Fort de Chartres Heritage Garden

Un journal d'un Jardin Potager du Pays des Illinois

Tag: fruit trees (page 1 of 2)


16 mars, 2017 jeudi

49 degrees, cloudy

12 mph, SSE wind

March in the Illinois country jardin has always been somewhat of a wild journey, and this year is no exception. The mild winter has produced little snow and rain while temperatures drop from high to low and back again, similar to years reported in the some of the first accounts recorded of the Illinois country. As l’habitants planted their jardin potager in those early  gardens, they learned to judiciously clear and plant beds, careful not to risk too much too early. They discovered how to plant what, when, and where in their gardens in this new continent as illustrated below in the instructions on the planting of peas as written in one of the earliest garden books printed in the American colonies, sharing commonsense garden knowledge, just as wise now as it was then.

Pisum sativum. Le pois/Le pois commun
bibliotheque nationale de france gallica

“You should sow your Peas every fortnight, and as the hot weather comes on, the latter sort should be in a sheltered situation, otherwise they will burn up. I would recommend the sowing in drills about two or three inches deep, levelling the ground very smoothly with light mould, in rows about four feet asunder, for the convenience of going between, in order to gather the crop, and raising Cabbages or other things at the same time. In the spring let your rows be east and west, in the summer north and south, for a reason which must be obvious, viv. the giving them as much sun as possible in the first instance, and as little as possible in the last. When your peas are well up, they should be hilled once or twice before they are stuck; this not only strengthens them, but at the same time affords them fresh nourishment; the manner of sticking them every body knows; I shall only therefore mention a caution to put your sticks firm in the ground, otherwise they are apt to fall, when the vines grow rampant, and not to stic on them in too near the roots, lest you do the plant an irreparable injury. In the spring it has been found that scattering some dry cow dung in the trenches before you sow your peas, has been very beneficial.”

  • A treatise on gardening, by a citizen of Virginia, John Randolph, jr. (1727-1784)

As garden beds are prepared for planting, precipitation would be welcomed and appreciated. This past mid and late February brought the planting of peas, radishes, and spinach. As we travel through the month of March, it is time to direct sow heirloom beets, scarlet runner beans, cabbages, leeks, lettuces, and onions. Mid-month is also a good time to plant the flowers and herbs like celosia, snapdragons, parsley, and field poppies. The pruning of the jardin’s fruit trees has been underway and other timely garden tasks yet to be accomplished in our jardin include clearing the asparagus bed, pruning out the old canes of the gooseberry and currant shrubs, and dividing the garden’s fall blooming perennials.

Some of these March gardening tasks will be undertaken with the help of friends during the annual Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Weekend on Saturday & Sunday, March 25 & 26. Visitors are welcome to join volunteers on Saturday at 10:30 AM. for a discussion about direct sowing seeds in the garden. After a break and until 3 PM, work will begin in the garden preparing raised beds and planting seeds appropriate for spring. On Sunday, volunteers will be working in the garden from 11 AM-1 PM. Sample heirloom seed packets will be available to visitors traveling to the Fort to celebrate the upcoming spring season. This event is free and open to the public. If you would like more information about the Fort or upcoming events, call Fort de Chartres State Historic Site at 618-284-7230. For more information about the Fort’s garden events, please email Carol at directly or follow the jardin’s FB page at

Note: I would like to thank the Northwest Historical Society of Jefferson County for inviting this gardener to speak earlier this month at their monthly meeting held in Byrnes Mill, Missouri. As a Master Gardener of Jefferson County, Missouri, it was a pleasure to share the history of Fort de Chartres, as well as the information on the eighteenth century demonstration garden located on-site. The presentation was well attended and I thank all for the wonderful questions about the garden and the Fort.  I was very happy so many sample seed packets and informational flyers were shared. Next to working in the Fort’s kitchen garden, sharing the histories of French colonial eighteenth century gardening and Fort de Chartres are a passion. Many thanks to all who attended and I hope they travel soon to visit in person the Fort’s jardin potager. A bientôt!

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!

