Fleur-de-Grand

I’ve been handing out pink, foil-wrapped chocolate cigars. If I could send some in this blog, I would.

Sabine & RIchard

Sabine & RIchard

Lais Mizero Lynch was born in Brussels, daughter of my son Richard and his girlfriend Sabine.

According to Rwandan culture (Sabine was born in Rwanda but is now a Belgian citizen), Sabine explained that I would be called “Mama Marina,” after my oldest child. That seems a bit confusing so I’ve been signing emails to Sabine “Mama M”. My Italian grandmother’s name was Nives but my older cousin started calling her “Nene” and it stuck. My Polish mother’s grandchildren call her “Nonna,” which is Italian. Who knows what little Lais will end up calling me…maybe Granny Skype!

Lais is a Brazilian-Portuguese name, chosen by my son. Mizero is Sabine’s selection—“hope” in Kinyarwanda. In the meantime, I’ve already come up with three terms of endearment for the Belgian babe thanks to the photos that arrived via email: “Sunshine,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Big Foot”. Laurie Lynch

Sunshine

Sunshine

 

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

Big Foot

Big Foot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S After my sister Lee Ann sent her congratulations she asked, “By the way, what is it with your family birthday sharing?”

Background: I was born on my mother’s birthday and Richard was born on my father’s birthday. And baby Lais was born on July 8, Great Aunt Lee Ann’s birthday.

Written on Slate:  “It is as grandmothers that our mothers come into the fullness of their grace. When a man’s mother holds his child in her gladden arms he is aware of the roundness of life’s cycle; of the mystic harmony of life’s ways.” –Christopher Morley

Message in a Bottle:  “My grandmother is over eighty and still doesn’t need glasses. Drinks right out of the bottle.” –Henry Youngman

Fleur-de-Mapscapes

OK, I admit it. I was a little skittish about Marina going off on a solo trip to Turkey.

Luckily, when I voiced my concern, she didn’t say, “Mom, get a life.” Instead, she said, “Mom, get a book.”

When she went to Belgium, I read everything I could on Belgium. When she went to grad school in London, guess where my armchair travels took me? I followed her adventures in Croatia and Slovenia on Google. But this trip to Turkey, well, I needed a library!

So off to Schlow Centre Region Library I went. The first book I found was Snow by Orhan Pamuk. This book won the Nobel Prize for literature but a wave of suicides, Islamic radicals, and a military coup staged during a snowstorm are not the gentle read a mother needs at a time like this.

Poppies in Salad Garden

Poppies in Salad Garden

The next book had to be my ticket to tranquility. The Turkish Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq is a series of letters written by Busbecq, a diplomat from western Flanders, about his travels to Constantinople in the 1500s, when Suleiman the Magnificent ruled the Ottoman Empire. Whoops, time warp. Constantinople, the only city that lies in both Europe and Asia, is now called Istanbul. To make this work, I needed a few props—namely, a map of present-day Turkey, so I could follow my couch-surfing, hostel-hopping daughter—and a map of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1500s. No sweat.

Busbecq is credited with introducing the lilac to Western Europe so I was excited to read about his plant discoveries. Surprisingly it was fauna, not flora, most often mentioned in his letters from Turkey. He was disappointed that he arrived in Constantinople just after the city’s prize “camelopard” died. The “camelopard,” with a head and neck like a camel and spots like a leopard, is now known as the giraffe. On his way back to Vienna, he brought a menagerie that included something called an ichneumon. The ichneumon (now known as a mongoose) apparently buried itself in mud to surprise and kill dragons, crocodiles, and venomous snakes.

So far, my reports from Marina have been giraffe-, ichneumon-, and dragon-free. But both travelers visited Hagia Sophia (Busbecq, when it was the Church of St. Sophia—then it became a mosque and now, when Marina visited, a museum). I’m guessing she ate plenty of yogurt. Busbecq wrote about “yoghoort”, describing it as sour milk to which cold water and breadcrumbs are added, and said it helps to quench thirst. After Constantinople/Istanbul, Busbecq took a northern route while Marina sought southern beaches. They both traveled in the heat of June and July, and their paths crossed again in Cappadocia—“Nothing but me, the birds, and the rocks,” she emailed. And the spirit of a Flemish traveler. Laurie Lynch

Homescapes: My friend Chris never met a plant she didn’t like. I, on the other hand, can be terribly opinionated when it comes to what goes in my salad, on my plate, or in my mixed border. Being “homeless” for the last several years has made me appreciate borrowed landscapes all the more.

Elder Blossom Cordial

Elder Blossom Cordial

Right now, for example, I’m brewing up a batch of elder blossom cordial. I didn’t grow the elderberry bush. A few years ago, I discovered it on a bike ride and stopped to ask the owner if I might have 20 flower heads. He agreed and I returned with a stash of cordial for him. Months later, the house was sold.

