July 7, 2022

A Special ‘View From My Porch’ in Recognition of Independence Day: CT’s General Israel Putnam was a ‘Man of Legendary Courage’, a Brooklyn ‘Rock Star’

Major General Israel Putnam, during the American Revolutionary War. Public Domain.

Prelude:

The June 9 edition of The Day reported that the team of Tessa Grethel and Sophia D’Amico — both Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School seventh graders — took first place in Connecticut in the junior group exhibit category of the National History Day Contest with their project titled “Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Origins of Atomic Diplomacy.”

Phil Rizzuto would have exclaimed “holy cow” for a homerun like that! 

Introduction:

I reported in my last essay that Connecticut legend credits General Israel Putnam with “increasing the popularity of cigars in New England after he returned from an expedition to Cuba with thousands of Havana cigars.”

In trying to corroborate that claim with an additional source, I discovered that there is substantial folklore surrounding the General’s life and his acclaim as a warrior and military hero. (To avoid any misinterpretation of this essay’s title, note that I use “Rock Star” to express high praise.) 

Kerri Provost, writing in “Real Hartford”, refers to Putnam as “Connecticut’s first authentic folk hero”. I am not suggesting that his story is historic fiction, just something worthy of a friendly review. All that said, he was very cool, and a fascinating American patriot, who had significant influence on freeing New England from the Redcoats, and Connecticut from predatory wolves. 

I have also considered other Connecticut Revolutionary War heroes in previous columns, including Ezra Lee, who was the first man to command a submarine in an attack on the enemy; and David Bushnell, who invented “The Turtle”, which was used by Lee in his 1776 assault on the British flagship, “HMS Eagle”, in New York harbor.

Israel Putnam was born in 1718 into a wealthy farming family in what is now Danvers, Mass. and moved to Connecticut in 1739 to establish his own farm, a “500-acre spread just south of what is now Pomfret, Conn. He had 10 children with his first wife; and much later, in 1767, established a “house for the general accommodation of the public” (i.e., a tavern) in Brooklyn, Conn. with his second wife.

He owned a slave, and as we have learned through the “Witness Stones” Project, that was not unusual in Connecticut at that time.

The Hartford Courant reported that “Israel Putnam defied the image of a classic American hero. “Stout, if not fat, he was unreserved, a man of many words who reveled in racy ballads and rum-fueled stories.” So, I guess that he bore more resemblance to Ben Franklin than George Washington. 

Putnam and the Wolf:

In 1742, after he and his neighbors had suffered repeated losses of sheep from wolf attacks, Putnam organized watches in an effort to protect the flocks and to help track the wolf back to its den. They spotted the wolf at dusk on a winter’s day and followed it to the den, a cave with a very narrow and shallow entrance.

Absent another volunteer, Putnam attached a rope to a yoke around his ankles and crawled into the cave with a lighted torch, trying to determine whether he could get within musket range of the animal … and he did come within yards of the snarling wolf. 

He signaled, and was dragged out; and then crawled back in with torch and musket and shot the wolf. His neighbors drew him out again, nearly overcome by smoke. 

After being revived, he crawled back into the cave a third time, where he grabbed the wolf by the ears; and the dead wolf and the live farmer were hauled out together. Putnam had dispatched Connecticut’s last wolf with a single shot.

The Colonial Warrior:

I’ll review a few of the notable battlefield events that contributed to Putnam’s legendary status with the following historical vignettes; and then identify some of the memorials and public works of art associated with those events. He became known for his natural leadership ability and reckless courage; and rose steadily through the ranks, ultimately gaining the rank of brigadier general before the Battle of Bunker Hill.

This is not a skirmish-by-skirmish list; just a few highlights.

French and Indian War:

In 1755, he joined Rogers’ Rangers, a New Hampshire-based militia company affiliated with the British. The Rangers were a “highly resourceful force trained in irregular warfare tactics” and stealthy reconnaissance. Ranger companies were developed because the English Regulars (i.e., the British foot soldiers) were so unaccustomed to frontier warfare. 

Rogers’ is considered as the precursor to the U.S. Army Rangers.

Putnam is said to have excelled at that form of frontier fighting. He was captured in 1758 by French-allied Mohawks while on a military mission near Crown Point, N.Y., and was saved from the ritual burning allegedly exacted by Mohawk warriors on their enemies through the intervention of a French officer. 

Putnam was then taken as a prisoner of war to a camp near Montreal. Note that many former Rogers’ Rangers’ officers eventually defected from the British ranks to fight for the Continental Army against the British.

The Siege of Havana:

He was freed from the French in an exchange of prisoners, and sailed in 1762 with a British mission that captured the Spanish garrison at Havana harbor and assumed control of the Caribbean Spanish fleet. He had survived a shipwreck during that expedition and may have been part of the British occupying force that remained on the island until the “Peace of Paris” ended the seven years of the French and Indian War in 1763. 

Putnam returned to his Connecticut farm after Cuba, and prospered.

He became a prominent member of the Connecticut Sons of Liberty and a leader in the opposition to the 1765 Stamp Act, which imposed a substantial tax on the colonies to fund the cost of the French and Indian War. He led the mob of former soldiers that forced the Mass. Colony’s Stamp administrator in Boston to resign.

The Battle of Bunker Hill:

Now 57years-old, Putnam was working in his fields with his son, Daniel, when a messenger rode into the village and proclaimed that the British had fired on the militia at Lexington, killing six men; and were on the march. This advance by the Redcoats on Lexington, and then Concord, marked the beginning of the American Revolution. 

Putnam left his plough in the field, and without changing from his working clothes, departed immediately on horseback for the home of Governor Trumbull in Lebanon, Conn., who ordered him to sound the alarm with the militia officers and the patriot assemblies in the neighboring townsm and then continue on to the conflict.

Putnam proceeded to Cambridge, where several colonial militias had encamped, and set up his headquarters. He began preparing what were untested fighters for the inevitable battle with the British. Their ranks comprised militiamen from several colonies, former soldiers, and farmers, who had signed on with “the cause”.to the revolution. 

The British ships controlling Boston’s harbor began firing their cannons on the Americans on the morning of June 17, 1775; and soon after, landed soldiers in preparation for attack.  

After General Warren, the American commander, had been seriously wounded, Putnam assumed command and then served as commanding officer in the battle. As the British approached the poorly-supplied militiamen, he ordered them to conserve their ammunition, and “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”

The colonists repelled the first two British assaults, but ran out of ammunition during the third attack and were forced to abandon their position, returning to their lines outside the battle perimeter. The entire time, Putnam rode his horse up and down the lines, setting an example of courage and steadying the troops.

Although the battle was a tactical victory for the British, it came at a terrible price. Nearly half of the 2,200 Redcoats who entered the battle were killed or wounded in the two hours of fighting — twice as many casualties as the Americans had suffered, including many of the British officers. 

The Americans’ fierce defense demonstrated their ability to fight “toe-to-toe” with the British, and provided an important confidence boost, convincing them that they could overcome the superior power of the British military. 

Although usually referred to as the Battle of Bunker Hill, the battle actually took place on Breed’s Hill.

The Aftermath:

“The loss we have sustained is greater than we can bear,” wrote British General Thomas Gage. After the battle, patriot leader Nathanael Greene remarked “I wish we could sell them another hill at the same price.” 

George Washington arrived and assumed command of the new Continental Army in Cambridge and stayed on to direct the ongoing campaign at Boston. Afterwards, he moved the Army to New York, and Putnam was given command at Long Island.  

Unfortunately, Putnam was “outflanked, out-maneuvered and out-smarted” in the Battle for Long Island”. Washington never blamed him for the loss, but it was clear that he was past his prime as a battlefield commander; and was delegated less important commands. If Bunker Hill was Putnam’s high point, then the Battle of Long Island was his lowest. 

The Die Is Cast: 

The Americans had long felt that relations with the British were nearly irreconcilable. The bloodshed at Bunker Hill, however, virtually eliminated any chance for reconciliation and pointed the colonies on the path to independence.

When King George III received the news of the battle in London on August 23, 1775, he issued a proclamation declaring the colonies in a state of “open and avowed rebellion.” Further, in the wake of Bunker Hill, Benjamin Franklin penned a letter to an English friend and member of Parliament that he closed with, “You are now my enemy and I am yours.” Finally, the high price of victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill made the British realize that the war with the colonies would be long, tough and costly. 

Israel Putnam Public Art and Memorials:

Substantial public space has been dedicated to memorializing Israel Putnam.

The Israel Putnam Wolf Den, the site where he killed the last wolf in Connecticut, is now maintained in Mashamoquet Brook State Park in Pomfret, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

A bronze Marker, installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution on Lake Road in Crown Point, N.Y. is inscribed, “182 feet north of this spot stood the oak to which Israel Putnam was tied and tortured by the Indians in 1758”.

The image of Putnam leaving his plough in the field after learning of the British attack on the Americans at Lexington, is carved on the east façade of the Connecticut State Capitol Building, one of five tympana on the east façade portraying the founding of Connecticut and the Revolutionary War.

Putnam’s actual plough and saddle are on display in the Entrance Hall of the Hartford Armory.

John Quincy Adams Ward’s bronze of Israel Putnam, completed in 1874, was one of the first public sculptures dedicated in Bushnell Park; and the first of six Revolutionary War memorials executed by Ward. Putnam is depicted striding forward, with his sword held under his arm. 

His remains are buried in the base of an equestrian monument on the Brooklyn Town Green. The monument was created in response to the deteriorated condition of Putnam’s original grave marker; and was funded by the Connecticut state government with the provision that it also serves as a tomb for Putnam.

Upon its completion, Putnam’s remains were reinterred under the monument.  The dedication was held on June 14, 1888 and included the governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island. The equestrian monument was criticized by contemporary reviewers, who especially criticized the horse, with one reviewer  saying  that the horse appeared to be suffering from bone spavin (i.e., Osteoarthritis).

The original grave marker is under glass and can be seen in the north alcove of the Connecticut State Capital in Hartford; his epitaph was “He dared to lead where any dared to follow”.

A statue of William Prescott was installed next to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, Mass.

Some Final Thoughts:

I want to say up front that I see absolutely no parallels between what I have presented in this essay and the activities of January 6th. 

I have read history since I got my first library card from the Darwin R. Barker Library in Fredonia NY; and not because I thought that ” those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” (see https://lymeline.com/2021/02/a-view-from-my-porch-the-marquis-groucho-sam-and-me/ )

I still read history and I realize that it helps me re-confirm the honor, courage, heroism and eloquence of Americans. 

Clearly, my essay presents a Connecticut-centric view of Putnam’s exploits.  

However, William Prescott (Mass.) shared leadership responsibility with Putnam on the battlefield. “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.” has also been attributed by some to Prescott. Historians have not reached agreement on whom is responsible for that exact quote.

Regarding the original question: I still cannot confirm whether Putnam brought a cache of Cuban cigars with him on his return to Connecticut; and my original statement did come from a legitimate source, However, as a successful farmer, it is more likely that he returned with tobacco seeds; and I have since found several sources supporting “tobacco seeds”.

Finally, Robert Rogers created the ” 28 “Rules of Ranging”, a series of procedures and guidelines, in 1757 during the French and Indian War. A modified version of the “Rules” is still followed by the 75th Ranger Regiment, (i.e., the U. S. Army Rangers), and they are considered as “standing orders” for Ranger activities.  

Sources:

Niven, John. Connecticut Hero: Israel Putnam. American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Connecticut. 1977.
Leavenworth, Jesse. Israel Putnam, A Man of Legendary Courage. Hartford Courant.  May 24, 2014.
(Note that the following two sources are available from that omnipresent online bookseller with all the blue vans):
Goodrich, Samuel G. A Tale of the Revolution: and Other Sketches. Peter Parley Children’s Series.1845
Marsh, John. Putnam And the Wolf, Or, The Monster Destroyed: An Address Delivered At Pomfret, Connecticut Before The Windham Co. Temperance Society.  October 28, 1829.

Editor’s Notes: (i) The photo above is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a08971.

(ii) This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

 About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK. A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A la Carte: Two Columns Bursting with Strawberry Treats

Lee White

Column 1

Oh my, no matter the season, last week was a perfect summer day. Was it always sunny? Not really, but for Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, the clouds didn’t explode with raindrops and the humidity stayed around 70 percent and in Groton and Madison, there was always a soft breeze.

Friday I learned how to make a watermelon “sorbet (well, it required some sweetened condensed milk),” and I will try it with other fruits.

Next week I will give you that recipe (and the new friend who created it) and another recipe for fresh fruit and a two or three cream that tops a grainy bread. I just met a new friend that was a lovely appetizer that requires only if you make your own bread (which she did!).

For today, now that strawberries are local and delicious. Then again, strawberry’s  two- or three-week season may be my favorite time of the year. (At least until it’s corn time, or tomato time, or basil time).

Toasted-almond Cake with Strawberries in Whipped Cream

Adapted from Gourmet, June, 2007, page 143

Yield: about 8 to 10 servings

Three-quarters cup whole almonds with skins (one-quarter pound), toasted and cooled
1 ¼  cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½  teaspoon salt
4 large eggs at room temperature about 30 minutes
1 ¼  cup superfine granulated sugar (I put sugar into processor to get it fine)
1 ½  sticks (three-quarter cup) unsalted butter, melted and cool
1/3  cup milk (2 percent is fine)
¼  teaspoon almond extract
½  cup sliced almonds
2 pints frozen strawberries with sugar, thawed, or 2 pints fresh strawberries, sugared to taste
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or one-half teaspoon rose water)
1 and one-half heavy cream, whipped

Put oven rack on middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 8- or 9-inch square or round cake pan. 

