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Old Time Recipes for Home Made Wines: Peach Wine

The appearance of the first fresh peaches at the Farmers’ Market always brings happiness but long lines wheather you eat them as is or use them in cobbler, icecream or pie,  but how about peach wine?  Peaches are wonderful in sangria but also can be made into a light bodied, crisp, refreshing wine that is also reportably (relatively) healthy.  For a super taste treat, pair it with smoked and spicy dishes that will complement the sweetness of the wine.  Of course, the recipe for peach wine in my grandmother’s book, Old Time Recipes for Home Made Wines, may not  be exactly what you expect, but the six quarts of brandy that is used in it is bound to be good no matter what! [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

Also known as absinthe, this wood-based subshrub is native to Mediterranean Europe, temperate regions of Asia, and northern Africa where it grows in dry open areas, often on rocky slopes. It is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes sunflowers, daisies, and lettuce. The plants are upright, well branched, and have stems and foliage coated with silky hairs. The greenish-gray leaves are 1.5 to 4 inches long, strongly aromatic when bruised, and two to three times pinnately dissected above, less so below. The pale yellow flowerheads appear in summer in drooping panicles and are not ornamentally interesting. The plants are grown for the silvery foliage that brightens the colors of hot pink, red, and oranges flowers, while blending the colors of pastel pink, blue, and purple flowers.  The foliage is also attractive in both fresh and dried flower arrangements.  Wormwood has also  been used in making both vermouth and absinthe and has a long history of use in herbal remedies for a number of ailments. The genus name Artemesia is the name of the Greek goddess of chastity, the hunt and the moon. The specific epithet, absinthium, is the classical Latin name for wormwood. [click to continue…]

A native Iran and Iraq, the pomegranate is a deciduous tree or shrub that has been grown since ancient times and  is widely cultivated for the juicy seeds of its fruit in warm dry areas of Asia, Middle East, Africa, Europe, and South America.  Growing up to 33′ tall the plants have fine-textured leaves that are glossy green and narrow oblong. Showy red-orange  flowers  are borne singly or in clusters of up to five from late spring to early summer. In the fall, the foliage takes on a reddish or bright yellow tint as the large almost spherical fruits appear. The fruits are 2 to 4.” across and  have a tough, leathery, pink to red skin and an interior divided into hundreds of segments by thick, cream-colored membranes. The segments are  filled with a seed surrounded by a sac of tart juice.   The plants are are extremely long-lived, up to 200 years old, and are grown as ornamentals as well as for fruit.  [click to continue…]

Old Time Recipes for Home Made Wine: Palermo Wine

If you do an Internet search for Palermo Wine you will probably find that the most prominent result is a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley made by Orin Swift Winery.  This wine is described as dry and bold with moderate body, tannins and acidity, and an alcohol content of about 15.5%.  Most tasters reported flavors of oak, vanilla, chocolate, and dark fruit. It sells for about $50.  This is certainly not what my paternal grandmother, Helen S. Wright, had in mind when she included a recipe for Palermo Wine in her book, Old Time Recipes for Home Made Wines.  The main ingredient in her recipe is Malaga raisins that at least have a relationship to grapes but where did she get the idea of including wormwood? [click to continue…]

This deciduous flowering shrub is native to the Mediterranean region where it grows in coastal scrub often on sand dunes, and is a member of the pea family, Fabaceae, that also includes beans, lupines, and mimosa.  Growing up to 10′ tall and 20′ wide, the bush has multiple slender gray-green weeping stems.  The small leaves remain on the stems very briefly so the stems appears leafless most of the year.  Short pendant racemes of white, pea-like flowers appear from mid winter to late spring, and are sweetly fragrant and attractive to bees and butterflies.  Fruits are one seeded pods and seed production is prodigious.    Plants are grown for use in medicine and in soil stabilization projects as well as an ornamental in areas with hot, dry summers and cool, moist winters. They are tolerant of drought and strong, salt-laden winds and can be used in seaside gardens. The flowers are good for preserving and drying.  The genus name, Retama, is the  Latinized form of the Arabic name for the plant, retem.  The specific epithet, monosperma, is derived from the Greek words monos meaning one and spermus meaning seed, and refers to the one seeded fruit of the plant. [click to continue…]