The bush was hacked down last fall. This summer, it came back with a vengeance and is covered with cream-colored clusters of flowers the size of Frisbees! Talk about blossom envy. The other morning, I went for a ride and saw a tall fellow washing windows at the elderberry house.

I pulled my bike in the driveway, hopped off, and walked over. “Would you mind if I picked a dozen of your elderberry blossoms?”

“Not my house. It is my daughter’s. She’s in the hospital. Just had twins. She won’t have time to worry about a few flowers. Help yourself.”

I did.

On the same ride, I call it Houserville Loop, I took a photo of a hillside planting of Yucca filamentosa that reminds me of an explosion of fireworks—and frankly, it’s the first mass planting of yucca I’ve ever seen.

Now there are a lot of good things to say about yucca. It is a native plant. It is deer resistant. It is tough as nails. It provides a dramatic accent. If you’re trying to create a Southwestern-style landscape to go with your stucco-and-red-tiled roof abode, it provides the look of Albuquerque while withstanding the bluster of an ice storm in Altoona.

Yucca Hill

Yucca Hill

I, on the second hand, have a long-time vindictive grudge against Yucca filamentosa.  It has a rosette of sword-shaped leaves with spiny tips—one variety is actually called “Spanish bayonet”—and the name couldn’t be more apt, believe me. I first met Yucca filamentosa when I bought my first home. Situated in Mount Pleasant, SC, the house had a pool that was landscaped by a raving maniac! Right next to the pool deck was a glorious specimen of Yucca filamentosa. Its saber leaves never failed to stab me in the backside when I walked by wearing only a bathing suit. Wrong plant, wrong place.

Written on Slate: “For a well-rounded education you could try curling up with good books and bad librarians.” –Richard Needham

 

 

 

 

Fleur-de-Permachange

I never thought I’d buy another gardening book. I have a bazillion in boxes in my mother’s basement and barn, tempting squirrels and harboring stinkbugs.

Then I got an email from a fellow Lemont Farmers Market seller and Master Gardener. She was starting a reading group to discuss Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. I’m not one to join a discussion group without reading the book, so I bought a copy.

The first discussion circle was intriguing and humbling. So much I don’t know. Herb spiral, bio-swale, hugelkultur—a whole new language. I came away with a good lesson that first night: Try something. In mid-May I settled on Ianto Evan’s Polyculture. I reserved a section of my dad’s old four-square vegetable garden and went wild.

First Flush

First Flush

First I took a small handful of Green Fortune Pak Choi seeds. Then another couple pinches of Dark Orange Calendula, Pot of Gold Chard and Flamingo Chard seeds, sprinkling them about. More seeds—Minicor and Cooke’s Blend Carrots, Pink Beauty and French breakfast radishes, Broccoli Raab, and Zefa Fino Fennel—all casually strewn. The only “rule” is to sow each variety of seed separately, not mix them all in a bowl and sow them, or else the heavier seeds might fall in one area and the lighter ones in another. The idea is randomness, not rows. Now I don’t know about you, but this shook my gardening roots to the core. Yet it did make sense to combine deep-rooted vegetables with shallow-rooted ones, slow growers with fast growers, and give every plant its fair shake to grow to edible deliciousness.

Here are the lessons I learned from that 5’x10’ patch of soil:

  1. Don’t try this if you can’t identify weed seedlings from vegetable seedlings. You must know the difference between inch-high purslane, Lamb’s quarters or pigweed and tiny carrots, chard or radishes.
  2. Even if you know the difference, if it rains too much and your soil has too much clay, you will often pull up a clump of weeds that are intertwined with a darling Flamingo chard seedling, and sticking it back in the ground usually doesn’t work. It breaks your heart.
  3. You have to be on top of your game. Harvest frequently. Radishes can hide under foliage and erupt into bitter bulbs, Pak choi and broccoli raab set yellow flowers (and turn bitter) in the blink of a tired gardener’s eye.
  4. Despite the chaos, you are going to be eating a lot of fresh vegetables!
Radish Harvest

Radish Harvest

Permaculture is all about ecology, plant communities and plant diversity; mimicking, not masterminding, nature. Those lessons were repeated at the state Master Gardener Conference. There were discussions on “practicing neglect”—letting borders of grass grow long and dead wood rot; leaving areas for nesting sites and burrowing edges. Speakers talked about the role of trees in transpiration—giant oaks or sycamores with leafy canopies that pump moisture into the atmosphere. There were lectures on the failure of our man-made “grey infrastructure” of gutters, curbs, drains and sewers to handle what the green infrastructure does so well. The lessons meshed into a pattern of hope.

At the conference we learned that since 1990 Pennsylvania has been getting wetter. “Fifty-year storms” are coming every three years. These flood events are not part of climate change. Instead, they are a result of the Joni Mitchell forecast: We’ve paved paradise, and put up too many parking lots, driveways, and manicured, but impervious, lawns.

