Herb of the Year for 2022: Viola (violet, heartsease) named by the International Herb Association
Birthday Flower for June: Honeysuckle
June is National Dairy Month, National Candy Month.
Feature of the Month for June. “Fit Only for Cows”: A Brief History of the Cucumber
June 6: National Gardening Exercise Day. You know what that means.
June 7: National Chocolate Ice Cream Day. If you observed yesterday’s celebration, you have our permission to indulge in an extra scoop.
June 11: St. Barnabas Day. The patron saint of peacemakers. Traditionally, the day to make a Barnaby garland of roses, sweet woodruff, and ragged Robin (aka wild William).
June 14: Flag Day. A good day to remember what it means.
June 19. Father’s Day. Thanks to all our wonderful dads!
June 19. Juneteenth. Celebrating the end of slavery in America and the beginning of the long, challenging road to racial justice.
June 21: Summer solstice, longest day of the year
June 22: National Onion Rings Day. Yes, onions are an herb, too—and good for you, (although not necessarily when they’re deep-fried).
June 23: St. John’s Eve, a traditional European celebration of Midsummer’s magic
June 27: National Orange Blossom Day. It’s also National Indian Pudding Day.
June 28. Another pudding celebration: National Tapioca Day.
The week before Pickle Fest, Fannie Couch usually runs a dozen pickling recipes in her newspaper column. Just for fun, I included a brief history of the cucumber, which found its true calling when it was soaked in salt, vinegar, and water, and turned into a pickle.
—A Dilly of a Death: A China Bayles Mystery
Cousin to the Persian melon, the cucumber has been around for at least three thousand years. The plant originated in India, migrated both east to China and west to the Mediterranean and Europe, and discovered America with Columbus, who carried seeds to Haiti in 1494. The Pilgrims planted cukes in their gardens, where they flourished enthusiastically, and the plant was off to a promising new career in North America.
But by the late 1600s, some in England began to worry that eating raw food might lead to illness, and the uncooked cucumber fell from grace. “This day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newhouse is dead of eating cowcumbers,” lamented Samuel Pepys in his famous diary. “Fit only for cows,” sniffed another writer. The uncooked cucumber had gotten a very bad rep.
But cooked cucumbers were another thing entirely. You could eat a plateful and live to tell the tale, especially if you cooked them according to the instructions in Mrs. Raffald’s popular 1769 cookbook, The Experienced English Housekeeper:
To Stew Cucumbers
Peel off the outer rind, slice the cucumbers pretty thick, fry them in fresh butter, and lay them on a sieve to drain. Put them into a tossing pan with a large glass of red wine, the same of strong gravy, a blade or two of mace. Make it pretty thick with flour and butter and when it boils up put in your cucumbers. Keep shaking them and let them boil five minutes, be careful you don’t break them. Pour them into a dish and serve them up.
There. Fried, then boiled. That ought to be safe enough. But wait! There’s another option! You might pickle them, for the pickling process was judged to be enough like cooking to redeem the cucumber from its raw sins. Voila! Pickles became the fad food of the eighteenth century. They began showing up in barrels in the coffee shops for snacking on the run.
Cucumbers were in great demand at the local apothecary shop, too, where they were an important pharmaceutical. The seeds were employed to treat inflammations of the bowel and urinary tract and to expel tapeworms, and the pulp and juice were used to ease skin inflammations and treat sunburns. Even today, beauty consultants often recommend placing cooling, soothing slices of cucumber over tired and inflamed eyes, and cucumbers are served raw (gasp!) in the very best restaurants.
Samuel Pepys would be amazed.
Leave cucumbers alone. They’ll chill you to the bone.—Traditional lore
Make a Barnaby garland. You’ll find directions for a fresh flower garland here—adapt it to the pretty flowers and herbs in your own garden. Children will love this charming craft.
Overdid it on Garden Exercise Day? Essential oils can help ease those sore muscles, reduce swelling. Here are some suggestions.
Celebrate Father’s Day with a picnic. Try some of these scrumptious herbal picnic basket treats from Lynn Smyth’s post in the Essential Herbal Blog. (Love that rosemary shortbread recipe!) And don’t forget to pack Dad’s favorite cookies, Ruby Wilcox’s Hot Lips Cookie Crisps? (Susan gets more requests for this recipe than any other.)
Juneteenth celebrates African American freedom and achievement and encourages respect for all cultures. For this year’s Juneteenth, enjoy an authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken. Easy marinade (green onions, garlic, jalapeño, lime juice, allspice, thyme, cinnamon) produces a distinctive spicy-sweet blend of flavors.
On National Onion Rings Day, listen to Susan’s podcast on the magical, magnetic onion. (You’ll learn thing or two you didn’t already know about onions.)
On St. John’s Eve, read Susan’s story of St. John’s wort, an herb that owes its Christian name to a pagan midsummer celebration that routed out the devil.
Learn about the history of Indian pudding and stir up this all-American dessert. “What’s Cooking America” is always a wonderful culinary-history resource.
Check out the Food Timeline’s history of tapioca, which is made from the carb-rich root of the cassava plant, processed to remove the naturally-occurring cyanide. (Please don’t eat your cassava roots without getting rid of the cyanide first.) For tapioca recipes from around the world, sample Yummy’s great collection.
Find out what Susan is up to these days by visiting her blog, Lifescapes. 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