Second Blooms

We all love the explosion of purple in the spring as violets[i]welcome us to the warmer weather.  In the late spring and early summer we only see their dark green leaves flourishing, but did you know that they are blooming again?

Violets actually have two types of flowers… the ones you see beaconing to the bees to pollinate them, and then a second set that self-pollinate underground.  These flowers never open, and never come above the soil.  Often they are white, since they don’t need to attract pollinators, although sometimes they allow themselves the extravagance of a pale cast of purple.

The Greeks named these types of self-pollinating flowers kleistos gamos[ii], meaning “closed marriage”[iii] since they are self-pollinated.

Both types of flowers have advantages and disadvantage.  The above ground flowers produce seeds with more genetic diversity, since the pollinators share pollen from other plants, but they are dependent on pollinators and other factors that might hinder seed production. The underground flowers have the advantage of being able to produce seeds that are basically reproductions of the plant itself, which means that it is likely to survive in the environment that the plant is in.  They can also produce seeds in spite of environmental factors taking place above ground.  

We are much like these violets.  In the early part of our adulthood, we burst forth beautiful and glorious, for all the world to see, bringing forth new life with the innocence of violet blooms.  Yet, it is often later in life that our work grows deep, even though sometimes hidden. These sensual twilight flowers, perhaps less beautiful, are what ensure the continuation into the future of those things that are tried and true. It is they that carry the wisdom of the ages.  

[i]Dennis Horn and Tavia Cathcart, Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley, and the Southern Appalachians(Partners Publishing & The Tennessee Native Plant Society, 2018).

[ii]Alfred Ernest Knight and Edward Step Hutchinson, The Living Plant in Leaf, Flower, and Fruit: A Popular Book on Botany for the General Reader(University of Chicago, 1905).

Spring French Sorrel Soup

This delightful lemony soup, made from French sorrel, tastes like spring. Not only is this green plant (Rumex scutatus) nutritious, but it is also a perennial vegetable.

1 Kitchen garden 
(Alas if you don’t have one… go to the farmer’s market for the ingredients, but please, start a kitchen garden next year, so that you can have the true gastronomic experience of this dish.)

A few sprigs of fresh parsley
A few sprigs of thyme for seasoning
A few sprigs of blooming thyme for garnish
1 baby leek plant (or shallots)
1 large bunch of French sorrel (approx. 4+ cups when chopped)
3-4 cloves of garlic
A few nasturtium flowers (optional)

1 T olive oil
1 T butter (no margarine please!)
1 qt organic chicken stock
2 c. cooked quinoa [i]
2 hardboiled eggs, cut in half [ii]
Espelette pepper powder (or paprika)

Serves 2

French Sorrel

Go to the garden and clip off fresh sprigs of parsley and thyme. Pull up one baby leek that is not fully developed yet. Gather a large bunch of French sorrel. (If you gather these items barefooted in the shade of the evening, the happiness you feel will be absorbed into the soup.)

Wash and drain all the herbs, vegetables, and flowers. (Enjoy the feeling of the water running over your hands, and the sight of the beautiful greenness of it all.)Cut or tear the sorrel into large pieces and set aside. Chop parsley. Strip the leaves off the thyme stems (for seasoning). Trim the root off the leek and thinly slice the white and green parts of the leek. Chop the garlic very finely or use a garlic press. (Pause and look at the intricacy of the nasturtium blooms.) Pinch off the nasturtium stems and put aside.

In a deep frying pan or Dutch oven, gently warm up the butter and olive oil. Before it browns, add the thyme (prepared for seasoning) and the leeks, and cook until slightly browned. Then add the garlic and the sorrel together and cook briefly. Pour in the chicken stock and cook for 5 minutes.

Once the soup is finished, ladle it into large open bowls. (In a color that will compliment the soup of course.)Add a large spoon of quinoa into the soup on one side of the bowl. Garnish with parsley. (The sorrel will sadly have turned a shade of olive green, but sprinkling the fresh parley on top of the soup will bring your memory back to the beautiful shade of green that it was before cooking.) Add 2 egg halves to each bowl on the opposite side of the quinoa. Sprinkle the egg with the Espelette pepper powder and salt. Then garnish your soup with the blooming thyme and nasturtium. (You can also use the nasturtiums on a salad[iii] to go with it.)

Now that this meal is ready… pour yourself a nice glass of white wine from Alsace, to enjoy with this simple and delicious meal.

[i]Be sure to finishing cooking the quinoa before starting the soup.
[ii]Cook the eggs ahead of time.
[iii]We highly recommend a simple salad of lettuce, spinach, and salad burnet sprinkled with vinegar.

All rights reserved. © 2019 THE SPRING HOUSE

Of Tea & Compost

A few years ago I fell in love with loose-leaf tea.  Once you watch the leaves uncurl in the hot water, to happily sit in your cup while you drink it, you will never want to use a tea bag or strainer again.

And then there is the taste. Ahhh. Drinking traditionally grown and processed tea from the tea tree, Camellia sinensis, is unlike anything you will get in a teabag. The flavors of the different types are as complex and variable as different types of wine. 

The comparison to wine does not end there though.  Like grapevines, the tea tree is influenced by its terroir[i], which gives each area’s tea its own unique character.

I have some tea from ancient tea trees from the Ailao Mountains of Yunnan Province in China. Some of the trees in that area are over 1000 years old. Unlike commercially grown tea trees, these trees can grow over 50 feet tall in the lush, misty mountains.  