The good news is that we can become part of the solution. Laurie Lynch

  1. Install a rain barrel and use the rainwater that you capture.
  2. Reduce the size of your mowed lawn.
  3. Plant a rain garden.
  4. Plant trees, shrubs and perennials, especially natives, which provide food for pollinators and birds.
  5. Support the use of garden roofs and redesigned parking lots that incorporate infiltration planters.

Written on Slate: “Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” –Langston Hughes

Watery Delight: We’ve had 90-degree days and nothing quenches the thirst like a few leaves of fresh mint crushed below a tower of ice cubes and drowned in cold water.

 

 

Fleur-de-Weed&Read

When my fellow plant nerds (aka co-horts) and I get together, the conversation can be riveting.

What’s growing in your garden?

Weeds.

ImageHairy Galinsoga invaded Emelie’s vegetable bed. Yellow wood sorrel is creeping around my garlic. Oh, and those four-legged, cotton-tailed weeds have decapitated every one of my Mooncake soybean sprouts, not to mention the Royal Burgundy, Roma and Tapia bean seedlings.

Hairy G (Galinsoga quadriradiata) is a summer annual weed with hairy triangular leaves and a yellow-centered white flower not much larger than this G. It also goes by the name Quickweed (which is not a good thing) and Shaggy Soldier (a name which is cuter than the plant). I thought I left Hairy G back in Berks County with Emelie, but no such luck. High in calcium and vitamins A, B, and C, it can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked as a green…if you like hairy food.

 

Yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) reminds me of clover but it has three heart-shaped leaflets instead of oval ones. In fact, it is Imagesometimes called Lemon Clover and its leaves can be used to make a drink similar to lemonade that is chock full of vitamin C. Juices can be extracted from the plant to make a vinegar substitute, which is why it is also called Pickle Plant. While these descriptions might sound desirable, look out! It has seedpods that open explosively, shooting seeds a dozen feet or so. I remember Steve Ganser telling me he could hear the seeds pinging against the walls of his greenhouse as the capsules catapulted their contents.

And those furry brown bunnies? Well, you all know what they look like. Perhaps I can train the yellow wood sorrel seed capsules to take aim at those darn rabbits! Laurie Lynch

Weed Free, Not Worry Free: Meanwhile, in the Master Gardener teaching tunnel weeds are not a problem. All this rain we’ve been getting falls on, not in, the high tunnel. So, instead of weeds, we have irrigation issues.

But we’re getting things figured out. Chris, who always seems to secure the materials and know-how we need from Penn State profs, says we have what they call a “Third-World irrigation system”—basically a water barrel, hose, and gravity. Peace Corps, here I come!

It is definitely a blending of ideas, with Jo, our teaching tunnel business manager and overall organizer, keeping us on track. Even my mom helps, riding shotgun on the 22-mile roundtrip to the Ag Progress Days site, and keeping everyone on their toes.

Image

We hoisted a 55-gallon water barrel onto a strong 3-foot-tall table near the raised bed. A short hose runs from the faucet of the barrel to a splitter. The splitter leads to two drip lines. We fold the end of each drip line several times and secure it with a sleeve made from a 10-inch section of drip line. Holes are pre-punched in the drip line tape every 12 inches. You place it blue-stripe-up so you can make sure the holes don’t get clogged. Volunteers have to fill the barrel every two or three days with a second hose attached to the site’s water pump.

We’re growing three heirloom tomatoes grafted onto disease-resistant rootstock. We purchased two each of grafted San Marzano, Pink Brandywine, and Black Krim. One of each is planted in the teaching tunnel; the remaining three are outside in our MG demonstration garden.

Although the irrigation system is simple, regulating the water flow coupled with a learning curve on the amount of heat that can build up in the high tunnel (even with sides rolled up) has been a challenge.

Then, there is the matter of trellising. We were warned that grafted tomatoes grow to be monsters in a high tunnel. How to keep these tomatoes in check?

Jim, our MG MacGyver-type, talked us into a simple, yes-you-can-do-this-at-home tomato trellising system (if you have a high tunnel). One end of the polished hemp twine is tied to an anchor stake, the twine is wrapped gently around the main stem of the plant, and the other end of the hemp is tied overhead onto the beam of the high tunnel. Weekly, as each tomato plant grows, we carefully tuck the main stem around the taut twine, catching it under a branch. At the same time, we remove suckers in the crotch of each branch. It helps to think of the tomato as a vine when you do this.

The co-hort fun never stops. Jo carries so much stuff in her purse (scissors, First Aid kit, plant markers, drip tape, Starbucks chocolate cheesecake brownies) that once my mom asked her if she had ice cream in there too!

Also In the Tunnel: We’re growing Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherries (Physalis pruinosa) and Giant Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) or, as it is called in French-speaking Quebec, “L’or de la Terre” (Earth’s Gold). Hope to have them ripe and ready for people to taste at Ag Progress Days.

Recharged Batteries: I attended the state Master Gardener Conference this past weekend thanks to its convenient University Park location. In upcoming blogs, I’ll be sharing some of the highlights.

