still among my favorite gardening books for practical advice and tips

Yes, I have written about these books before. I wrote about them in 2014 in connection to my recipe about making a “rose smoothie.” (A rose smoothie is something I feed my roses, incidentally.)

But I was prompted this morning to mention these books again because someone in my gardening group with a local restaurant who is a friend of mine kindly offered her old egg shells to gardeners who use them to amend the soil.

Decades ago at this point, I read about these books by Margaret and Bridget Boland in the Wall Street Journal. Yes, the Wall Street Journal. Truthfully, over the years some of the best US gardening articles I have ever read have been out of the Wall Street Journal on occasion. When I originally bought these books I bought them from Trevian Book Shop in Massachusetts.

These books are fun little volumes, and well, some of it literally is lore. As in why people planted things how they planted things and even charms to protect the gardener. There is a funny little section in Gardner’s Magic and Other Old Wives Lore about weather predicting creatures, specifically frogs. And how if a frog looks pale yellow the weather is going to be fine if it’s going to be wet the same frog will turn dark brown or green.

Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners contains more practical garden magic. It was in this little book that I learned about adding banana skins to the soil for roses. It is what intrigued me in the article about these books I read in the Wall Street Journal- it was one of the things that the writer spoke about in the books. Of course also in this book I learned again about the benefits of tossing old soapy water – as in dish soap – onto your roses and flower and vegetable beds to help control things like aphids that don’t like the soapy water. People refer to this a lot of the time as “gray water” and we aren’t speaking of dishwasher detergent or clothing detergent, but plain old dish soap. Now my older relatives always used to speak of tossing the old dish soap onto the flowerbeds.

People tend to gravitate always and first towards the shiniest and new with glossy photographs gardening books. But inside little old volumes like these there is also a lot of knowledge to be had. These books are still enchanting today and interspersed throughout the lore are invaluable bits of old-fashioned wisdom and gardening tips. If you are a gardener you would love these books.

You can still find copies of these books which were published in the mid-1970s. I checked this morning and I saw them on both eBay and Amazon. They are skinny little volumes so they won’t take up much room. Originally they were very inexpensive. Now they are collectible but they aren’t beyond anyone’s reach you just have to check the listings. I have seen them for sale in both paperback and hardcover format.

I have all of the Bolands’ books (they were a mother and daughter) including Gardeners’ Lore: Plantings Potions and Practical Wisdom.

I will note that I discovered this morning there is also an edition of the first two books which combines the first two volumes into one.

I guess that the moral to this story is don’t overlook the vintage and older gardening books. Like older and vintage cookbooks you find things in these books you don’t see any place else. You learn the practical magic of gardening that our grandparents knew.

The last word I will have in this post is if you live in the Chester County area, the best place I have found locally to consistently uncover old and vintage gardening books is Baldwin’s Book Barn in West Chester. Have a great day….spring is coming!

the sisterhood of the traveling rug

This could be considered a cautionary tale. To pay attention when you’re bidding on things in an out-of-state auction. More specifically pay attention as to how you will get the item home.

Just after the New Year I was checking out an online auction down in Charleston, South Carolina. There was this old red-ish rug in an old house on an old floor that was like my dream rug of what I had been searching for to decorate with in my dining room.

I am not a giant fan of wall-to-wall carpet. I like hardwood floors and area rugs. And my favorite area rugs are old Persian and oriental rugs, most of which (like most people) I cannot afford. So like many other things when it comes to decorating you have to get creative. You check out auctions, you check out house sales, you go barn picking.

So when I saw this rug I knew if I could get it at a reasonable price, I would finally have what I wanted. I am not one of those people who was fortunate enough to inherit old rugs like this from family members as hand-me-downs. And it’s hard to find a decent sized oriental or Persian or Afghan rug that isn’t brutally expensive even if it is in rough shape.

Of course a lot of that has to do with the fact that certain kinds of rugs aren’t being made as much in their originating countries as they once were and when relationships with countries change with the US it means things aren’t being imported much either. Another factor are consignment stores and dealers jacking prices for their profit margins. Mind you, we live in a free market society and if that’s what they want to charge that is their right. However, it is my right as a thrifty soul to shop a better bargain.

There were other rugs in this auction in particular and this would’ve been considered a lesser quality rug, although for me it was what I wanted. So I set an absentee bid (and it was low) and walked away from the auction site. Much to my surprise no one really bid on it except for one other person. And they seemed to lose interest in it and in the end to my surprise I got it and got it for a song. I got it for like a true garage sale price which seriously shocked me.