La chasse pour le plaqueminier indigene (The hunt for the wild persimmon)

Persimmon Tree & Fruit

20 Février, Wednesday

25 degrees F

Cloudy, Winds 5 N

Dreams of the approaching spring linger in these changeable days of February. In anticipation of the upcoming Jardin Potager season at Fort de Chartres, final orders of heirloom seeds are placed, the garden plans reworked, and the tools await sharpening. Soon the time for planning will be past.  As part of my ritual of pre-season preparation I endeavor to bring order to the preserved remains of last year’s garden. Among the chores to be attended to are, clearing and organizing the stillroom and; inventorying last season’s dried herbs, gathered seeds, fruit preserves and brandies. Much to my delight, a dark corner of the room reveals a forgotten bottle containing late fall’s gathered persimmons, slightly bruised, sugared, and lightly spiced-left to mature in fine French brandy.  In a week’s time, the brandy will be ready for decanting and tasting.

Finding this bounty allows me to revisit my ongoing obsession with this native fruit-Diospynos virginiana. While many happy hours are spent in the pursuit of research and cultivation of known 18th century vegetable and fruits of the French culinary traditions in the Illinois country, I am also much enamored of the native offerings of the region, the persimmon tree and fruit being one of many.  The French called the tree plaqueminier or piaqueminier, the fruit-plaquemine. Piakimin, piakimine, piaguimina were the region’s Native American names for the persimmon tree and fruit.  Not being able to successfully cultivate my own stand of persimmon trees, I have been known to stalk this wild native fruit, risking life and limb to gather quantities necessary to explore the 18th century recettes(recipes) which include this recalcitrant native fruit, underappreciated and now oft forgotten.

Persimmon, Michaux

The tree presents an unassuming presence along the forests edge, often on a rocky slope. The persimmon is the only tree in the Illinois country of the Ebony family, its heartwood nearly black, maturing to a height of 30-70 ft. The branches keep a firm grip of the smallish orange fruit, reluctant to give up their bounty.  Often the fruit is not fully ripe until after the first frost, the skin becoming a pale translucent orange with an overcast of light purple. Gathering the fruit from the ground signals its readiness, whether it falls naturally or one helps the process along by shaking the tree. The trick is to gather the now ripe fruit before the wild animals do, as it is a favorite.  The delicious flavor is delicately sweet and its texture similar to a date. Jesuit Jacques Gravier wrote in 1701 that persimmons were “the most delicious fruit that the savages have from the Illinois to the sea.” The experience of tasting an unripe persimmon will leave a lasting impression, the sour astringency forever imprinting the experience in the mouth. Once the fruit is sufficiently ripe, the process for gaining the pulp from the fruit is difficult and messy.  Not quite finished overcoming the persimmon’s intractable nature, one must now remove the many seeds from the pulp, requiring a bit of ingenuity and perseverance, employing a sieve to separate the fruit’s pulp from the attached seeds.

Flying Squirrel with Persimmon, Mark Catesby

For all of the persimmon’s foibles, references abound concerning the native piakimias in the accounts of the Upper, Middle and Lower Mississippi Valleys written by 17th and 18th century French military and religious explorers such as Binneteau, Bossu, Charlevoix, Gravier, and Marest, to name a few. Their letters and journals note the presence of persimmon (the fruit often referred to as medlars or damask plums) throughout the Illinois country and its potential value. Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, a French Jesuit traveler and historian, in his Journal of a Voyage to North America remarked: “The Piakimine is shaped like a damask plum, though somewhat larger: its skin is tender, its substance watery, and colour red; and has besides a very delicate flavor.”

Tribes of the greater Mississippi River region such as the Osage, Illinois, and Quapaw utilized the fruit in food stuffs such as breads, puddings, and soup. In a late 17th century letter between Father Claude Chauteriere of Montreal to his brother Father P. Jean Chauteriere of Limoges, France states “I send you a piece of bread which has come from a place 500 leagues from here. It comes from the Illinois country; it is made from medlars or services, and has a very good taste.” Missionary Gravier reported receiving persimmon bread from a Quapaw chief: “He made me a present of 2 loves of piakimia, which I distributed among the French.” Military officer Jean-Bernard Bossu also referred to a type of native persimmon (ougoufle) bread, which may have been one of the first prepared foods sold by vendors on the streets of New Orleans. “The bread they make of it looks like gingerbread and it is dried for use on long trips.” Bossu also reports being offered by native hosts a meal of persimmon bread, bear paws, and beaver tails. Medicines were created from the bark and roots which were shared with missionaries and couriers du bois. The dry roasted seeds were used by colonists to make a kind of coffee-like beverage and were sometimes employed in games or weather forecasting. A period recipe from the Southeast instructs that the pulp mixed with bran was used in the making of colonial persimmon beer and there were also many references to persimmon brandy. The wood was valued for its strength and elasticity and was noted in its use for the making of many objects and tools, such as mallets, large screws, wagon chassis, shuttles and bows.