Nicholas Staddon, director of new plant introductions for Monrovia plant purveyors, was a delightful keynote speaker. I almost stood on my chair and cheered when he said, “Vegetable gardening is not a trend anymore; it’s a cultural shift.”

He talked about the migration of vegetables into beds with perennials, shrubs and trees, and of cutting gardens melding with edible gardens. I had to laugh.

Just the other day, I realized I had filled the vegetable garden with plants and seeds, and didn’t have any room for my chitted Yukon Gold potatoes. In my mother’s perennial entrance garden, I planted some Bergenia (aka Pig Squeak because of the sound it makes when you rub its leaves) and autumn-blooming Coral Bells (Heuchera villosa) under the Kousa Dogwood, but the sunny area was looking sparse. So, I inter-planted white Wave Petunias with potatoes!

Monrovia Connection: The Raspberry Shortcake thorn-less raspberry I bought in Connecticut is a Monrovia introduction…and I can’t wait for the newest discovery Nicholas spotted in the Seattle area that he hopes to propagate successfully on a mass scale: a rhubarb plant with ruby-colored leaves. It’s a beauty!

Café Connection: I’m often on the front porch waiting for Café Lemont to open but the other night, the owners were walking past my mom’s house. I said hello and we were all surprised to meet there. (My mom lives on a dead-end road with only two houses.) They explained that they set a goal to spend 30 minutes a day in nature for 30 days, so they were walking and enjoying the evening.

30-Day Connection: From what I’ve been reading, there’s a “30-day movement” to make positive changes for 30 days straight, often in the hopes of creating good habits. Have any of you tried this? If so, add a comment to this blog and tell me what you’ve tried and how it worked.

Small Town: I was staring at an equine mother-daughter photograph with my mouth wide open as the dental hygienist scraped and polished.  She was telling me that she recently bought a gentle horse to ride—and lo and behold, the horse was gentle because she was pregnant. I kept looking at the photo and she explained that her mare gave birth to a brown-and-white filly.

“Ast ummer?”

“Inden all?”

I waited until it was safe and told her I had taken a photo of her foal last fall on a bike ride through Linden Hall.

Small World: The mare’s name is Mandy and her filly is Misty. Misty of Chincoteague? I asked, mentioning a favorite book from my youth. Misty of Chincoteague was her daughter’s favorite book too. Her daughter, she went on to say, recently finished grad school at the University of London. Dental hooks and prodders be damned, my jaw dropped and I sat up. “My daughter is going to her Master’s graduation at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies next month.” Wonders never cease.

Fleur-de-Mooncake

There’s something fortuitous about a sharp-eyed editor who lives in a time zone six hours ahead of most of my readers. Errors can be caught and fixed before many of my blogsters log into their computers.

That’s what happened with my last blog entry. I was writing about Susan Werner’s lyrics of the moon hitching up Jupiter and Mars…and instead of Jupiter, the planet, I wrote Juniper, the plant. It passed by my multiple readings but was caught immediately by daughter Marina in Belgium. Considering I’m a horticulturist not an astronomer, it’s not a slip of the typing fingers to beat myself up about. I actually got a kick out of it.Image

Another of Werner’s memorable descriptions is when she sings about the “soybean moon.” It’s a farm friendly way of describing the Earth’s natural satellite and one that returned to me when I went to a recent Penn State Extension workshop on growing edamame.

I grew and sold edamame at Fleur-de-Lys many years back. The food-grade soybean (Glycine max), popular in Asia where it has been eaten as a vegetable since 200 B.C., was just breaking into U.S. markets. To most Americans, soybeans were feed for cattle, until they tasted the larger, sweeter edamame, often served as an appetizer in the pod at Japanese restaurants.

For those of you who can find fresh edamame at your local farmers market, they couldn’t be easier to prepare. First, soak the pods to get rid of any soil. Then, bring a pot of water to boil, stir in a half-cup of salt, and then add the washed edamame pods. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and let cool. Either serve immediately or freeze to eat later.

Besides being tasty, edamame are a healthy source of protein, vitamins B6 and E, and oleic acid. They are thought to protect against breast and prostate cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and heart disease.For almost 10 years, Penn State researchers have been trialing Chinese soybean varieties with U.S. experimental varieties at the university research farms at Rock Springs. This is close to where the Master Gardener “teaching tunnel” is located. Penn State researchers and extension staff are trying to develop the infrastructure to make edamame a locally grown and processed vegetable for American eaters rather than having the U.S. rely on edamame imported from China, Taiwan and Japan.

Unlike the low-growing Chinese edamame I’ve harvested in the past, our Central PA favorite is “Mooncake” edamame, a giant reaching 5 to 6 feet tall with two or three large white soybeans in every pod. (The leftover leaves and stems can be used as forage for livestock.) “Mooncake” is being distributed through T.A. Seeds, Jersey Shore (PA). Just outside our “teaching tunnel” is a wire children’s playhouse (fund-raiser for State College Area High School) where we are growing “Mooncake” soybeans for an Ag Progress Days (Aug. 12-14) display. I’m also trialing “Mooncake” at my mom’s home, between the rows of asparagus. Soybean moon, indeed.

