Herb of the Year for 2022: Viola (violet, heartsease) named by the International Herb Association
Flower of the Month for July: Larkspur: Each blossom color has a different meaning: pink means fickleness, white conveys a happy nature, and purple represents a first love.
July is National Blueberry Month, National Ice Cream Month
July 4. A day to celebrate America and the spirit of inclusiveness and unity that makes us who we are as a nation. Happy birthday to us!
July 9. National Sugar Cookie Day.
July 25. Nestle introduced Nescafe instant coffee on this day in 1938.
July 21. Let’s declare today Love Your Basil Day. Our garden is full of it–is your?
July 28: Beatrix Potter–the plucky heroine of Susan’s Cottage Tales–was born on this day in 1866.
July 29: St. Martha’s Day. The patron saint of housewives, St. Martha reined in an unruly dragon with her apron sash. (Do not try this at home!) But what does Martha and her dragon have to do with the Joy of Cooking? (See our July to-do list.)
July 30: National Avocado Day. Bet you didn’t know that this fruit is really a berry.
There’ll probably be a pitcher of iced tea on your Fourth of July picnic table. But for the people who lived during the American Revolution, China tea, including their favorites Bohea and Green Hyson, was not on the menu. The whole affair had, after all, begun with the Boston Tea Party, and one of the patriots’ earliest acts was to renounce their cherished imported tea in favor of herbs grown in the garden or wild-gathered. These native teas were celebrated in a ballad that encouraged everyone to “throw aside” all those imported teas–and with a clever little play on the word “duty.” Yes, plants can definitely be political!
Throw aside your Bohea and your Green Hyson Tea,
And all things with a new-fashioned duty;
Procure a good store of the choice Labradore,
For there’ll soon be enough here to suit ye;
Then do without fear, and to all you’ll appear
Fair, charming, true, lovely and clever;
Though the times remain darkish, young men may be sparkish,
And love you much stronger than ever.
The Labrador tea worth singing about was brewed from Ledum groenlandicum. The plant was used medicinally by Native Americans, who shared their knowledge about it with the colonists. In 1768, the Boston Gazette reported that the tea had been poured for a “circle of ladies and gentlemen who pronounced it nearly, if not quite, equal in flavor to genuine Bohea tea. So important a discovery claims attention, especially at this crisis,” the editor added. “If we have the plant, nothing is wanted but the process of curing it into tea of our own manufacture.” Labrador teas were a household affair, and every housewife had her own recipe. Most included rose hips, mint, and wild ginger leaves. When available, dried citrus peels, cinnamon, and cloves were added.
Sassafras Tea, and other Tree Teas
This flavorful tea (the original taste of “root beer”) was brewed long before and after the Boston Tea Party, for it was thought to be both delicious and health-giving. And since the sassafras tree was an all-American native, it was certainly on the list of politically-correct tea plants. Other trees or shrubs that were frequently used as beverage teas during the Revolution included the sweet gum, willow, rose, raspberry, and sumac.
Catnip and pennyroyal were easy choices, along with various mints, bergamot, lemon balm, verbena, rosemary, thyme, sage, and wintergreen. Blossoms went into the teapot, as well: elder, red clover, violet, goldenrod, linden. Rosehips, fennel, dill seeds, and spices (especially cloves and cinnamon) were also included.
Your Own Liberty Tea
To make a pitcher of Liberty Tea, pour 10 cups boiling water over these slightly-bruised fresh herbs: 5 sprigs spearmint, 3 sprigs apple mint, 2 sprigs red bee-balm flowers, 2 sprigs lemon balm, 1 sprig peppermint. Steep 15 minutes. Serve iced. If you don’t have these herbs, choose others. Our brave revolutionary foremothers would applaud your experiment!
Celebrate Ice Cream Month by using some of that luscious lavender in your garden to make a batch of sinfully rich Honey Lavender Ice Cream.
All the world loves a cookie! Observe Sugar Cookie Day by trying China Bayles’ famous recipe for curry and cardamom sugar cookies, re-posted on the Spice House website, along with some nifty five-star cookie reviews! (You can read the story the recipe comes from in An Unthymely Death and Other Garden Mysteries.
If you’re French, celebrate Bastille Day. You’re not French? Celebrate it anyway, by baking a classic Quiche Lorraine. Bon appetit!
Celebrate Vanilla Ice Cream Day by helping the kids make vanilla ice cream in a bag (yes, really!). Or maybe you’d rather follow Oprah’s vanilla bean recipe or (omigosh!) fennel seed basil vanilla ice cream. (We haven’t tried this. If you do, let us know how you like it. We’re skeptical.) And, of course, you’ll want to dip into China’s twisty adventure, A Plain Vanilla Murder.
Instant coffee may not be your favorite choice of this herbal beverage (yes, of course coffee is an herb!), but you can make it a little more tasty. Try a couple of teaspoons of one of these refreshing mixes in a mug of hot water. Start with a basic mix of 2/3 cup instant coffee and one cup sugar.
- For a mint-flavored mocha, add 1 teaspoon dried mint leaves (powdered) and 2/3 cup non-dairy creamer.
- For an orange-mocha treat, add 1¼ teaspoon crushed dried crushed orange peel, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and a pinch of cloves.
To celebrate Miss Potter’s birthday, read one of the delightful books in Susan’s Cottage Tales series about Miss Potter’s village life. For a treat, enjoy her gingersnaps. You’ll find the recipe at the bottom of the page for The Tale of Hill Top Farm.
On Saint Martha’s Day, discover the connection between this intrepid woman, her tame dragon, and the first edition of Irma Rombauer’s enormously popular cookbook, The Joy of Cooking. (Hint: That’s Martha and her dragon on the cover of the first edition, published in the early 1930s.)
Find out what Susan is up to these days by visiting her blog. Here’s her latest post. There’s always something interesting going on in the Texas Hill Country. On her “other” blog, BookScapes, she posts book reviews, bookish thoughts, and notes on the fast-changing world of books.