5th Annual Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Weekend, Rescheduled

JMA Primitive Toolsvendredi, 27 Février

20F, Cloudy

6 mph E

The 5th Annual FdC Jardin Potager Weekend has been postponed until Saturday and Sunday, March 21 & 22. The spirit was willing but the Prairie du Rocher water pipe was frozen! Unfortunately the lack of water at the fort site means we have had to reschedule our garden weekend for a later weekend in March. We hope to see you then!


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Le jardin février

Illinois country

February in the Illinois country.

dimanche 1 février 2015

41°F, Cloudy

11 mph, WNW

As the winter days march onward and Le Fete des Roi, the Feast of the King-Twelfth Night is now past, Mardi Gras hovers on the doorstep, soon to herald the start of the Lenten season. With its approach, can the traditional renewal of Easter, both spiritual and seasonal, be far behind? The lack of snow in the Illinois country gives hope and a promise of spring. But the new season seems suspended in the future just beyond one’s grasp, swinging between the rise and fall of the temperatures. It seems to be in our nature to believe the seasonal vagaries of the elements are exceptional and unique to our time and place, but it is interesting to read an early account from a Jesuit explorer and historian remarking upon the unpredictable winter weather in the Illinois country:

Charlevoix, 1744

Charlevoix, 1744

“It is true, it was quite otherwise at Kaskasquias some days ago, when I left it; but I have since learned on my way hither, that the river was at first frozen over in such a manner that people crossed it in carriages, not with-standing it is at that place half a league broad, and more rapid than the Rhone. This is the more surprising, as for the most part, excepting a few slight frosts occasioned by the north and north-west winds, the winter is in this country hardly sensible. The river has not been frozen wherever I have been, but as I was obliged to remain all the day in an open boat, and consequently, was exposed to all the injuries of the weather, and had taken no pre-cautions against a cold I did not foresee, I have suffered very great hardships.”

Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, Journal of a Voyage to North America, 1721.

Still life with basket, peas and turnips, 18th Century, by anonymous French artist

Still life with basket, peas and turnips, 18th Century, by anonymous French artist.

While reconciling ourselves to the cold as it lingers, a slow hum of excitement builds with the lengthening of light-filled hours each day. The temperature and precipitation might prevent active work in the garden, so time is now well spent sharpening tools, starting seeds, and planning the jardin potager bed layouts. Later this month the serious work in the garden begins, pruning fruit trees, turning and amending the soil in the raised beds, and planting the seeds of late winter crops. Mid to late February is the appropriate time to sow cold-tolerant seeds of spinach, cabbage, leeks, kale, and peas. Effort and care are taken to grow vegetables in the jardin potager that mimic the types and varieties that could have been sown by the eighteenth-century French habitants. Firsthand accounts of the travelers in French communities of North America remarked on the general types of vegetables grown and this garden endeavors to follow and reflect those narratives. Where eighteenth-century heirloom types no longer exist, the effort is made to grow more recent heirlooms that reflect the look and taste of produce grown during that era. These late winter varietal seed names themselves intrigue the imagination: Glory of Enkhuizen cabbage, Cavolo Nero kale, Blue-Podded Capucijner peas, Long Scarlet radish, and Monstrueux de Viroflay spinach.

Jardin potager.

Jardin potager.

The 5th annual Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Weekend to be held February 28 and March 1st will be spent accomplishing garden tasks as a few habitants recreate the experiences of the colonists of the eighteenth-century Illinois country, readying a French colonial kitchen garden for spring. You are welcome to visit both Saturday and Sunday, from 11 AM to 3 PM and on Sunday, March 1, at 1:30 PM, meet in the Fort store building for a special discussion about French Colonial gardening in the mid-eighteenth century and information will be shared concerning the direct sowing of seed. Throughout the weekend, work will begin in the garden preparing beds and planting seeds appropriate for late winter. Heirloom seed packet samples and informational flyers will be available for those joining us to celebrate the new gardening season ahead. This event is free and open to the public. For more information call (618) 274-7230.  Salut le jardin février!