With blender on high, add half toasted almonds through top hole and finely grind (be careful not to grind to a paste). Transfer to bowl and grind remaining almonds in same manner, transferring to bowl. Add flour, baking powder and salt to ground almonds and whisk until combined well.

Beat eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until foamy, about 15 seconds, then add sugar a little at a time, beating. Continue beating until mixture is thick, pale and forms a ribbon when beater is lifted, 7 to 8 minutes in a stand mixer or 10 to 14 minutes with a handheld.

Add butter in a slow stream, then add milk and almond extract and beat until just combined. Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Spread batter in pan, smoothing top, and then sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake until  top is golden, cake begins to pull away from side of pan and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes in clean, around 25 to 35 minutes, depending on size of cake pan.

Cool on a rack around 30 minutes, then run knife around edge to loosen and invert onto rack. Take cake right side up on rack and cool completely.

To serve, slice cake onto individual plates, cover with strawberries and top with lots of whipped cream. 

Column 2

Oh, the two recipes I’d promised to give you today will have to wait. My friend, Jennifer is leaving today for London for a few weeks, so her recipe will come later in the summer. When she gets home, fruits will be even riper and she will show me how to make them.

I will, however, give you two other fruity recipes.

The first is easy and it comes from Karen Valente.

Cut watermelon from its rind (get rid of all the green and yellow). Cut the watermelon into approximately 1-inch chunks. Place the melon chunks into a fresh gallon-sized plastic bag, carefully push the bag somewhat flat and seal it well.

Freeze the melon overnight or even a few days later.

Open the bag of melon and pour into a Cuisinart bowl. As you puree the fruit, add sweetened condensed milk into the melon. Stop the food processor and taste the melon. When it is sweet enough for you, add a whisk of salt and puree another second or two.

Spoon the mixture into a plastic container, seal it and freeze, What you have here is not a sorbet, actually; sorbet is usually dairy-free. But there is so little dairy in the dessert, yet it has the mouth-feel and texture that is heavenly. 

For my second dessert, I was going to give you a Bon Appetit recipe for a strawberry hand pie, but it requires making a pie dough, making a strawberry filling, then creating frosting and assembling the dessert. And, with that, the hand pie might gush out on your white pants or sneakers. Instead, why not make enough crisp recipes for the whole summer, freezing it (right out of the freezer you can crumble it over the fruit and serve it after dinner). This is a dish you can serve in no time. So here is the recipe for crisp that top almost any dessert all summer long.

Strawberry Filling 

From Bon Appetit, Summer, 2022

12 ounces strawberries, hulled, finely chopped
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salter

Toss all ingredients in a medium bowl to combine. Let sit for 30 minutes. Place the strawberries in a gratin or Pyrex pan. Top with one package of crisp over the fruit and place in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until the filling bubbles.

Crisp Topping
Created by Deb Jensen, a dear friend who died just a few years ago
I quadruple this recipe and freeze it in little plastic bags.

Yield: makes around 5 cups 

1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oatmeal (rolled oats)
1 cup walnuts or pecans
1 cup almonds or pine nuts
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted

Add all ingredients into a bowl and mix together with nice, clean hands.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

Gardening Tips from ‘The English Lady’ for June, ‘The Time of Perfect Young Summer’ (Gertrude Jekyll)

June is, ‘The Time of Perfect, Young Summer’ (Gertrude Jekyll)

Maureen Haseley-Jones is “The English Lady.”

We have had a few cool nights recently, which are just wonderful and allow one to sleep with the windows open.  I cannot remember the last time we had a real spring such as we are experiencing this year, with plenty of gentle rain. This beneficial rain is wonderful for all the spring plant growth and such a pleasure to see.

I am so in awe of the miracle of Mother Nature; the symbiotic relationship between plants and all of God’s creatures.

As I looked out of my window from my old home a few years ago,  I could see the buds opening on my 30-foot-long stand of Peonies, which had been planted by the original homeowner in the early 1900s. That sight brought to mind one of the symbiotic relationships, the friendly partnership between ants and peonies.

I am often asked, “Maureen, should I worry about ants on my peonies?” The answer is, “That’s not a problem, lots of ants on the peonies just demonstrate that you have healthy plants with big buds producing more nectar, which therefore, in turn, attract the ants.”

Peonies:

A stand of peonies is always stunning.

Make sure Peonies get plenty of water and after blooming, apply a light application of composted manure and check the soils PH which should be between 6.5 and 7.0.  It is hard to ruin a good peony border but you can err in the fertilizing process, so go easy on the organic aged manure.

Following the bloom, do not cut the peonies down until November, after the first frost. Now, in early June, I pinched off the side buds on my large stand of peonies, this ensures big blooms on the rest of the plant.

Ants:

On the subject of ants; if you see them “let them live,” because often their presence indicates that we have aphids around and ants feed off aphids; very useful creatures.

Another useful creature in wars against pests is the lowly toad. I suggest putting some toad houses in and around your border.  You may purchase toad houses from the garden center if you so desire. Or you can do as I do which is to use an old clay pot that is cracked and make sure that the crack is two to three inches wide for the door so the toad can enter. Also put a small saucer as a floor under the pot with some rocks, which you keep damp, so that your friendly bad bug eater has his or her ideal home environment.

Mulch:

Mulch your gardens this month when the ground has warmed up to 55 degrees.  When mulching, take care mulching around trees. Apply the mulch at least six inches from the base of the trunk, any closer can promote rot and disease in the tree itself. Any trees that are mulched too deeply near the trunk invite mice and other rodents to come in order to nest and gnaw on the trunk.

Your garden can be mulched to a depth of between two and three inches.  I prefer fine dark brown hardwood mulch but please do not use dyed red mulch, keep the garden natural, not looking like a Disney theme park.

Roses:

June is the month when Roses begin to bloom.  I prefer David Austin roses, I find these roses are the most -trouble free Roses and offer so much reward being repeat bloomers with wonderful fragrances.

Some of my favorites are:

  • ‘A Shropshire Lad,’ a soft peachy pink
  • ‘Abraham Darby,’ with blooms showing a blend of apricot and yellow
  • ‘Fair Bianca,’ a pure white
  • ‘Heritage,’ a soft clear pink

And my favorite ‘Evelyn’, which has giant apricot flowers in a saucer shape and the fragrance is second to none with a luscious fruity tone, reminding me of fresh peaches and apricots.

Feed your roses with composted manure, keeping the manure and mulch about six inches away from the base of the rose, then adding a few more inches of manure once a month until mid-August, at that time stop feeding for the roses to gently move into a slow dormancy.

Japanese beetles are very attracted to roses therefore, any Japanese beetle traps should be placed far away from your borders on the perimeter of the property.

A tip for keeping cut roses fresh: cut the roses in the early morning and cut just above a five-leaf cluster and place stems in a container of lukewarm water. Inside the house, recut the stems to produce a one-and-a-half inch angular cut, under warm running water, then place cut roses in a vase filled with warm water.

Do not remove the thorns on cut roses. I have found that removing the thorns, reduces their indoor life by as much as three days.

Hydrangeas:

Blue hydrangeas. Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash.

These need plenty of water, (in the fields where they were found growing close to water and classified as a wetland plant before they were introduced into our gardens), also apply aged manure around the Hydrangeas, have them spaced at least four feet apart for good ventilation, which will help to prevent mildew and plant them in full sun. If you have blue Hydrangea macrophylla and want a more vibrant shade of blue, add some peat moss on top of the manure, the peat is acidic and will produce a lovely shade of blue.

Wisteria:

Regular pruning through spring and summer is the main factor to help this arrogant vine to flower; by that I mean prune several times during the season. Prune every two weeks at least six inches on each stem.

Clematis wilt:

If you have this problem with clematis, you will notice it early because the shoots wilt and die. This disease is impossible to cure, as it is soil borne, so it is not possible to plant another clematis of that species in that area of the garden.

However, you can plant the Viticella clematis selection; these are vigorous, free flowering blooms and are not susceptible to wilt.  Some good choices in this variety are Blue Belle, Etoile Violette, both are purple and Huldine, which is white,

Container Gardens:

Unexpected objects can make interesting plant containers. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

If you have room for one pot, you have room for a number; placed close together in different shapes and sizes, they can create your own miniature garden.

Apart from regular pots, the most unexpected objects make interesting containers. A friend, who cut down trees this past winter, left the stumps and hollowed them out to make containers, one large and two smaller stumps together, an interesting combo.

At the same time look in your basement, shed or barn to see if you have an old wheelbarrow, even if it has a wheel missing it will present an unusual angle as a planter.

Or you may come across a large, chipped ceramic jar (I, in fact, have an old two foot tall ceramic vinegar container, replete with a hole where the vinegar tap was inserted, ideal for drainage), which will look great on my newly-painted blue bench next to my red milk shed.

Lawn Care:

Do not forget to add organic grub control through July, so that you keep down the mole infestation; remember no grubs, less food for the moles.

Powdery Mildew:

Keep an eye open for powdery mildew, especially after a rain when humidity returns. In a sprayer, mix two tablespoons of baking soda, one tablespoon of vegetable or horticultural oil in a gallon of water and spray the mildew.

Hydrangeas and Summer phlox are particularly prone to be affected by this problem. I recommend Phlox Miss Lingard or Phlox David, white ones of the species, which are the most mildew resistant. Monarda, commonly known as Bee Balm, is also affected by the mildew; the one I have found to be the most resistant is “Cambridge Scarlet”.

Do be careful when introducing Monarda into the garden; this plant, like Purple Loosestrife and Evening Primrose, is extremely invasive and can take over your entire border.

Still with invasive plants, if you plant mint, plant it only in containers, otherwise mint will spread throughout your borders.

I hope these tips are useful to you in this busy time of year in the garden. Stretch, hydrate and enjoy the burgeoning promise of your garden and I’ll see you next month.

If you would like some more gardening advice, contact my son Ian at LandscapesbByIan.com. I am sure you would enjoy speaking with him as he is full of knowledge since, as the saying goes, “The apple does not fall far from the tree.”

About the author: Maureen Haseley-Jones is a member of a family of renowned horticultural artisans, whose landscaping heritage dates back to the 17th century. She is one of the founders, together with her son Ian, of, The English Lady Landscape and Home Company. Maureen and Ian are landscape designers and garden experts, who believe that everyone deserves to live in an eco-conscious environment and enjoy the pleasure that it brings. Maureen learned her design skills from both her mother and grandmother, and honed her horticultural and construction skills while working in the family nursery and landscape business in the U.K. Her formal horticultural training was undertaken at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Surrey.

A la Carte: Creamy Coconutty Shrimp Makes a Super Summer Salad

Lee White

After the quick turnover to the Dallas wedding (flew there at 6 a.m. Saturday and was home by Monday, mid-afternoon), I unpacked, played with the cats, watched a DVR’d Connecticut Sun game) and finished a book, then slept until 7:30 Tuesday.

Then I drove to Madison and took friends to pick up their new car in Westchester County, NY. 

Eric drove the new car home (the next morning he drove to Montreal to pick up their son from college), Lisa and I stopped at Trader Joe’s in Milford to do some quick food shopping, but realized we could not both go because Lucy the dog was with us.

Since I really needed nothing (I’d gotten my Trader Joe’s fix the week before), I read in the air- conditioned car and played with Lucy. About 20 minutes later, Lisa arrived with a cart filled with goodies, giving me some frozen shrimp and her favorite goat cheese.

I assumed the pink shrimp was cooked. Instead, it was the raw pink shrimp we used to get in Stonington, CT. I had just gotten my new Bon Appetit and saw the recipe below. The next morning, I bought a lime, some cilantro and a little green jalapeno; that night I made the recipe below.

It was as good the night I made it as it was twice more as leftovers.

Creamy Coconutty Shrimp Salad

From Bon Appetit, Summer Issue, June/July 2022
Yield: 4-6 servings 

1 large lime
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, patted dry
Kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeno, thinly sliced on a diagonal, seeds remove if desired
½ cup cherry tomatoes, preferably heirloom, halved, quartered if large
1 cup packed coarsely chopped cilantro
High-quality extra-virgin olive oil (for serving)
1 cup tortilla chips, lightly crushed
Flaky sea salt

Remove zest from lime in wide strips with a vegetable peeler, cut lime in half and set aside. Bring zest, garlic, coconut milk and fish sauce to a simmer in a large skillet over medium heat. Arrange shrimp in a single layer and cook, maintaining a bare simmer, until opaque, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp t a large shallow bowl and let cool.

Increase heat to high; cook coconut until thick and pourable (similar to the consistency of runny honey), about 5 minutes; remove from heat. Remove and discard lime zest and any shrimpy bits. Season coconut sauce with kosher salt and pepper and let cool in pan.

Squeeze juice from reserved lime half over shrimp and spoon coconut sauce over. Top with onion, jalapeno, tomatoes and cilantro. Squeeze remaining lime over. Drizzle with oil, then top with tortilla chips and sprinkle with sea salt.

Do ahead: Shrimp can be cooked and coconut sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Transfer to separate airtight container; cover and chill.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Chicken Tetrazzini is Lovely for Left-Overs

Lee White

Having a daughter who has taken over my work as a mother can be pretty nifty. When she wants me to go something with her (or even when we are not going together but I mention that I am thinking of doing something alone), she offers to make all the arrangements. 

