue, "Vegetable? No!"  "Vegetable, yes," indeed a vegetable it be, not a fruit, oh no. The mistake is common because it is usually prepared as a sweet-tart fare, but more on that later.  Well, I did some digging (garden humor) and share I will, why on earth anyone would have decided to try to make something of this tart stalk, a.k.a. "petioles" for those of the technical side. So tumble through the patch of rhubarb history with me.

Only medicinal at one time, i.e. it'll set you free ~

Rooted with beginnings in Siberia, Mongolia, and China. The first recorded use of the root was in Pen Khing's Herbal in 2700 BC. It is well documented that the root was cultivated and exported in Asia for several hundred years and used during the Age of Han 206 BC. Remember the 1st Century Greek physician and pharmacist, Dioscorides? (See Feverfew) He wrote that the root had good medicinal properties and remedy for constipation and inflammation. Rhubarb was given to cure the fever of the Wu emperor of the Liang dynasty (557-579 AD) and warned that it was a most potent drug and had to be used only with great moderation.​  It became a major export by the 10th century in Asia and commanded more than double the price and value as opium for its medicinal value.  So important it was that in the mid-1700s the Qing Dynasty China decreed a sanction embargo of rhubarb to Russia and to the Western World. This will happen again in the 1800s and revealed as we get into the thick of things in the rhubarb patch. Kind of gives a more in depth meaning to the term blockage, huh?  Although not very common today, you can still find rhubarb root in herbal shops for use as a laxative.

In 1271 Marco Polo also wrote of rhubarb in his travels describing it as the most excellent kind of rhubarb produced in large quantities and conveyed by merchants to all parts of the world from Sukchu mountain region of China.

Dioscoridis 6th Century Greek illustration

Dioscoridis

"Materia Medica"

Dioscoridis wrote about

Rubarb in "Pedanii"

Dioscoridis botanical

drawing of Rhubarb

Rhubarb laxative ~ 1937

Eat the leaves, don't you dare! ~

Yes, true it is! The leaves are toxic and should never be eaten. It is believed but not proven that the chemical compound oxalic acid is the cause. Yes, this very compound is found in other vegetables we enjoy like brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower; however, it is found in greater amounts in the leaves of rhubarb. The old adage proves true ~

 ‘the dose makes the poison’

 

Rhubarb leaves are high in oxalic acid, calcium, and potassium oxalate salts (0.5 grams per 100 grams of leaves).  It is thought that the lethal dose of oxalic acid is approximately 15-30 grams, so you have to eat quite a few leaves, but concentrated doses can cause nausea and vomiting.  That the leaves are poisonous has been known for quite some time as a Ming general tried to commit suicide by eating rhubarb medicine during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The first documented modern day poisoning occurred in WWI when the British government encouraged troops to eat rhubarb leaves due to food shortages. This turned out to be a grave error in judgement as at least one soldier succumbed to the poison and others became violently ill.

So trim away and dispose of the leaves,
keep the stalk and make some good eats,
or your Maker you may meet
or wish that your fate soon would be.
"Oxalic acid does its dirty work by binding to calcium ions and yanking them out of circulation. In the worst-case scenario, it removes enough essential calcium from the blood to be lethal; in lesser amounts, it forms insoluble calcium oxalate, which can end up in the kidneys as kidney stones."
National Geographic

Don't eat the leaves

WWI British Soldiers eating -

not Rhubarb leaves!

Chemistry of Rhubarb illustration

Let's name this one "Rhubarb," those barbarians ~

Quite a tale the name does tell, from Greek to French gives us a lesson in history, provincial. Medieval Latin is the place to begin Rheubarbarum, or Greek if you choose Rha Barbaron, and French make it more palatable in the end with rubarbe. The experts agree Lindley's Treasury of Botany tells us the story. 

 

Rheum is the technical name of the genus, derived from "Rha"  the name of the Scythians who lived almost 3000 years ago around the Volga River area of the Ukraine. This is where Rhubarb grew wild because it loves cold damp climates. Next enter the Greek, Discorides (recall from above?) who called the root "rha" in reference to the Greek word "rheo" ('to flow' because it makes you go) and from whence it came, the Bosphorus (the winding strait that separates Europe and Asia). Now here's an interesting little barb, some called it Rha-barbarum in reference to the "bearded peoples," referring to all those rhubarb-eating, bearded (Latin: barbarus) tribes of northern Europe, a.k.a. the Barbarians.