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Novembre froid

DSCN221120 novembre 2014  jeudi (Thursday)

29 F, Cloudy

1 mph, NE wind

Autumn is swiftly fleeting past, transitioning the garden from active production to dormancy. The recent cold temperatures seem intent on keeping a strong grasp this winter-fair warning.

Radishes, peppers, and spinach,

Radishes, peppers, and spinach,

The autumn garden through early November continued to produce a bounty of Bull Nose peppers, China Rose and Black Spanish radishes, and Bloomsdale spinach, while the last of the flower and herb seed heads were gathered and dried. Early in November, the heirloom flowers were still blooming and most had survived the early light frosts, to delight us in their beauty. Just over a week ago when the temperatures were still reading in the 60’s, the jardin potager’s beds were cleared, soil amended, and the discarded plant materials added to the compost. Kale, spinach and a few turnips had been surviving the recent snows and freezes, but frigid temps have finally proven too much. Autumn has brought visitors with whom to share our jardin seeds, the addition of two new beds augmented the current garden layout. The garden’s status is made possible by our garden grantors, fort staff support, and the volunteer efforts and work of Jennifer Esker, my son Nick, and friends. Upon reflection, a great feeling of satisfaction is to be gained from an orderly garden well prepared for the winter months ahead. Although its beds are no longer overflowing in foliage and produce, there is now space to simply reflect and dream of another garden year yet to be.

Heirloom jardin flowers.

Heirloom jardin flowers.

The last enjoyment of the garden year shared with visitors seems to coincide with Fort de Chartres Winter Rendezvous, held the first weekend in November. Always considerable fun, this year’s highlights included a Halloween scare brought about by an evil rutabaga and baking in the fort’s stone bake oven.  Also my friends, Antoinette, Renea, and I, were able to offer the release of the newest seasonal edition of Recettes, Receipts, Recipes by Three Ladies featuring Winter Holiday recipes of the Illinois country. Happily we have now sold well over a hundred copies of our booklets and we thank all for their support.  À propos the booklets, we will have all three Recipe editions (Autumn, Spring, Winter/Holiday) available Winter EditionThanksgiving weekend, for those interested in buying copies. The November fort weekend brings cherished time spent in the company of good friends, including close companions and those seen much too infrequently. However, I would be remiss to not mention the coupe de la résistance this year, friends joining in song (singing into carrots, no less) to benefit the fort garden through a carrotoke contest held by Kitchen Gardeners International, a previous jardin grantor and wonderful support organization for community kitchen gardens worldwide. Please support them and us by visiting their site, making a donation, and vote by liking our FdC garden singing efforts at the www.carrotoke.org/sing site. Voting continues until Friday evening, November 21, 8 PM EST. Support for the continued endeavors to explore the 18th century Illinois country through its agricultural and culinary traditions is always genuinely appreciated and valued.

DSC_0092And as the final days of November approach, beginning the fall and winter holiday seasons, our small Milice family will be preparing for our annual sojourn within the comfort and security of Fort de Chartres Thanksgiving weekend, November 29 and 30. A turkey roasting in the hearth, the stone bake oven baking meals and treats, and a few informal shooting contests, always make for special memories of family and friends sharing the experience. Visitors are welcomed and encouraged to stop by and step into our regional past. Joyeuses fêtes! Happy holidays!

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Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Heirloom Saturday, 6 septembre

4 septembre 2014 jeudi (Thursday)

Long Anglais cucumbers, new garden beds, and espaliered apple tree beyond.

Long Anglais cucumbers, new garden beds, and espaliered apple tree beyond.

93 F, Cloudy

3 mph SE wind

The FdC Jardin Potager Heirloom Saturday will be held this weekend, September 6, regardless of a chance of showers Saturday morning. Make your way to the fort’s store building across from the garden beginning at 10 AM and seed samples of flower and fall vegetables with accompanying information will be shared. Late summer and early fall is a perfect time to relocate seedlings discovered while replanting the jardin for the fall season. There are a limited number borage, calendula, rue, and wormwood seedlings looking for a good home. Later in the morning, with the cooperation of the weather, we can walk in the garden where you may gather some of our jardin seeds of your own.

