Peaches and peppers and squash… oh my!

“The gardiner is brisk at work. The Peach-Trees are much broken down with the weight of Fruit this Year.”

The patched fence provides protection for Pennsbury’s crops and a sunny spot to grow.

William Penn’s steward James Harrison reported this good news in October of 1686, but the same could be said of the fall harvest in 2012!  Indian blood peaches, radishes, red and yellow cayenne peppers, squash, gourds, and culinary and medicinal herbs have all thrived this year in Penn’s kitchen garden.

According to Pennsbury’s gardener Mike Johnson, this is due in part to the recent restructuring of the garden’s fences. While Penn’s original garden covered about two acres of his estate, the smaller area has allowed the garden staff to protect the plants from pests and to interpret seventeenth and eighteenth-century garden activities more effectively for visitors.

 

One of the several varieties of gourds currently growing in Pennsbury Manor’s 17th-century kitchen garden.

You may be asking yourself, “What happens to all those fruits and vegetables?” Just as in Penn’s time, nothing goes to waste!  Harvested crops will be used in cooking demonstrations, educational programs, and seed-saving for future planting.

Let’s follow the path of the dipping gourd, which has yielded a particularly plentiful harvest this year. From the garden, the dipping gourds will make their way into storage to dry until next summer. At that time, our summer campers will remove the seeds and return them to the gardener so they can be planted. Once the seeds are removed, each gourd will be fashioned into a ladle-like tool used for watering plants. In a time when metal watering cans were expensive, being able to grow one’s own irrigation tools was certainly a favorable alternative. 

Dried gourds make excellent dippers for the cistern. Gourds and thumb-pots are favorite 17th-century tools kids can use as they water the garden’s many plants.

 

Several species of peppers are ready for harvesting in the Kitchen Garden.

2012 was also a “hot” year for red and yellow cayenne peppers. Growing cayenne peppers has given the garden staff an opportunity to interpret contradicting horticultural ideas, as not everyone on the estate would have eaten them.  African slaves living at Pennsbury had their own culinary culture and probably would have cultivated cayenne peppers as a food source. However, the Penn family and Pennsylvania’s other English residents would have considered them to be primarily ornamental plants with some medicinal and culinary value. For example, cayenne pepper and other spices would have been added to hot chocolate for an exotic burst of spicy flavor.

 

The fall harvest is well under way and will continue for the next few weeks. On your next visit to Pennsbury, take a walk through the garden and reflect on the efforts of our gardeners, past and present. They cultivated food for the table, medicine for those who were sick, and even tools for future growing seasons. Autumn is the perfect time to celebrate their achievements!

By Danielle Lehr, volunteer and former intern

Invitation to Share

This summer a young friend attended summer camp at Pennsbury Manor, and during the course of the week she formed some opinions about my job as the Museum Educator.  She told me that I have the coolest job in the world because I get to “take care of the animals, give tours, and drive the golf cart.”  Well, maybe my job isn’t quite as simple as that, but it is pretty cool! 

Without question, my favorite part of the job is talking with visitors.  I get to learn where they are from and what brought them to Pennsbury Manor, hear their questions and discussing answers – because history is rarely made of pure facts.  Most of all, I love that moment (especially transparent in children) when an idea catches hold and true learning takes place.

Every day, all sorts of people (including you!) visit our blog.  I often feel like I am missing out because I can’t have the same conversations with you as I do with the people who visit the physical site.  But lately we’ve been having some great discussions with our readers and volunteers.  We’d like to encourage everyone to feel they can participate, with questions, comments, and experiences of your own!

Below each blog article, there is a comment section for anybody to post their responses.  If you are shy (like me) and don’t wish to post a public response, please email us at willpenn17@aol.com.  We’d love to know what your interests are, and what you would like to hear more about!  I’d like to know what questions you have about current or previous posts.  Finally, I’d like to hear about YOU.  Where are you from?  How did you come to love history?  What experience at a historic site or museum truly moved you?

Go ahead, make my day and shoot me an email or comment.  I look forward to hearing from all of you!

Mary Ellyn Kunz

Museum Educator

The Country Life: Growing our Clothes

As the summer heat drags on, we turn our focus to an important crop we’ve been growing in the Kitchen Garden: flax.  This reed-like plant has been used for thousands of years to create a light-weight, durable fabric called linen, which was a staple textile for common folk and aristocrats alike. 