This time there is a wedding for my late brother’s granddaughter. For me, traveling via plane is hellish: I hate having to get to the airport early and finding a place to park my car (or, worse, staying overnight in a cheap motel or leaving my house at 3 a.m. for a 6 a.m. plane.)

Then there is changing planes and doing the same thing in a few days.

But this time, she really wanted me to go with her, so she got me non-stops to and from Dallas and called to confirm my flight. She even got me priority boarding (maybe because I am old).

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash.

But a week before, I had to think about what I would eat on the plane and during the seven hours until her plane arrived from LA. So, Wednesday I bought a big, fat rotisserie chicken. I used some of it for two dinner salads, and this evening I will make chicken salad on rye (and grapes for grazing) for tomorrow’s flights.

But that leaves me with lots of chicken. What to do?

How about turkey (or, in my case, chicken) tetrazzini. This I made and will save in the freezer for four different “what-to-make” dinners. 

Left-over Chicken Tetrazzini

From Saveur Cooks Authentic American by the editors of Saveur Magazine (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1998)
Yield: Serves 6

½ pound wide egg noodles
8 tablespoons butter, divided (1 stick)
½ pound white mushrooms, sliced
5 tablespoons flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups turkey or chicken stock (low-sodium, if using canned)
1 ½ cups heavy cream (I use less than that)
1/3 cup dry sherry
3 cups coarsely chopped cooked chicken
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Fresh parsley (optional)

  1. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add noodles and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain, then transfer to a medium baking dish and toss with 1 tablespoons butter. 
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Scatter mushrooms over noodles.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and melt remaining 5 tablespoons butter in same skillet. Sprinkle in flour, season to taste with salt and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium, gradually whisk in stock and simmer until sauce thickens, about 7 minutes. Add cream, sherry and chicken, then adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  4. Spoon turkey and sauce over noodles, then sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano. Bake until sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Heat broiler and brown for 3 to 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley, if you like.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: It’s Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, so Think British With (Sheet Pan) Fish & Chips!

Lee White

My friend, Lian Obrey, asked me if I would teach her a couple of dishes she could make if she invited friends for dinner.

Of course, I said I would.

“One of those days” might happen within a few days, but I am off to Dallas for the wedding of my grandniece. So, as I am writing this column this morning, I will give her the draft of this column, along with a half-sheet pan and a piece of Silpat. Even a person who cooks little will find this recipe very easy.

By the way, for those of us who don’t have Silpat (a non-disposable piece of plastic that fits into an oven pan), I have had mine for decades. I wash and dry them after I use them, and roll them in a circular blueprint holder.

As for inexpensive half-sheet pans, buy a couple but buy good ones; the cheap ones will wobble in the oven. You will use them forever, in every season, for everything from baking brownies or cookies, roasting vegetables or just using them under the rack to keep those apple or peach pies from gushing into the oven.

As for the Silpat, sure, use parchment instead and you will never have to clean up the sheet pan residue.

Sheet Pan Fish and Chips

Adapted from Real Simple, May, 2022
Yield: Serves 4

1 ½ pounds russet potatoes, cut into ½ inch wedges (I use the tiny potatoes, not cut up)
¼ cup olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons josher salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/3 cup panko
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 lemon) divided, plus more for serving
4 6-ounce skinless cod fillets
2 cups frozen sweet peas
Malt vinegar for serving (optional)
Finely chopped parsley for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread in an even layer and roast for 25 minutes.

Combine panko, butter, 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1 tablespoon oil in a small bowl. Season cod with ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.

Push potatoes to side of baking sheet; add cod. Drizzle cod with 1 tablespoon oil and top with panko mixture. Roast until potatoes and fish are golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes. 

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-heat. Add peas; cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Add remaining lemon zest and ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Serve with cod, potatoes, lemon wedges and male vinegar, if using. Top with parsley.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Got to Grill? Try Chicken with Peach BBQ Sauce for a Tasty Change

Lee White

I spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks driving. I wasn’t going long distances; rather I had errands so I did a couple, got home for lunch, and finished the rest a hour or two later. 

While my husband and I frequently went out for breakfast (always on weekends), now that I am husband-less (and have been for more than a decade), I do most of my reading, writing and thinking in the morning. Sometimes I look at the mantel clock and notice it is 11 a.m. Well, I wonder, is it going to be late breakfast or an early lunch? 

It is usually an early lunch. I often have enough leftovers from dinner the night before.

Today I have some leftover chicken salad (made from a roast chicken a couple of days ago), so I plate the chicken salad with some lettuce, sliced grape tomatoes and, to drink, an enormous glass of V-8.

And I muse about dinner. 

It will be chicken again, mostly because I love chicken and I’d thawed some skinless, boneless breasts this morning. (I really do not like boneless, skinless chicken, but this is what I found first in the freezer.)

Over the weekend, I took the cover of my Weber, cleaned the grills, found the tongs I left last fall and looked to make sure there were no squirrel nests in the lava rocks. I have plenty of propane.

I love this recipe. 

Photo by photo_ reflect on Unsplash.

Grilled Chicken with Peach BBQ Sauce
Adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s “My Father’s Daughter” (Hachette Book Group, New York, 2011)
Yield: serves 4

1 cup chopped peeled fresh peaches (I used canned, without added sugars), chopped
½ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ teaspoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle chiles in adobo or 1 teaspoon soy sauce*
Kosher (or sea salt) and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Vegetable oil

Combine first 5 ingredients in a small saucepan. Season lightly with salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, simmer until peaches are very soft and flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat; let cool.

Pour peach mixture into a blender and puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place half the sauce in a medium bowl; add chicken and turn to coat.

Let marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes, or cover and chill for up to 8 hours, turning occasionally. Cover and refrigerate remaining sauce.

Prepare a grill to medium-high heat. Brush grill rack with oil. Grill chicken until browned and almost cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Slice crosswise.

Serve with remaining sauce alongside.

* I have at least four cans of chipotle in adobe in my pantry. I sometimes make omelet or scrambled eggs with cheese cream and a mashed chipotle. It is a bit on the spicy side, but it’s delicious.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

Gardening Tips for May from ‘The English Lady’, ‘One of the Most Enchanting Months’

Color is bursting out all over in the Merry Month of May.

Maureen Haseley-Jones is “The English Lady.”

“The darling buds of May” is such an apt phrase for one of the most enchanting months, bloom on spring bulbs and flowering trees, the Amelanchier, the Dogwood and the Cherry to name a few and the new awakening foliage on trees winking in the sun.

By now, you have probably removed most of the winter debris, pruned broken branches and re-edged borders. However, do not apply the composted manure before the soil warms up to 60 degrees.

The soil needs to reach that temperature for the soil organisms to work with the bacteria of the manure which produces nutrients for the roots of the plants.  I suggest, when shopping for garden supplies, pick up a soil thermometer to check soil temperature as I am sure the soil temperature will reach 60 degrees in a few weeks.

As I walk around my garden, I am noticing our old nemesis — weeds — emerging everywhere.

Pull these up by hand, without breaking them together with the roots.  Using a tool breaks the weeds, and as a result, the broken weed pieces will take root and you will face hundreds more of these creatures to get rid of.

Follow on the weeding with an organic corn, gluten-based weed pre-emergent by Bradfield Organics; this product will keep weeds at bay for quite a few weeks.

When the soil warms to 60 degrees, apply composted manure around daffodils and other spring bulbs so that soil organisms will produce nutrients to feed the bulbs for next year’s bloom. Also, a reminder to not cut down the Daffodil foliage as the nutrition from the foliage is absorbed into the bulb for bloom next spring.

Also in a few weeks, when the soil has warmed up, apply composted manure and a light layer of fine bark mulch to all maintained areas of the garden, again in July, and before putting the garden to bed in October.  The manure and mulch will begin to build the humus component.

Regarding types of mulch … only use the natural brown wood mulch of natural, do not use the colored mulches, which contain chemicals, and do not use rubber mulch.

A word of caution on Cocoa Mulch. This product is highly toxic to dogs and cats.  It is manufactured by Hershey and sold in many large garden centers.  It is made from the residue of chocolate products and other ingredients and contains a lethal ingredient that has resulted in the reported deaths of cats and dogs that are attracted by the chocolate odor. This mulch contains Theobromine, which is a Xanthine compound, with similar effects to those of caffeine and theophylline.  The symptoms, which animals experience, are seizures and death within hours.

I wrote about the carbon component in my April tips, but wanted to emphasize its importance by stating it again to build the humus component in your soil .

All living things, including us, are all carbon-based creatures. Humus brings carbon from the air into the soil.

Humus acts like a sponge and holds 90 percent of its weight in water. Because of its negative charge, plant nutrients stick to humus bringing nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and other important elements to the plant, preventing these nutrients from washing away, acting like nature’s slow- release fertilizer.

Humus improves soil structure making it loose and friable, which helps plants to root in this environment with better access to nutrients, water and oxygen. Humus also helps to filter toxic chemicals from soil, much like carbon-based water filtration systems filter toxins from your water.

I also recommend that you go online to Scientific American.com/article/Weed-Whacking Herbicide to check out the dangers of Round-Up. This is the most dangerous herbicide not only because of Glyphosate, which is on the list by the WHO as a chelating agent that causes cancer, but also because of its inert ingredients. I ask that you are not swayed by the word ‘inert’ as the ingredients are anything but inert and those ingredients combined with Glyphosate are deadly to human cells.

A yellow burst of color is offered by Forsythia in May.

Forsythia is in bloom, lovely fresh yellow blossoms.  If the bloom on your shrub is not as prolific as in previous years, prune out the old sparse wood after bloom ends.

A favorite native tree of mine is the Amelanchier with its creamy panicle blooms, followed by small green leaves and within weeks, red fruit, which is a delicious treat for our feathered friends. Before the birds eat all the fruit, you may want to pick some of the fruit which makes a delicious jelly for your morning toast.

“The graceful Dogwood.” Photo by Tabitha Turner on Unsplash.

Here in my town of Old Lyme, the Magnolias, Cherries and Eastern Redbud are vying with one another to show their finery together with the graceful Dogwoods.  Following the recent rains many of these trees are blooming at the same time or within a few weeks of one another. Their bloom will soon be over then we can look forward to rhododendrons, azaleas and followed by mountain laurel in early June.

Another favorite of mine is the Carlesii viburnum (also known as Korean Spice) is showing pink buds, opening to white flowers and their delightful fragrance fills the air outside my kitchen door. This viburnum grows to about five feet and can be tucked into many a border particularly in an area where you walk by and can enjoy the fragrance.

Covering the barn wall and scrambling up to the barn roof is my climbing hydrangea – bright green leaves emerging with hundreds of buds indicating that this beautiful climber will be laden with blossoms in summer.

Tulips, creeping phlox, forget-me-nots, primroses and candytuft are bringing much needed color to borders and rock gardens.

If you have not had the opportunity yet, for another couple of weeks you can still prune your roses.  Pull back the old mulch from around the base of the roses and in two to three weeks apply manure about six inches from the trunk of the plant. Then a week later reapply a layer of the brown natural mulch on top of the composted manure.

As well as building the humus component, these layers keep the roots cool, keep weeds at bay and help retain moisture. Do not mulch right up against the base of any plants as this encourages rodents to nest and gnaw on the plants.

Beware of fungi that look like weird mushrooms in your mulch; this is a sign of Artillery fungus, which can adhere to the walls of your home and cause problems.  If you notice this fungus, you will need to remove all the mulch and get it off your property.

Apply lime and manure around the lilacs, they like sweeter alkaline soil, thus the lime. By now, you may have already applied lime to the grass, which also enjoys sweeter soil and organic grub control to kill the Japanese beetle larvae – less food for moles.

If you are making an organic vegetable garden this year; a garden measuring 16 x 24 ft. can feed a family of four for a year; but keep the size within your needs and capability.  Don’t work the soil if it is too wet or too dry.

Double-digging is the best way to go; it takes time and effort but its well worth it – dig down about one foot and remove the topsoil, put the soil to one side, then dig down and loosen the next six inches of soil and add about three inches of composted manure then put back the topsoil and add another three to four inches of manure.

Do not rototill the vegetable garden, as this will destroy soil structure. Gently loosened, aerated fertile soil will give an excellent yield of fruits and vegetables in the garden.

I prefer 6 x 4 ft. beds rather than rows; beds produce a larger yield of crops. In addition, beds make for ease of weeding and harvesting by having narrow compacted soil or grass paths (having removed lawn from the area) in-between the beds.

Vegetable gardens are hard work but bring great joy … and produce!

The vegetable garden should be situated on the south or southwest side of the property for maximum sun exposure.

Make sure you remove as many weeds as possible by hand, before you even begin digging.

You need a water source close by as vegetables require lots of water, particularly annual fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, which are hydroponics which means they are (mostly water).

Rotate crops, by that I mean, do not plant the same vegetables in the same place as the previous year.  With this method you are preventing any soil born diseases from occurring.

In the loosened soil, plant the vegetables plants so that they are touching, this forms a natural canopy, shading out weeds and helps retain moisture.

I prefer to mulch the vegetable garden with composted manure, the reason being that manure, as mulch, does not cap. Capping is when mulch forms a crust, which does not allow water or air to penetrate to the roots of the plants.

Fence in the vegetable garden with a tall fence to keep animals out. At the base of the fence, install eight inches of fine mesh chicken wire above ground and eight inches below ground to keep out the digging and burrowing animals.