Volga River in times gone by

Edward Whymper Wood Engraving

Ships on Volga River (1879)

Barbarians

The "Rhubarb Wars" of the 1800s ~

Actually, let's begin in the colonies in 1730 when John Bartram (an early American botanist) received some rhubarb seeds from Peter Collinson. Then in 1770 Benjamin Franklin sent Bartram a case of rhubarb root. Although Bartram is the first documented to grow rhubarb in North America, Benjamin Franklin is credited with bringing it and being the first to cultivate rhubarb (still medicinally).

 

Rhubarb was still most plentiful in China with Russia increasing their cultivation for its profound medicinal uses, but none was as potent as the Chinese strains. Then in 1790 the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) had some issues with the Western World and declared another export embargo and that the West would have to do without rhubarb (and tea, too, but that's another story). This happened again in 1828 when the Daoguang emperior sent out an edict declaring that no more tea or rhubarb would be sold to those "barbarians" (Western World). And once again in 1839 when the imperial commissioner, Lin Zexu, in an effort to stop the "wicked British merchants" from trading with opium during the Opium War addressed QueenVictoria declaring the "fact that the foreign barbarians surely would die if they could not obtain tea and rhubarb from China." He also stated that stopping the rhubarb trade would "mean the death for the pitiful foreigners."

Qing Dynasty (1644- 1911)

Botanical Rhubarb (1694)

Benjamin Franklin

(1706 - 1790)

Queen Victoria

John Bartram

by Howard Pyle

Dried Rhubarb Root

Wild Rhubarb

1800s, a century of cooking barbs ~

Once again, it is the culinary genius of the French who are credited with discovering that a little sugar made the stalk tarty sweet and a culinary delight about 1800.  However there is some controversy regarding this in the kitchen. Controversy? How about a bit of a heated debate- yes, over rhubarb.

We begin with Carl von Linné, a.k.a. Linnaeus (you recall in Nasturtium) and who wrote Medico Botanica, (1752)  who loved rhubarb and wrote, “Though he missed the rhubarb stewed with tapioca and served with whipped cream of his own home, he was an old traveler and could do without delicacies.” He also noted that the curator of a garden at the Bohus castle in the small town of Kongelf in Sweden kept rhubarb in the garden. This proves that the Swedes came to love and appreciate rhubarb 100 years before the British brought it to the forefront of their gardens and culinary fare.  It was in 1837 that rhubarb officially became the rage of the Victorian Age. The delightful thing about culinary "wars" is that we reap the benefits with wonderful dishes that tickle and tease with sweet, tangy tartness that are sure to please . . .

 

New System of Domestic Cookery

(1810)

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Rhubarb Tart

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American Heritage Vegetables

Twelve 1800s recipes for rhubarb

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Rhubarb or Pie Plant Culture

Fred S Thompson-1894

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Let the festivities begin! ~

Yes, indeed, there are Rhubarb Festivals throughout the world and two in our own state of Illinois!  Everything is celebrated from the largest leaf competition to the best rhubarb pies and other culinary delights. Nearly all happen in June, but if you are heading to Australia there is one in October. Click here for the full schedule: FESTIVALS

Speaking of LARGE, how about where the largest rhubarb is raised. Don't be surprised, long days, cool and moist temps and soil -- yep, it's the great state of Alaska! 

Of course, we must bring up the impostor out there, too. It goes by the common name of Giant Irish Rhubarb and is native of Brazil; but don't be fooled, for t'aint rhubarb true. It's not even a member of the family and is not edible, but a rather impressive plant nonetheless. However, allowed to grow unchecked, it is an invasive monster.

Not sure who she is, but

this is the lucky winner of

the Minnesota Rhubarb Festival Biggest Leaf Contest

Wild Brazilian Rhubarb

1921 Henry Clark Alaska giant rhubarb by Asahel Curtis

National Geographic -  

Giant Irish Rhubarb

Garden in Alaska features

Rhubarb both for

harvest and beauty

Giant Irish Rhubarb in landscape

The toast of the town ~

Let's step back in time yet once again, into the Rhubarb Triangle. It was discovered in the 1840s that rhubarb could be forced (brought inside to grow ahead of season); however no one did this on a large scale. Until . . . we to travel to a small area (about 9 sq. miles) of West Yorkshire, England. It came to be known as the Rhubarb Triangle. It happened in 1877 in the quaint countryside between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford (hence, the triangle). It was here that they had the brilliant idea of digging up the rhubarb roots over the winter and putting them into storage sheds. The roots began sprouting the rhubarb in these dark sheds. This area of England is considered to be a frost pocket where there is a ton of coal and lots of sheep that produce some of the finest wool. Why is this important, you may ponder? Rhubarb likes it cool, wet (from the mountains) and the nitrogen the sheep gladly produce having absolutely nothing to do with wool. And the coal, what about the coal? The coal was used to keep those sheds just warm enough in this frost pocket area of England. 