Native Columbine

Native Columbine

The descriptions of early New France and Illinois country French colonial gardens leave such a strong vision of beauty mixed with utilitarian need. As noted by many observers ranging from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century through modern historians, l’habitant garden reflected comfort, pleasure, and aesthetic qualities to a greater extent than those of the British or American colonists. According to Swedish botanist, Pehr Kalm, whose mid eighteenth century travels through North America remarked on the tradition of the kitchen garden in French communities and opined that style of household gardening was brought to the Mississippi Valley from French Canada, where it was common to find kitchen gardens from Quebec to Montreal. In 1793, a young lad from Philadelphia, Henry Brackenridge, much admired the kitchen garden of the Vital St. Gemme Bauvais residence in Saint Geneviève, located in that French community across the Mississippi on its western shore:

Cockscomb, globe amaranth, ageratum

Cockscomb, globe amaranth, ageratum

“The garden-in which the greatest variety and the finest vegetables were cultivated, intermingled with flowers and shrubs: on one side of it there was a small orchard containing the choicest fruits. The substantial and permanent character of these inclosures is in singular contrast with the slight and temporary fences and palings of the Americans.”

Nick tying the espalier apple trees limbs.

Nick tying the espalier apple trees limbs.

These accounts help create our jardin potager layout and give us insight to the creative and talented horticultural skills of the early French colonists. While we may never know the exact varieties of plants grown in their jardins, through research into the popular and general plants of the era, our garden offers heirlooms common throughout Europe and America in the eighteenth century. Furthermore, in the fifth year of our jardin potager project, the varieties that have excelled in our climate and conditions in the Illinois country have revealed some hardy and reliable choices for a heritage garden. This Saturday we will focus on the successful heirloom flower standouts appropriate to the eighteenth century. They include; ageratum, balsam, bee balm, borage, calendula, columbine, globe amaranth, love in the mist, French or common mallow, nasturtium, heliotrope, rose mallow, fringed pinks, and field poppies. These flowers while providing beauty also often had culinary/medicinal/herbal qualities as well.

The weather this weekend should be rain cooled and a perfect time to reflect a moment on the heirlooms of the past. It is hoped that you may visit our jardin and share in a little garden history.

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Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Heirloom Saturday, September 6

DSCN1729You are invited to Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Heirloom Saturday, September 6, 2014, 10 AM-Noon. The history of our jardin’s heritage flowers and herbs and how to save their seeds will be explored. FdC flower sample seeds packets and a few seedlings will be available. À bientôt.

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Reconnaissance (Gratitude)

Jardin Potager, Summer 2014

Jardin Potager, Summer 2014

17 Août 2014 Dimanche (Sunday)

77 F, Rain

7 mph WNW wind

August in the late summer season of the Illinois Country brings heat combined with periods of heavy rain. The summer  garden is nearing its completion and the time has arrived to plan and plant for the fall jardin.

In a letter sent from New France in 1632, Father Paul le Jeune, of the Society of Jesus, remarked:

“All considered, this country here is very fine. As soon as we had entered into our little home, the 13th of July, we began to work and dig the earth, to sow purslane and turnips, and to plant lentils, and everything grew very well; a very short time afterwards we gathered our salad… You would be astonished to see the great number of ears of rye which were found among our peas; they are longer and more grainy than the most beautiful I have ever seen in France.”

Heirloom Flowers

Heirloom Flowers, Cockscomb, Globe Amaranth, Ageratum

The Fort de Chartres jardin potager is in the process of gathering the last of the summer produce, Long Anglais cucumbers, St.Valery carrots, Bull Nose peppers, seed heads of herbs and flowers. Soon the garden beds will be cleared and prepared for the fall planting. Most surprisingly, the jardin heirloom flowers have survived the neglect of recent months. Ageratum, Balsam, Cockscomb Celosia, Globe Amaranth, French Mallow, Fringed Pinks-their growth bringing beauty and hope. While the temperatures remain warm, it is time to plant peas, beets, kale, leeks, and radishes. Spinach can be started indoors, readied for transplanting into a garden bed once the heat diminishes.

