Book Review: The Golden Age of Flowers

The Golden Age of Flowers: Botanical Illustration in the Age of Discovery 1600-1800

By Celia Fisher

Today is also World Book and Copyright Day, so I felt a book review fitting.

The introduction to this book is extremely interesting. Within a few pages the author has helped me to finally put some of these famous names into perspective: Linnaeus, Clusius, Tradescant, Banks, to name but a few.  These plant hunters, collectors, botanists and merchants played a decisive role in what we see in our gardens today. Thanks to Celia Fisher, I now know that Clusius was around in the 16th century, and Linnaeus in the 18th!  Linnaeus was the man who brought order to plant names, and thus a man I wish to learn more about. Above all, I have become hungry for further information! Now I know what I want to research and read more about.

However, the main body of this book is a collection of over a hundred botanical drawings from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Here is an example:

These beautiful works of art are accompanied by a brief outline of where the plants originated and when/how they came to Europe. I was fascinated to find out who discovered what, and where. Who first cultivated the Geranium? When was the Phlox brought to Europe from America? Where did the Daffodil come from? For me it is important to comprehend how, for example, Nerines were believed to be Japanese, but were actually African, yet were called “Guernsey Lilies”!

I could read this book again and again and learn something new each time. (I have read the introduction three times and found myself making notes!) The text is not long and not wordy. And even if the reader is not attracted by the text, the drawings are amazing. If only I could draw!

This is, on the one hand, a beautiful “coffee table” book, for browsing occasionally. Or, on the other hand, if you are interested in botanical history, you could lose yourself in it… I did.

Green Pancakes?

Alliaria petiolata

I realize this plant is actually an invasive weed in North America, but I don’t mind it in my garden since it tastes great!

I’ve noticed/smelt it before, growing down in the woods by the river, but as a spindly upright plant with pointed leaves and white flowers. So when I saw this big healthy plant in the open sun, still in bud, flourishing on our old compost heap, I didn’t recognize it! The bushy young plant has heart-shaped leaves. But as it grows upwards and thins out the leaves become more pointed. The small white flowers appear in May, and can also be eaten.

We laughed at it possibly being edible, as it grows near our nettles. And then we rubbed the leaves…. mmm! We tried it…

… the flavour was first garlicky, then bitter, then very strong, and then peppery. I immediately looked it up, already suspecting what it was, and found a few recipes.

In German it is called “garlic weed” (Knoblauchsrauke), but in English it is known as Garlic Mustard. That explains the spiciness.  (Apparently it can also be called “Jack-in-the-bush”!) I imagine it tastes stronger as it grows, so I decided to try out this recipe while the leaves are still young and tender.

(For more information and photos of the flower, take a look here: Alliaria petiolata)

To celebrate Earth Day: Green Pancakes!

Green Pancakes
For two people, puree about 40g of the leaves (washed and shaken dry) with 100ml milk, a pinch of salt and two eggs. Mix in 85g self-raising flour and let stand for 30 minutes. Then fry in a pan just like pancakes and enjoy with salt and pepper or – even better – with a little grated cheese on top!

We are planning on trying a pesto next, or maybe some herb butter…

Rhubarb and Vanilla

Rhubarb and Vanilla

A match made in heaven!

The dreaded dessert as a child was rhubarb and custard! Somehow the velvety vanilla custard sauce made the rough tartness of the rhubarb even more pronounced! However, since then I have slowly come to enjoy the pleasure of its tartness, and if young sticks are used they are much sweeter. I found some nice young rhubarb on the market last weekend. (Mine is not quite ready yet). This cake is proof that vanilla most definitely is the right spice to use with rhubarb; but instead of eating cake with custard (although I know some people who do!) I have incorporated this lovely spice into the cake itself.

This recipe is adapted from Heidi Swanson’s buttermilk cake (see:101 cookbooks), which is great with apples, raspberries or strawberries too. (Probably with any fruit in fact!)