Now for the sweet discovery. The farmers learned that the rhubarb sprouted and grew in the darkness of the sheds. This rhubarb was super special because of its sweet and tender stalk. They claim you can hear the crackle of the rhubarb growing in the sheds and the actual "pop" of the blossom when it opens from the stem, hence the name ~ Champagne Rhubarb. It has been given the coveted Protected Designation of Origin status (i.e. champagne, Stilton cheese, etc.) and can only be produced in Yorkshire, England. It is making a strong comeback today and continues to be shrouded in mystery, romance, and tradition. It is cultivated in total silence and harvested by the torchlight of torches used 150 years past.

Rhubarb sprout from root

Champagne Rhubarb in shed 

Champagne Rhubarb closeup

Champagne Rhubarb section

A plethora of recipes from which to choose ~

So many to choose from and one more tasty tidbit of culinary knowledge. Ever wonder how strawberry rhubarb pie came to be? It just so happens that a farmer in England found he had an access of rhubarb. He sold the idea that rhubarb and strawberries made an excellent pie, and his rhubarb sales skyrocketed. He sold out of strawberries, too!

Roasted Rhubarb

from The Spruce

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Rhubarb Soda

from Craftsy

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Rhubarb Sorbet

from Simply Recipes

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Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

from  Patricia Gay

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Ruby Rhubarb Syrup

from A Farm Girl Dabbles

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Persian Rhubarb and Beef with Rice

from Katie at the Door

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Rhubarb Mint Jam from

Homespun Seasonal Living

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Salmon with Rhubarb Chutney

from Food Network

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Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

from Tasting Spoons

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Roasted Rhubarb Crumble

from The Spruce

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Strawberry Rhubarb Margaritas

from  Nutmeg Nanny

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Rhubarb Ginger Galette

from  Simply Recipes

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After dinner theatre and conversation ~

Perhaps the first rhubarb quote is from Shakespeare's Macbeth:

"What rhubarb, senna,

or what purgative drug,

Would scour these English hence?

Hear’st thou of them?"

Also from Shakespeare's time, when plays called for an angry crowd of people, the director would assemble a group of actors and have them mutter,  "Rhu-bar-bar, rhu-bar-bar, rhu-bar-bar," which reverberates through a theatre like the sounds of an angry horde.  So the term "rhubarb" became slang for "commotion" and the performers "rhubarbers." Eventually when a scene called for a fight, it was referred to as a rhubarb.

And it is said from about 1890 - 1930 the circus used to shout, "Hey Rube" to summon help in fights against local rowdies.  

Play Ball! 

"The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary defines rhubarb as 'a ruckus with the umpire(s)' or 'a fight between players or between the players and fans' and dates the first use in this sense to 1943.

Red Barber called his autobiography "Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat" (1968) and referred to Ebbets Field as "the rhubarb patch" because of Dem Bums' penchant for arguing with the umpires. Barber is largely responsible for popularizing the term but he never claimed credit for originating it. Barber says he got it either from Brooklyn-born sportswriter Garry Schumacher or from Tom Meany, another sportswriter, who said he had picked it up from an unknown barkeep in Brooklyn in the late 1930s. The bartender used it to describe a bar room altercation where a Brooklyn fan shot a Giants fan. Apparently they take their baseball very seriously in New York."

excerpt from Everything2.com

William Shakespeare

"Red" Barber at the mic

circa 1940s

Wm. H. West

Big Minstrel Jubilee 1900

Hope you enjoyed this tidbit from the rhubarb patch to chew on . . . 
 
Carrots

As you stroll down our garden path, you will discover more than twenty-four karats of golden nuggets of tidbits about carrots. So take my hand, do not fear . . . far more than the nutritional value about the carrot will be found here . . .

Let's start at the very beginning, that's a very good place to start ~

Babette Carrots

It was about 5,000 years ago in a region of Persia between Iraq, Iran,  and Afghanistan where the carrot made its first debut. The region is still known as "The Carrot Field" although carrot crops have been replaced with cherries and other vegetables.