In case you are wondering, I did ask Marina what her editing fees were. Simple: A BLT when she comes back to the States for a visit later this summer. That, and a bowl of “Mooncake” edamame. Laurie Lynch

Blog Bingo: Seems like every time I write a new blog entry WordPress changes the game—but hey, it’s free, so who am I to complain? I’m having trouble inserting photos and writing captions. So, I will explain here that the photo accompanying this blog has NOTHING to do with soybeans, it’s just a footloose and fancy arrangement I spotted at Shakespeare’s Garden in CT. Thought it would be inspiring to you shoe fanatics.

Small World: Marina went to visit her au pair family last week. Two things amazed her. First, she was asked to pick up 8-year-old Jeanne and her friend at school. Marina walked into the school and was able to leave with the girls—no note, permission slip, or phone call necessary Nothing. On the way out of school, Jeanne wanted Marina to meet her teacher. They were introduced and the teacher asked Marina where she was from—“Pennsylvania” Long story short, the teacher is also from Pennsylvania—Mertztown of all places! She married a Belgian professional wrestler and they eventually moved to Belgium.

Mertz World: Just after Marina related that story, she forwarded a Channel 69 piece on a Kutztown Area High School classmate of hers—Alec Mertz. Alec, born with Down syndrome, is raising free-range eggs on the family farm in Kutztown and selling them to Blue Sky Café in Bethlehem. News traveling from the Lehigh Valley PA to Ghent, Belgium, and back to State College, PA.

Written on Slate: “My garden will never make me famous, I’m a horticultural ignoramus. I can’t tell a string-bean from a soy-bean, or even a girl-bean from a boy-bean.” –Ogden Nash

 

 

 

Fleur-de-Hayseed

My mom and I took a road trip to Connecticut the other week. The car radio is on the fritz, so I packed a few CDs to distract her from reading every exit sign from Lock Haven to Danbury.

Along with her favorites, I brought one of mine.

I first heard “Plant the Stars” about a year ago. The lyrics talk about the moon going to work, hitching up Jupiter and Mars, and scattering sparkling seeds of light in the garden of the universe. But I didn’t catch the title, or the musician’s name. I emailed WPSU with a sketchy description of the words to the song and received a reply from Morning Edition show host Mel DeYoung . (Am I the only one who wants to call him Mel-o-Dy Young?) Mr. DeYoung told me that the mystery singer who spoke to my heart is Susan Werner; Hayseed the title of her CD. Image

I never thought I’d be singing about atrazine, alachlor, 2,4-D, paraquat, and glyphosate—but Susan’s lyrics twist and turn, and get your hands hammering on the steering wheel. Cruising down the country roads of Connecticut we rolled down the windows (the AC doesn’t work either). I let spring blow through my curls (babushka queen had hers under wrap), and the two of us belted out in twang-y harmony: “Dang, dang, hey, hey, Herbicides done made me gay.”

We were headed to my sister Lee Ann’s home for the weekend. Her husband Tim chauffeured us to the Heirloom Festival at the Comstock, Ferre & Co. seed house in Wethersfield, CT. I heard about the celebration from my long-time favorite seed catalog: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. It was a day of music, agricultural heritage, plants, and crafts.

The weekend garden odyssey continued with stops at Shakespeare’s Garden at Burr Farm in Brookfield, where we discovered the secret of how To Be a dynamic garden center…or Not To Be mundane. We also took in the New Milford Farmers Market and just outside of town, visited The Green Spot. This is a new plant-lovers paradise with a cut-your-own flower garden, stone amphitheater cooled by the churning waters of the Aspetuck River, an outdoor kitchen on a bluff above the river, and a luscious, thornless, raspberry plant that went home with me. We also played in Lee Ann’s new four-square, raised bed, vegetable garden and swam the first laps of the season in their pool.

ImageAs we made our way back to Pennsylvania, Susan’s clever lyrics, occasional Green Acres theme-song riff, and gutsy voice kept me entertained with humorous vision and touching reflection.

At first, the storyline of “Egg Money” spoke to my darker side. Now, it brings to mind my favorite sandwich at Café Lemont: egg, cream cheese, and pesto. Why didn’t I create this sandwich? At Fleur-de-Lys I always had a Cuisinart full of fresh pesto, our hens’ eggs, Paul’s home-baked bread, and kid-friendly cream cheese (still cracks me up that it is referred to as “Philadelphia “ on Parisian breakfast menus). The beauty is when you put those four together to make a sandwich: Perfection. You’ve got to try it. But do so with a song in your heart and really fresh eggs.

“Something To Be Said” is the song that echoes in my mind at 3 a.m., when sleep and logic elude me. The clever wordplay creates a bittersweet treatise on the age-old dilemma of kids leaving home to see the world. We all yearn and learn to bloom where we are planted. –Laurie Lynch

Random Roofing Notes: The roofing profession is always listed as one of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs. The company I work for is all about safety and fall protection. Our guys are serious about safe practices and often verbally rehearse among themselves what to do in various situations.

