Gardening in 1744?

While on vacation in Cape Breton, we visited the Fortress of Louisbourg.  This beautiful National Historic Site depicts life as it was in 1744, just before this French Fortress fell to the British.  It is full of adventure, phenomenal animators and is true to the period in every way it can be.

As a child, I spent many summers as part of the children’s animation program, spending many summer days with my cousins in long woolen skirts, bonnets and aprons learning all about the rigours, challenges and successes of life hundreds of years ago.  We sang, we danced, we made up little stories and pulled the wool over many a tourists eyes!   We also learned many skills; lace making, sewing, instruments, fishing with line and hook and bouquet making with the many wild flowers and those we could steal from the many gardens! It was not a typical summer camp, but we loved it and my oldest daughter has taken part a few summers as well.

In an effort to revitalize the tourism and attract more visitors, the Fortress has added many new items to their list of attractions and tours.  This summer saw the addition of a rum tour and sale of rum aged in barrels on site (yes, it was amazing!), a Murder Mystery after hours within the walls of the Fortress and white glove tours that allow tourists to touch actual artifacts found on site by archeologists.  The most interesting to me was the Healing Gardener tour.

It took us through a typical kitchen potager styled in the way of the area and planted with heirloom seeds that would have been grown in 1744.  The French built their gardens in a very ordered and disciplined manner, making use of as much space as possible.  Raised beds and tall fences were used to block wind and salt, heat up the soil quicker and create warm micro climates next to the fierce ocean.  The primary vegetables were root vegetables and legumes that could be stored into the winter  Tomatoes and potatoes were nowhere to be seen – they were not yet in style at the time.  In fact, tomatoes were still believed to be poison!

The second garden we toured was a middle to upper class garden at the Engineer’s home.  The principles were similar, but it was very obvious they would have had more space to waste; the aisles were wider for hoop skirts, there were many more ornamental flowers and even a sundial in the middle.

To maintain order, discipline and symmetry, everything was mirrored, fertilized with compost and seaweed and crop rotated to maintain the health of the soil.  Specific edge plants, such as chives, were planted to deter insects and pests – perhaps I need a chive border! Around the outside of the kitchen gardens were herbs and perennial medicinal plants. This is the part I found most interesting.  There were herbs ranging from Valerian for sleep, Calendula as a beauty cream and Angelica as a candy.  Any aliment that was known had an herb to treat it in that era.

The highlight of the tour, besides our guide Lee, was a small book that we were all given outlining the plants in the garden and their uses.  I have certainly added a few must haves to my list for next year!

This beautiful site has always been on my “Must See” list, but the extra tours and special touches give that little extra something.  The split pea soup and meat pie in the tavern are nothing to sneeze at either!

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” ~ Michael Crichton

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Nova Scotia Treasures

IMG_3107Buried treasure, shipwrecks, legends of smuggling and piracy fascinate my family, young and old. Growing up in Atlantic Canada provided so many opportunities to become engrossed in tales of lore.  On the South Shore is Oak Island, a small, mysterious isle where treasure hunters have been trying since 1795 to unearth what could be one of the biggest troves, ever!  6 people have died trying, millions have been supposedly spent on excavating and countless hours have been spent dreaming about what could be buried hundreds of feet underground in booby trapped vaults! My big girl’s voracious appetite for theories and speculations cannot get enough of Templar intrigue and Capt. Kidd rumblings.

Cape Breton’s natural beauty is booty enough for me, but for treasure hunters the call of hundreds of shipwrecks cannot be quelled.  In 1965, wreck hunter Alex Storm and his crew brought up gold and silver from the treasure ship, Le Chameau. It was rumoured to be worth almost a million dollars, but given a political scandal and settlement, no one knows for sure!  Another Cape Breton legend holds that the Louisbourg treasure, mysteriously missing following the siege of 1758, contained the annual gold and silver payroll of the French colonies, priceless relics and religious artifacts.  It has never been recovered, nor its resting site located…some think it is hidden on a small island in a lake off Mira Bay that was once an estuary, safe from the invading British forces and blockade.