I'm not eating that . . . thing ~

The Carrot Field, Iran today

Ancient Andalusian Cook Book of recipes

"Great Drink of Roots"

Who could blame anyone? If presentation is everything, let's face facts, the original carrot was not the most delectable of choices. Originally the carrot was either a white or a purple root, and rather gangly at that and often confused with the parsnip. The root was not used for much of anything and was not very tasty; however, the power lay in the carrot greens and carrot seeds and it was considered a medicinal powerhouse. Surely you recall the physician/botanist, Dioscorides, who wrote prolifically on herbal medicine (see Feverfew and Rhubarb), this is what he had to say:

"When drunk or even when applied, its seed sets the menses going, it is suitable for those that pass water painfully and with difficulty, for those with edemata, for pleurisy in potions, and for bites and strokes of wild animals. They say that reptiles do not harm people who have taken it in advance; it also aids conception. As for the root, it, too is diuretic, aphrodisiac, and expels embryos/fetuses when used as a pessary. The leaves ground and applied with honey, clear cancerous sores completely."

Old botanical illustration from Vienna Dioscorides

Image from Pseudo Apulieus

10th Century

Carrot Greens

Carrot Flowers

Carrot Flowers become seeds

Carrot à l´Orange ~

Although wild orange carrots were documented in the 6th century, it is presumed they became extinct. However, thanks to the Dutch, the orange carrot was developed in the 16th century in the Netherlands to pay homage to William of Orange and his Royal House. Orange carrots specifically were added to the list of items dedicated to the royal family. Why, you may ask? The answer is quite simple. The Prince's Flag had orange in it and was the Dutch flag ordered to be flown on the war ships used in the Dutch Revolt against Spain. This flag was declared illegal when the French seized the Netherlands in 1795. However, once again in 1813 the Prince's Flag was flown when the French were expelled from the Netherlands. At this time, the red-white-blue flag is the official flag of the Netherlands while the orange-white-blue flag is used as by political rebellion parties even today.

Four generations of the

Princes of Orange

The Prince's Flag

The Prince's Flag on

Dutch East India Co ship 1762

Spanish Tercio

repulses Dutch Calvary

William I, Prince of Orange

Royal Standard of the

Netherlands

The Beta-carotene wonder ~

So, as we learned above, the Dutch, also known worldwide as "the carrot farmers" are responsible for cultivating the once white and purple root into that nutritional powerhouse full of Beta-carotene. With that in mind, what comes 'round goes 'round and today we have exotic colored carrots once again. Yes, there are white, red, purple, yellow and even black carrots in your local supermarket. The British have been working on cultivating carrots with extra calcium to help fight osteoporosis.

 

According to The Today Foundation: 

"The Vegetable Improvement Center at Texas A&M recently developed a purple-skinned, orange fleshed carrot called the Beta Sweet.  This carrot is specialized to include substances that prevent cancer.  It also has extremely high beta-carotene content."

It is the magic of the Beta-carotene that adds red or orange color to fruits and vegetables and what the human body converts into Vitamin A for healthy skin, our immune system, and good eye health. This leads us to . . .

A rainbow of colors

Parisian Carrots

Burpee Seed Catalog 1912

 Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection, 1921

Scientific Model of Beta-carotene

The WWII truth in legend ~

During WWII the British created an urban legend about carrots. They claimed that eating large amounts of carrots increased the night vision of their pilots so tremendously that the  pilots could see better and were able to shoot down German planes at night. Their stories and propaganda worked so well, that the Germans and Allies as well were convinced that carrots had super nutritional powers. Even Walt Disney helped in the promotion of eating carrots with cartoons directed toward the children.

 
This had a two-fold purpose: 

1.  There were food shortages and rationing, so the governments wanted to encourage people to participate by growing nutritious foods in their own "Victory Gardens" in their backyards and communities.  

2.  The cover-up was created to hide the significant advancements the Allies had made in radar technology and the extreme effectiveness and success of their technology!

 

People still believe carrots help with night vision; so what was originally fiction may be proven to be true since it has been discovered that carrots contain high amounts of lutein which helps decrease the risk of developing macular degeneration.

British children were encouraged to have "Carrot Lollis" instead of candy  lollipops and ice cream due to the shortage of sugar and dairy products for sweet treats.

Golden coins of carrot fun ~

Here is a short list (yes, short because the long list is really long) of fun facts about the orange, purple, red, white, black, and yellow wonder root called "carrot" ~

Carrots were a common plant found in the gardens of Ancient Rome and the seeds were used as an aphrodisiac. However, the cultivation of carrots came to a standstill after the fall of the Roman Empire until the 10th century when Arabs brought them to Europe.

Carrot Seeds

Orange garden carrots revert back to their feral ancestral carrot type when a carrot garden is not maintained and cultivated for a few carrot generations. 