Scott, whose cubicle is behind mine, got a call to check gutter work at a Pennsylvania reptile zoo. Normally our roofers travel in pairs, but Scott was alone on this occasion, inspecting rather than doing repair work. There were three things Scott had going for him that day besides 30+ years of experience: he vacations in Florida and has been to SeaWorld Orlando; he is by nature calm and low key; and a park employee had his back.

Wouldn’t you know that the gutter Scott needed to check out was in the middle of the Aldabra giant tortoise exhibit. The necks on these critters have the girth of a football, and their “big ole hump shells” are this big around, Scott told me, stretching his muscular arms wide. But he wasn’t scared. He had seen Aldabra tortoises at SeaWorld. They weigh anywhere from 350 to 550 pounds. The tortoises are curious, and when startled, predictably unpredictable.

Native to islands in the Indian Ocean, the giant tortoises are known to knock over small trees in search of tender leaves…so what is a ladder or two?

Luckily, while Scott climbed the ladder and the zoo employee kept watch, Al and Henry, our Pennsylvania Aldabra giant tortoises, kept their distance. They ignored Scott, and, for the most part, Scott ignored them.

August in Lemont: I’ll be selling a dozen varieties of garlic at the Lemont Farmers Market Wednesdays in August (2-6 p.m.).

Written on Slate: “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storms, but to add color to my sunset sky.” –Rabindranath Tagore

 

Fleur-de-Echo

The other day, I ate a quick lunch at work and then took a walk outside. An Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) danced against a backdrop of giant spruce trees that border the road.

This time of year in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, our native redbud struts her stuff. I usually enjoy the magenta display from a distance, passing in a car or on my bike. I wanted to take a closer look. The delicate but striking buds actually sprout from bare gray branches with neither leaf nor stem in sight.

As I approached the windbreak, what I saw amazed me. Mother Nature’s paintbrush detailed the flower buds and then added the same red raspberry sheen to the immature spruce cones preening nearby.

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Redbud and Red Spruce Cones

I might be going out on a limb—taxonomy, like Italian, is not my specialty—but I think the spruce is another native, Picea rubens, red spruce.

Color echoes, sometimes just a momentary flash, but oh, so beautiful.

Another, etched in my mind’s gallery, flickers like an old newsreel. Years ago I was growing Asclepias tuberosa, commonly known as butterfly weed, in the garden at Fleur-de-Lys under the lion’s head fountain. One day, walking past, I did a double take. The tip of a young green shoot on the plant was the same violent orange as the blossoms. On closer inspection, it was dozens of bright orange aphids clinging to and devouring the greenery that mimicked the color of the plant’s brilliant flowers.

I know aphids as pests with piercing, sap-sucking mouthparts. They can devastate a garden. I was dumbfounded that this one species was able to find its color match on my orange butterfly weed blossoms. Nature’s camouflage.

I yanked the plant and fed it to the chickens, orange aphids and all. Laurie Lynch

Italian Pronunciation: My Italian-speaking friend Karen corrected the pronunciation I gave for scorpacciata in my last blog. When in Rome, please pronounce it “scor-potch-CHA-ta”.

I always appreciate editing, though it can be so gosh-darn embarrassing My chef-phew, who seems to spend more time in my Linkedin site than I do, finally mentioned that I listed one of my activities as writing “Fleur-de-Bog”. It made me want to croak!

Makes Cents: “There are two typos of people in this world: Those who can edit and those who can’t.”—Jarod Kintz

Fleur-de-Scorpacciata

While researching ramps I stumbled across a fascinating Italian word: Scorpacciata

As Central Pennsylvania shakes off its winter hibernation, it seems like the perfect word to discuss further.

Pronounced “score-POTCH-chee-yatta,” it is translated as “big feed.” But according to chef Mario Batali, a better definition is the practice of eating large quantities of a particular ingredient while it is at its local peak of deliciousness. This means eating fresh, local ramps in as many ways possible until they disappear for the season. Then you move onto the next local delicacy, chowing down on the circle of the seasons.

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Pollinator in pink.

A few days after my initial brush with “scorpacciata,” Tim, my favorite NYTimes addict, sent along a link featuring, guess who, Mario Batali. The chef was raving about his current scorpacciata sandwich: crisp soft-shell crabs with sautéed ramps and dressed with a homemade tartar sauce all tucked into a bun. (He suggested it be coupled with either Chablis or a cold Pilsner Urquell.) Meanwhile, aforementioned Tim spent last month tapping maple trees and enjoying maple syrup scorpacciata—topping pancakes and oatmeal, as well as experimenting with maple cocktails during a lacrosse tailgate! We’re talking drinking your big feed…

I’m enjoying tamer stuff—sautéed ramps, roasted ramps, ramps a la stir-fry, ramps a la coleslaw. As I was weeding our new asparagus patch, I saw an elegant spear of Purple Passion pushing through the soil, calling to me, “Scorpacciata, Scorpacciata.” On the other side of the split-rail fence, the Mara de Bois strawberry plants are whispering, “scorpacciata, scorpacciata.”