Rhubarb and Vanilla Cake

  • 2 cups tender rhubarb, cut into 1cm long pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups (275g) self-raising flour
  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup (60g) brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vanilla sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (220ml) buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (55g) butter, melted and cooled
  • about 3 tablespoons brown/vanilla sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Grease and flour a 12-inch square baking tin.

Combine the flour, baking powder, brown and vanilla sugars and salt in a large bowl. Split the vanilla pod and press out all the seeds into the flour mixture. Mix with finger tips into flour until well-dispersed. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract and the buttermilk. Whisk in the melted butter. Pour the buttermilk mixture over the flour mixture and stir until barely combined – try not to over mix. Now fold in the rhubarb.

Spoon into the prepared pan and sprinkle with most of 3tbsps sugar. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until cake is just set and a touch golden on top. To give the cake some crunch, at the end of baking sprinkle remaining sugar on top and put under a hot grill for 2 minutes. But be careful… it browns very quickly!

Leave to cool completely on a rack, and then serve with whipped cream. (I only had clotted cream, and it went perfectly!)

Enjoy!

ROOOObarb!

WORD OF THE DAY:

rhubarb [ˈruːbɑːb]

Rhubarb: noun

  • a plant which has long green and red edible stalks, usually eaten sweetened and cooked
  • US and Canadian slang a heated discussion or quarrel
  • the noise made by actors to simulate conversation, esp by repeating the word rhubarb at random (also a verb)

Is it a vegetable or a fruit?

Well, celery stalks are a vegetable, so in my eyes rhubarb is too!

However, Wikipedia writes that in 1947 the US declared rhubarb to be a fruit! As a result it was categorized as a fruit for import purposes – very lucrative for the business, as tariffs were lower for fruits than vegetables! (Someone must have had interests in a rhubarb farm abroad! LOL!)

The garden variety used for cooking is Rheum x hybridum. The leaves are toxic, containing oxalic acid, but the stalks have been used as an ingredient in fruit pies ever since sugar became readily available… without other sweet fruits or added sugar the stalks are so sour that they are barely edible! Sweeter young stalks are now sold in early spring as they are grown in hothouses.

Garden rhubarb can also be “forced” by raising the temperature – usually with an upturned bucket over the new shoots, or with a more sophisticated pot made especially for the purpose. In parts of northern England rhubarb is cultivated outdoors and then in the winter moved into sheds which are heated. The resulting shoots which sprout in the dark are tender, sweeter and paler than normal rhubarb. (See this article on the Rhubarb Triangle)

I’ll be posting a recipe for rhubarb tomorrow, so if you don’t have any in the garden, go and buy some! 😉

I remember watching an ancient film with Eric Sykes in it called “Rhubarb, Rhubarb”. The only word uttered in the whole 30-minute film was “rhubarb”! Five minutes of it is funny, but half an hour gets a bit tedious, even though the cast was excellent (with Jimmy Edwards, Beryl Reid, Roy Kinnear, Charlie Drake…).

Sadly there doesn’t seem to be a YouTube clip of it anywhere…

… There is however another famous rhubarb:

“Roobarb”

Roobarb is a disagreeable green dog who is full of silly ideas, and his neighbour –  Custard – is a pink cat  who takes great pleasure in laughing at Roobarb’s mishaps! Does anyone remember this cartoon?

Click on the picture of Roobarb to see the cartoon intro!

Terra (and Water) Culture

Water, water, everywhere…

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day.

(Old English nursery rhyme)

Rain, rain, come back!

(New English nursery rhyme!)

With the hose-pipe ban in the UK my thoughts have recently been focused on water resources and drought. In Bavaria this is not really an issue, since many gardeners have their own well, and underground reservoirs ensure a safe water supply long-term. The reservoir near my hometown in England was, however, fairly low when I visited, and restrictions on watering are now in place in the south and east of the country.

