Thursday, December 5, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Victoria Rhubarb

Victoria Rhubarb (Rheum x coltorum cv.)

Thomas Jefferson first planted a row of “rheum undulatum, esculent rhubarb” in his vegetable garden on his April 13th birthday in 1809. He added that “the leaves [are] excellent as Spinach” (Note: rhubarb leaves are now considered poisonous and only the leaf stem should be consumed). In 1811 he planted it in the submural beds below the garden wall. Rhubarb has a long history in cultivation, dating back to 2700 BC in China where it was grown for medicinal purposes. It is believed a Maine gardener first grew it in America between 1790 and 1800. ‘Victoria’ is a cultivated variety that dates to at least the mid-1800s and New England horticulturist Fearing Burr described it in Field and Garden Vegetables of America, 1863.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

1st American Cookbook

In 1796, New Englander Amelia Simmons published the first truly American cookbook, American Cookery: The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry, and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Puff-Pastes, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards, and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes From the Imperial Plumb to plain Cake, Adapted to this Country, and All Grades of Life.
There were 13 known editions of this book, all published between 1796 to 1831. Simmons devoted a section of her cookbook to the cultivation & cooking of vegetables, fruits, and herbs giving us an immediate look at the produce of the period.

Amelia Simmons on Vegetables, Herbs, and Fruits...
We proceed to ROOTS and VEGETABLES--and the best cook cannot alter the first quality, they must be good, or the cook will be disappointed .

Potatoes take rank for universal use, profit and easy acquirement. The smooth skin, known by the name of How's Potato, is the most mealy and richest flavor'd; the yellow rusticoat next best; the red, and red rusticoat are tolerable; and the yellow Spanish have their value--those cultivated from imported seed on sandy or dry loomy lands, are best for table use; tho' the red or either will produce more in rich, loomy, highly manured garden grounds; new lands and a sandy soil, afford the richest flavor'd; and most mealy Potato much depends on the ground on which they grow--more on the species of Potatoes planted--and still more from foreign seeds--and each may be nown by attention to connoisseurs; for a good potato comes up in many branches of cookery, as herein after prescribed.--All potatoes should be dug before the rainy seasons in the fall, well dryed in the sun, kept from frost and dampness during the winter, in the spring removed from the cellar to a dry loft, and spread thin, and frequently stirred and dryed, or they will grow and be thereby injured for cookery.

A roast Potato is brought on with roast Beef, a Steake, a Chop, or Fricassee; good boiled with a boiled dish; make an excellent stuffing for a turkey, water or wild fowl; make a good pie, and a good starch for many uses. All potatoes run out, or depreciate in America; a fresh importation of the Spanish might restore them to table use.

It would swell this treatise too much to say every thing that is useful, to prepare a good table, but I may be pardoned by observing, that the Irish have preserved a genuine mealy rich Potato, for a century, which takes rank of any known in any other kingdom; and I have heard that they renew their seed by planting and cultivating the Seed Ball , which grows on the tine. The manner of their managing it to keep up the excellency of that root, would better suit a treatise on agriculture and gardening than this--and be inserted in a book which would be read by the farmer, instead of his amiable daughter. If no one treats on the subject, it may appear in the next edition.

Onions --The Madeira white is best in market, esteemed softer flavored, and not so fiery, but the high red, round hard onions are the best; if you consult cheapness, the largest are best; if you consult taste and softness, the very smallest are the most delicate, and used at the first tables. Onions grow in the richest, highest cultivated ground, and better and better year after year, on, the same ground.

Beets grow on any ground, but best on loom, or light gravel grounds; the red is the richest and best approved; the white has a sickish sweetness, which is disliked by many.

Parsnips are a valuable root, cultivated best in rich old grounds, and doubly deep plowed, late sown , they grow thrifty, and are not so prongy; they may be kept any where and any how, so that they do not grow with heat, or are nipped with frost; if frosted, let them thaw in earth; they are richer flavored when plowed out of the ground in April, having stood out during the winter, tho' they will not last long after, and commonly more sticky and hard in the centre.

Carrots are managed as it respects plowing and rich ground, similarly to Parsnips. The yellow are better than the orange or red; middling fiz'd, that is, a foot long and two inches thick at the top end, are better than over grown ones; they are cultivated best with onions, sowed very thin, and mixed with other seeds, while young or six weeks after sown, especially if with onions on true onion ground. They are good with veal cookery, rich in soups, excellent with hash, in May and June.

Garlicks, tho' used by the French, are better adapted to the uses of medicine than cookery.