Perhaps it is a mix of my Italian blood and my farming passion, but I’ve been a follower of the scorpacciata philosophy long before knowing the word or the concept. My kids will tell you I’ve always been a tomato snob. If it didn’t grow in my garden, it gets pushed to the side of my salad plate and remains uneaten. Those pale, juice-less, Styrofoam slices of what most restaurants and supermarkets call tomatoes are not TOMATOES. This year, it will be different. I’m taking tomato snob-dom to higher heights. Besides my usual Green Zebras , Yellow Brandywines and St. Pierres, I’ve got a flock of wonderful seedlings thanks to my father’s Italian cousin Settimio: Vari-Misti, Blu, Ciliegino and Cour di Bue. Summer, when it comes, will be my big feed, tomato style. Laurie Lynch

Blog Around the World: I’m still a newbie in blog technology but I accidentally bumped into an interesting statistic—where in the world Fleur-de-Blog “hits” originate. Here are the countries in my WordPress history: Algeria, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Nepal, Netherlands, Panama, Peru, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom. With family and friends around the globe, I can understand several of the locations. But Algeria? Nepal? Turkey? I’m puzzled.

A Brick in the Stomach: Talk about being puzzled. Marina tells me that Belgians have a common expression, “Une brique dans le ventre.” This is no lump in the throat, but tonnage in the tummy. The saying means Belgians are born wanting to own/build a home, and to be “settled.” That is why a Belgian television show that features architecture and design is named “Une Brique Dans Le Ventre.” The show recently featured Marina’s au pair family’s new venture, an elegant B&B in Liege. If you would like to take a peak, check out the link below:

https://www.filesanywhere.com/fs/v.aspx?v=8b6d638858656da86f9f

You will see blonde Denise giving a tour of the B&B, mustachioed Benoit chatting it up, Emelie playing piano, and Jeanne bouncing on a trampoline, a young beauty of 8 who was Marina’s charge as a toddler.

Bricks of Wisdom: “We build on foundations we did not lay. We warm ourselves by fires we did not light. We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant. We learn from persons we did not know.  We are ever bound in community.” –Rev. Peter S. Raible

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleur-de-Pinterest

Back in 1985, Betsy stopped in State College for a visit on her way to see Porgy and Bess at the Metropolitan Opera. The trip was a special one. It was the 50th anniversary of Porgy and Bess on Broadway. It was also 10 years since I had met Betsy, my first editor at my first “real” job as a reporter for The News and Courier in Charleston, S.C., and the first time she visited my hometown.

We drove Betsy all around town and campus. It was February and we took her to dinner at a restaurant at the foot of our local ski slopes, thinking it was as far as we could get from Charleston’s harbor and palmettos. It is funny, the things you remember. The comment that still brings a shudder to my Appalachian backwoods roots was, “Why does everyone still have Christmas wreaths hanging on their doors?”

Apparently proper Charlestonians remove all holiday trim by Epiphany. Not so in Central Pennsylvania, where outdoor decorations are frozen in place until March. April, this year.

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We’ve had one or two days of spring-like weather so I was contemplating the front door wreath, complete with red ribbon and snow-flecked pinecones. Lucky for me, I was skipping through my latest computer diversion, Pinterest, and I saw my inspiration: An umbrella filled with flowers.

My sister Lee Ann introduced me to Pinterest. Its “Everything” site of DIY projects is like flipping through dozens of magazines for creative ideas, with just a roll of the mouse wheel. Most of my “pins” go onto a never-never-land personal page for “the future”. But this one shouted at me: “Now!”

I mentioned the idea to Marina, ensuring I would be prodded into action. We surveyed the current state of my mother’s umbrella population but found nothing suitable, only compact, pop-up types or HUGE golf umbrella models in U.S. Naval Academy blue and gold. So, the three M (Marina, Mom and Me) Musketeers drove to Goodwill.

We found a wooden, duck head-handled model for $4. Off to Dollar General for silk flowers, $1 a spray (four sprays), and a $1 spool of ribbon. Assembly took minutes, and the end result, perfect.

The next weekend, we visited Marina’s Great-Aunt France in Philadelphia. She still had her Christmas wreath on the front door. After Marina said her good-byes, France and I needed a diversion. France had a broken umbrella and off we went. We invested $5 at Dollar General, and ta-da, spring came to Pennsylvania once again. No wonder I’m humming, “Summertime”. Laurie Lynch

ImageRamp It Up: Alicia came across this ramp recipe and says that everything she’s made from the following blog is delicious!

http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2013/04/ramp-pizza/

Benioff Book: City of Thieves, the book that Emelie suggested a while back, was a page-turner, indeed. And a central theme is a dozen eggs…

Quote to Note: “It’s better to have your nose in a book, than in someone else’s business.”–Adam Stanley

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleur-de-Ramps

I knew the teaching tunnel would be full of lessons.