Ripe Persimmon

Exploring the French colonial foodways of the Illinois country, it becomes apparent the French utilized nature’s offerings. Whether through native tribal and slave interaction or intermarriage, local ingredients influenced colonial French cuisine while using traditional food preparation methods such as fricassees, sauces, baking, and preserving. Interestingly, other European colonists of the era seemed to resist the use of native food except when their ability to grow or obtain the known staples of their food culture was restricted. Persimmon fruit would have been a welcome addition to the diet of residents in the Upper Louisiana region, in savory and sweet “made dishes” whether fresh, dried, preserved, or fermented. Period and handed down recipes and narratives of our native persimmon fruit are featured on the Recettes 2013 page of this blog.

As the winter moves toward its completion, there is still time on cold evenings to savor the moment, pour a small glass of sweetly spiced persimmon brandy and be reminded of all the bounty, cultivated and native, present in the Illinois country. The coming spring and the gardening season ahead, will offer new opportunities to explore the colonial and native foods and recipes of those who inhabited this country of the Upper Mississippi called Illinois.

Our annual garden weekend at Fort de Chartres will be held Saturday and Sunday, February 23 and 24. Stop by and visit with a few l’habitants as work is done to prepare the jardin potager for the upcoming growing season, weather permitting. Jardin Potager heirloom seed packet samples will be available.

Information for this post gathered from primary sources:

Jean-Bernard Bossu’s Travels in the Interior of North America 1751-1762

 Journal of a Voyage to North America, Translated from the French of Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, Vol. ll

The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610—1791

The North American Sylva (1810), Translated from the French of F. Andrew Michaux

Additional references:

The common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana L.), The history of an underutilized fruit tree (16th-19th centuries), C. H. Briand (2005)

“A Wild Taste”: Food and Colonialism in Eighteenth-Century Louisiana, Shannon Lee Dowdy (2010)

Pigeon Soup and Plover in Pyramids: French Foodways in New France and the Illinois Country, Elizabeth M. Scott (2007)

The native persimmon, by W.F. Fletcher. (1915)


4 June, Saturday

95 degrees F

Sunny, Light Wind

The date does not reflect the true summer season, but the first weekend in June heralds the beginning of the summer for those of us in the Illinois Country. It is the annual date of the Fort de Chartres Rendezvous and this year commemorated the 41st year of this landmark event. Rendezvous is a re-creation of the traditional French fur trapper’s holiday of the 18th Century, and is one of the oldest and largest events of its kind in the United States. And as usual, the temperatures and humidity soared as the date approached. Even as the heat rose, visitors arrived to take in all the activities; morning and evening colors in all its pageantry, militiamen, buckskinners, artisans, and entertainers. We welcomed visitors to our jardin potager and enjoyed sharing gardening history with those who stopped by. This event should not be missed as it always is filled with much joyous noise and activity, the colorful sights and sounds of a large 18th Century regional gathering.

In between garden visitors, some work was accomplished in the garden. Weeding help was offered by a new acquaintance and her work was gratefully accepted. As she weeded, work continued, mounding the soil next to the spring peas, so that the De Bourbonne & Long Anglais cucumber seeds could be planted. Once this task was completed, these beds along with the others were thoroughly watered. Checking the new apple trees planted earlier this spring, I was very pleased to see they are thriving and ready for the next step in the process of espaliering. New shoots were pinched back, leaving those to be trained to their supporting wire in the fall. The lettuces and radishes were harvested along with the Tom Thumb bush beans. Their harvesting brings to mind ingredients for an 18th century salad whether French salades simples or English salmagundi. Look on the recettes page of this blog for salad, cucumber, green and dried pea recipes.