Some time has passed since my last garden post, I beg the indulgence of those interested in the Fort garden’s progress. This summer has been spent in a different sort of nurturing journey.  As my mother’s health waned over the past months, my energy has been focused on her path to a garden of serenity and peace. I appreciate the Fort staff and jardin volunteer, Jennifer Esker, for their assistance keeping the garden in a semblance of order. Their energy  will smooth the seasonal transition to a fall garden making it easier than otherwise possible.

GG and Olivia

Summer morning breakfast, my granddaughter Olivia with her GG.

This gardener’s endeavors are a direct inspiration of her mother‘s loving guidance. Earliest memories in our family garden, evoke the sights and smells of the many fruits and vegetables grown on crowded plots, bursting with produce and surrounded by flowers. We weeded, picked, and ate our way through the summer months, and dined throughout the winter on the preserved garden produce. Our family’s immigrant background was explored through the seeds and plants grown throughout the extended family, the taste of our heritage preserved in our food, drink, and baked goods. Family members shared seeds and plants from the old country, bathing my childhood in the glow of a communal memory. Gardening was a part of our everyday life, as natural as breathing, the efforts of this labor something to be shared and enjoyed. My mother, in particular, was a master nurturer and whether child or plant, she guided and protected, with amazing results. Often tucked away in her garden corners, she would casually have a plant slip rooting, a seamless effort which brought forth without fail, a new breath of life. I came to the love of the outdoors through both my parents, but my love of gardening, the nurturing of life from the tiniest seed or slip, grew from my mother’s loving hand. And as I transition in life from her loving presence, to a world suffused in the knowledge she imparted, I am forever grateful.  Toujours dans mon cœur: “Always in my heart.”

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Neige de printemps

American Bottomland

American Bottomland Late Winter

16 Mars 2014 Dimanche (Sunday)

31 F, Snow

14 mph NNE wind

Snow. Four days until the arrival of spring and winter is reluctant to release its grip in the Illinois country. We continue to endure the temperature extremes with accompanying precipitation and await a steadier course of warm weather truly heralding the change of seasons. Late winter has offered a limited number of days suitable for work in the garden and just as one despairs of the weather, welcome news arrives lifting one’s spirits.

First, the glad tidings. This year marks the fifth season of the Fort de Chartres Heirloom Garden project. I am very thankful for the support of fort staff, Les Amis de Fort de Chartres (The Friends of Fort de Chartres), friends, and visitors who have shared in the eighteenth-century French-colonial garden adventure. leaffork_with_text_580_0KGIIn celebration of this milestone, I applied for a Kitchen Gardeners International grant on behalf of the Fort’s l’habitant jardin potager under the sponsorship of the Save American History organization. Notification has just arrived that the Fort garden project has been awarded a $500 grant from KGI’s nonprofit community of over 30,000 people who are growing some of their own food and helping others to do the same.  The Sow It Forward grant program received 910 applications from 24 countries and 160 grants were awarded. We are extremely thankful to be chosen for this grant and promise to continue sharing heirloom seeds, education, and enthusiasm with visitors to the Fort de Chartres jardin potager. In addition, Les Amis de Fort de Chartres and Save Illinois History organizations are matching the grant amount which will enable the garden to expand, repair, and further the garden project and its outreach to those interested in history and gardening. These organizations have given wonderful patronage to Fort de Chartres, and we are appreciative to be included in their support. Merci.

Renea, Toni, Nick, and Cecelia

Renea, Toni, Nick, and Cecelia

Returning to the needs of le jardin, work has begun in earnest, despite the uncertain weather.  Late February’s annual garden weekend at Fort de Chartres was spent in great companionship and weather with my husband Nick, mes amis Toni, John, Renea, and Cecelia. Time in the garden involved weeding and clearing beds, pruning fruit trees, and late winter plantings of late heirloom Monstrueux de Viroflay spinach, Long Scarlet radish, and French fields poppies. Sample heirloom seed packets and information were shared with the weekend’s travelers to the fort and a few visitors even chipped in by weeding and clearing beds-wonderful fun and a much needed respite from the sévérité of winter.

