Natural Decorations

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden shows us what’s growing wild and decorative in our area. 

When I was a kid we were very poor (living in post war London), so we had to create many of life’s necessities ourselves. When it came to toys and decorations, most of these were handmade. That was part of the fun of a holiday, sitting down together and making garlands and other decorative flourishes with colored paper and found objects.

I continued these habits into adulthood, and handmade objects d’art festooned our house during the holidays. I particularly got a kick out of going out into the fields and verges and gathering natural objects to use in decorations. They would be used in place of bows on our Christmas gifts and to decorate the tree.

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There are lot of interesting things to collect at this time of year, like conifer branches and cones, bittersweet vine with its red berries, phragmites fronds and numerous other berries, grasses, seed pods and dried flowers. With the addition of a bit of ribbon, some lace, and a glue gun (or wire), these can be turned into colorful, seasonal flourishes to add the finishing touch to a gift, a dinner table or a whole room.

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Similar things can be done with food, particularly baked goods. I once made a spinach tart, with an acorn crust, and decorated the top with an ornate design. Trouble was, I couldn’t bring myself to cut it, so I took it to a potluck dinner and let someone else do the honors.

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The Pantry

Eva Szigeti unpacks the pantry, and in doing so, lets us in to the longing, beauty, and ambition that are bedfellows of every gardener and cook.

 

It is cold outside. The first significant snow of the season is coming down, covering the empty garden beds. I feel content in my warm, cozy living room.

In general, I am quite happy with our suburban home. Still, if I could wish for two extra rooms, I would not hesitate. My choices would be clear: I would wish for a mudroom, hoping that all the mess would be left behind there and keeping the house neat and clean would be easier. Even more than a mudroom, I would love to have a space for storing food, a pantry room.

“Pantry? That’s a funny word,” my seven year old daughter comments. “What does it have to do with pants?”

Well, not much. The word has its origin in Latin. There was the Latin panis, then Anglo-French paneterie and paneter (servant in charge of the pantry). Paneterie became panetrie in Middle English and today we call the space reserved for storing food ‘pantry’. The Latin panis means, of course, bread. The funny word actually does make perfect sense.

Hearing the word pantry I see a small, cold, dark room full of edible treasures: pickles of all sorts, jams and jellies, canned and dried fruit, homemade tomato sauce, cured meats, nuts and herbs. A pantry is like a walk-in closet, but instead of shirts, dresses, suits, and scarves there are pickles, jams, beans, and smoked sausage.

A small pantry room is a common feature of European houses and even city apartments. I miss not having a pantry.

I see the pantries of my childhood: rooms with simple, wooden shelves filled with neat rows of jars of different colors and sizes: sour cherry preserve, prune butter, pickles, pickled stuffed peppers, canned apricots to mention just a few favorites. There are sausages, slabs of bacon and prosciutto hanging from a rack. On the floor is a big crock of lard. Next to it are bags of flour, rice, sugar, and salt – a lot of it – much more than a family could use in a week or two. Just in case…

One could find walnuts, dry beans, red paprika, and herbs stored in linen bags. There are perhaps a few bottles of elderberry syrup and a ceramic barrel filled with sauerkraut. Grandma’s pantry was never without heart-shaped gingerbread cookies she kept for us, her grandchildren.

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I am thinking about the next growing season and I am already filling my imaginary pantry. The first jars of the season are the strawberry and strawberry rhubarb jams in late May. They are followed by jars of canned cherries and sour cherry preserve in June. Raspberries and apricots are next. In July, I will preserve blueberries and make lots of pickles: garlic pickles, dill pickles, and horseradish pickles. The surplus tomatoes from the garden will be turned into tomato sauce, some might be dried, and maybe I will push myself and make ketchup. Peppers will be pickled, red ones preserved in oil. Peaches, my favorite canned fruit, are a must in August. I definitely will make prune butter and eggplant spread. Drying herbs for cooking and tea will be an ongoing activity all summer long. Then the fall comes and with it the season of applesauce and sauerkraut. In late September, I will make a huge jar of pickled “everything” like my grandma used to make. Nothing gets wasted, so in a gallon-sized jar the season’s last peppers, green tomatoes, and cabbage come together with some carrots, onions, and pickling spices. This will be the special jar for the holidays.

For the gardener, the pantry is sort of a memoir of the last growing season. It is like a marketplace for a cook. For children, the pantry room is an exciting and tempting space to explore. They sneak in when no one is looking to have a taste of the best jam. Just a tiny bit, so mother wouldn’t notice. Mothers consider the pantry their own domain. They hide birthday presents on the highest shelf behind the tall jars. For them, it is a safe place to keep the sweet treats they give out now and then.

I’d like to have a pantry room because it is practical, but also because it could be beautiful, giving a sense of safety and satisfaction to the gardener and cook in me.

There are of course many more reasons to wish for a pantry. I like to keep in mind that Emily Dickinson wrote some of her poems in the quiet, cool pantry room…

 

Project:

Bean Mandala

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On a winter day, the pantry could be a source of material for an art project. A surplus of dry beans and peas could be used for making bean mandalas.

You will need:
Piece of heavy cardboard
Beans, peas and/or lentils of different colors and sizes
Craft glue
Ruler and compass (optional)

Using compass and ruler draw your mandala design on the cardboard. Choose beans, lentils and peas you would like to use for particular areas of your mandala. Put glue on the area you wish to fill with beans. Glue the beans on. Proceed to the next segment of your mandala.

Make sure to use a variety of colors and sizes.

If you prefer to work without drawing a design, start by creating the middle of your mandala first. Develop your design as you go.