21 June, Tuesday

87 Degrees F


Summer is indeed with us, streaming in with the rains still pounding our region. With the formal arrival of the season, the heat has made for challenging gardening conditions.  Our Tom Thumb bush peas are just finishing production but the yellowed and dried vines of the Blue Podded Snap & the De Grace Snow peas signal the end of their season. Tis time to clean out the dead vines and provide the supports for the rapidly growing cucumbers . Work continues with the weeding, harvesting some carrots, radishes, and turnips as I progress through the garden beds. The Painted Lady Runner beans and snapdragons are brightening the jardin with their blooms. Radishes have gone to seed but they are left in place for now as they have been attracting pollinating and beneficial insects in the garden. Staff and volunteer help have begun weeding of the Native Garden and the large squash/melon bed. Their efforts are greatly appreciated. These areas are rapidly growing, fueled by the warm temperatures. As the plants grow, they are checked for signs of the dreaded squash bugs, which so devastated our squash crops last summer and fall. It appears with the cooler temperature this spring and the heavy rains since, they are appearing more slowly this season. All in all, except for the perennial complaint of an abundance of weeds, one can be satisfied with the steady progress of our jardin potager.


17 April, Sunday

74 Degrees F

Sunny, Light Winds

Traveling to the fort today, through the winding roads in Illinois farmland,  the air truly felt like spring. In the weeks since the last posting, rains have been frequent, with temperatures swinging from cool to warm and back again. Luckily, today’s work in the garden was to be accompanied by warm winds. Perfect weather to plant our new fruit trees that have been in a cool storage location for the last two weeks awaiting the right planting conditions.

While we waited for these warmer temperatures, our long range l’habitant jardin plans were reviewed and discussed. The plans referenced descriptions of typical French residences, as from former Governor Thomas Ford’s History of Illinois. He resided in the Illinois Country in 1805 and reminisced, “These houses were generally placed in gardens, surrounded by fruit trees of apples, pears, cherries, and peaches; and in the villages each enclosure for a house and garden occupied a whole block or square, or the greater part of one.” A beautiful new addition to the l’habitant jardin is a period reproduction bench created by Zack Huber, a local Eagle Scout candidate from Prairie du Rocher.

Blight and disease had damaged some of the existing fruit trees in our habitant garden and removal was begun the week previous by Gerry Franklin, a member of the fort staff. Earlier this year, the following tree varieties were researched, ordered and now ready to be planted

  • Snow Apple (Fameuse), France, prior 1800. One of the oldest and most desirable dessert apples, a parent of the aromatic McIntosh.
  • Summer Rambo (Rambour Franc), France, 1535. Large red fruit, bright striped. Breaking crisp, exceptionally juicy, aromatic flesh.
  • Calville Blanc, France, 1598. This is a gourmet culinary apple of France. Uniquely shaped medium ot large size fruit, yellow skin with light red flush. Banana-like aroma with more vitamin C than an orange.
  • Anjou Pear (Beurre d’Anjou), France, prior to 1800. Large, conical short-necked fruit, light green when ripe with some russeting.  Mild, melting with white flesh with delicate aroma.

Volunteers Jeremy, John, and Nick, along with Dennis, a fort staff member, were assisting in the garden work today, digging holes and planting trees. The pear trees were placed just outside the garden fence; the apple trees planted inside the garden fence in an alternate order to be espaliered as they grow. Immediately the trees were pruned, wired to their supports, and watered in. Jeremy and Nick (with John’s assistance) placed the wooden pole supports for the Painted Lady Runner Beans in the first of the garden beds and the beans were planted around their bases. The last two beds to be sowed with spring vegetables were planted with differing varieties of peas (Blue Podded and de Grace Snow Peas). Branches were pushed into the garden beds to act as supports for these climbers. As peas grow, they will climb through the branches that hold the supports in place and upright. Also planted among the turnip rows were Tom Thumb bush peas, saved from last season’s successful crop. Again beds were watered as tools were gathered, cleaned, and put away-preparations for the travel home. Winding our way home, we once again reflected, dwelling on the day’s accomplishments and the work yet to come.  We look forward to the projects of the season ahead, including our new compost bin being created by Justin Detering, a local student, as it nears completion.

Please note: An upcoming family event at the Fort de Chartres , will be the annual Kid’s Day on Saturday, May 7, from 10 AM-4 PM. It’s a  free event that features yard games, period board games, rope making, dancing, King & Queen coronation, gardening, free trees, artifact display (arrowheads, etc.), and a puppet show. Come out to the fort and enjoy the morning or afternoon with your family and immerse yourself in fun activities pertaining to our region’s 18th century history.

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