I have won rugs in auctions before. If you are working with an honest to God budget or just don’t have a lot of money it is sometimes your only option. The key is to know the auctioneer, and in this case it was a Caring Transitions franchise.

After I won the rug I waited to see when they would invoice me for shipping. I contacted the auctioneer and this was a learning curve for both of us.

This is a room size rug pretty much – a smaller room but then again I have a small house. As I noted previously, I have won rugs in auctions before and I’ve had them shipped to me FedEx. They come insured, you have to sign for them – you have to be home to take receipt and it’s generally speaking pretty easy.

This time it wasn’t so easy. Some auction houses have their own personnel who pack and ship items if they agree to pack and ship. Other auction houses and auctioneers have a third party pack and ship items. In this case it was finding a third-party to pack and ship who didn’t want to gouge me for many times over what I actually paid for the rug.

One company told the auctioneer around $425 and that wasn’t necessarily including all the fees and what not that they charge. Another company told the auctioneer well over $500. Neither the auctioneer or myself expected this at all. I did not know what to do so I reached out to a friend of mine that lives in the area of the auctioneer. She agreed with me that the price was crazy.

This is where it becomes the sisterhood of the traveling rug.

My friend offered to get the rug and take it to FedEx and have them pack and ship it. Because that’s what I have done in the past and it was quite reasonable in price.

My friend went to the warehouse where it was being stored and nobody was there to greet her. So in the end, the auctioneer kindly had the rug I purchased delivered to her home and she took it to FedEx. FedEx charged me (with significant insurance for safety purposes) a little over $95. Not $400 not $500.

The rug arrived this morning and I signed for it. Now I have an appointment with my rug cleaner who will come and pick it up and take it out to be cleaned and have a mat cut for it. I am able to afford to do that because I didn’t just settle for what these packing and shipping companies said should be the charge.

So that is my cautionary tale. And I will tell you that when I spoke with the FedEx man this morning he said he had delivered something else locally a while back – a musical instrument – and the man who receive the package was charged over $500 to ship it by a third party pack and ship company.

So when it comes to these subcontractors I guess it’s caveat emptor or buyer beware… and do your homework.

And yes I know some people are going to read this post and think I am crazy hunting down an old rug. So many people will say “why not just buy a new one?” That part is easy. I love vintage. I like the character of old and vintage items. I just don’t like the price tag sometimes which is why you shop around.

Many thanks to my friend who helped me get my rug to me. She is and always has been aces.

snow day baking: applesauce cake

Over the weekend I wrote about a little vintage recipe box with recipes in it that I bought. Another thing I bought was a vintage aluminum 9″ Mirro clampless side pin release spring form pan. (Model 1359 M if you are interested.)

The pan looks like this:

The little side pin just slides on and locks into place. The pin is an easy piece to lose, so the spring form pans I usually see around have a latch. I hadn’t seen one with a pin intact for years. Needless to say that made me psyched to find this pan, which was completely in round and in perfect working order.

Yesterday in a fit of pre-snow domesticity that included a batch of chili for later this week, I decided to bake.

In my little recipe box there is indeed a recipe for applesauce cake, but the one I am sharing is my own recipe that I use. My mother and grandmother used to make applesauce cake all of the time, so this was basically the recipe they used but I tweaked it to my liking.

My mother and grandmother used to bake their applesauce cake and a 13″ x 9″ rectangular pan. I like the tube pan better for simple cakes like this. Besides, it looks prettier for the presentation of it all. (Yes, sometimes I have to let my inner Martha Stewart shine absurdly.)

The vintage Fiestaware round platter in the photo I already owned. A few years ago I swapped out all of my “every day china” for vintage Fiestaware. I don’t know what it is about the dishes but they make me happy. Probably the colors.

However like any other vintage plate, I never ever put it in the microwave. In the case of the Fiestaware it also has to do with the old glazes. (Check out this article from Smithsonian and The Spruce.) Old plates were designed pre-microwave and pre-dishwasher.

My Fiestaware is fine in the dishwasher, although sometimes I just hand wash it. Other old plates I have like Limoge never, ever go in the microwave or dishwasher because of the glazes and the metallic gold leaf touches. But having to do a few dishes by hand never hurt anybody.

However this post is not a primer on vintage dishes is it? It’s about the applesauce cake. (Yum)

I will note that yesterday this cake took 50 to 55 minutes to bake. So once you hit the 45 minute mark you have to keep an eye on it depending on your oven.

