The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Gardening – luckily some things never change

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

As we look to a new year "talk show" banter revolves around change; what changes we experienced over the last year and conjecture as to what changes we will see during the next few years. Of course much of it revolves around technology. I'm at the age where I drag one foot in the old and stick a toe in the new. My tweener position is painfully apparent as I scrutinize the horrified looks on kids' faces when I mention "the time before I" (Internet and IPods). The same look I gave my grandmother when she talked about the time before electricity and indoor toilets.

You can't text a tomato or unfriend an onion. As much as I enjoy new fangled contraptions, I find great comfort in knowing gardening hasn't changed all that much over the years. We still plant seeds. (Although some of us do buy transplants when we are feeling really wild.) Plants grow by using air, water, nutrients and energy from the sun to make their own food. We take advantage of their food making ability by eating the fruits of their labor.

I enjoy reading old garden books. Much of the advice in the old books mirrors the advice of the new books. "Plant tomatoes after frost." "Don't plant seeds too deep." And of course both the old and the new include lots of discussion about manure.

One garden book I enjoy reading is A-B-C of Vegetable Gardening by Eben Rexford published in 1916, a part of Harper's A-B-C series including A-B-C of Housekeeping, A-B-C of Correct Speech, A-B-C of Good Form and others. Evidently they had "Dummy" series back then too.

Popular vegetables to grow in 1916 were pretty much the same as today: asparagus, beans, cucumbers, radish, squash, rhubarb, tomatoes and potatoes. Of carrots Rexford said, "Comparatively few persons give this plant a place in their gardens, but it richly deserves a place there because of its value as an article of food as well as because of its health-giving qualities." Even in 1916 carrots were considered healthy. Interestingly broccoli and sweet potatoes were not mentioned.

Despite all the similarities between the old and new gardening books some things have changed including our tastes. Rexford's 1916 book states, "The currant is one of the garden's indispensables. It furnishes us with fruit of just the right degree of tart acidity… and who does not get a deal of enjoyment out of a green currant pie?" I'd venture to say most of us have never experienced that enjoyment.

Much can be learned about gardening influences through antique cookbooks such as The Everyday Cookbook and Encyclopedia of Practical Recipes by Miss E. Neil published in 1892. It includes recipes for pickled mushrooms and in the "use everything" category a recipe for calves' feet jelly. The book also details home care tips such as how to clean corsets and rid homes of vermin. In 1892 the mosquito repellent recipe states "Rub exposed parts with kerosene. The odor is not noticed after a few minutes, and children especially are much relieved by its use." And we think our mosquito repellants stink.

The 1892 Everyday Cookbook includes recipes for treating everything from dog bites to drunkenness. One caught my attention entitled "to restore from stroke of lightening." For this affliction the book suggests, "Shower with cold water for two hours; if the patient does not show signs of life, put salt in the water, and continue to shower an hour longer." At least no one can say they didn't try.

The 1892 cookbook also lays out some life recipes. "Laugh heartily, laugh often, …let the gladness of your heart bubble up once in a while, and overflow in a glad, mirthful laugh." Let's follow this recipe for our new year.

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