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]Terroir is 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.