Codex Neapolitanus (7th Cent)

The Poison King, Mithradates VI of Pontus (r. 120-63 BCE) concocted an antidote for poison from carrot seeds that has been found to really work!

China is the largest producer of carrots in the world, followed by Russia and the United States respectively. Fresh market carrots were harvested from 71,550 acres in 2015 with a total yield of approximately 2.4 billion pounds in the USA. (USDA, National Ag Statistics Service, 2016). The largest carrot producer in the world is Grimmway Carrots in California.

Carrot leaves are featured on the back of the Continental Currency $40 notes of September 26, 1778. Continental Currency was the preferred currency of the day to help the Patriotic Association promote the cause of the Revolutionists.

Carrot sculpting has become a popular hobby and culinary competition!

275 Carrot Clarinets were made and played at the Netherlands Klarinet Festival in Amsterdam in 2016.

Very rare wild Sea Carrots are found on rocky shores in Wales and the South of England. They prefer to grow on dunes and on rocky cliffs near the sea. There is no edible tuber root.  The flowers are grow in a more round ball shape as compared to the carrot flowers above, and have no red center.

The largest carrot grown to date was grown by Peter Glazebrook of Newark, United Kingdom in 2014 as recorded in the Guinness Book of Records; and it weighed 20 lbs.

Wild rabbits don't eat roots and are not particularly crazy about carrots; however domestic rabbits like them a lot. So much so, that 11% have dental issues because their human caretakers overdo feeding the sugary root.

Homonyms

Carat is the unit of weight for precious stones, equal to 200 milligrams;

Caret is a proof readers insertion mark as well as a mathematicians symbol;

Carrot is the edible root vegetable;

Karat is one 24th part of pure gold.

The Road Carrot Sign

"This Carrot, Marking The Northern End Of The Island Highway, Is A Symbol Of Government Road Building Promises, Dangled In Front Of North Island Settlers Since 1897."  

Carrot Campaign Statue, Carrot Park, Port Hardy, North Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Carrots have decorated stamps from every corner of the world, including the USA!

Bugs Bunny

The Auto Museum in Volo, Illinois is home to Bugs Bunny's Carrot Car.

click Bugs for link

The rumor that Mel Blanc, the voice of the famous Bugs Bunny cartoon character, didn't like carrots is false. Although carrots were not his favorite vegetable, he did not dislike them. His problem was that carrots were not easily chewed and swallowed which he did often. And why did he crunch so many carrots, you may ask? The truth of the matter is that there is nothing like the actual sound of a crunchy carrot than a crunchy carrot!

Mel Blanc ~ voice of Bugs Bunny

Shakers' Wisdom circa 1843 ~

The 1843 edition of  "The Gardener's Manual," published by the United Society (Shakers) describes the "Circular Method" of root cellar food preservation:

Beets and carrots should be gathered before hard frost in the Fall, the tops cut off and the roots packed away in sand in a warm cellar. A good method of preserving Beets and Carrots fresh through the Winter is to lay them in a circular form on the bottom of the cellar, with the roots in the centre and heads outward; cover the first course of 

roots with sand; then lay another course upon them, and cover with sand as before, and so on until all are packed and covered. The sand for Carrots should be very dry or they will rot; for Beets it may be moist, but not wet. Celery is preserved in the same way. Onions and Turnips keep well on scaffolds, or in barrels, in a dry cool cellar.

(The Gardener's Manual, 1843)

1880s Home Cookin' with Carrots ~

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Carrot recipes sure to please ~

You must be wondering, I'm sure you are . . . just how many carrots does the average person in the United States consume a year? Well, according to the Ag Marketing Research Center, and they should know, the average person eats 8.3 lbs. of fresh carrots a year. We ate more in 1997, a whopping 14.7 lbs. per person, but that was a peak that has stabilized over the past few decades. We also consume about 1.4 lbs. of frozen carrots. Let's not beat around the carrot stick and get to some great recipes ~

Roasted Carrots, Pistachio Pomegranate Hummous

Recipe from Healthy Chef

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1744 Carrot Pudding

from Rare Recipes

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Brown Sugar Carrots

Recipe from Food Network

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Carrot Greens Pesto

Recipe from Food.com

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Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

Recipe from Bon Appetit

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Baked Sausages with Apples and Roasted Carrots

Recipe from JoCooks

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Parmesan Roasted Carrots

Recipe from Your

Home Based Mom

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Carrot Pumpkin Cake

Recipe from Gold Medal Flour

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Carrot Cake Cheesecake

Recipe from Cooking Classy

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Cocao Carrot Cake Crumble

Recipe from Food and Wine

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of article

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