(And yesterday, shhhh don’t tell I didn’t have applesauce but I did have homemade apple butter I had made. And what is apple butter except more cooked down applesauce, right?)

And here is your hack for flouring and greasing a pan. Depending on what kind of a cake it is sometimes instead of dusting with flour if it’s a chocolate cake for example, I will grease the pan and dust with unsweetened Cocoa. Or I will dust with almond meal otherwise known as ground almonds. But for a cake like this, I am just going to dust with flour but I prefer the flour you use when making a roux: Wondra.

Wondra is super fine. That’s what makes it quick mixing for a roux or a gravy. That’s what makes it ideal in my opinion when you have to grease and flour a baking pan. I sometimes use it for dredging meat to brown for a stew.

But again, sorry, I got off track. Here is the recipe:

Applesauce Cake

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted but slightly cooled

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

2 cups applesauce

1/2 cup white raisins

1 cup chopped walnuts

Powdered sugar to dust cake when cool

• Preheat oven to 350°F degrees

• In a big bowl whisk white sugar, brown sugar and mix well.

• Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and vanilla, then mix until well blended and fluffy.

• Add to the creamed mixture salt, spices, baking powder, baking soda, then the applesauce. Add the flour.

• Finally fold in the raisins and walnuts.

• Pour batter into a greased and floured tube pan and bake until firm to the touch, about 50 minutes. Let cool in the pan, then pop it out of the pan and dust with powdered sugar.

like a little pandora’s box: the old recipe box

I love to cook and everyone who knows me knows I collect vintage and old cookbooks, so today I added an old recipe box to my repertoire.

It was a funny little thing and probably no one else would have bought it because it’s like a piece of some other woman’s history but it has all her cherished recipes in it, which I find really cool. I also found it really sad that no one in her family wanted it.

Old Fashioned Walnut Loaf? Sounds pretty good!

These are just a few of the recipes. The owner of the recipe box seem to like pineapple because there are a lot of pineapple recipes. But there are also a couple of old-fashioned fudge recipes too!

Pot pies. Green bean casserole (which I will keep in the recipe box but will never cook because I think it’s gross.) And more!

Now that I have this recipe box and it’s a nice one I am also going to add my late mother-in-law’s recipes. She was a legendary home cook and it was because of her I learned how to make an amazing gazpacho.

I love old recipes. Especially the handwritten ones. They are history. Someone took the time to write these down, which is what makes them special.

These old handwritten recipes are a thing. There is actually a blog called Handwritten Recipes but the creator hasn’t posted since December.

Now most prefer the ease of simply going to the internet and letting your fingers do the walking but nothing beats an amazing old cookbook. Or a recipe someone thought enough of to write down.

Old cookbooks and old handwritten recipes are a little like going on a mystery history tour. And if you want to master a basic recipe in the kitchen, this is how to do it. New cookbooks are lovely but it’s the old ones that really teach you the art of cooking. Not just a new recipe.

Tips and tricks. That is also what you will find in between the pages of old cookbooks and recipe boxes. It’s kind of cool when you find one. You also learn about the food trends of the past. (HINT: check out a cooking show from Ireland you can find streaming on Netflix called Lords and Ladles.)

In 2018 Food and Wine wrote an article on cookbook collecting:

Before you throw your old cookbooks away, it might be worth getting them appraised. Antiques Roadshow’s latest season, which premiered this past Monday, will make a stop in one of America’s most beloved food cities: New Orleans. While shooting in the well-known southern travel destination and former Louisiana capital’s convention center last summer, Antiques Roadshow appraiser and Brattle Book Shop owner Ken Gloss revealed to Forbes that our old family cookbooks are worth more than we realize….According to Gloss, some of the earliest American cookbooks (dating back to the 1790s) are selling in the $1,000 range, while books from as far back as the 1400s and 1500s go for thousands of dollars. Some other pricey collectibles are glossy cookbooks about cake decorating from the 1920s, first editions signed by cooking legends like Julia Childs and Fannie Farmer, and even some hard to find recipe pamphlets once included with newly purchased appliances. Gloss states that although seemingly mundane, their high price tag is due to how these items serve as historical documents—about places, people, cultures, and, of course, the food of the time.

“[Cookbooks] offer a view into society at the time,” Gloss told Forbes. “What were the foods people were eating? What was available? How were they preparing them?”