And in parting, soon the time will arrive for the annual Fort de Chartres April Colonial Trade Faire Musket and Rifle Frolic -April 4, 5, and 6. Mark it on your calendar and we hope to visit with you then!

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Février Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Weekend 2014

2013 Garden Weekend

15 Janvier 2014 Mercredi (Wednesday)

30 F, Sunny

9 mph WNW wind

The annual garden weekend is a little over a month away. Recent weather makes one pause, but no matter the conditions, work continues in the garden. Visit historic Fort de Chartres as a few habitants recreate the experiences of the colonists of the 18th century Illinois Country. We will prepare the kitchen garden for the late winter and early spring plantings. No matter the weather, as last year proved, it is fun to talk about gardening and seeds whether out in the garden or standing in comfort in the Guard room near the fire. Jardin Potager heirloom seed packet samples and seed starting information will be available to share with those who visit with us Saturday, 11 AM-3 PM, or Sunday, 11 AM-2 PM. Laissez le jardinage commence! Let the gardening begin. Or as our reader from the French Alps, Jerome, more correctly expressed-Attaquons les travaux du jardin!  Let’s start the work to be carried out in the garden.

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Bonne année et bonne santé!


30 Décembre, Lundi (Monday)

29 degrees F

Sunny, Light NNW winds

Mistletoe for the new year! Au gui l’an nuef! This old French saying highlights ancient holiday mistletoe traditions in this season of Reveillon and La Guiannée-French Christmas and New Year festivities celebrated in the Illinois Country. These old customs bring with them the foods, music, and conviviality to be shared with family, friends, and the masked participants of La Guiannée. Tortieres, bouillon, croquignoles, pies, cakes, and homemade cordials are served in homes during the season, providing refreshment for the accompanying joyful music and dance, and a stolen kiss under the mistletoe.

Mark Catesby, Butterfly with Mistletoe and Mancaneel Tree, 1747

Mistletoe is an ancient parasitic evergreen plant named in seasonal lore since ancient times and has its roots both figuratively and literally in its association with the revered oak tree. From the time of the Greeks to the Druids, mistletoe, with its yellow green leaves and white berries, was thought to have mystical properties. People observed that the mistletoe plants, growing on the crowns of oak trees, retained their leaves while at the same time the oaks lost theirs. It seemed to be a remarkable phenomenon and the pervasiveness of mistletoe in customs throughout European holiday customs proves that mistletoe had a deep effect on people’s lives. Viscum album is the traditional mistletoe of literature and Christmas celebrations and it is distributed from Great Britain to northern Asia. Its North American counterpart is Phoradendron serotinum, which clinical trials show may be toxic to humans but birds enjoy the berries and seeds. It has been used as an herbal remedy in Europe and among Native Americans for hundreds of years.

Ancient Greeks believed mistletoe could impart fertility and thus, may bear the origin for the custom of kissing under the mistletoe ball during the holiday season. In France, mistletoe is a New Year tradition. The Illinois country preserves an almost lost French tradition, going from house to house on New Year ’s Eve and singing a song of the mistletoe:

La Guignolee (Guiannée)

Bonsoir le maître et la maitresse.

Et tout le monde du logis.

Pour le premier jour de L’annees.

La Guignolee vous nous deves.

Good evening to the master and mistress,

And to all the people of this household.

For the first day of the year,

You owe us the Guignolee.

First verse of the Saint Genevieve version,

Translation by Judge Wilson Primm

Dried long red peppers, bay leaves, flower seeds

Contained, in this darkest time of the year, are the moments to celebrate the bounty and coming light- filled days of the new year. Bunches of dried herbs have been hung in the rafters or stored in jars and tins along with the seed gathered in late fall.  These, with the dried and preserved fruits, berries, and vegetables are the preserved bounty used in holiday preparations to flavor and expand the feast table. The full joy of the garden is displayed in this season of Reveillon and La Guiannée. The seasoning of the meats, pies, cakes, and libations are made richer by what we grow in the garden, making lifelong memories. While readying the rooms and table for the holiday celebrations, gather the holly and the mistletoe, to color our homes and festivities with their ringing promise of “Bonne année et bonne santé!”   Good year and good health!

