I love strawberries! All kinds. But the strawberry that really grabs me is the delicate heirloom alpine variety known as Fraises des Bois. The elongated conical pointed fruits grow on mostly runnerless crowns, making this an ideal plant for containers or window boxes. I have grown mine organically for 10 years in two window boxes outside my kitchen door opening to my garden, and they have weathered unbelievably capricious summers and cruel winters without blushing. Each Spring they begin their unending offering of red, intensely flavored sweet, piquant fruits — it takes only a few to brighten a morning bowl of cereal. The fruiting lasts until the first freeze. The crowns are evergreen and regenerate themselves each Spring as if by magic. I give them an occasional shot of Espoma Organic Grow fertilizer, and remove any tired leaves but that is all I do and they repay me with such treasure!
If you have a medicinal herb or ayurvedic garden, you should add Fraises des Bois for their remarkable and little known health benefits. Not typically associated in the modern mind with medicinal use, Alpine Strawberry was historically part of the pharmacopeia and used in many different ways: the root for diarrhea; the stalks for wounds; the leaves as astringents. Today, teas made from the leaves are wonderful for digestion (and diarrhea) and to stimulate the appetite, and recent study indicates a high element of ellagic acid, a known cancer preventative. The crushed fruit is very soothing to the skin and has antibacterial properties, AND can be applied to teeth (with baking soda) or skin to “bleach white.” The berries are an excellent source of Vitamin C and recent studies show them to be high in antioxidants, making them one to add to your cancer protection diet.
I have harvested and sold the seed for this wonderful fruit for many years, but this year decided to offer a few plants at Farmer’s Market. So this Saturday you can pick up one of these rare heirlooms and start your own back porch strawberry patch! It is easy to do with just one or two plants. Hurry before they are all gone!
I have come to the conclusion that the “End of the World” will come with a whimper, not with a bang. I base this on the many signposts we are all witnessing —
- Weather Pattern Changes — Let’s set aside the controversial issue of “climate change” and its causes for the moment, we ARE seeing severe changes to weather patterns that are disruptive to our lives, and in certain parts of the world, destructive to the food supply. Up to this point, wars have usually been the major cause of starvation in troubled parts of the world, but now the drastic changes in climate are producing profound bands of drought across Africa and elsewhere that may be difficult to overcome. And starvation isn’t limited to the human family — many species are being adversely affected and experiencing die offs.
- Poisoning of the environment — This one IS unquestionably human generated and nothing gets me as mad. Species die-offs as a result of adverse climate change is one thing — it has happened for billions of years — but species die-offs because of the poisons we subject them to, whether in the soil, plants or waterways, is inexcusable and it would seem, also difficult to stop. With the bees alone, once they are gone, we starve.
- Wars and Rumors of Wars — Another one that is preventable. Wars over territory, wars of aggression, wars because of dwindling resources … all preventable if we have the will to beat our swords into plowshares.
I am just wondering how long we can hold on as a planet. I remember the first smog alert my family experienced in our bucolic countryside home. It was in the early 1960’s. It was followed by Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking research in “Silent Spring” about the poisoning of our environment. Then came the Thalidomide story and Love Canal … and on and on and on. It is no better today, despite regulations and bureaucracies for every type of grievance. Why? Because greed will always find a way around rules if there is money to made doing it. And greed today is so much more powerful and monied, the only way to fight it is on a personal level.
Instead of looking out … Look IN. What can you personally do in your own little world to change the way YOU interact with the environment. Don’t say, oh it won’t make a difference … because that is, in the lexicon of the 60s, a “cop out.” Here are a few suggestions, but I’m sure you have many more, and I’d like you to share them here.
- Garden or farm organically and sustainably. There are a ton of resources now to help you. It’s not hard and it actually will save you money in the long run.
- Stop throwing things away! Re-purposing and re-using and composting are all the rage. Again, there are a million resources out there with such creative ideas!
- Know the purveyors of this violence to our world … know the companies they own and refuse to be a part of them. For example, Monsanto / Bayer / Syngenta are busily buying up Organic Seed producers. What is their ultimate goal? I don’t know, but I want no part of it. You can google an extensive list of these companies. Don’t support them.
- Become or remain an active voter and participant in the process. I don’t know your politics, and I don’t want to know. I only want to know that you are involved. If you are not, you are contributing to the debacle.