Old cookbooks and discarded recipe boxes can be found everywhere. Thrift stores, garage and estate sales, eBay, Etsy, Thriftbooks, used book stores local to where you live, library book sales and more. Church rummage sales are one of my go to sources for old cookbooks.

Step away from your keyboard next time you need a recipe and dust off a cookbook or crack open an old recipe box. You never know what treasures you will unearth!

old linens.

I have a definite weakness for old, vintage, and antique linens. Today I stumbled across a bunch of beautiful heavy cotton pillow cases with the hand done crochet tatting at the edges of each pillow case.

This is what the hand tatting/crocheting looks like:

The pillowcases are in perfect condition with no holes or split seams. They have yellowed with age and that is why I have them soaking and what I use for almost all of my old linens- Restoration.

I have spoken about this product before. Restoration is by Engleside Products. I used to use Biz and other things, but this is far superior and gets out more stains than I’ve ever seen with any other product.

I will soak these pillowcases in Restoration overnight and then rinse well and possibly wash again in Woolite and then dry on a drying rack.

These pillowcases will need to be ironed but they’re lovely. And a good tip for when you are ironing old linens is to do it on the reverse with a colorfast towel in between you and your vintage/old/antique linens. And I know how awesome these are going to be once the yellowing lifts off them.

I really like the feel of old crisp pillowcases. Old linens are just the best. People think that they are off-limits because they either shouldn’t be used because they’re old, or or too difficult to use because they’re old.

It’s like your old china and silver and glassware – who are you saving it for ? Use these vintage things. Use these antique things. They were meant to live not live like they are in a museum in your blanket chest or china cabinet or linen closet.

I like my old stuff, and I use it. I have also written before about vintage quilts.

When I pick these pillowcases up they are never too dear in price and don’t be afraid to ask for a better price from a dealer. I use them and when they wear out I often give them to people that work with textiles to give them a second life in something else.

The picture at the bottom of this post is one I found on the Internet of pillowcases someone else had that they were selling on eBay. I just want you to have an idea of what I bought looks like since all you see is them soaking in the sink. The pillow cases I have soaking have triangular edged tatting.

Thanks for stopping by.

in search of the art we love.

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Once upon a time in a lifetime of mine long, long ago I worked in New York City.  Ok yes, decades ago at this point but there were things outside of work that are still these pleasant snippets of enjoyable experiences and memories.  Among them was there was (and still is) art everywhere.

Music, art, theater.  Subways with poetry on posters like my favorite poem by William Butler Yeats:

Image may contain: textWhen You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Hearing fabulous jazz bands at the Blue Note.   Rediscovering Caffè Reggio on MacDougal.

All of the various street fairs, and flea markets, and art markets. Dusty old bookstore, antique stores, thrift shops.

A lot of what I liked at the time was down around Greenwich Village. There were so many cool stores and places to check out.

And then there were all of the artists you would see hawking their wares outside of various museums all over the city like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  A lot of this still goes on, incidentally…in between the knock off designer handbag stands and so on.

I was young and well when you are young your salary doen’t go far and funky shoes from a boutique on the Upper West Side was likely to win out over art because well…you couldn’t wear a painting to happy hour, right?   But here and there there were artists I would see and just liked for whatever reason.  Not necesarily them personally, but their work.

There was this one artist named Anna Tefft Siok whose work I had seen somewhere one time that I liked, but had then forgotten even her name.  It had been a bird watercolor.  An owl. Sort of abstract but I liked it. And that was saying something because abstract is not really me.

I had not seen work from this artist again in the intervening years until a piece popped up on eBay a year or so ago.  Dishfunctional in West Chester had this woodpecker for sale in their eBay storeIt was that artist from long ago. I remembered the owl. Her name was Anna Tefft Siok. Only I did not want to pay what Disfuntional was asking for something I would have to definitely re-frame.

So I watched the woodpecker print and waited…and over a year later I pulled up the Disfunctional listing just to see.  The print had not dropped in price but when I put in the artist’s name another copy of the print showed up with an antique dealer in Maine.  At less than half of what the other exact same print was listed at. That seemed more reasonable to me. (I have found the Disfuntional prices to be a little high at times, sadly.)

Today I took my newly found woodpecker to be framed.  Framers Market Gallery in Malvern is who I use for all of my framing. As a related aside, they also represent quite a few Chester County artists.  I will have to take something off of my walls when the woodpecker comes home.

I love the process of finding the perfect mat and frame.  Framers Market Gallery is very patient with me when it comes to that.  And the owner Jayne has impeccable taste.

