Categories
food this and that

Straw Berries

I was probably in my teens, visiting relatives in the Lake Contance region, the fruit basket of Germany, close to the Swiss border. We were going for a walk, and came by a large strawberry field. All along the ground beneath the plants was spread a thick layer of straw.

And all of a sudden the penny dropped: strawberries!

I was already familiar with the English word, which I had learned in school. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “[t]here is no corresponding compound in other Germanic languages”; the German word is Erdbeere, earth (or ground) berry – presumably because they grow so low to the ground. But seeing that straw spread under the berries suddenly made sense of the English word.

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“What’s the straw for?” I wondered. Somebody explained (or maybe I figured it out myself, I don’t remember): it’s to keep the ripening berries from sitting and rotting directly on the damp soil.

It makes sense that in rainy England, it would have been common practise to protect the precious crop that way, and so have given rise to the name. Strawberries are extremely susceptible to wet: they can rot in a matter of hours on a rainy day, right on the vine, and even after they’ve been picked. (So if you’re picking strawberries, do it when the sun is shining; and if you’ve brought home a flat of strawberries from the farmer’s market on a soggy, dreary day, better get them into those jam jars or freezer bags ASAP, or you’ll lose half your purchase. Yes, I know that from experience.)

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I have no idea if “strawing” the berries is common practise anywhere, or is even done anymore back in the Lake Constance region. However, in my own garden, I actually got some strawberries for the first time this year (I don’t have much of a green thumb, so this is a triumph). And, well, I didn’t “straw” them, but I had a cardboard box of wood shavings around (I think they were left from somebody’s project). So I “sawdusted” the beds between the berries. Or one of them, anyway – I didn’t get around to the other one in time. And sure enough, the berries in the bed with the wood shavings were nice and clean; the other ones had dirt stuck to them and weren’t as happy-looking. I’m going to have to see about doing this again next year – I think grass clippings would work as well, or maybe even bark mulch.

And meanwhile, we’re going to enjoy this year’s strawberry harvest, the whole pound of it.

Life, the Universe, and the Straw in Strawberries. The best fruit ever.

PS: Old-fashioned strawberry jam: 1 kg of strawberries, 800 g of sugar. Mash the berries, mix with the sugar, bring to a rolling boil, boil for 10 minutes. Put in clean jars and cap to keep from drying out (doesn’t need to be sterilized or refrigerated; the sugar is preservative enough). Very sweet, very tasty, keeps in the cupboard for a long time (except it doesn’t because it gets eaten so fast).

Categories
life Making Things travelling

It’s Been a While

It’s been a while, hasn’t it. More than three months, to be precise. Steve and My Man and I went to Europe at the end of February for another family-event-with-stopover-in-London-on-the-way. While we were there, Covid-19 started ramping up, which did spoil the fun a bit, so when we came home in early March, we hunkered down with the family and pretty much stayed put.

I’ve been spending a lot of time ever since making things. Getting my hands into clay and garden dirt and bread dough (not all at once, silly! I do wash my hands in between) helps my soul stay grounded and cope with this very, very strange and disconcerting time.

Here’s a few pictures:

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The British Museum,
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where I saw 5000-year-old spindle whorls from Troy. (Five! Thousand! Years! Old!)
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At the Tower of You-know-where. (The Yeoman Warder was hilarious.)
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Random kettle on London sidewalk. Because you never know when you’ll need a cuppa.
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Seven Dials
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Way Out
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In Germany it was spring.
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Then we came home.
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I made pots
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and I spun yarn
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and I grew seedlings
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and I made bread
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and I had glaze failures
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and I drew wonky pictures
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and I delighted in birds
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and I made weird poetry.
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Steve was there, too.

And now it’s almost summer; the garden is growing and so are the dust bunnies in the corners of the house; I’ve almost run out of good clay and need to reconstitute the dried-up stuff I’ve been saving up for several years; I’m part-way through editing a novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo a few years ago; and Steve is telling me I ought to get back to writing some stories with bears in them (he’s a stuffed animal of a one-track-mind).

So now you know. How’s things been with you?

Life, the Universe, and Coping in the Time of Covid-19. Making things helps.

Categories
Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday: Tomorrow’s Work

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Categories
this and that

Master Peaseblossom, or What’s In A Salad

IMG_20160530_101217This spring, a patch of peas sprang up in one of my garden beds. I didn’t ask for them to be there, they just showed up. I have a suspicion that they came from one of my attempts to grow pea shoots in the winter in a tray on the counter; the leftovers got dumped in the compost, and that’s probably where they ended up, in that garden bed.

So now they’re blooming, and yesterday I made a salad with a head of lettuce from the garden, and just for fun decided to toss in a few pea blossoms (or peaseblossoms, if you want to go Shakespearean). No, Nick Bottom, I didn’t add Mustardseed, Cobweb or Moth, sorry.