Asparagus --The mode of cultivation belongs to gardening; your business is only to cut and dress, the largest is best, the growth of a day sufficient, six inches long, and cut just above the ground; many cut below the surface, under an idea of getting tender shoots, and preserving the bed; but it enfeebles the root: dig round it and it will be wet with the juices--but if cut above ground, and just as the dew is going off, the sun will either reduce the juice, or send it back to nourish the root--its an excellent vegetable.

Parsley, of the three kinds, the thickest and branchiest is the best, is sown among onions, or in a bed by itself, may be dryed for winter use; tho' a method which I have experienced, is much better--In September I dig my roots, procure an old thin stave dry cask, bore holes an inch diameter in every stave, 6 inches asunder round the cask, and up to the top--take first a half bushel of rich garden mold and put into the cask, then run the roots through the staves, leaving the branches outside, press the earth tight about the root within, and thus continue on thro' the respective stories, till the cask is full;it being filled, run an iron bar thro' the center of the dirt in the cask and fill with water, let stand on the south and east side of a building till frosty night, then remove it, (by slinging a rope round the cask) into the cellar; where, during the winter, I clip with my scissars the fresh parsley, which my neighbors or myself have occasion for; and in the spring transplant the roots in the bed in the garden, or in any unused corner--or let stand upon the wharf, or the wash shed. Its an useful mode of cultivation, and a pleasurably tasted herb, and much used in garnishing viands.

Raddish Salmon coloured is the best, purple next best-- white -- turnip --each are produced from southern seeds, annually. They grow thriftiest sown among onions. The turnip Raddish will last well through the winter.

Artichokes --The Jerusalem is best, are cultivated like potatoes, (tho' their stocks grow 7 feet high) and may be preserved like the turnip raddish, or pickled---they like.

Horse Raddish once in the garden, can scarcely ever be totally eradicated; plowing or digging them up with that view, seems at times rather to increase and spread them.

Cucumbers are of many kinds; the prickly is best for pickles, but generally bitter; the white is difficult to raise and tender; choose the bright green, smooth and proper sized.

Melons --The Water Melons is cultivated on sandy soils only, above latitude 41 1/2, if a stratum of land be dug from a well, it will bring the first year good Water Melons; the red cored are highest flavored; a hard rine proves them ripe.

Muskmelons are various, the rough skinned is best to eat; the short, round, fair skinn'd, is best for Mangoes.

Lettuce is of various kinds; the purple spotted leaf is generally the tenderest, and free from bitter--Your taste must guide your market.

Cabbage requires a page, they are so multifarious. Note, all Cabbages have a higher relish that grow on new unmatured grounds ; if grown in an old town and on old gardens, they have a rankness, which at times, may be perceived by a fresh air traveller. This observation has been experienced for years--that Cabbages require new ground, more than Turnips.

The Low Dutch only will do in old gardens.

The Early Yorkshire must have rich soils, they will not answer for winter, they are easily cultivated, and frequently bro't to market in the fall, but will not last the winter.

The Green Savoy with the richest crinkles, is fine and tender; and altho' they do not head like the Dutch or Yorkshire, yet the tenderness of the out leaves is a counterpoise, it will last thro' the winter, and are high flavored.

The Yellow Savoy takes next rank, but will not last so long; all Cabbages will mix, and participate of other species, like Indian Corn; they are culled, best in plants; and a true gardener will, in the plant describe those which will head, and which will not. This is new, but a fact.

The gradations in the Savoy Cabbage are discerned by the leaf; the richest and most scollup'd, and crinkled, and thickest Green Savoy, falls little short of a Colliflour .

The red and redest small tight heads, are best for slaw , it will not boil well, comes out black or blue, and tinges, other things with which it is boiled.


The Clabboard Bean is easiest cultivated and collected, are good for string beans, will shell--must be poled.

The Windsor Bean is an earlier, good string, or shell Bean.

Crambury Bean is rich, but not universally approved equal to the other two.

Frost Bean is good only to shell.

Six Weeks Bean is a yellowish Bean, and early bro't forward, and tolerable.

Lazy Bean is tough, and needs no pole.

English Bean what they denominate the Horse Bean, is mealy when young, is profitable, easily cultivated, and may be grown on worn out grounds; as they may be raised by boys, I cannot but recommend the more extensive cultivation of them.

The small White Bean is best for winter use, and excellent.

Calivanse are run out, a yellow small bush, a black speck or eye, are tough and tasteless, and little worth in cookery, and scarcely bear exportation.