As a kid, my Papa would take us on boat rides looking for the island and the booty. If the motor was out of commission, he would resort to rowing us, dory style, on our epic hunts. Now that my Dad is the Papa, the legend of the Louisbourg treasure and the traditional excursions to “Treasure Island” continues to have deep roots in our family. Annual trips still elicit squeals of delight from my little buccaneers, curious cousins and any little scallywags who visit!  Of course I can’t share the name of the lake, that would break the treasure hunter’s solemn code.

Maritimers are blessed with other treasures as well! Though my girls don’t find my adimageventures seeking out new garden markets to visit, farms to explore on Open Farm Day, or digging for buried treasure in our potato plot nearly as mystical, they indulge (read: put up with) me!  We hide our treasures throughout the house for the winter. In the garage we store root veggies, pumpkins, squash for a mid-winter homegrown pot of soup, rich as any king. In the windows, we hang herbs as decorations to dry and enjoy warm, aromatic teas all winter.  My little one loves delivering her prized mint next door on a regular basis!  The pantry is full of jars of pickles, beets and salsa. We freeze and puree and jelly. We even keep a few greens growing under the lights! There is no greater gold to me than that of sparkling crab apple jelly on a hot biscuit after a great day of skiing!

Lastimage fall, I tried to “overwinter” some cold hardy root veggies and kale in a secret spot in the garden.  Sadly, the strong North east winds and sly deer who share our inclination for treasure hunting had other plans.  They found them. My PVC hoop tunnels and frost blankets were no match for them; somewhere a very content deer is gloating over his victory in securing my garden’s plunders. Next year I will have to reinforce my tunnels with better support, stronger plastic, bigger rocks and more insulation. Lesson learned!  The only thing they left alone were my leeks and a few rogue kale, both of which are quite a treat to dig out from under the protection of the snow in the middle of January.

My big girl (staff photographer) thought it would be fun to share a bit of our winter treasures by taking pictures of a yummy winter soup we made on a blustery day and providing a “treasure map” of how we made it.  It is not exactly a recipe because I tend to measure by tasting! image First she roasted pie pumpkin, acorn squash and butternut squash with garlic hidden under the cored out centres. Next the last of our stash of potatoes were chopped and sautéed with fresh picked leeks, dried sage, thyme, chilis and chives. By accident I added nutmeg instead of pepper – I told you I was easily distracted!  I get that from my Grandma. image Chicken stock was added to the potatoes and leeks to simmer while the squash cooled and sweat under foil, making them easier to peel.  Once cooled and peeled, the were blendered with the roasted garlic and added to the soup. image We added some fresh cilantro, easily grown in windowsill pots, for a little something extra!image Though we may never actually uncover the Louisbourg treasure, I hope my girls will never lose their innocent sense of wonder and adventure. In time, they may even come to treasure all the spoils this beautiful province has to offer, especially those from our own back yard. Who knows, maybe one day they will take their own kids hunting for buried treasure, even if it is only potatoes.

When planning our garden for the year, we try to think about what we will grow to store for the winter, here are our thoughts..

Things we grow to store: Pie Pumpkin, Acorn squash, Butternut squash, Cheiftan and Norland potatoes, carrots, onions

To freeze: Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, Haskap berries, beans, shell peas, beets and greens, Swiss chard, basil, dill

To can: Salsa, berries for jam, jalapeños for pepper jellies, beets and pickling cucumbers

To dry: Mint, oregano, sage, thyme, chives, tarragon, savoury, rosemary, I would like to try chamomile this year!

To tunnel: Beets, carrots, leeks, kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, mustard, parsley, mizuna

Under the lights:  Mesclun, romaine, cilantro, basil, arugula

Riches do not consist in the possession of treasures, but in the use made of them.” – Napoleon Bonaparte