Organic insect control

Insects do not like fragrance so plant fragrant plants like marigolds, nasturtium, lavender, nepeta and honeysuckle and roses to name a few.

Encourage lacewings, which feed on aphids, by planting marigolds and sunflowers,

Attract ground beetles by laying a log or a rock on the earth, under which the beetles can hide. These useful insects are nocturnal and eat slug and snail eggs, cabbage maggots, cutworms and even climb trees to feed on army-worms and tent caterpillars.

“A vibrant shade of green. Photo by Chris Zhang on Unsplash.

Grass is now a vibrant shade of green so when mowing keep the blades of grass at about three inches; the taller blades attracts sunlight, promoting a healthier lawn. The taller blades also shade out weeds and help to retain moisture in the grass.

When mowing, leave grass clippings on the lawn, the clippings are a natural source of nitrogen. If you have clover in the grass, clover is an added benefit as clover takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil, as additional nutrients for plant growth.

After flowering is over, prune flowering shrubs by 25 percent – do this task immediately before new buds set for next year.

On a rainy day, go shopping for any garden supplies that may be needed, then when the weather is dry, you can be outdoors doing what you love and not indoors shopping.  Buy good hoses, cheap ones will bend and crack.

Peonies need plenty of water to produce flower buds.  I had a 30-foot-long stand of Peonies in my field. The Peonies have been in the ground for over 40 years and are a sight to behold when in bloom.  I gave them lots of loving care with a light dressing of aged manure in early May.  In a few weeks, I  pinch off the side buds while they are still small, leaving the terminal flower bud on each stalk, which will develop into a large main bloom.

Hydrangeas are a wetland plant and require plenty of water during the season, also applying manure and mulch around the base. If you have blue Hydrangeas and want a deeper color of blue, add some peat around the base of the plant, the acidity in the peat produces the bright blue color.

If you need to prune a Hydrangea, which has become too large, then prune it immediately after flowering, in early September, prune by about 1/3 of the old wood and the weakest shoots. Do not wait, as Hydrangeas begin to develop bloom buds for next year later in September.  If you wait to prune it is likely that you will not have bloom for next year.

The beloved Lily of the Valley is such a sweet-scented flower,

My maternal grandmother’s favorite plant, the Lily of the Valley soon will bloom, these lovely flowers are tucked on the small hill on the west side of my apartment, and I am so looking forward to gathering a few fragrant blooms for indoors.

When the lilacs have finished blooming, pinch off the withered flower clusters, and do the same on the mountain laurel and rhododendrons in late June to ensure good blossoms next year.

In mid May, apply composted manure, a light application of peat and fine bark mulch around all evergreens and rhododendrons, mountain laurel and azaleas; these plants are shallow- rooted and the mulch will keep the roots nourished, protected, warm and moist.

Some annual seeds that may be planted outside in mid May are: Calendula, Coreopsis, Marigold, Nasturtium, Nicotiana and Zinnia.

If you purchased annuals on Mother’s Day weekend, place them in a sheltered spot on the south side of your home. Plant them no earlier than Memorial weekend as we can still get a late frost.

Tuberous-rooted begonias, caladiums, cannas and elephant ears can be moved from porch or cold frame to a part shade area as the weather becomes warmer and there is no sign of frost in the forecast.

If you staked trees, when they were planted last year, cut the stakes off at ground level do not pull them out of the roots as you could tear and therefore damage the root system.

Aphid tip: squish a few in your hand; dead aphids release a chemical that causes other aphids to drop off the plants.

Another ants and aphids tip – if you drink mint tea, any leftover tea sprinkle on the bugs, as they do not like the smell of mint.

A word of caution on mint – plant mint only in containers, mint is tremendously invasive and can take over your garden.

When planting annuals, perennials, vegetables, trees, shrubs or evergreen keep them watered.

Houseplants can be moved outdoors for their summer sojourn at the end of May.  However, do not put your African Violets outdoors as they will burn, move them to a porch that is covered and shaded, or keep them indoors in a window that does not receive direct rays from the sun.

Wait until the soil warms up at the end of May to set out Dahlia tubers.

Roses are not troublesome creatures after all! Photo by Bailey Chenevey on Unsplash.

Roses are not the troublesome creatures you have been led to believe.  I like to plant David Austin roses; these shrub roses are repeat bloomers with lovely fragrances.  Roses need at least four hours of sun per day, good air circulation, and excellent drainage.

During their growing period from the beginning of June to mid August; add a little extra composted manure each month; it may be applied over the mulch.  Stop adding the manure in August so that the roses can go into a slow dormancy.

Roses like the same growing conditions as Clematis and can be planted together in a companionship planting, growing well together, with feet in the shade and head in the sun. Before you top up the soil around the roses when planting, add water and check if the soil drains, roses need good drainage.  Deep watering is recommended at least once a week.

Plenty of stuff to keep you hopping, folks, and remember to keep your eye out for any pest trouble and when you spot it get on the ball immediately to avoid further problems. Carefully discard all herbicides and pesticides; these poisons have the same effect on your health as second-hand smoke.

Your garden offers an anchor for peace and quiet enjoyment.  Enjoy the warmth, the gentle breeze, the earth’s fragrance and bloom and please remember to breathe and stretch before any garden labor.

Enjoy and I will see you in your garden next month. If you would like, my son Ian of LlandscapesbyIan will be happy to talk to you and answer gardening questions or you may have him visit your home for a consult.  The apple does not fall far from the tree and in my humble opinion Ian is more talented and creative than me.

About the author: Maureen Haseley-Jones is a member of a family of renowned horticultural artisans, whose landscaping heritage dates back to the 17th century. She is one of the founders, together with her son Ian, of, The English Lady Landscape and Home Company. Maureen and Ian are landscape designers and garden experts, who believe that everyone deserves to live in an eco-conscious environment and enjoy the pleasure that it brings. Maureen learned her design skills from both her mother and grandmother, and honed her horticultural and construction skills while working in the family nursery and landscape business in the U.K. Her formal horticultural training was undertaken at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Surrey.

A la Carte: Summer Means Picnics; Picnics Mean Cole Slaw & Potato Salad! Lee Shares Favorite Recipes for Both

Lee White

I have a friend who lives in Noank and she asked me some time ago why she should keep her large Cuisinart. I literally blanched. 

There are two reasons to keep your kitchen counter appliances. One, of course, is because you use them fairly often enough that you want them close to you. The second is perhaps you adore them, as I love mine, and consider them — if not as pets — but as best friends in the kitchen. 

On the other hand, if you have a terrific yet very small kitchen, sometime things have to go.

I have just a galley kitchen, but it has a bay window a shelf below it. That shelf was utilitarian but incredibly ugly, covered with the same humble tiles on the floor.

I asked woodworker Josh Friedman in New London to make maple board the exact size as the shelf. Now the shelf holds large and small Cuisinarts, a 6-quart KitchenAid mixer, an Instant Pot, a Slow Cooker, a Ninja Pro blender and two tiny grinder (one for spices, one for coffee).

I use all of them the gadgets constantly. I keep them shinier than my desk. They are my own pieces of art.

This weekend I was asked to make cole slaw and potato salad for an indeterminate number of friends. Using my big Cuisinart thin slicing disk for the cabbage and the grater disk for the carrots. I used my Instant Pot for the potato salad. Both dishes were ready for the refrigerator within half an hour.

With summer coming, my counter appliances will keep my kitchen cool. 

Zimny’s Cole Slaw
Yield: serves 10 to 15. 

Photo by Jacques Bopp on Unsplash.

1 cup good store-bought mayonnaise
5 ½ (one-half) tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice (or celery spice, if you don’t have five-spice)
One-half teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly white pepper to taste
About 6 to 8 cups green and red (Savoy) cabbage, shredded in a food processor
2 carrots, shredded in food a processor*

Using whisk, blend mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, five-spice, salt and pepper.

Combine cabbage and carrots. Pour dressing over vegetables and stir well. Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours. It is even better on the second or third day. 

Lee’s Favorite Potato Salad
Yield: Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds of potatoes (I love The Little Potato Company’s tiny potatoes; no need to peel them)
1 small onion, thinly diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
About 3 to 4 tablespoons bottled Italian salad dressing (I love Wish Bone brand, full fat)
Salt and pepper to taste
About 4 tablespoons Hellman’s mayonnaise (full fat) 

In a large pot of water, bring potatoes to a boil and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes.

Drain water and, in the same pot, toss potatoes with onions and celery and stir. Wait a few minutes before you add the Italian dressing and mayonnaise and toss. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool on the counter at room temperature before covering and refrigerating.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A View from My Porch: The Shady History of Connecticut Tobacco — The Finale

Tom Gotowka digs deeper into The Shady History of Connecticut Tobacco. Photo by Shaun Meintjes on Unsplash.

It’s been a little while since the publication of Part 1 of The Shady History of Connecticut Tobacco , but during that hiatus, there has been other remarkable news covered in the media.

Decisions regarding COVID mitigation were moved to municipal leadership, including school superintendents. Judge Ketanjii Brown Jackson, who was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Biden, was confirmed by the Senate, and became both the first African-American woman and native Floridian to serve on the “highest court” in the U. S. Federal Judiciary. 

Without provocation, Russia brutally and relentlessly attacked Ukraine; arousing support for the courageous citizens defending their homeland by nearly the whole of the free world, and the emergence of President Volodymyr Zelensky as a leader somewhat reminiscent of a wartime Winston Churchill.

Locally, Old Lyme announced the availability of American Rescue Plan economic recovery and community initiative grants for small businesses and non-profits.

Finally, and much closer to my home, my son landed in Bahrain on an extended U.S. Navy mission with a multi- national coalition task force charged, “to provide reassurance to merchant shipping in the Middle East.” On some days, reciting the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain …” is a good distraction for his parents, along with, “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?”

Part 1 Redux:

The prior essay provided some historic context for the development of tobacco farming in Connecticut. I reviewed the initial stages of the international tobacco trade, beginning with the early voyages of the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the “Age of Discovery”. I considered how the English developed their insatiable appetite for what King James I called a “noxious weed.”

I reflected on England’s dependence on Spain as their primary source for tobacco; which resulted in a substantial trade deficit that has been cited by many historians as a precipitating factor in the decision by King James to establish a permanent colony in the Americas in 1607.

Unfortunately, the Jamestown, Va. colony was nearly doomed to fail when the settlers disembarked onto a swampy and infertile peninsula infested with malaria – carrying mosquitos; and absent the wealth and riches that the Spanish brought home after looting the Aztec empire; nearly became a financial disaster for investors.  

The colony was on the brink of disaster by1610, when John Rolfe arrived in a convoy with additional settlers and supplies. Rolfe began cultivating tobacco and developed the colony’s first profitable export. His tobacco proved immensely popular in England; and by 1617, the colony’s tobacco exports had broken the Spanish monopoly, and strengthened the colony’s economy. 

In this essay, I review the expansion of English settlements into New England, focusing on how tobacco developed as an important cash crop in Connecticut; and discuss how Martin Luther King, Jr.’s experience on a tobacco farm in Connecticut’s Farmington River Valley in the 1940s so remarkably impacted his life.

I’ll consider both the key features of the tobacco farms landscape that we observed near West Simsbury; and the romanticization of Connecticut tobacco in literature and cinema. 

The Connecticut Colony:

Connecticut began as several separate settlements by the English separatist Puritans (the “Pilgrims”) from Plymouth, Mass. and England; all of which united under a single royal charter as the Connecticut Colony in 1663. 

One of the earliest of these adventurers was William Holmes, who in 1633 brought a party of traders from Plymouth aboard the colony’s “great new barke.” After sailing up the Connecticut River and past a hostile Dutch fort downstream from what is now Hartford, he established the first English settlement in Connecticut at the convergence of the Farmington and Connecticut rivers at present-day Windsor. 

Despite the challenge of smallpox and some sporadic combative relations with local native Americans, the Windsor settlement succeeded, and eventually contained what later became the “daughter towns” of Barkhamsted, Bloomfield, Enfield, the Granbys, Litchfield, Simsbury, Suffield, and others. 

Connecticut’s Tobacco Valley:

When the first settlers came to the Connecticut River Valley, tobacco was already being grown and consumed by native Americans (i.e., the Podunk peoples), who used it in pipes. The Windsor area’s exceptionally fertile sandy loam soil and hot, humid summers were perfect for growing tobacco; and, in less than 10 years, the settlers had imported tobacco seeds from Virginia and harvested their first tobacco crop.

The earliest Connecticut tobacco variety, ‘shoestring,’ was mainly for use in pipes, but, given the settlers’ English heritage, was also brewed and consumed as a tea.  

By 1700, tobacco was being exported to European ports; and in the mid-19th century, Connecticut’s Tobacco Valley, which runs from Hartford to Springfield, had become the center for tobacco agriculture in the state. Note that tobacco farms also flourished in Connecticut’s Farmington River Valley towns, westward from Windsor to Simsbury.  

Cigars:

Photo by Alexandre Trouvé on Unsplash.

The origin of cigars has been traced back to the 10th century Mayan civilization in Central America. There is no record of the Mayans trading with the early Windsor settlers.

Connecticut folklore credits General Israel Putnam, of Brooklyn, Conn., who fought with distinction at the Battle of Bunker Hill, with increasing the popularity of cigars in New England when he returned from an expedition to Cuba in 1762 with thousands of Havana cigars.

“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” is often attributed to Putnam at Bunker Hill.