I didn’t expect the first lesson to come so quickly, or on the drive home.

The first time I saw the sign I was cruising at 60 mph toward Shingletown.

LEEKS RAMPS FOR SALE

A memory fluttered for a moment. No. It couldn’t be. The place must sell some type of truck ramp for DIY oil changes or something.

The next trip back from the teaching tunnel, Marina and my mom were in the car.

“Did you see that sign? Did it say Ramps?”

Marina hadn’t noticed. I was doing a double take, again, at 60 mph.

“I think it said Ramps. Ramps are like wild garlic and supposed to be delicious. They’re available for just a short time in the spring. Maybe they’re just selling truck ramps…but hey, this is spring. Maybe they have the ramps you eat.”

I made a U-turn.

Years ago, a big fellow stopped by Fleur-de-Lys Farm Market. He saw our Garlic Greens sign and wanted to know if we sold ramps. I had never heard of ramps (aka Allium tricoccum) but the seed was planted, so to speak. Some time after that, when my chef-phew Wille was working at Bucks County’s Yardley Inn, he said if we had ramps growing in our woods, the restaurant would buy them all. No such luck.

At the 2013 PASA conference I took a class on wildcrafting—foraging for uncultivated edible plants—and once again, ramps raised their broad, flat green leaves from the litter of the forest floor and waved at me. I even asked my co-worker Sharon if her dad had ramps growing in the wilds of his Rebersburg woodlands. We talked about escaping the office and gathering ramps and morels and other such delights of Penn’s Woods. We’d call ourselves The Wild Women. But alas, Sharon’s dad told her there were no ramps to be found.

We drove down the J.L. Farm lane to a complex of greenhouses. A pickup truck pulled in about 15 seconds later.Image

A fellow, probably in his 70s, climbed out of the truck. Marina and I approached him. He introduced himself as John. I asked if he had ramps. Not now, but he would on Monday. On Saturday he would drive to his place in McKean County, dig up the wild leeks, and return Sunday. Bushels of ramps would be available Monday for several local restaurants, and yes, I could buy some too. (McKean County is in the northwest section of the state known as the “Pennsylvania Wilds.”)

“They’re small this time of year,” John said, holding his calloused hands about 6 inches apart, “but they’re so good. Filled with vitamins and minerals.”

In Appalachia, ramps are the traditional spring tonic, warding off a long winter’s ailments. And what a long winter it was. I read that ramps are often cooked in bacon fat and served with a heapin’ helpin’ of eggs, potatoes, and bacon. Ramp festivals celebrate the allium in North Carolina, Kentucky, and West Virginia, all the way up to Quebec, where the French-Canadians call them “ail des bois”.

The spring ephemeral grows in cool, shady areas where you might find Mayapples or trout lilies. It emerges from the damp humus in late March or early April before the tree canopy fills in. By late May, the leaves of the perennial bulb die back, the flower stalk shoots up, and in June, the plant flowers and sets seed. Researchers at North Carolina State University found that seeds can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months to germinate. All in all, if you’re trying to cultivate ramps from seed to root harvest, expect to wait five to seven years.

But John is fortunate. Mother Nature takes care of the process for him. On spring weekends he returns to the 20 or so acres of his childhood homestead where the woodland floor spreads out in a sea of green—ramps rising from the thawing soil. Even with the bounty, careful harvest is required so the native population is not depleted.

When I returned to J.L. Farm on Monday, John greeted me with disappointing news. His restaurant clients were expecting 200 pounds of ramps. He had nothing to sell them. “There’s still snow up there.” He opened a black garbage bag filled with slimy, blackened leaves. Tucked in among them were a tangle of ramp roots and bulbs, barely sprouting. He was going to spend the evening planting them in his greenhouse beds to grow them out to saleable size. He cupped a few in his hand and then went to a raised bed where a few ramps were showing their stuff, survivors of John’s marauding chickens.Image

“These are a tonic for people, deer, even turkeys. Thins the blood. Your daughter has to taste these before she goes back to Belgium,” he said, placing a fistful in a paper bag. “They have a spark. Make you feel like a wild Indian.”

For Marina’s last Momma-cooked meal, I made Fasta Pasta chipotle penne with a sauce of bacon drippings, bacon, and diced ramps, sprinkled with Romano cheese. Comfort food, ramp style. Laurie Lynch

Gourmet Giggle: In the midst of my tramping for ramps I was emailing chef-phew Wille about my progress. Long after the dinner dishes were done, I returned to my email and found this:

“Awesome! I would glaze them and serve them whole on a side of pureed parsnips with fish. Top with a nice sauce to finish it off and a whiff of fresh rosemary. Hit with some nasturtiums for that extra little zip and eye candy. Let me know how it works out.”

I guess that is next week’s project.