The Offspring were of mixed opinions on the matter – actually, most of them didn’t eat the blossoms, just the lettuce. The one that did, though, really enjoyed them. Pea blossoms taste like fresh green peas (as do pea shoots). Edible flowers are lots of fun, although I do understand why people would be weirded out at seeing a bouquet on top of their lettuce.

Anyway, in case you’re interested, I thought I’d share my salad dressing recipe. It’s a basic yogurt vinaigrette (well, actually, not vinaigrette, as it’s not got vinegar in it – so is it a limonette?).

IMG_20160529_185108SALAD DRESSING

-1/4 c plain yogurt
-1 good squirt of lemon juice (let’s say 1 Tbsp)
-a glug of salad oil (or 2 Tbsp)
-salt & pepper to taste (or 1/4 tsp each)

-you can add 1/2 tsp prepared mustard, like dijon (if you want your Mounsieur Mustardseed), and any or all chopped fresh or dry herbs that strike your fancy. This one has chopped parsley, dill, lemon thyme, chives and green onions, because that’s what I happened to have in the garden.

-whisk together or shake in a small jar or gravy shaker. Put in the bottom of the salad bowl, toss lettuce in it (or pour over thinly sliced cucumbers or any other salad veg, toss). Top with whatever edible flowers you happen to have on hand. Serve immediately.

So there you have it, salad with peaseblossoms. As Nick Bottom would say:

BOTTOM: Your name, honest gentleman?
PEASEBLOSSOM: Peaseblossom.
BOTTOM: I pray you, commend me to Mistress Squash, your
mother, and to Master Peascod, your father. Good
Master Peaseblossom, I shall desire you of more
acquaintance too.
(Midsummer Night’s Dream, III, 1)

Life, the Universe, and Peaseblossoms. What’s in a salad? A salad, of any other veg, would taste as nice…

 

 

 

Categories
fairy tales this and that

Scarlet Runner Beans

scarlet runner beansDid you know that the magic beans from “Jack and the Beanstalk” were scarlet runner beans? It’s true, Andrew Lang says so in The Red Fairy Book:

When [Jack] brought [the beans] home to his mother instead of the money she expected for her nice cow, she was very vexed and shed many tears, scolding Jack for his folly. He was very sorry, and mother and son went to bed very sadly that night; their last hope seemed gone.
At daybreak Jack rose and went out into the garden.
‘At least,’ he thought, ‘I will sow the wonderful beans. Mother says that they are just common scarlet-runners, and nothing else; but I may as well sow them.’

scarlet runner beans (1)Of course, you know the rest of the deal: massive beanstalk, Jack climbing, doing a spot of breaking and entering and theft, Fi-Fi-Fo-Fum, giant dropping off beanstalk, happily ever after. Incidentally, the Lang version has Jack helping himself to the giant’s stuff quite rightfully, because he’s really not a peasant at all, but the son of the knight who used to own the castle and was killed by the giant along with all of Jack’s older siblings. Fortunately, the knight’s wife was on a visit to her old nurse in the village, along with Baby Jack. When she got the news about the massacre she just stayed put and pretended to be a peasant until her son was old enough to take revenge on the giant and get the castle back, meanwhile earning their living with her spinning wheel and the produce of the little cow she’d bought. Enter the plot of the story as we know it.

I’m sorry, Mr Lang, that elaborate backstory just doesn’t work for me; part of the fun of “Jack and the Beanstalk” is precisely that Jack is a peasant boy, and not a very bright one at that. Stop making excuses for his B&E and robbery-with-violence; this is a story of a poor little guy defeating a big rich one and making it against all the odds, winning his fortune not because it’s his by law, but because of sheer dumb luck and gutsy opportunism.

However, that’s not really what I was going to talk about – my point today was Scarlet Runner Beans. I love those things, and I’ve planted some every year. I like eating them as green beans, but the problem I have with that is that I hardly ever get around to picking them when they’re still green and tender – I can’t find them in the tangle of leaves, and quite frankly, I’m too lazy to search for them. So I’ve been growing them pretty much as ornamentals. I figure if people grow climbing vines like clematis for their flowers, I can grow beans for the same purpose. And they really are pretty, with their bright red flowers.

scarlet runner beans (2)And then usually, at the end of the season when the vines die off, I find all these plump, dry pods with those funky black-and-purple-spotted beans inside. I’ve been collecting them just to have more to plant the next year, but then this year I got to wondering if you could just eat them as dried beans, like kidney beans or something, and sure enough, according to the Internet you can. I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to – I got a small bowl full of beans off the four or five bean plants I had, it should be enough for a meal.scarlet runner beans (3)

So, climbing foliage, pretty flowers, tasty fresh green beans, lovely speckled beans, and beans to save for eating in winter. What a great plant. Never mind giants’ castles at the top, there’s enough here to make them worthwhile just like that.

Life, the Universe, and Scarlet Runner Beans. I’ll be sure to save a few for planting next year.