‘Shoestring’ was replaced with ‘Broadleaf,’ a variety from Maryland, favored because the leaf was much larger, produced greater crop yields, and was suitable for cigars — although used primarily for the two outside layers, the binder and the wrapper.

Note that most cigars are comprised of three separate components: the shredded filler, the binder leaf that holds the filler together, and a wrapper leaf, which is often the highest quality leaf used.

Connecticut ‘Broadleaf’ was grown in direct sunlight, which toughened the leaf and produced a more rugged look — much rougher in texture and appearance. This eventually put Connecticut farmers at a disadvantage against others producing a more pristine leaf for cigars. 

The Origins of Connecticut Shade Tobacco:

By the turn of the 20th century, cigar makers were using tobacco from Sumatra, which competed fiercely with Connecticut-grown wrapper tobaccos, and threatened the livelihood of Connecticut growers.

Science:

W. C. Sturgis, a Connecticut botanist, had already grown Sumatra tobacco from seed in 1899, reproducing the thinner leaf. During the initial trials, natural sunlight scorched the leaves. Learning that the tobacco-growing season in Sumatra occurred predominantly in overcast weather or under jungle shade, however, he erected cheesecloth tents over the experimental crops to block direct sunlight.

Botanists from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also began experimenting with tropical tobacco varieties. 

Marcus Floyd, the USDA’s leading tobacco expert at the time came to Connecticut to oversee the first crop of this experimental tobacco, now known as “shade tobacco.”

Results exceeded expectations; the tobacco leaves were more refined, and a golden leaf emerged after curing and aging; and today is considered the gold standard of cigar wrapper leaves.

Connecticut appropriated $10,00 in 1921 (over $158,000 today) for the Tobacco Research Station in Windsor to investigate cigar wrapper tobacco production and disease control. 

Note the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the first such operation in the United States, had been established in 1875.  

Connecticut’s Transition to Shade:

Connecticut farmers were accustomed to the simple cultivation process and single harvest of broadleaf tobacco. In contrast, Connecticut tobacco historian, Dawn Byron Hutchins estimates that each shade tobacco leaf is handled 12 times before it becomes part of a cigar.

She describes the cultivation of shade-grown tobacco as more labor-intensive and more complicated. To wit, the growing season begins in May with weeding and transplanting seedlings. As the plants grow, they are fastened to guide wires, and then cloth tents are spread over them to increase humidity, protect the tender plants from direct sunlight, and maximize the short New England growing season. 

The remainder of cultivation takes place by hand. Field workers spend weeks in high humidity and extreme heat moving among the rows, pulling off shoots and tobacco worms. Multiple harvests of leaves are brought to barns, where workers sew the leaves together to string on wooden lath. The laths are then hung in the rafters of barns to cure.

After curing, the tobacco is moved to sorting sheds and warehouses, where processing continues throughout the rest of the year.

“Working Tobacco”:

Prior to the First World War, the Greater Hartford-Springfield area was able to fulfill the need for seasonal tobacco workers with residents and immigrants. When war broke out, however, many workers were drafted, while those remaining home took jobs at munitions and other defense-related plants, which promised higher wages.

Consequently, Connecticut’s tobacco farms began to employ migrant laborers from the South and the Caribbean. 

The Connecticut Tobacco Company advertised in the New York World in 1915 for “500 girls to work as sorters”. The planters “gathered up 200 girls of the worst type, who straightaway proceeded to scandalize Hartford” (sic). The blunder was managed and Emmett J. Scott, secretary-treasurer of Howard University, included the incident in his 1920 book, “Negro Migration During the War”.

The Company then sought assistance from the National Urban League (NUL), who already served as a clearinghouse and civil rights advocate for African American migrants to the North. They placed advertisements in African American newspapers like The Chicago Defender, which was circulated in the South. Unfortunately, this program was similarly unable to produce a reliable labor force. 

Marcus Floyd (see USDA above), president of the Connecticut Tobacco Company since 1911, then began investigating recruitment of a special group of Southern workers: college or college-bound students. At that time, students from historically black colleges were already accompanying their professors north to work seasonal service jobs at New England resorts.

College students provided Connecticut growers with an English-speaking, educated work force, “who, as seasonal workers, would have only limited impact on the local communities”. 

The NUL introduced Floyd to Dr. John Hope, the first black president of Morehouse College. A deal was struck, and Floyd recruited the first Morehouse students for the 1916 season at Hazelwood plantation on the Windsor/East Granby border.

The Hartford Daily Courant reported in August 1916 that “students were paid $2.00 per day, and, in turn, paid $4.50 per week for room and board. Students could clear $100 for the entire summer,” which is equivalent in purchasing power to more than $2,500 today. Roundtrip transportation was covered for those who completed the entire season.

Recruiters also sought student workers from other historically black colleges, including Florida A&M, Morris Brown College, Howard University, Livingstone College, and Talladega College. Growers minimized their labor problems by developing residential camps or building dormitories on their tobacco farms and providing religious and social opportunities.

A Morehouse dormitory was built in 1938 in Simsbury, and was expanded in 1946. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Martin Luther King, 1964. Photo by the Nobel Foundation. Public Domain.

After qualifying for early admission to Morehouse College, MLK left the South to work the summers of both 1944 and 1947 on the Cullman Brothers tobacco farm in Simsbury to earn money for tuition. 

“For him and a lot of the students, it’s their first time out of the South and away from segregation,” said Clayborne Carson, senior editor of “The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr.,” which included MLK’s teenage letters home describing the liberating experience of escaping the segregated South.

He was struck by the distinction between the segregation on the train ride from Atlanta to Washington D.C. and the freedom he experienced after changing trains for Connecticut. “After we passed Washington, there was no discrimination at all,” he wrote to his father; adding that up North, “We go to any place we want to and sit anywhere we want to.” 

He wrote in his autobiography, “It was a bitter feeling going back to segregation after those summers in Connecticut. It was hard to understand why I could ride wherever I pleased on the train from New York to Washington and then had to change to a Jim Crow car (i.e., racially restricted) at the nation’s capital to continue the trip to Atlanta. I could never readjust to the separate waiting rooms, eating places, and rest rooms; partly because the “separate was always unequal”; and partly because the very idea of separation did something to my sense of dignity and self-respect.”

Corey Kilgannon wrote in the New York Times that the dream of equality that MLK first glimpsed in Simsbury helped reshape his world view. He adds, “It was during those summers that King began his path to becoming a minister. He decided to attend Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, and explained in his 1944 application that he felt, “An inescapable urge to serve society.”

He was ordained as a minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1948. 

Literature and Cinema: 

The 1952 novel, East of Eden, by John Steinbeck is set primarily in the Salinas Valley, although an early portion of the novel is set on a Connecticut tobacco farm.  This is a very cruel story and describes the overlapping fates of several generations of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons; and the toxic relationship of bible-thumping Cyrus with his sons, Adam, and Adam’s violent half-brother, Charles.

Many reviewers cite East of Eden as Steinbeck’s best work and an allegory for the story of Cain and Abel. The 1955 movie, which is based on the fourth and final part of the novel. starred James Dean and Raymond Massey. 

The 1958 novel, Parrish, by New London native, Mildred Savage, tells the story of the shade tobacco industry in the Connecticut River Valley in the 1940s and 1950s, and the violent conflict between the established growers, who had owned vast farms for generations, and a ruthless outsider, Judd Raike, who threatened them through hostile and underhanded acquisitions of their farm lands.

Parrish McLean and his mother work for the Sala Post tobacco farm, which is engaged in a brutal conflict with Raike. Mrs. McLean marries Raike, who then insists that the recalcitrant Parrish learn the business from the ground up; and the story proceeds from the point of view of Parrish, who still has a relationship with Sala. 

The 1961 movie starred Troy Donahue (as Parrish), Claudette Colbert, and Karl Malden. It was filmed in Windsor and includes some amazing aerial panoramas of the shaded fields and farm landscapes of the time (available via Phoebe.)

I can’t close the book on Windsor without mentioning the 1941 Joseph Kesselring Broadway play and 1944 Frank Capra movie, Arsenic and Old Lace, starring Cary Grant. Arsenic was based on events at the Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids on Prospect Street in Windsor, Conn. Sixty men died between 1907 and 1917 while in the care of Amy Archer-Gilligan. Most were proven to be victims of arsenic poisoning.

Tobacco Farms Landscape:

I mentioned last time that I was first introduced to tobacco farming when I did several years of active duty in the late 1970s at a Naval Hospital in Southern Maryland. I “mustered out” to Connecticut, and we settled in West Simsbury. We had anticipated dairy farms, and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, but we also got fields of shade tobacco. I reminisce a little on our initial impressions in what turned out to be our final stop in an unplanned odyssey amongst the tobacco-centric regions of the eastern United States.

Making the Shade:

Tobacco fields are arranged in a grid pattern, set with posts and connecting wires. Cheesecloth was stretched across the top and along the sides. Currently, nylon mesh is used in lieu of cheesecloth. The shade diffuses sunlight, encapsulates heat and humidity, and creates an environment whose temperature is much higher than outside the shade. 

Tobacco Barns:

Tobacco barn in Simsbury, Connecticut used for air curing of shade tobacco. By Sphilbrick – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11530818

Adjoining the fields are very distinctive, vertically-sided weathered barns, raised for curing tobacco, which is hung on stalks in the barn’s rafters. The barns are constructed with long narrow boards, which are hinged at the top. Called “Yankee hinges”, they are designed to swing open when needed in order to lower the temperature and increase air flow in the barn.

Note that there are barn designs other than the “Yankee hinges,” which are also used for curing tobacco. They include horizontal siding with top-hinged vents and gable-end doors, or a series of large doors along one of the long sides of the building with the other sides of the building vented.

Epilogue:

Tobacco production in Connecticut today is a fraction of what it was at its peak in the 1930s, when 30,000 acres of farmland grew tobacco; reflecting an overall decline in cigar smoking from a century ago, and greater public awareness of smoking-related disease.  At present, just over 2,000 acres are dedicated to tobacco production. 

The method of growing tobacco under shade is now common in many areas, including the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Cuba.

Connecticut seed tobaccos are also grown in a number of other countries; most notably, Ecuador.

The three-story Morehouse dormitory, mentioned earlier, which originally housed hundreds of tobacco workers, was still in service when we arrived in West Simsbury, but was weathered and in the early stages of disrepair and dilapidation. It was destroyed by fire in 1984 as part of a training exercise for volunteer firefighters.

In spring 2021, the vacant 288-acre site of the 1940s Cullman Brothers tobacco farm in Simsbury, then called Meadowood, was slated for a development of hundreds of homes. As noted above, MLK worked the summers of 1944 and 1947 on the farm.

Richard Curtiss, a history teacher at Simsbury High School, initiated a student project to investigate what was then a local legend. Research not only included books and old newspaper articles, but gathering oral history from people like 105-year-old Bernice Martin, who said that MLK attended her church in Simsbury, The First Congregational Church; and had been recruited to sing in the choir.

The students put their findings in a video, Summers of Freedom, which was covered by the CBS Evening News and other major outlets; and residents then followed with a grassroots citizen petition process and special town meeting that put the question of the Meadowood purchase on a referendum in May 2021.

Residents authorized $2.5 million for the purchase and preservation of the 288-acre Meadowood property by a resounding 87 percent. The property has since been nominated for historic designation.

The stage had already been set for that referendum on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January, with the unveiling of a permanent MLK memorial. The memorial was made up of five glass panels representing the different stages of MLK Jr.’s life. It was made possible by groups of Simsbury High School students, who raised $150,000. It will now be listed as a destination on Connecticut’s Freedom Trail. 

If you have read any of my past columns, you know that I enjoy reading history; and especially enjoy ferreting out instances of the unique. I anticipate expanding on the folklore that surrounds the life of General Israel Putnam, cited above as an “influencer,” who played a significant role in increasing the popularity of cigars.  

A prominent member of the expat community and chronicler of the local zeitgeist lamented, after publishing the first essay in this series, “The British role in the whole [tobacco] business is not a glorious one”! 

All that said, I have never used any tobacco product.

Sources: 

  • Connecticut Valley Tobacco Historical Society
  • Connecticut Valley Agricultural Museum
  • Preservation Connecticut
  • Simsbury and Windsor Historical Societies
  • The Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station
  • Holt’s Cigar Company
  • Cigar Aficionado
  • New York Times,  Nov. 12, 2021; article by Corey Kilgannon

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

 About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK. A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A la Carte: Can’t Imagine Grilling a Salad? Then Try This, But Don’t Forget Blue Cheese & Basil!

Lee White

When I was little, my mother used to call me Sarah Bernhardt. I had no idea who Sarah Bernhardt and she told me Bernhardt was a famous actress in the early 1900s. 

I think today my mom would call me a drama queen. She also suggested I not wish my life away, that someday I would wish I could get those years back.

I thought about this again as I was reading my newest food magazines, wishing it were summer again so I could write about late June strawberries, July’s sweet corn, August’s tomatoes, and earthy fall squashes.

Look, I’m doing it again, and it is only mid-May.

On the other hand, it is time to fire up the grill. I saw a recipe for grilled kebabs of cake and fresh pineapple on skewers tossed with brown sugar, vanilla and little salt. I have a fresh pineapple on the counter and a few slices of pound cake. 

I also have romaine in the crisper and some blue cheese, too.

I can wing the dessert, but here is a recipe for the entrée.

Photo by Petr Magera on Unsplash.