Forgive me for this diatribe. It came to me as I laid in bed last night contemplating our current weather of 1F which will become 70F in just a few days. Never seen anything like this. I did a mental inventory of my garden, wondering which plants might succumb – not necessarily to the cold, but just the whiplash weather we have experienced for the past few years. I wondered if somewhere in our planet’s future would aliens need to reclaim and terraform our Earth, in the same way we are hoping to do on Mars. And I got mad. Really mad. I hope you get mad too.
There are many heirloom varieties of garden seeds that originated here in North Carolina (or thereabouts) but I offer some of my favorites on CherryGal.com which I’d like to recommend to you:
A very rare find is The African Queen Tomato which hails from Western NC, but probably was brought here by Caribbean slaves. It dates here to the mid-18th Century. Many fine qualities!
Another NC heirloom tomato is the German Johnson Pink, notable for being one of the four parents of the venerable Mortgage Lifter tomato.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A heritage variety claimed by many Southern areas, the Sieva Carolina Pole Lima Bean is noted for its ability to bear even in extreme heat. Grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson.
These are just three — but if you know of other heritage or heirloom varieties that are claimed by North Carolina, I’d love to hear about it!
- MAGICAL because you are capturing these invisible creatures, feeding and caring for them, and then asking them to work for you to make something delicious
- INSPIRING because it allows your imagination to take flight, creating new and different breads, muffins, biscuits, cookies, pizzas, tamales, noodles, hush puppies, cakes, crackers, pancakes and pie crust
- HEALTHY because Wild Caught Sourdough Starter is made from natural yeast which requires a long fermentation to rise and this is what creates the immune enhancing, macro-biome promoting, and nutrient rich properties
- ECONOMICAL because of its long shelf life … it has natural preservative qualities so you don’t waste and don’t need to refrigerate
- MUCH MORE FLAVORFUL — compared to commercial yeast breads which taste like kleenex tissue, natural sourdough is tangy, rich, deeply delicious and actually becomes more so the longer it sits out
- MOOD ALTERING — not only because of the different kind of candida that it produces, but also just the slow, rhythmic kneading, the waiting, anticipation and reward that baking with sourdough provides. It can enrich your life!
Each time I bake with my wonderful Sourdough Starter which I named Audrey II (after the insatiable plant in Little Shop of Horrors) it is an adventure. There are so many things I can do with it. This past week I made a delicious pizza. This weekend I will be baking Challah for my Church’s Fellowship Hour. I’ll be baking two loaves — just as is done for Shabbat, representing the double portion of mannah given to the Israelites in the wilderness so they would not have to forage on Shabbat. The braided form which we now associate with Challah, was not used until Medievil Times. Challah made with Wild Caught Sourdough Starter seems to me somehow more traditional, as it is natural yeast, as opposed to commercial yeast, which wasn’t available until the 20th Century. The recipes and form vary, but always incorporate eggs, giving the bread full flavor, fine grain and a golden hue.
New Year’s Challah with 6 Braids
My paternal great grandfather hails from Cornwall England near St Austell according to one relative — an area full of tin, copper and china clay mines. Cornwall is known as the home of a recognized distinct ancient tribal peoples called “The Cornish.” My great grandfather was a miner, and his son (my grandfather) became a mining engineer when he emigrated (as part of the great Cornish diaspora) to the great open pit Iron Ore mines of Northern Minnesota.
We were taught as children (and I presume it to be true) that a traditional lunch prepared for miners by their wives was the Cornish Pasty (rhymes with nasty, though it is anything but) carving their husband’s initials in the half moon pastries so that they would not be confused with others’.
The traditional pasty that we grew up eating and baking consists of a pie circle, filled with chopped beef, suet (which I now have to beg the butcher for), onion,potatoes and — most importantly — rutabaga (called turnips in Cornwall but milder in flavor). But many iterations contain other meats (like pork) and vegetables (like carrots). Folded in half and crimped on the unfolded side, these are baked for about 45 minutes at 350 F and are delicious! You can brush the tops with egg wash or milk.
Preparing for the bake …
I have a hard time finding rutabagas here in NC and when I do they tend to be so large as to be difficult to chop, so I recently substituted purple top turnips, which have a somewhat sharper flavor but are tender and smaller, and the pasties are still delicious! In our family, we always ate them warm, with ketchup on the side. But the ketchup is not mandatory. In fact, I have met folks who eat these with mustard as they do tend to be a little on the dry side undressed. But there are any manner of things you could dress them with if you do not like ketchup.
If you have a special family comfort food that you can trace to ancient times, please let me know!