The Prairie du Rocher La Guiannée Society

The Prairie du Rocher La Guiannée Society will visit Fort de Chartres on New Year’s Eve around 8 PM. A nice fire will be lit in the fireplace in the Guard’s Room and refreshments will be available beginning around 7 PM and lasting until 9 PM. You are welcomed to the fort to see one of Illinois’ oldest traditions.

Information in this post was gathered from regional sources, including the Ida M. Schaaf Collection, Missouri History Museum Archives, St.Louis, Judge Wilson Primm, “New Year’s Day in the Olden Times of St. Louis”, and Frank H. Tainter, F.H. 2002. What Does Mistletoe Have To Do With Christmas?.

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Novembre Frost

57 degrees F

Sunny, 19 mph NW wind

Bluff in the American Bottomland

November’s arrival brings the first hard frosts of autumn, settling along the bluffs and bottomland of the Illinois country. The varied warm colors of fall are now muted, the slightest breath of wind cause the forest leaves to drift to the ground, like a robe discarded. Time to prepare for the winter ahead, the cold and wind will soon overtake our daily concerns.  Garden vegetation is now brown and shriveled; the frost leaves its mark on whatever it touches. Remaining growth in the jardin is slowed to all but the hardiest of plants. Turnips, black radishes, and bush peas cling to life alongside many of the herbs as the garden season comes to a close. Autumn’s crop was very meager as the late summer heat and drought played havoc with the fall plantings. The rain and cooler temperatures arrived too late to provide meaningful relief to the struggling vegetation. It is time to clear the beds of the remaining debris while amending and replenishing the soil before the onset of winter. White and purple globe top turnips and the early blood beets cling to life, growing ever so slowly until the inevitable freezing cold temperatures will also bring their season to an end.

Our attention shifts from preparation to subsistence, an adjustment that the residents and travelers through this country have long recognized as accompanying the changing weather. Jean-Bernard Bossu on the eve of his 1751 journey wrote, “We are planning to set out for Illinois territory at the beginning of November. Since it is late in the season and we still have three hundred leagues to go, we run the risk of being stopped by the snow and of having to spend the winter in route. We have to stay here for a while until we can prepare enough biscuits for a trip made long by the currents and the north winds which we will have to buck at this time of year.” *

Hundreds of years have passed since the writing of this letter and the dangers of winter are as real now as they were then. We now have modern conveniences to help sustain us in the cold months ahead, but it still remains prudent to heed the pulse and pace of the season. The approach of winter with its cares and concerns also heralds the upcoming holidays and their celebrations. Their activity will brighten our shortest days with the warmth and conviviality of those we welcome and hold dear. Family and friends will gather on Friday afternoon, November 29th through mid-afternoon, Sunday, December 1st ,  as l’habitants and local Milice will be in residence at Fort de Chartres in honor of the fall and winter celebrations. A turkey will be roasted in the hearth along with other dishes of the 18th century while breads and desserts will be baked in the stone bake oven.  Participants will engage in a number of out-door activities including informal shooting contests, testing the skills of the local Milice. Visitors are warmly welcomed to join us in our annual celebration! And if our paths do not cross over the next few months, enjoy the winter celebrations and dream of the bounty held within the promise of the New Year.

Announcement: The Winter Rendezvous heralded the arrival of a new publication showcasing three friends explorations into the domestic cookery of the Illinois country, Recettes, Receipts, Recipes, Culinary Arts of the Illinois Country. The Fort de Chartres jardin potager and bake oven have long been the muse for my friends Antoinette Hancock, Renea Davis, and myself. We have begun a journey recording our culinary research and published an autumn edition booklet, the first of four seasonal publications. We thank all of those who stopped by our bake oven demonstration at the Winter Rendezvous and purchased a copy of this first edition. This publication is now available for purchase online through Dave Horne’s Fort de Chartres Store website . We appreciate this opportunity and hope you will support our efforts!

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