Grilled Romaine Salad with Blue Cheese and Basil
From Food magazine, May/June, 2022
Yield: serves 4 to 6

Dressing:
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon capers
Kosher salt
6 cloves garlic
1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoons hot sauce
6 oil-packed anchovy fillets (or a teaspoon or two anchovy paste)
½ to ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:3 romaine lettuce hearts, halved lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil for tossing
Kosher salt
1 lemon, halved
20 fresh basil leaves
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
Sliced rotisserie chicken (optional)

Preheat grill to medium. Make dressing: in a blender combine lemon juice, vinegar, capers, 1 teaspoon salt and the garlic. Blend until smooth. Add Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, anchovies and ½ cup oil until smooth. Taste for seasoning. Blend in up to ¼ cup more oil if needed. Set dressing aside.

Make the salad: In a large bowl, toss 4 of romaine halves with a little olive oil and season with salt, put them in a single layer on the grill and cook 3 minutes per side (the romaine should feel slightly warm and tender). Spoon a little dressing on each of 4 to 6 plates.

Finely chop rest of the romaine and add to a medium bowl. Add remaining dressing, a touch of lemon juice and the basil leaves. Toss to coat.

Top the grilled romaine with the remaining dressing. Garnish with blue cheese and serve immediately, topped with diced chicken, if desired.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: How Do I Love Lemons? Let me Count the Ways …

Lee White

Over the past few weeks there have been so many holidays– Easter Sunday, Passover and Ramadan– and all had something to do with food.

For Lent, we gave up something we wanted (often sweet stuff) for 40 days and had to have fish on Fridays; for Passover nothing leavening (desserts made with matzoh and matzoh for breakfast, lunch and dinner for eight days) and, at Ramadan, which lasts for a month, each day the first meal must begin before dawn, while the second meal begins after sunset.

This week it’s Mother’s Day.

For most mothers, me included, we are fasting — but dieting (except for those, who are doing the intermittent fasting, so never mind about that!).

I will try to get a reservation for Mother’s Day Brunch.

If you mothers are cooking (and many, like me, actually love cooking), make something delicious that is sweet but tart and pretend it isn’t caloric.

I love lemon anything and this may be my favorite of all. 

Lemon Shortbread
From Felicia Gotta, one of my favorite pastry chefs ever

Photo by Adam Bartoszewic on Unsplash.

1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon lemon oil (if you have it)
½ teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
1 cup cornstarch

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add lemon oil and lemon zest and mix.

Sift together both flours and the cornstarch. Mix the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Do not overmix.

Spread and press into a greased 13”x 9” pan or use your favorite shortbread molds. Prick entire surface with a fork at one-inch intervals.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until slightly golden. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes.

Slice with a sharp knife into the size you’d like (1” by 1” squares is nice).

Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar (optional). Enjoy warm or at room temp. Store in an airtight container

Lemon Cream

Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax (Chapters, Shelburne, VT, 1994)

There is almost nothing better with a little lemon cream (or curd) on top. It’s incredible with the lemon shortbread or lovely in a little tartlet, topped with berries or even with a berry pie. This will keep in the refrigerator, tightly closed, for at least a week.

Makes about 3 cups

Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons water
3 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, well chilled

  1. Place lemon zest and juice, sugar, butter and water in a heavy nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until butter melts.
  2. In a bowl, beat eggs and egg yolks with a whisk, just until blended. Whisk in about 1/3 of the hot lemon-butter mixture to warm the eggs; return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, just until the mixture thickens, usually about 3 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and strain into a large heatproof container. Press a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to prevent a “skin” from forming. Refrigerate until cold. (The curd can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Chill until needed.)
  4. Up to 20 minutes before serving, beat cream until it forms soft peaks. Fool cream into the lemon mixture. Cover and chill until needed.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

Gardening Tips for April from ‘The English Lady,’ a ‘Month of Activity’

Dandelions are one of the prettier weeds to announce the arrival of spring. But do not forget that the young foliage of dandelions is great in salads,  and when the foliage is cooked, it tastes like spinach! Photo by Viridi Green on Unsplash.

Those April showers that come our way
They bring the flowers that bloom in May
And when it’s raining, let’s not forget,
It isn’t raining rain at all, its raining violets

Maureen Haseley-Jones is “The English Lady.”

April is the month of activity in the garden, and our old nemesis, weeds are beginning to rear their heads, so we need to extract the little devils before they take hold and are difficult to remove.

Having said that, I must point out the benefits of many weeds. Nettles are food for butterflies, clover extracts nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil, and oil from jewel weed soothes poison ivy rash. The young foliage of dandelions is great in salads, healthy and containing many nutrients, and when the foliage is cooked, it tastes like spinach.  I also do not want to forget our songbirds and other wildlife, who depend on weed seeds as a food source.

Weed removal – weeds must be pulled gently so the weed and roots do not break apart for, if this happens, thousands of weed seeds will reseed and you will find yourself with an endless cycle of unnecessary weeding. When careful weeding has been accomplished, apply an organic weed pre-emergent, with a corn gluten base by Bradfield organics. This will keep weeds at bay for about six weeks.

Plant bare root roses at the end of April. Photo by Bailey Chenevey on Unsplash.

ROSES, ROOTS & MORE

Plant bare root roses at the end of April and container roses in mid-May.

Then in the middle of May when the soil temperature has reached 55 degrees, add manure with a fine bark mulch about one foot from the base of the rose. Check my March tips to refresh yourself on pruning roses.

Be careful clearing winter debris from around rhododendrons, mountain laurel and azaleas; these evergreens have shallow roots and you do not want the roots being exposed.

If the winter weather did indeed erode soil around some roots, add a few inches of soil to cover the exposed roots and at the same time resettle the plant in place. Then in the middle of May apply manure and fine bark mulch as well as some peat, which adds much needed acidity to evergreens.

Plant gladioli corms at two-week intervals in late April. Planting in two week intervals ensures you will get a succession of bloom. Plant the corms eight inches down; this extra depth helps keep the heavy blooms erect.

The Red Lily beetle will soon begin to appear, therefore I suggest applying organic Neem oil on the Lilies when they are about four inches above ground, which helps prevent and deal with the beetle problem.

SOIL SOLARIZATION

This is an effective way to control many soil- borne problems, specifically the tomato blight that causes fruit rot. Covering the soil with clear plastic at the end of April, for one to two months can generate high enough temperatures in the top six to 12 inches of soil to kill pests, nematodes, weed seeds and many disease organisms like the tomato blight.

This process has proved invaluable for home gardeners and the beneficial effects last for several seasons.

To solarize, dig a trench several inches deep around the bed, and spread a thin, clear plastic film (1-4 mils) over the bed.  Press the plastic into close contact with the soil and seal the edges by filling the trench with soil.  Leave the plastic on the soil until you are ready to plant tomatoes or other vegetables in about a month to six weeks.

When the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees, manure all the borders with composted manure in bags from the garden center or aged manure from the bottom of the farmer’s pile and mulch with a fine brown hardwood mulch.

In the vegetable garden, after preparation and planting, and when it is time to mulch, do so with manure which will not ‘cap’ — this means that it does not form a crust like other mulches so that air and water can get through to the roots of the plants where it is needed.      

If you did not apply an organic grub control on the grass in March, apply now to keep the grubs down and cut down on the mole population.    

The soil is the most important component of the growing business; compost, organic manure and peat amend the soil to rebuild its structure. The ratio to use is one part compost to three parts manure and apply peat to the planting mix in the ratio of one part peat to three parts manure when planting evergreens. And as mentioned above, peat adds the acidity which evergreens need.

Good soil structure is extremely important in the garden. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Good soil structure assists with drainage, prevents compaction, and the rich nutrients that is the result as these amendments break down and encourage the soil animals beneath the surface to work at full capacity.

In a light soil such as sand, humus — which is the combination of manure — mulch and carbon from the atmosphere bind the sand particles together and, in heavy soil such as clay, keep the clay particles separate to make room for air and drainage.  

Growing conditions in April are very favorable for new plant-root development and it is the ideal time to transplant evergreen shrubs and new evergreens. Put the organic manure and peat with the topsoil in the planting hole in the ratios. Then give the roots a workout before planting to release them. In this way, the roots are opened up and will reach into the surrounding soil for nutrients and water. Also, they will not dry out in the heat of summer.    

Many years ago, when I moved into my farmhouse on the shoreline, I discovered that my soil was sandy, which is good for drainage but sadly lacking in nutrients. I began adding a few inches of manure to all planted borders in April, July and October and today when I put a spade in the ground to check the color of the soil in spring, it is ‘black gold.’  

Gloves should be worn using manure which contains bacteria. The bacteria is great for the plants and the soil but not good for your health.  These products tend to be slow acting; gradually making the nutrients available to the plant and the rewards are infinite.

Organic fertilizers like manure are applied in spring around mid May when the soil temperature has reached 55 degrees and when the plant has about six inches of growth; this allows for the nutrients to become active at the time when plant growth is happening quickly. 

A beautiful spring sight is always, ‘A host of golden daffodils.’ Photo by Sarah Mitchell-Baker on Unsplash.

Daffodils are blooming and what a lovely sight to see. When the daffodil bloom has past, do not cut the leaves from any of your spring flowering bulbs, the leaves send down energy into the bulbs to store for next season’s bloom. 

April is the time to tackle a new lawn or patch seed, use only good quality seed and organic fertilizers.   

Do not be lulled into complacency with a few back-to-back warm days; we can still get a frost and I caution you not to plant annuals until Memorial weekend. 

Do not cultivate around the perennials in the borders until mid May.

Do not panic if you were not able to get the April tasks done until May — your garden will wait for you and the constancy that is Mother Nature will continue to keep your patch of earth flourishing. 

Enjoy the pleasure of being outdoors in warmer temperatures, inhaling the pungency of awakening soil and experience the connection with Mother Nature. Do not overdo it; warm up the body before the garden labor and stay well hydrated with lots of water. We are inexorably entwined with the earth and know that even the smallest gesture of a garden has positive rewards and the effects are positive not only on you but our planet. 

I will return with more gardening tips in May when you are out in the garden in force.

About the author: Maureen Haseley-Jones is a member of a family of renowned horticultural artisans, whose landscaping heritage dates back to the 17th century. She is one of the founders, together with her son Ian, of, The English Lady Landscape and Home Company. Maureen and Ian are landscape designers and garden experts, who believe that everyone deserves to live in an eco-conscious environment and enjoy the pleasure that it brings. Maureen learned her design skills from both her mother and grandmother, and honed her horticultural and construction skills while working in the family nursery and landscape business in the U.K. Her formal horticultural training was undertaken at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Surrey.

A la Carte: Gingerbread Cake is Super for Sharing

Lee White

What a weekend!

The weather was gorgeous so I thought I would go to Lowe’s and get some flowers to plant in my tiny front yard and some flowering plants to place where my bird feeders help my feathered friends during the fall, winters and early spring.

But Monday morning at 4:30 a.m., as I drove my daughter to catch her plane back to sunny California, I had to use the windshield wipers get rid of the thin ice that had formed overnight. Those flowering plants will wait for a few more weeks. 

But her long weekend with me was positively glorious.

We had a Passover seder at Lisa and Eric’s house Friday night (only three of our seven were Jewish, but that’s more than most Jewish quorum). I’d ordered six-pound flat brisket at Scott’s in East Lyme. I put into the slow cooker, slathered it with seasoned caramelized onions, mushrooms and garlic and cooked it for 8 hours, then reduced the juice into a fragrant gravy.

I also made a very chocolate flourless cake. Jacques made superb latkes (yes, I know, latkes are for Hanukkah, but everyday can be Hanukkah with those yummy latkes), while Lisa made matzo ball soup and sweet carrots, and Paula and Reza made salad and roasted vegetables.

And there was wine.

On Easter Sunday, Darcy and I had a late brunch at the Oyster Club in Mystic. We ate more than a dozen oysters (raw and Rockefeller, the latter perhaps the best I’d ever had, even better than those at Antoine’s in New Orleans where the recipe was born) and shared my Bolognese and her sautéed scallops, plus a caramelized orange sorbet.

Needless to say, I have many kitty bags in the fridge, but I hungered for more something sweet (but not too sweet), so I made this gingerbread cake that I will probably share with friends over the next week. 

Classic Gingerbread Cake
From Cook’s Illustrated (January/February 2011, page 24)

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash.

Three-quarters cup stout (they prefer Guinness)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup mild molasses
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 8-inch-square baking pan (a round one works well, too). I use Pam all the time now when baking.

Bring stout to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (mixture will foam vigorously). When foaming subsides, stir in molasses, brown sugar and granulated sugar until dissolved; set mixture aside. Whisk flour, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and pepper together in large bowl; set aside.

Transfer stout mixture to large bowl. Whisk in eggs, oil and grated ginger until combined. Whisk stout mixture into flour mixture in thirds, stirring vigorously until completely smooth after each addition.

Transfer batter to prepared pan and gently tap pan against counter 3 or 4 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.

Bake until top of cake is just firm to touch and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes.

Cool cake in pan on wire rack, about 1 ½  hours. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

Legal New You Can Use: Should an Investment Home be Your First Home in CT?

Because housing has become so expensive, making your first home purchase an investment home may be a good idea. Continue reading for an overview of the pros and cons to help you make your decision.

Pro: Leverage to buy the home you want

Many people who are looking to buy their first home usually can’t afford the one they truly want. Rather than put down a lot of money on a home that you’re settling for, you could purchase an investment property and use that to help afford your dream home. You could refinance or sell the investment property, or you could use its monthly income to help afford the home you want.