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The Christmas Ornament Incident

Camp storyteller Chuck Stead spins us a tale of holiday mishap

 

It was not clear just who was responsible for the destruction of Grandma Kiely’s antique tree ornaments, but I was certainly involved.

Every year the half-dozen antique, glass ornaments handed down from my mother’s mother were the last things put on our tree. My mom, Tessie, hung them only after studying the decorated tree for some time. She told us she placed them according to how her mother used to hang them. We had a few other Kiely ornaments but these were the special ones. I thought they were the ugliest things I had ever seen.

We had not inherited any ornaments from the Stead side of the family. Steads were not much for dainty, elaborate decorations. They decorated their trees with unbreakable wood and plastic ones. Mom’s family was Irish Catholic, and they took Christmas seriously. Tessie was very solemn about her six Kiely ornaments…very.

When the incident happened Walt and Tessie were in the kitchen. Walt was pounding bread dough for our annual holiday breakfast and Tessie was trying to find Christmas music on our RCA radio. She slowly dialed the knob searching for the NBC station but all she could find on the Nabisco Broadcast was a discussion about Cuba. She complained, “Who cares about Cuba?”

Walt said, “Cubans.”

In the living room I stood sucking on a chunk of Tessie’s Christmas Fudge. My older sisters Muffin and Terry were arguing about the Sandy Becker Christmas Special. It was a televised puppet show. In those pre-muppet days puppets were hand-carved wooden figures, and every character in Sandy Becker’s Scrooge story was specially made. Terry loved the puppetry and she mimicked the voices used in the show. Muffin (who was older and questioned everything) was telling Terry that the Sandy Becker version had made a mockery of the Dickens classic. Terry countered that Muffin lacked true Christmas spirit, to which Muffin countered that the holiday was an excuse for marketing junk. Their voices rose in anger and Tessie kept calling from the kitchen, “That’s enough girls!” Then Terry, in an effort to change the subject, looked at me and observed the wet fudge dripping from my lips.

She said, “Disgusting! You’re a pig!”

Now the truth was I had been drinking Walt’s home-made root beer and I was seriously carbonated with soda. Having devoured three chunks of rich fudge I was ripe for a deeply flavored taste return. Staring at Terry I was struck with the sensation of a warm bubble working up from the depth of my belly. The burp was one of my best. Terry caught it in the face. She screamed and shoved me with both hands, but I caught her by the elbows and we crashed into Muffin, and then all three of us toppled into the decorated Christmas tree.

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The only things that broke were the six Kiely tree ornaments. After we put everything back together Walt carefully swept up the shattered glass ornament fragments and dumped them into a single, white business envelope. Later that night he used his hatchet to chop open a piece of frozen back yard. Tessie placed the envelope carefully into the hole and Walt covered it over with frozen ground, the final resting place of the six Kiely tree ornaments.

Ed’s Corner

December 21st, this coming Wednesday, is the Winter Solstice, the first day of winter, although in times past it was also referred to as mid-winter. That term, ‘mid-winter’, is appropriate because after this day the amount of light slowly increases daily. Early groups of hunters and gatherers thought of it as the sun returning once again. Perpetual darkness – oblivion – has been avoided.

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All of us living on this part of the earth experience this change of seasons. It is something we all share in common. We – Republicans, Democrats, Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, black/white/Hispanic/Asian, men, women, boys, girls – just think, we could have a big Solstice party and without worrying about who to invite, we can ask EVERYONE to it! What a nice coming together that would be, to celebrate our common home.

If we think about the really big picture of the universe, the earth, its movements, space, other celestial objects, we will begin to appreciate how lucky we are to be living on the earth at this time. Thanks to author Bill Bryson for the following thoughts:

* We are the right distance from the right kind of star (our sun). And our star is just the right size.

* If the earth were 1% further from the sun, our planet would be uninhabitable.

* All of the elements (remember the Periodic Chart that was usually displayed in almost every science room?), well, all those elements are present in just the right amounts to enable us to live here … on the earth.

* The molten material (magma) inside the earth released gases that made our atmosphere, which protects us from cosmic radiation.

* Plate tectonics – the process of parts of the earth’s surface moving, sliding, continents changing/rising/sliding over and under each other – all of this makes for a surface upon which we can stand. If not, if the earth were perfectly smooth, it would be covered everywhere to a depth of over 13 feet of water!

* The moon’s gravity – because of its position and its size, influences our planet in such a way that we do not wobble like a top that is running out of steam, slowing down. The moon’s presence keeps us at the right speed and angle as we travel through space.

*  The earth’s climate and surface have been quite different in the past compared to now – freezing, ice, boiling hot, bubbly poisonous seas, constant storms, lightning.

* There is soil where things can grow!

* There is rain that falls.

* Sometime in the very distant past plants began to absorb sunlight, water and carbon dioxide, and thus we have efficient green plants today, making their food (and ours) through photosynthesis.

* The earth has not been hit by giant space rocks or meteors for a long time. The dinosaurs took a big hit (extinction!) after one of these collisions.

* Our ancestors left their watery homes a long time ago so that today we are land dwellers; and quite different looking!

We have much to be thankful for – just the fact that you are here, reading these words, is wondrous.

On Wednesday take a moment out of your busy day and look around you. Maybe notice how short the daylight lasts, and appreciate that from Wednesday onward, up until the Summer Solstice, the light will increase! Although the cold (and hopefully snow) will likely be with us for at least another two or three months, the darkness reaches its apex this Wednesday, and our part of planet earth begins to move slowly into the light.

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