We ended up with a double mat and a frame which will pick up the texture of the woodpecker’s tree:

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The frame my print arrived in was older and while in o.k. condition, the print had never been properly framed and you could see some yellowing on the edges – nothing which was properly acid proof was in the frame with the print and when we took the old mat and paper away from the print we could see the damage from inexpensive framing, sadly.  When it is finished, the woodpecker print will be framed properly and last a long, long time.

Curious about the artist, I went a Googling.  I discovered she had gone to RISD in Rhode Island and had taught for years at Greenwich House Pottery and  the 92nd Street Y.

I found her obituary, which told me more about her:

anna obit

Courtesy of Greenwich House and the pottery staff the following  sentiment from them was shared with me about my rediscovered artist:

Esteemed faculty member Anna Siok taught children’s classes at Greenwich House Pottery from 1958 to 2009. Throughout this period, Anna’s generosity of spirit enriched many lives. We established the Anna Siok Award in her honor in 1995, which honors her life of creativity, nurturing support and enduring presence. We continue to give out this award annually to an artist at Greenwich House Pottery who displays excellence in handbuilding.

I will note I also contacted the 92nd Street Y.  Sadly, they had absolutely nothing to share.  What I got was “Unfortunately we don’t have her bio on file. Good luck in your ongoing search!”   Anna Tefft Siok taught at both places for over 50 years.  I know she died in 2010, but seriously? They had nothing on file? It’s like she never existed.

I am glad Greenwich House too the time for me.  I urge people to check out Greenwich House Pottery.  It seems really cool.

In the obituary online, I found photos of my artist:

I know people probably think this is strange, but it’s part of the provenance of the piece: who created it.  Now do I think her work is going to be worth tons of money? No, but I like it. Or I like this piece.

And once again that is the thing about art: buy what you like.  It does not have to be expensive.  It does not have to be a famous artist, although Anna Tefft Siok was respected and was well known throughout her life in New York.

Art brings me joy.  I have core things I will never part with (my Margery Niblock wood cuts for example), but I will replace art pieces I discovered with other pieces I discovered.  Tastes change, we evolve in what strikes a chord with us at different stages of our lives.

Art brokers and gallery owners alike probably wouldn’t like me saying art doesn’t have to be rare or priceless to hold huge amounts of monetary value. But art should make us happy, evoke a memory, provoke a memory, cause a new memory to happen. Or when all else fails, you just like something. And no one else has to like it. Only you.

So many people love art yet live with blank walls. Sometimes I think it’s because they do not know what to buy. Or are afraid. To them I say: what do you like? What would make you happy?

For me it makes me happy that I stumbled upon an artist once again I had seen long ago.  And living in the woods, having a woodpecker print is kind of appropriate, I think.

I will close with one last photo of this artist from her 2010 obituary.  Painting in the summer.  I now have a cool provenance to go with a print I just liked.

Explore art.  Support local artists wherever you live. Life is too short for bare walls.

painting

 

the last hurrah

Life got busy and sort of in the way and although the rest of the Christmas decorations have been put away for a while, I never actually took the Christmas tree down.

So today, I decided to bite the bullet and git r’ done.

I really hate putting the Christmas tree away. And because of that it’s probably good we use an artificial tree now.

I know there are people who keep Christmas decorations and Christmas trees up all year round. That I couldn’t do. I’m afraid if I did that they would start calling me Miss Havisham right out of Charles Dickens or something. Or sign me up for Christmasaholics Anonymous.

I am saying goodbye to my ornaments one by one. Like every year I swear I am going to put every ornament away perfectly and I know next year I will be telling myself I should’ve done a better job now in this moment.

Every ornament has its own little story.

The ornaments that came from my late father will go back into the boxes he had them in hopefully for one more year. The boxes sadly are falling apart and I know I am only going to be able to hang onto them for just so long. It’s not that I find the boxes of any great value, it’s just that it’s his writing on the outside of the boxes. So it’s a nice memory.

As I put the final bits of Christmas away I wonder if many years in the future whomever has my ornaments will love them as much as I do?

Perhaps to some that is a very strange and fatalistic thought. It’s just one of the funny things that my busy brain occasionally wonders. And I think part of the reason I wondered that is because of the vintage ornaments I have collected from estate sales and similar situations over the years. You can always tell when you’re buying an ornament if the ornaments were well loved.

OK well enough procrastination for me I have to finish up.

Thanks for stopping by.