Pro: Flexibility

When you choose an investment home as your first property, it makes it easier for you to have the freedom to move. You don’t want to spend all of your money on a home you live in only to find out years later you want to live somewhere else.

Pro: Tax benefits

One of the top reasons people become real estate investors is because of the generous tax benefits. Landlords who don’t take advantage of those tax benefits for rental real estate transactions lose thousands of dollars a year. After the first year of owning a rental property, you can begin deducting depreciation.

Interest, reasonable costs of repair, insurance premiums and use of personal property are also tax-deductible. Examples of reasonable costs of repair include fixing leaking pipes and broken windows. Improvements to the property that aren’t essential typically don’t qualify for a deduction. Use of personal property is furnishing a rental property with appliances and furniture.

Con: Managing the property

A downside of rental properties is you may have to manage them. There are some ways around this, though. You could hire a property manager, or you could choose a different type of real estate investment like REIGs. When you invest in an REIG, the company takes a percentage of your returns in exchange for managing the property for you.

The sooner you begin building wealth, the better off you could be. Thus, making your first home purchase an investment home could be the right choice for you.

Attorneys at Suisman Shapiro can answer your questions on the legal aspects of house purchase. Visit their website or call 800-499-0145 — lines are open 24 hours a day.

This is a sponsored post by Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law of New London located at 75 State Street, New London, CT 06320

A la Carte: Ricotta Cheese Pie Makes a Luscious Dessert for any Easter … or Passover!

Editor’s Note: This is a column that our dear friend Lee White wrote for us in April 2016, that somehow we failed to publish (our apologies) — but the recipe is as good today as it was then!

Lee White

This will be an odd Easter weekend for me. On Good Friday, I will pick up my Newbury, Mass., daughter-in-law. Nancy and second-youngest granddaughter, then drive up to Kennebunkport Inn. 

It all began with an e-mail from the beautiful hotel in Maine. It is less expensive to spend a day or two there in the late fall, winter and early spring, but the advertisement said it would be even less so for March and April, with a special discount of 29 percent. Hmmm, it was time to visit my cousins from Portland (she breeder of corgis, he a retired AP reporter). Perhaps a Friday night dinner at Fore Street (one of the many in Portland) and a visit with cousins Adrienne and Jerry. So I called Nancy, and asked if it was time for a road trip. (Our last had been last year in Boston to see a Bette Midler concert and an overnight stay in a boutique hotel walking distance from the concert.) She was game and said, since it was a school holiday for Casey, could she come, too? What a treat I said. She is a high-school sophomore and great company.

I called the Kennebunkport Inn, doubting there would rooms available, but we got one big room with two double beds and a twin for Friday and Saturday. Not only that, I got a reservation for us at Fore Street on Friday night. (By the way, Nancy and daughter Casey are Greek; my cousins are Jewish, as am I, so Greek Easter is the next Sunday and Passover (which isn’t a Jewish Easter but is a spring kind-of festival) isn’t until the end of April.

In any case, I won’t be making Easter dinner for anyone and, hopefully, I will be invited to Greek Easter the following Sunday. Here is what I will make. It is a luscious dessert that everyone loves.

Ricotta Cheese Pie

Photo by Taisiia Shestopal on Unsplash.

For the filling:
2 cups ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
1 cup cream
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the crust:
1 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar (no sugar if using cookie crumbs)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (or chocolate wafer cookie or vanilla wafer crumbs)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter, or spray with nonstick cooking spray, a 9-inch spring form pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with two layers of heavy aluminum foil

To make the crust, in a bowl combine crumbs, sugar and melted butter (this can be done in the food processor). Press crumbs evenly over bottom of pan. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

To make the cheesecake filling, in your food processor or electric mixer, mix ricotta, cream and sugar until well blended and smooth. Beat in flour and salt; then add eggs, one at a time, processing or beating until incorporated. Finally, add vanilla extract and cinnamon on and process until incorporated. Pour into prepared crust and dust top with crumbs. Take care not to over-mix.

Bake about 50 to 60 minutes, or until cheesecake is set, yet moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken (the edges of the cheesecake will have some browning). Remove from water bath and cool in a wire rack. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Spring is Here … Celebrate with Spring Minestrone

Lee White

I have spent the past few weeks with friends, first with the Oscars (yes, we all saw the slap and, with all the brilliant actors and crew from the amazing movie, CODA, they knew what Will Smith was saying. I myself don’t read lips, but I knew what he was saying.)

The following Friday, we watched UConn ladies in the Final Four.

On Sunday, I watched them alone.  Sigh.

I had also made two cakes, the one called Emergency Chocolate Cake because it is dairy-free and can usually be made easily with pantry and refrigerator staples. During the Friday game, we all made make-your-own ice cream sundaes with slices of the cake.

During half-times, we talked politics and food. Libby is cleaning up her gorgeous flower and vegetable gardens, while the rest of us talked about how lucky we are to get incredibly superb frozen vegetables.

And now that I don’t have a garden, I do have a big freezer and buy pounds of Whole Food and Trader Joe’s frozen sweet peas, corn, beans and broccoli (I am also buying the broccoli, plus cauliflower, from the produce aisles). 

Ingredients for the following recipe can all be found without driving almost an hour. And feel free to add other vegetables and change the ones you can’t find. I have been using fresh asparagus for some weeks. Is it fresh and local? Probably not, but they are lovely, the tips tight and the green stalks wonderful upright.

Spring is here and summer is right around the corner.

Spring Minestrone
From Real Simple, April, 2022

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only sliced into thin rounds
3 stalks celery, sliced (about 1 ½ cups)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1 ¾ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
6 cups lower-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup ditalini pasta
4 ounces fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (1 cup)
4 ounces cups green Swish chard
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil plus small leaves for serving
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium. Add leeks, celery, crushed red pepper (9if using), and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks soften, about 4 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil.

Add pasta to pan. Return to a boil. Cook over medium high, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender, about 12 minutes. Stir in beans during final 3 minutes of cook time. Remove from heat.

Stir in chard, basil, lemon juice and remaining 1 ¼ teaspoon salt. Ladle into bowls and drizzle with remaining 4 tablespoons oil. Top with parmesan (if using) and small basil leaves.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes ‘Nibbles’ and a cooking column called ‘A La Carte’ for LymeLine.com along with the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Thinking Lent (or Passover or Easter)? Then Think Fish

Lee White

Oh my, it may be April 1, as you are reading this. But this column is not about April Fool’s Day but rather two important holidays, which follow in just a couple of weeks—Easter and Passover.

Because the two holidays follow different calendars, rarely do Easter weekend (including Good Friday, Easter Sunday or, that new holiday, Easter Monday) and Passover coincide.

As with most Jewish holidays, Passover with its wonderful dinner, or seder — which can include brisket or turkey, sweet potatoes, matzoh topped with horseradish (which I love) and sometimes macaroons for dessert — begins on the evening before the holiday.

This year the seder begins on April 15 at sundown. The seder is sad in the beginning, but ends with happiness and songs.

Easter begins sadly with Good Friday, the day Jesus died and was entombed, and ends with Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose. After church on Sunday, Christians may choose a festive dinner, often with turkey or ham, rolls and butter, fresh peas (because sometimes, although rarely, the peas sown in mild-March might be ready to pick), rich scalloped potatoes and, if you are lucky, a ricotta cake and fresh berries. 

My daughter has Good Friday and Easter Monday off and is taking the red-eye from California; she will arrive very early Friday. By Friday evening, her eight-day Passover fast means no flour, meaning no bread. Also, over the past few years, she had a few bouts with crab legs and an allergist said it might be best if she stays away from shellfish.

I am not the least bit religious, so I do not avoid bread at Passover or seafood ever.

My daughter, on the other hand, has decided that lobster is okay. So, we may go to Ford’s before sundown, where I will have lobster risotto. She decided that rice is okay at Passover (others disagree) and will enjoy just a taste of lobster and order shrimp. 

The next night we will eat at home with this recipe. This is pretty and delicious for Lent or anytime.

Sear-Roasted Halibut with Tomato and Capers
Adapted from Fine Cooking, volume 93, June-July, 2008

Yield: serves 4

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
1 ½ tablespoons fresh oregano (if dried, use only a teaspoon)
1 ½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds thick, skinless halibut fillet (or mild white fish, like cod) cut into 4 even pieces
½ cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I used canola because I was out of EVOO)
2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Position rack in center of oven and heat oven to 450 degrees. 

In a medium bowl, mix tomatoes, capers, oregano, vinegar, ½ teaspoons salt and ¼ teaspoons pepper.

In a plate, place flour and the rest of salt and pepper. Dredge fish in flour and shake excess flour.

Heat oil in a 12-inch (preferably non-stick) ovenproof skillet over medium high-heat until shimmering hot.

Add fish, evenly spaced and cook without touching until it browns and released easily from the pan (check by gently lifting one of the corners), about 3 minutes.

Flip fish, sprinkle garlic around it, and cook until garlic just starts to brown on some edges, about 30 minutes. Pour the tomato mixture around the fish and transfer skillet to the oven.

Roast until the fish is just firm to the touch and opaque when you pry open a thicker piece with a paring knife, 3 to 6 minutes.

Let fish rest for a couple of minutes and then serve with the tomato mixture spooned over it.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes ‘Nibbles’ and a cooking column called ‘A La Carte’ for LymeLine.com along with the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

Gardening Tips from ‘The English Lady’ for March, a Month of ‘Wait and See’

Spring is the time to plan for summer gardens.

Those March winds shall blow and we shall have snow and what will the Robin do then poor thing?
He’ll hide in the barn and keep himself warm and hide his head under his wing.

Maureen Haseley-Jones is “The English Lady.”

March is a month of ‘wait and see’ as we anticipate walking around our gardens. This morning I walked outside, into a westerly breeze and a pleasantly warm sun. I took a deep breath and as I did, I caught the rich fragrance of the soil beginning to awaken.

All of us are itching to get into the garden and I believe that foray will be earlier than last year due to the fact that frost did not penetrate deep into the ground this past winter.

The sodden soil will dry out in the next few weeks but I urge you to tread gently as you tend the soil, our precious commodity of Mother Nature. In that regard I am asking that you do not till the soil as tilling damages soil structure and can break friable root systems.

I am asking you to be patient right now especially in the aftermath of so many long months of the pandemic. I know you are chafing at the bit to get your hands into the soil, however, in the meantime, I suggest you continue planning for the upcoming season. Planning means organizing, which prevents gardening mistakes that can occur if you do not plan.

Spring is also a time to think about trees.

When you go outdoors, I suggest you check the trees in your garden to decide what might need pruning, which limbs need to be removed or the canopy lifted to allow more sunshine into the garden. It is less expensive and takes less time for arborists to do the tree work before the foliage appears when the branches and the overall shape of the trees can be seen more clearly.

What to look for:

  • Are there broken or dead limbs?
  • What branches require cabling?
  • If a tree appears to be 50% dead, then it should be removed.
  • A medium shade area can be changed to a dappled shade area, allowing more sunlight in by thinning out the upper tree branches or tree canopy.

Perhaps you would like a tree removed to transform a shade area to a sunny spot which allows for a larger choice of plants available to you.

I always hesitate to remove a healthy tree but sometimes a tree may have been planted too close to the house and consequently the roots have undermined your home’s foundation and the shading over the roof has resulted in mold and mildew. If you need any of the above work to be done, please contact a licensed arborist.

There is an art to tree work knowing how, when and why to cut. Work on the trees should to be carried out by a professional so that at the completion of the work, the effect is both practical and aesthetically pleasing. An experienced arborist will also take into consideration the health of the trees. Having the work done by an arborist also avoids injury to yourself from falling from ladders or perhaps tree branches or trees falling on you.

Spring is a time to prune.

PRUNING – tasks that you can accomplish now.

March is the month to prune evergreens before the new growth appears.

Hedges can be sheared for shape, so that any stubby ends will be concealed by new spring growth.  Please keep to the natural shape of the shrub – no round balls.

Prune Spirea to six inches from the ground.

In April, prune Lavender to three inches.

In late March, prune Sweet Pepper Bush (Clethra), cutting out the oldest branches.

Lilac – Prune back all old branches to various lengths before leaf growth begins, from two to five feet, retaining a natural shape. Sprinkle lime around the base of the Lilac and add manure in May.  Lilacs enjoy alkaline soil receiving benefit from lime.

Prune Butterfly bushes to two feet from the ground and in May apply composted manure around the base.

Prune Forsythia after it has bloomed, pruning out sparse flowering old wood.

Prune roses when the forsythia blooms.  If the roses have only been in the ground for one year, do not prune, wait until October.

Do not remove the protective mulch from around the base of the roses, wait until mid May, and then apply a dressing of manure and fine bark mulch.

You may be asking, ‘Why wait until May to apply manure’ The answer is that the soil needs to warm up to 55 degrees otherwise the nutrient benefits of the manure bacteria that works with plant roots and soil organisms are not activated. I suggest you invest in an inexpensive soil thermometer to check the soil temperature. At soil temperature of 55 degrees, apply a three to four- inch layer of composted manure.

When April arrives, carefully begin to clear away winter debris, treading carefully on the soil to avoid damaging soil structure and friable root systems. When you have cleared away the debris, make a clean edge to the borders with a sharp spade; this makes such a difference to the look of your garden.

The best tool to use is a sharpened lawn edger, the blade is a half circle 9 inches wide and 4.5 inches deep with a flat top – this tool creates a deep edge. Face the bed and thrust the edger down to its full depth and push the cut soil into the bed. Continue along and then remove the spade and surplus clumps of soil and grass.