PEAS-- Green Peas.

The Crown Imperial takes rank in point of flavor, they blossom, purple and white on the top of the vines, will run, from three to five feet high, should be set in light sandy soil only, or they run too much to vines.

The Crown Pea is second in richness of flavor.

The Rondeheval is large and bitterish.

Early Carlton is produced first in the season--good.

Marrow Fats , green, yellow, and is large, easily cultivated, not equal to others.

Sugar Pea needs no bush, the pods are tender and good to eat, easily cultivated.

Spanish Manratto is a rich Pea, requires a strong high bush.

All Peas should be picked carefully from the vines as soon as dew is off, shelled and cleaned without water, and boiled immediately; they are thus the richest flavored.

HERBS useful in Cookery.

Thyme is good in soups and stuffings.

Sweet Marjoram is used in Turkeys.

Summer Savory, ditto, and in Sausages and salted Beef, and legs of Pork.

Sage is used in Cheese and Pork, but not generally approved.

Parsley good in soups, and to garnish roast Beef , excellent with bread and butter in the spring.

Penny Royal is a high aromatic, altho' a spontaneous herb in old ploughed fields, yet might be more generally cultivated in gardens, and used in cookery and medicines.

Sweet Thyme is most useful and best approved in cookery.


Pears, There are many different kinds; but the large Bell Pear, sometimes called the Pound Pear, the yellowest is the best, and in the same town they differ essentially.

Hard Winter Pear are innumerable in their qualities, are good in sauces, and baked.

Harvest and Summer Pear are a tolerable desert, are much improved in this country, as all other fruits are by grafting and innoculation.

Apples are still more various, yet rigidly retain their own species, and are highly useful in families, and ought to be more universally cultivated, excepting in the compactest cities. There is not a single family but might set a tree in some otherwise useless spot, which might serve the two fold use of shade and fruit; on which 12 or 14 kinds of fruit trees might easily be engrafted, and essentially preserve the orchard from the intrusions of boys, &c. which is too common in America. If the boy who thus planted a tree, and guarded and protected it in a useless corner, and carefully engrafted different fruits, was to be indulged free access into orchards, whilst the neglectful boy was prohibited--how many millions of fruit trees would spring into growth--and what a saving to the union. The net saving would in time extinguish the public debt, and enrich our cookery.

Currants are easily grown from shoots trimmed off from old bunches, and set carelessly in the ground; they flourish on all soils, and make good jellies--their cultivation ought to be encouraged.

Black Currants may be cultivated--but until they can be dryed, and until sugars are propagated, they are in a degree unprofitable.

Grapes are natural to the climate; grow spontaneously in every state in the union, and ten degrees north of the line of the union.

The Madeira, Lisbon and Malaga Grapes, are cultivated in gardens in this country, and are a rich treat or desert. Trifling attention only is necessary for their ample growth.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Spiny Bear's Breeches

Spiny Bear's Breeches (Acanthus spinosus)

This handsome perennial, native to Italy through W. Turkey, was first documented in 1629, although it was grown much earlier by the Romans and Greeks. But, like its cousin, Acanthus mollis, it is not known to have been cultivated commonly in American gardens before the mid 19th century. The British garden writer William Robinson revived interest in the Acanthus by extolling its virtues in his classic book, The Wild Garden, 1870. New Jersey nurseryman Peter Henderson admired both Acanthus spinosus and A. mollis as “stately” and remarkably beautiful ornamentals in his Handbook of Plants, 1890. Large, dramatic flowers are attractive to bees.

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Baltimore Belle Rose

Baltimore Belle Rose (Rosa cv.)

‘Baltimore Belle’, developed in 1843 by Baltimore, Maryland rose-breeder Samuel Feast, is considered one of the best hybrid forms of the North American Prairie Rose. It produces a sumptuous display of highly perfumed red-tinged buds and pale blush, fully-double blossoms in small clusters of a dozen or more and it grows into a massive shrub with vigorous, arching stems. With the exception of ‘Baltimore Belle’, most of the Prairie Rose hybrids developed by Feast have virtually disappeared, but they were especially popular in the 19th century on pillars and arches or grown as hedges.

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Saturday, November 30, 2019

Primary Source - 1738 Runaway Gardener

RAN away...Two English Convict Servants; one named Robert Shiels, a gardener ; is a lusty, well-set Fellow, about 26 Years of Age, with long, black Hair; but it's suppos'd may cut it off...They went away in an old great Canoe.

Virginia Gazette (Parks), Williamsburg , From November 10 to November 17, 1738.