The tea tree roots spread out horizontally pulling the nutrients from the rich soil that they love to grow in.  Like other trees, their roots connect with each other and with other living things creating an underground network that allows them to access what they need beyond their own roots. Like all plants, their leaves have a respiration process, taking in the air around them and then returning it, changed in form. (Plants have the complete inverse of our own respiration process.) The trees gather everything around them to produce new growth and leave. A process that happens not only at the cellular level, but at the molecular level as well. Some people even believe that the trees take in the energy of the environment that they grow in – the beauty, tranquility, and wildness.

Eventually the tea leaves are harvested, and end up as a delicious cup of tea that I will enjoy drinking.  Not only experiencing the pleasure of the taste of the tea, but ingesting all that richness as well.

And what, you might ask, does all this have to do with compost?

When I am done enjoying my tea, like all other compostable organic materials at my house, the leaves will end up in my compost pile. With the help of microorganisms, earthworms, and other natural processes, the compost will eventually break down into rich humusy soil, which will provide nourishment for the plants growing in my own garden.

Those vital ingredients that the tea tree took from its environment, that then traveled half way around the world, are now broken down into another form to start the cycle over again. To nourish, to build, to grow. 

So, while it might look like dirt to you, it is really a little bit of magic in my garden[ii], from the misty mountains of China.

Peace & love,

[i]Terroiris the combination of environmental factors influencing plants, including the climate, the soil, and even the other living things growing nearby.

[ii] The next time you throw a banana peel into your own compost pile, remember that you are adding the magic that it brings from the country it came from.

Origin of The Spring House

A few years ago, I was in a coffee shop brainstorming ideas for a project that I was working on, and was using a small notebook that had a Pegasus on the cover it. The notebook cover got me wondering about the story of Pegasus, so I decided to read about him.  After reading the story, and because of my love for art, music and all things creative, I decided to jot down some notes about what I had read for possible future use.

As I read the myth, I discovered that Pegasus had been given to the Muses on Mount Helicon, which was their sacred mountain. While there he struck his hoof on the ground, to create a spring, which was named Hippocrene (Horse Spring). That spring was thereafter considered a source of creative inspiration, and thus, Pegasus became a symbol of creativity.

In addition to its special springs, Mount Helicon was also known for its many medicinal herbs, which were considered to have divine healing powers .

My husband and I had been wanting to buy a new home for awhile, and in 2018 we finally decided that it was time.  We often talked about the things we would each like to have at our new home. One of the things that I hoped for was a place with a creek or stream on the property or at least nearby, because water has always held a special place in my soul. And of course it goes without saying – we wanted a place where we could do our music and art.

We looked at many houses, but none were quite right. Finally at the most unexpected moment we found “home”. We knew as soon as we stepped foot on the property that it was where we were meant to be.  A simple brick ranch in need of some love, built in 1951, it was just what we had hoped for, with space for all the things we loved to do. 

Although there was no visible water on the property, the neighborhood had many springs and small creeks running through it, including a stream on the property right behind us.  There were also many signs of hidden springs on the property, so I was contented. 

Our home sits on land that is part of the watershed of the Cumberland River. Some of the small streams that head to the river are visible, but many of them had long ago been piped underground.  Even so, the evidence of the water is still there if you look closely.  The willow and sugarberry trees reveal it with their deep thirst for water, and there are other signs as well.  

When it rains heavily for days, the deep ditches that surround our home, channel the water heading down from the higher elevations to the west of us, on to the lower elevations to the east.  These temporary streams join our neighbor’s small creek. From there the water continues eastward, eventually joined by many other springs and streams, to form Cooper’s Creek, and finally it flows into the Cumberland. 

After finding our home, we began searching for a name for it.  (We are big believers in naming houses.) Several ideas were tossed around, but nothing was quite right.  The theme of water kept reoccurring though.

At the same time I was also researching the history of the house and land; which is something that I always love to do when moving to a new place. That interest is born of a deeply curious soul, as well as a need to connect to a new place.  

While doing the research I discovered that our little third of an acre was once part of one of the largest and most well known farms in the area: Maplewood Farm. Our back boundary is an old fence-line on the farm. Old wire emerges from the sides of the towering trees that have long since grown around it. 

It had been a place of wealth and luxury.  Prize-winning horses and cattle were raised on its fertile pastureland.  Racehorses, draft horses, and fancy ponies filled the place.  There were even Shetland and Icelandic ponies that had traveled across the globe to come here. Having been one of millions of girls that grew up with an obsession for horses; imagining those ponies scampering on the land made me smile.

This history also blessed us with deep alluvial soil, that had been enriched by the water and animals that had been here for many years. It was the perfect canvas for for our little urban farm, where we could embrace the trees, and grow herbs, food, and flowers.

All these threads finally started coming together to slowly form an idea for a name. The themes of healing, of water, of horses, and of our love for all things creative and growing, brought to remembrance the story of Pegasus.  Finally the name became clear.  It would be a place of Heliconian Muses, where waters of inspiration would flow, and healing plants and trees would be grow.

It would be The Spring House.

From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing, 
Who hold the great and holy mount of Helicon,
And dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring…

When they have washed their tender bodies…
In the Horse’s Spring…
Make their fair, lovely dances upon highest Helicon…
and utter their song with lovely voice.

– Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days

For more on the myth of Pegasus.