Edging was one of the first lessons I was taught at our family nursery in England; my great-grandfather was a strict taskmaster standing over me for quite a few days until I got the edging correct.

If you are contemplating the location of a new planting bed or expanding an existing one, here are some tips:

  • Think in terms of where you spend your leisure time outdoors, and where you can sit in close proximity to the new bed in order to enjoy the bloom, fragrance and structure of your plantings.
  • From indoors are you able to view and enjoy the new border?
  • Is it an area where there will not be drainage problems, erosion concerns or water pooling?
  • Is it convenient to tend and enjoy where you can place a bench or chair?
  • Will you be able to water it with relative ease?

For an informal garden I prefer a curved bed – a curved line gives grace and fluidity. I lay out a garden hose in the desired shape and size of bed, adjust the hose until you are satisfied with the gentle curves.

As previously mentioned, the best tool to use to edge or cut out a new bed is a sharpened lawn edger, this tool creates a deep edge.

MANURE

Do not apply manure until the soil temperature has reached 55 degrees which is usually in May, but with a soil thermometer you can check earlier. Many of you who have been my radio listeners and lecture audiences know how I feel about that wonderful natural product. Manure is not a fertilizer – it builds soil structure, aids in drainage and its bacteria encourages the millions of soil animals below the surface to come alive and work with the manure bacteria to produce nutrients for the roots of the plants.

Types of manure:

  • Poultry manure – I know the odor can be rather objectionable, however, this manure contains about 2% nitrogen, one of the highest levels in any manure. If you have access to poultry manure, allow it to age for two months and then add it to the garden.
  • Horse manure is about .5% nitrogen. If you obtain horse manure from a stable, which has sawdust on its floors – it should be pretty weed free. What I have done in the past is obtain horse and cow manure from stables and farms in April.  When you get it home, spread manure out in a flat area (not in a planting bed) then cover it with a tarp for a month.  With this method, the tarp will suffocate the weed seeds and the sun on the tarp encourage the manures to continue to decompose. A week before using horse and cow manure remove the tarp to allow the sun to further decompose it.
  • Cow manure is 0.25 % nitrogen and is the most available manure.  If you get horse and cow manure from the farm, ask the farmer to give you manure from the bottom of the pile so that it is already partially decomposed.
  • Compost pile – If you do not have a compost pile, maybe it could go on your list for this season. Vegetable waste from the kitchen plus grass clippings, and wood pruning can be added to the pile. The high temperature in the compost kills the weed seed and cooks all those other necessary ingredients.  The ratio of compost and manure for your garden is 1 part compost to 3 parts manure – but if you do not have compost – manure will do the trick.

**DO NOT apply fresh manure to the garden, as it will burn the plants.  If you do not have a source of manures from a farm, purchase composted manure in bags from the garden center.

To produce the best-planting environment, resulting in a soil that is ‘black gold’ apply 3 inches of composted manure to all planted areas in May, July and October.

Natural fine bark Mulch can be added later in May. Do not use buckwheat mulch as it flies everywhere. Do not, I repeat do not use cocoa mulch, which is poisonous to dogs and cats and please do not use the chemically colored red mulch.  The benefits of natural fine bark mulch are that mulch helps to retain the beneficial moisture in the soil and aids to retard weeds as does Bradfield organics, a corn gluten weed pre- emergent.

THE HUMUS COMPONENT

I know I have written about the importance of the Humus component for the soil but I feel I must continue to stress this fact.

In 1937 Franklin D Roosevelt told us ‘that the nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.’

Unfortunately, America has not heeded that warning. Precious soils in this country and around the world are being destroyed by dangerous practices used in industrialized agriculture as well as poisonous chemicals, which completely disrupts our eco system and poisons all living things.

In your own garden you can build and retain a rich growing environment by building the Humus component -We are all carbon-based creatures as is all life on earth. Not only humans but also our soil microbes need carbon to flourish. To attract carbon from the atmosphere into your soil you need to build the humus component.

HOW TO BUILD THE HUMUS COMPONENT

Do not till soil – tilling breaks up soil structure.

Step 1 – Add composted manure three times – in spring when the soil has reached a temperature of 55 degrees.  If the soil has not reached that temperature, the soil organisms are not able to work with the bacteria in the manure to produce nutrients for the roots of the plants.

This year, as we have not experienced deep frost therefore, the soil temperature may reach 55 degrees by the end of April or early May.  Add the manure again in July to continue to nourish your growing plants and again in October to protect and nourish your plants and roots through winter.    Manure is not a fertilizer; it builds soil structure and works with all the soil animals to keep a healthy disease- free growing environment.

Step 2 – Add wood chips in the form of brown fine bark mulch or wood chips that you produce from your garden;  these are aged wood chips combined with leaves, twigs and branches.

These two major steps build the humus component. If you do this in your own garden – not only will you be  helping to heal the planet but also produce the healthiest of gardens.

A question I am often asked is ‘Can I put manure over mulch for example in my July garden’? The answer is ‘Yes’ – the manure together with nature’s moisture and your own irrigation enables the manure to find its way easily into the soil and the roots of your plants.

WHAT EXACTLY DOES HUMUS DO?

Humus acts like a sponge and can hold 90% of its weight in water.

Because of its negative charge – plant nutrients stick to humus for nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and minerals, which prevents these from washing away and acts as nature’s slow release fertilizer throughout the year.

Humus improves soil structure making it loose and friable, which helps plants to root in this soil to get better access to nutrients, water and oxygen.

Humus also helps ‘filter’ toxic chemicals from the soil, mulch like carbon-based water filtration systems filter toxins from your water.

We are not able to control industrialized agricultural practices – but in your own garden you can make a difference.   Feed the soil and it will feed the plants.

Once again, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. So back to a cloudy day at the end of March, at this time you can gradually begin to remove protective covering from shrubs and small trees. In exposed garden areas, where wind is a problem, leave the covering on until mid April. Cold wind is more damaging and drying to plants than extreme cold and frost.

FROST HEAVE: If some perennials, trees and shrubs have heaved out of the ground, cover the roots with fresh topsoil or mulch until mid May when they can be settled back in place.

I just walked around the corner of my house to check on my trellis on the chimney where I have Roses and Clematis planted together. Roses and Clematis are a delightful combination in a companion planting. A companion  planting indicates that the rose and the clematis planted together have the same growing needs, ‘feet in the shade and heads in the sun’. Each month beginning in May, add manure and mulch around the base of both. Discontinue feeding roses and clematis in mid August; this enables both plants to go into a necessary slow dormancy.

MOLES: To keep the mole population at a minimum in your garden; apply organic grub control once a month from March for two months; less grubs, less food for the moles. When you see signs of moles, find the mole holes and insert Exlax which contains Senna, an organic herb. The moles eat the exlax, become dehydrated from defecation and die.  Apply organic pre-emergent crabgrass killers in March and April.

VOLES: Spread castor oil around the base of plants and keep mulch away from the base of the plants so that voles, which are canny little creatures are not able to hide there and gnaw on plants and roots.

DEADHEADING: Do not cut off the leaves of the crocus as they bloom; the leaves make food for the bulbs for next season’s bloom.

Spring has sprung!

DAFFODILS: When the green shoots emerge; spread composted manure around the plants.

DAFFODILS FOR DISPLAY INDOORS: The stems release a sap like “goop” that harms other flowers.  Before adding Daffodils to an arrangement, cut the stems at an angle, and leave them in a vase half filled with lukewarm water for a couple of hours.  Discard that water and add the Daffodils to the other flowers.  If you recut the stems you will need to repeat the process. Change the water in the vase often.

PERENNIALS: In May when perennials are about four inches above soil level and when the soil is 55 degrees, apply composted manure around them to further encourage healthy growth.

DIVIDING PLANTS: At the end of April or beginning of May, you can divide late blooming perennials that have been in the ground for four years or more; these divisions encourage stronger bloom.

Discard the older, inner parts of the clumps and plant the new outside portions.  Do not plant the new divisions any deeper than they were originally in the ground.

When dividing Irises  – barely cover the root system so they do not fall over – if Irises are planted too deep they will not bloom.

PANSIES: pick the flowers regularly to encourage more bloom.

March is the time to plant the following seeds indoors: gaillardia, salvia, marigold, zinnia, petunia, snapdragon, stock and verbena. Before planting these seeds, soak seeds in warm water and plant them in sphagnum moss or coir. Coir is the outer shell or fiber of the Coconut, either of these two mediums prevents a disease called “damping off”, which can cause seeds to rot before germination.

Cover pots and seed trays with plastic wrap, to create a mini-greenhouse, which provides moisture which seeds need to germinate.

Note: Remove the plastic once the seeds have germinated, as the soil needs to drain and needs air circulation around the emerging stems.

If you are going away on business, or on vacation reapply the plastic wrap

over the pots and trays and prop some sticks or skewers in the corners. While you are away the seedlings will stay moist, make sure the seedlings do not come in contact with the plastic.

START tuberous begonias, and caladiums indoors.

DORMANT SPRING SPRAYING of fruit trees, flowering cherry, crabapple, hawthorn, mountain ash and lilac can be done before the leaf buds open.

Call in a professional company and request that they use only organic products.

Houseplants – repot them if they need repotting in April.

Geraniums are always a joy through the summer months. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

GERANIUMS: The plants that you brought indoors at the end of last season check them for new side shoots appear, then cut them back to four inches and repot them in clean pots about and inch and a half larger with fresh potting soil.

Well, fellow gardeners I know you are getting excited to be in your gardens this season and I hope that these tips have given you plenty to think about to keep you busy for a while. Enjoy photo of lovely gardens that my son Ian and I have designed on Facebook and if you wish I suggest you contact Ian for a consultation and enjoy the photos on his website LandscapesbyIan.com.

Enjoy being outdoors in spring sunshine and I look forward to seeing you in your garden in April.

About the author: Maureen Haseley-Jones is a member of a family of renowned horticultural artisans, whose landscaping heritage dates back to the 17th century. She is one of the founders, together with her son Ian, of, The English Lady Landscape and Home Company. Maureen and Ian are landscape designers and garden experts, who believe that everyone deserves to live in an eco-conscious environment and enjoy the pleasure that it brings. Maureen learned her design skills from both her mother and grandmother, and honed her horticultural and construction skills while working in the family nursery and landscape business in the U.K. Her formal horticultural training was undertaken at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Surrey.

A la Carte: Thinking of Those Southern Warmer Climes? Creole Daube Will Take You There

Lee White

Finally, inflation has really got to me at the supermarket.

I so wanted to make a pot roast and saw a lovely fat chuck roast. Before I put it into my cart, I saw the price: $31. I looked again. Yup, $31 for a piece of meat that requires 3 to 4 hours of cooking before it has the perfect chew.

I left that market with chicken. The next day I tried another market. That piece was $23, still expensive, but bought it and made the recipe below.

I shared enough with my next-door neighbors and the next morning Sue told me she saw the circular at McQuade’s said $3.99 a pound. Quick like a bunny, I went to McQuade’s and bought three and put them in my freezer.

Instead of my regular recipe, shared with friend Ralph Turri some years ago, I found this recipe in a new Southern Living. My friend Meredith, a Texan transplant from Connecticut, shares the magazines with me. In return, I give her my New York Times Sunday Magazine. 

This recipe has exact amounts. The bacon doesn’t have to be hickory-smoke, the chuck can be smaller or larger, the veggies can vary. But I am in love with Better than Bouillon stock and they are now available on the shelves of most big supermarkets.

Creole Daube
From Southern Living, January, 2022, page 96
Yield: serves 6 to 8

3 thick-cut hickory-smoke bacon slices, coarsely chopped
1 3 ½ pound boneless chuck roast, trimmed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 small yellow onions, chopped (about 2 ¼ cups)
1 small green bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large celery stalk, chopped (about ½ cup)
3 tablespoons tomato paste (from 1 6-oumce can)
2 ½ tablespoons chopped garlic from 8 garlic cloves)
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups beef stock (I use Better than Bouillon—1 teaspoon for each cup water)
5 fresh thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
5 small carrots, sliced on an angle into 2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
4 tablespoons of flour stirred into 2 to 3 cups cold water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until brown and fat rendered, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and reserve dripping to a skilled.

Sprinkle roast with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-heat. Add roast to Dutch oven and sear. Until browned on 2 sides, about 12 minutes. Carefully flip halfway through. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onions, bell pepper and celery to Dutch oven; cook, stirring often and scraping browned bits from bottom of Dutch oven, until onions soften, about 6 minutes. Add tomato paste and garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until paste turns a share darker, about 2 minutes. Add wine and bring to a simmer oven medium.

Simmer stirring occasionally, until it is slightly thickened and some of alcohol burns off, about 3 minutes. Stir in stock, thyme sprigs, bay leaves and clove. Nestle in roast and bacon along with any juices that have accumulated; bring to a simmer over medium, then remove from heat.

Cover and transfer to oven, and braise about 2 hours.

Remove from oven, uncover and stir in carrots and turnips. Cover and return to oven; braise until meat and vegetables are tender, about another hour. Remove and let rest 15 minutes. Remove roast and shred into large pieces. I reduce liquid to 1/3, then add flour/cold water mixture and whisk into a gravy.

Serve with fresh vegetables and roasted potatoes.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes ‘Nibbles’ and a cooking column called ‘A La Carte’ for LymeLine.com along with the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.