Flax plants starting to grow in the hot beds at Pennsbury, 2011

Linen production in the Delaware River valley began primarily in Swedish settlements as farmers began cultivating flax. By the time William Penn held the proprietorship of the colony, local leaders were urging settlers to increase growth of this fiber crop.

 The harvest of the flax begins in late July. Farmers would pull the crop from the ground and tie them into small bundles in which they would be laid out to dry for several days. Next step would be to pull the fibers apart in a tool referred to as a “ripple comb.” During this stage, the seeds would be removed and could either be used for planting or sent to an oil mill for pressing.   

flax-breaker

 

Following this, the separated fibers would be wetted and laid out to soften. After separating them again, they would begin a process known as “hackling” or “hatchling.”  Workers would draw fibers through a board with fixed steel teeth, providing fibers for grades of linen varying from rough working clothes to finer table clothes and sheets. 

combs for “hackling” the linen fibers

Flax was not initially a popular crop because of its need for fertile soil and the time-consuming, strenuous process of harvesting.  However, flax became more profitable up into the mid-1700s as a major export of the region. Soon, with the rise of cotton in the 1800’s, linen production would nearly cease to exist.  

Bolts of modern linen from Pennsbury’s clothing program

On an estate such as Pennsbury Manor, linens of all kinds would be common, from the roughest weave to the finest bleached linen. Visitors can see evidence of it’s colonial role all around, from the tools of flax harvest found in the kitchen house to the linen press kept in Penn’s Great Hall to store his expensive investment.  Linen was one of the key fabics of its time, and continues its popularity today!

By Ray Tarasiewicz, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

 

Come by next Sunday, July 22 and see what else is growing in the Kitchen Garden!  Horticulturalist Mike Johnson will be on hand to talk about the summer season with visitors.

William’s World: We’re So Cheesy

Aelbert Cyup, “The Dairy Maid,” 1650s

We’ve been recently discussing just how important dairying was, first as a career for the idyllic milkmaids and as a country business that was transported into towns (resulting in a more convenient, but poorer quality product).  As those articles said, there were a number of ways to prepare milk to be turned into various food resources. Today, cheese is a highly popular product (and a great way to preserve milk long-term), but it wasn’t always so fashionable!

Volunteer interpreters Susan PLaisted and Joan Healy prepare to drain the whey from cheese curds at Pennsbury Manor.

A large amount of milk went into cheese making. Although dairy did take its role at the table of the 15th and 16th-century elite in a number of forms (of which the five most common were cream, curds, milk, buttermilk, and whey), the one seen at their table least was cheese.   Cheese evolved from being a resource associated with poverty to being a sought-after staple for all social classes.

The main change that occurred in favor of cheese took place in the 1650’s when cheese became the primary reliance of the English army’s soldiers in Ireland.  Also used to feed servants or humbler guests, it was also found on ships because it lasted without deterioration, and thus it was a good option to send with both sailors and troops.

The whey is allowed to drain from the cheese curds, then the bundle is poured into a cheesemold and wrapped with a linen cloth. Cheese needs to be rotated and maintained regularly while being cured, or the liquid will settle on one side and will turn bad.

 Further support for the consumption of dairy in the form of cheese came about as Englishmen saw cheese savored at the tables of high-ranking society members abroad. Initially startling the English elite, especially if served toasted and not cold, cheese eventually took hold at their table. This was especially so as the milk industry boomed and the different counties of England began refining the cheese making process to produce various types include what would be most similar to that of a sharp cheddar today. And, although the outcome was surely delicious, the process behind cheese making is less appealing.

Calve’s stomach, which was required every spring for cheese-making.

Firstly, “a suckling calf’s stomach- bag was the usual source of rennet” (rennet-a dried extract made from the stomach lining of a ruminant, used to curdle milk).  As a result cheese was made during the spring when a single calf could be sacrificed for the sake of cheese making and milk would be abundant. In conjunction, the process of cheese making was something simple that could be done at the home if you owned a household cow. Likewise, there was no need for special expensive equipment and the milk could be processed quickly.  The resulting cheese making industry soon grew too and frequented the spring with the annual cheese making processes.

Come see Pennsbury Manor’s upcoming Cooking Demonstration next Sunday, July 15th from 1:00-4:00pm!