Gardens in Art: Lovers in the Garden


This manuscript illumination by Pietro Crescenzi show two lovers siting on a turf bench inside an enclosed garden.  The garden has high walls that provides both protection and privacy.  The lawn is divided by numerous paths into rectangular beds with small fruit trees growing in some of them.  More trees are espaliered along one wall, and red and white rose bushes grow in the background.  In a bed behind and to the right of the couple are lilies and in front  are possibly columbine and violets as well as some unidentified others.

Benches like this were a common feature of medieval gardens.  They were first mentioned by Albertus Magnus, a 13th century Dominican friar and bishop: “Between the beds and the grass a raised turf section must be set up, filled with delightful flowers, and nearly in the centre, suitable for sitting on, where the senses may be refreshed amd where one may rest with pleasure”.  Although the lovers in this picture are seated on this bench as Magnus suggests, sometimes figures are shown sitting on the ground and leaning against the side of the bench. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Colocynth (Citrullus colocynthis)

This evergreen tender perennial vine is native to the sandy arid soils of the Mediterranean Basin and Asia, and goes by many common names including bitter apple, bitter cucumber, desert gourd, vine of Sodom, and wild gourd.  It is a member of the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, that also includes cucumbers, watermelon and squash.  The plants have a large fleshy tap root and  rough, angular, vine-like  stems that can climb by means of branching axillary tendrils.  The rough palmate leaves are 2-4″ long and have 3-7 lobes. Male and female yellow flowers are borne singly on the same plant and fertilized female flowers give rise to a small, hard fruit, known as a pepo.  The fruit is green, orange and yellow variegated,  maturing to yellow, about the size of an orange, and has a very bitter yellowish spongy pulp and numerous ovoid, flattened, yellow-orange to brown seeds.  The fruit and seeds are used for food, medicine, and as an energy source.  The genus name, Citrullus, is the diminutive of the Latin word citrus, the classical Latiname of the citron tree. The specific epithet, colocynthis, is derived from the Greek kolokunthis  meaning round gourd and refers to the fruit. [click to continue…]

Plants of the Bible: Cucumber (Cucumis sativus)

Originally native to south Asia, cucumber has been cultivated for at least 3,000 years.  It is an annual creeping vine with hairy stems carrying hairy triangular leaves on long petioles.  The leaves are 3-6″ long, deeply wrinkled,  and have serrated margins. Male and female flowers appear on the same plant, the male flowers earlier than the females.  The star-shaped flowers are 1″ across and have 4-5 fused yellow petals.  The long cylindrical fruit is botanically known as a pepo and is characterized by a tough rind with many seeds scattered through the flesh.  Young cucumbers are sometimes prickly but smoother as they mature.    [click to continue…]

Chanterelle tubularAlso called trumpet chanterelle and winter chanterelle, this mushroom is widespread and common throughout the northern North America growing in large colonies in wet sites of deciduous and coniferous woods during the fall into December. It is mycorrhizal especially with older spruce trees, Douglas-fir, and western hemlock but can also be found on rotting logs. It’s dull color and small size allows it to blend into the moss, or leaf or needle litter of its habitat and so it is often difficult to find. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Pistachio (Pistachia vera)

Native to the Middle East this small deciduous tree  is a member of cashew family, Anacardiaceae, that also includes mango, poison ivy, sumac, and smoke  tree.  With a spreading growth habit, the plants grow 25-30′ tall and have pinnately compound gray-green leaves with 5 oval leaflets.  In spring greenish brown male and female flowers lacking petals appear on different plants.  Fertilized female flowers give rise to reddish husks that contain two-sided beige nuts.  Trees are very long lived and begin bearing fruit after 5 years but reach maximum productivty in about 20. Male and female trees must be present together for good fruit production. The genus name, Pistachia, is derived from the ancient Greek word pistákion, the ancient Greek name of the plant.  The specific epeithet, vera, is the classical Latin word meaning true to type, standard. [click to continue…]