Then I saw a TED Talk the other day which shows, among other things, what has happened to the Aral Sea on the border of Kazakhstan:

“Formerly one of the four largest lakes in the world with an area of 68,000 square kilometres (26,300 sq mi), the Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects.” (Wikipedia)

If you are short of time, just look at the photo on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aral_sea

And if you have a few minutes, watch the whole TED talk here:

Jonathan Foley: The other inconvenient truth

It looks at the whole issue of land and water in agriculture, and it really gets you thinking…

A few last highlights from an English garden in spring

While in England over Easter I managed to capture a few rays of sunshine in my Mum’s garden. This hellebore has been in a pot all winter, and clearly feels happy there! It is the only one we knew the name of: Pink Frost.

Bluebells, although not the native ones (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). No, these are the dreaded Spanish ones: Hyacinthoides hispanica… Why dreaded? Well, they are invasive and hybridise freely. This is putting the native one at risk.

A viburnum, just beginning to open up its tiny petals. The buds look quite waxy, like a plastic model!

And one final picture of that gorgeous hellebore again! I just couldn’t resist!

That’s it from England until I visit again in the summer. All the kind words about my Mum’s plants have been passed on thank you!

And thanks for stopping by!

Sunshine and Liebster Blog Awards

I’m feeling very happy, yet humble.

There are so many fantastic blogs out there, I have a long way to go!

Still, my dear blogging friends sent me over some special gifts this Easter:

From Elaine at Rainyleaf  I received The Sunshine Award…

Thank you Elaine!

Elaine is a qualified horticulturist, and has an extensive blog full of plant profiles, lovely photos, book reviews and lots of useful tips for the gardening year:    http://rainyleaf.com

The Rules for the Sunshine Award:
1. Include the Logo in my Post
2. Link back and thank those that nominated me
3. Answer 10 questions about myself and/or tell seven random facts
4. Nominate (up to) 10 other bloggers and link them to the award in their comment section

The Questions:

  1. What is your favourite colour?       Sunrise orange
  2. What is your favourite animal?     Dogs (especially Irish Wolfhounds!)
  3. What is your favourite number?   63 (don’t ask!)
  4. What is your favourite drink?       Coffee
  5. Which do you prefer, facebook or twitter?  ??? (Am not on either)
  6. What is your passion?                  Plants, dogs, books, and FOOD!
  7. Do you prefer giving or receiving presents? I love choosing presents for people.
  8. What is your favourite pattern?    Flowers of course!
  9. What is your favourite day of the week? Saturday!
  10. What is your favourite flower?  This changes with the seasons… currently the Hepatica (or maybe Pulmonaria?)!

Then Robin Jean Marie at Bringingeuropehome gave me the Liebster Blog Award…

Thanks Robin Jean Marie!

Robin has lived in Europe and to remind her of that time she now posts about European traditions, food and so on. It’s such a fun and cheerful site!   http://bringingeuropehome.com

Here are the rules for the Liebster Blog Award:

  • Thank your Liebster Blog presenter on your blog.
  • Link back to your awarder’s site.
  • Copy and paste the award onto your blog
  • Nominate 3-5 bloggers for the award.
  • Inform them by leaving a comment on their blog.

I hope nobody minds me nominating just 3 bloggers for each award… with the gardening season beginning I have less time to view many new sites at the moment!

The Sunshine nominees:

Gardenpath (Wildlife and nature close up – fantastic photos!)

My Little Rhode Island Corner (A really lovely garden and nature blog – with recipes too!)

Mountainmae (Observations on life and nature, dotted with delightful poetry!)

The Liebster Blog nominees:

Herbstbaum (A friendly German/English nature blog with lovely pictures!)

CrumpetKitchen (In French and English, a cosy collection of recipes and anecdotes – love it!)

Prairiesummers (Delicious recipes in German and English, with lovely photos too!)

Take a look at these blogs and enjoy an array of talent!

Thanks everyone!

🙂