Flrois Claesz van Dijck, “Still-Life with Fruit, Nuts, and Cheese,” 1613

By Mary Barbagallo, Intern

Photographs by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator

 

Sources

Food and Drink in Britain – C. Anne Wilson, the Anchor Press Ltd., 1973, Great Britain

Food in Early Modern England – Phases, Fads, Fashions 1500-1760 – Joan Thirsk, Continuum Books, 2007, New York, NY

The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition – Houghton Mifflin, 1985, Boston, MA

The Country Life: Beating the Winter Cold

Although the Penn family did not reside at Pennsbury in the dead of winter, the estate was certainly not dead; the staff worked to ensure the smooth running of Penn’s summer home in all seasons. Colonial gardeners were no exception, cultivating techniques to battle the cold and prepare for spring. As colonials tired of pickled and salted foods during the winter months, they longed for fresh produce. The hot bed, an important part of the colonial kitchen garden, allowed colonists to begin growing vegetables before spring thawed the ground.

 

16th-century engraving of a gardener working on his raised garden beds (“The Gardener’s Labyrinth,” Thomas Hill).  Raised bed allowed gardeners to adjust the composition of the soil, adding or lessening acidity depending on the plant being cultivated.  Hot beds were a variation on the standard raised bed frame.

 

In Pennsbury’s garden, the hotbed is located opposite the riverside next to the cold frames. A brick and wood structure, the hotbed protects seedlings from the bitter cold and provides the perfect environment for out-of-season growth. Colonial gardeners would have layered soil over fresh manure from the barn to create the heat source. Once the manure cooled to about seventy degrees Fahrenheit, the bed was ready for seeds. Straw placed on top provided additional protection from the elements. If prepared properly, the hotbed could retain its heat for several weeks.

Although its main purpose was to jumpstart vegetables in the cold weather, colonial gardeners would have used the hotbed year round to grow a variety of plants. We still use the hotbed for this purpose at Pennsbury (see below). For example, last summer, the gardeners used the hotbed to provide a space for growing flax. The hotbed gave us the perfect place to monitor the young flax plants and ensure they would be mature enough for the fall harvest.

 

A hotbed at Pennsbury Manor, 2011

 

Colonists were not able to simply walk into the supermarket and pick up fruits and vegetables during the winter like we can, but they were not completely helpless. They wasted no resources, and that includes time. While they could not beat Mother Nature’s icy grip on their gardens, they could manipulate the temperature of their own growing environment, the hotbed.

 

**Come to Pennsbury Manor’s Gardening Sunday on May 27 and see what’s starting to sprout in the Kitchen Garden!**

 

Written by Danielle Lehr, 2011 Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

Living the Life of a 17th-Century Farmer

Last weekend, during our annual Spring Interpreter training, I shared an amazing  BBC mini-series on 17th-century farm life, and I wanted to make sure everyone else got to hear about it too! 

(I’ve actually already shared it a couple of times on this blog, including a recent article about stuffing straw mattresses.  But this is a tv series any history buff should not miss, so I couldn’t resist re-posting a link!!)

The series, called Tales From the Green Valley, follows 5 historians and archaeologists as they live on a real 17th-century Welsh farm and perform the daily activities required to survive.  Unfortunately the series is not available on DVD in US-format, but luckily all 12 episodes are available onDaily Motion:*

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xqprv1_e1-tales-from-the-green-valley_lifestyle 

These 12 episodes, one for every month of the year, offers a marvelous inside look at the daily lives of Stuart-era English farmers.  They follow the agricultural year and show how much life was influenced by the seasons, in ways that modern society hardly notices anymore. 

Throughout the year, we’ll be sharing more posts on seasonal activities, so stay tuned!

Hannah Howard

Volunteer Coordinator

 

*No copyright infringement intended, used for purely educational purposes

And you think your job is hard? Try colonial farming!

I’d like to share a fascinating video our site director, Doug, just emailed my way.  Here at Pennsbury Manor, we talk a lot about life on a late 17th-century farming estate.  We offer a wide variety of demonstrations and do plant and harvest an authentic kitchen garden every year, but don’t have the staff or visitation to offer a full-scale agricultural recreation.  Which is why I find this video series so fascinating!!  Click the link to watch the first episode of this 12-episode series where historians work on a real Welsh 17th-century farm for a year:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xqprv1_e1-tales-from-the-green-valley_lifestyle 

Techniques may have evolved slightly by 1683 when William Penn settled at Pennsbury Manor, but not much if at all.  The work recreated on this circa 1620 farm is a great way to imagine how early Pennsylvania colonists were surviving!

*No copyright infringement intended, used for purely educational purposes*

Written by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator