Fort de Chartres Heritage Garden

Un journal d'un Jardin Potager du Pays des Illinois

Tag: fruits (page 1 of 2)

Summer Heirloom Produce Saturdays

You are invited to the Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager and sample heirloom produce on Saturday, September 10,  10 AM-Noon. Some produce and recipes available.

Welcome to our Jardin Potager outside the walls of Fort de Chartres! This garden has been planted in the style of a French l’habitant kitchen garden generally tended by the women of the Illinois Country.

Heirloom herbs, vegetables & fruits currently in season:
Basil, Scallop Summer Squash, Cucumbers, and Melons

And at the fort on 4 September, Saturday, be sure not to miss:

Cannon firing demonstrations by the French Colonial Artillery at 10:00 AM

The French Colonial Artillery group will fire the fort’s 6 pound cannon on the hour from 10am until 4pm.  They will be available through the day to share information about 18th century artillery and answer questions.


27 August, Saturday

90 degrees F

Partly Sunny, Calm

Finally cooler winds swept across the valley floor and some relief arrived for the jardin. A week after the previous post, two-thirds of an inch of rain fell and one could almost hear the plants sighing. It was brief respite from the heat but most welcome. Our Heirloom Produce Saturdays have been great fun and a wonderful opportunity to meet visitors, share produce, recipes, gardening stories and the continued harvest of eggplants, scallop squashes, and watermelons.

Mmes Hancock et Davis

But with exasperation, I must note the recent resurgence of heat with no new rain. The days are nearing September, late summer chores continue-heirloom beets, carrots, lettuce, radish and turnip seeds were planted, while the compost was turned and new materials were added. As a sad tune to this summer’s meter, most time spent in the jardin once again have been focused on watering and controlling weeds. Some of the seeds have emerged but a few beds had to be reseeded due to the lack of germination. The melons and squash still produce, but fewer fruit have been set.

The Author

Raccoons manage to slip into the garden overnight and sample the few remaining ripening French melons, very frustrating! The open rinds lay in the bed and scooped clean of any trace of melon except for the seed. The red seeded citron watermelons litter the melon bed intact, the rind being too hard for raccoon mischief. These melons are strong survivors to the trials of our summer. The citron melon was preserved following the recipe posted last month on the recettes page and the result was surprisingly lovely-the marmalade flavors of ginger and lemon combined with sweetened melon. The result is a marmalade piquancy without the bite. Melon preserves will be a wonderful accompaniment to meals and tart fillings this winter. As these melons are not eaten fresh, they will keep months in the cellar and can be processed as the fall season slows work in the gardens. No wonder citron melons were widely grown, even though they take a bit of work to prepare.

Garden weeded and planted for fall.

Looking about the garden, we do not wish the summer season to be at an end–still hoping to be blessed with cooler temperatures and rain. Time is needed for seeds to grow and then, as the promise of the fall garden beckons, the tastes and pleasures of the upcoming autumn will be ours to explore.

11 August, Thursday

Summer Harvest

86 degrees F

Sunny, Light S winds

While enduring the heat and the lack of rain these past weeks, the lyrics from a traditional harvest song keep echoing in my mind -“The summer is a tyrant of a most ungracious kind.” No truer words express this past August in our jardin. The unrelenting sun made the work of clearing the garden of spent summer plants and weeds even more challenging than usual. So much of the time upon arrival involved watering, harvesting, and feeding plants, nurturing and protecting the crops against the burning rays. The melons and summer squash are producing, even thriving, in this August heat while the cucumbers are struggling to set fruit.

Cucumbers and Basil

It was a relief to observe the leeks and eggplants still growing and the new planting of native Potawatomie lima beans beginning to twine around the base of their poles. Once again, friends Antoinette and Renea stepped forward several times this month, helping with the thankless tasks of digging and clearing beds. Forgotten carrots and turnips are discovered and are fed to the chickens, while the weeds are pulled and beds are prepared for planting.

Turnip Seedlings

The ticking seasonal clock waits on no one and as soon as the weather breaks, seeds will be planted for the fall season. New to the jardin this month, Heirloom Produce Saturdays. On our first Saturday, we had a few visitors brave the 90 degree heat and sample the Moir de Carmes, Charentais, Missouri Heirloom, Georgia Rattlesnake melons. We gave away some melons and squash and shared recipes. We hoped for cooler temps the upcoming Saturday, and more new friends to visit and share our jardin produce.

Chaleur de Juillet

28 July, Thursday

95 degrees F

Sunny, Light N winds

If I had to choose between winter and summer in this country, I do not know which I would take; for in the summer, besides the scorching heat and the frequent passing from extreme heat to extreme cold, and rarely having three fine days in succession, there are moreover so many Mosquitoes or gnats, that you cannot go out without being covered with them, and stung on all sides.

Letter from Father Gabriel Marest, Missionary of the Society of Jesus, to Father de Lamberville of the same Society, Procurator of the Mission of Canada,. 1707. The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, TRAVELS AND EXPLORATIONS OF THE JESUIT MISSIONARIES IN NEW FRANCE, 1610—1791

Mes amis, this accounting of the weather of North America early in the 1700s aptly describes temperature and insect extremes in the Illinois country. This summer at Fort de Chartres, with temperatures registering in the upper 90s to low 100s for most of the month of July, certainly curtailed activity in our jardin. Also, it is of little comfort, but interesting to note, the observations of Constantin-François Volney: In the summer of 1779, when the thermometer was at 90 degrees at Monticello, and 96 degrees at Williamsburg, it was 110 degrees at Kaskaskia.The onset of illness and reluctance to labor in the oppressive heat, rendered little progress by this gardener through most of July. As the month waned, and the season’s earlier downpours evaporated with the rising temperatures, it became imperative to begin watering and feeding the vegetable and melon beds.
It was also necessary to rescue the beds from the onslaught of unwanted invasive plants which only competed for the limited water resources at hand. With assistance from my friend Toni, we worked throughout the morning, harvesting the cucumbers, squashes, and melons ripening in their beds. We collected Noir de Carmes and Valencia melons, Georgia Rattlesnake, Missouri Heirloom And Red Seeded Citron watermelons, Yellow and White Scallop squashes, all heavily producing in the summer heat. Surprisingly, the French heirloom cucumbers were covered with blooms but had yet to bear fruit. The basil plants had grown into full shrubs over the past month in response to the warmth, holding their own against the entwining cucumber vines. Soaking the soil with water took the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon until the heat dictated an end to our work. As our efforts were completed for the day, we took a moment of rest in the shade of the bake oven. Contemplating the resilience of some plants to weather and, in some cases thrive, in the extreme temperatures of the Illinois Country, nature’s rules and order once again surprise and amaze. The work of clearing and preparing the beds for the fall planting must wait for another day and hopefully, cooler temperatures. Visit this site’s Recettes page for recipes featuring July’s garden bounty.

Vers la fin du Printemps

7 May, Tuesday

76 Degrees F

Sunny, Windy

The morning sky was dark and gray, threatening clouds overhead, as day dawned on the Annual Les Amis de Fort de Chartres Kid’s Day. The skies soon gave way to a steady rain, not an auspicious beginning for the day of scheduled 18th century family activities. But soon the rain subsided and the sun peered through the fog, as mists rose from the road leading to the fort and from the fort grounds. Families began arriving and the annual event sponsored by the volunteer organization (Friends of Fort de Chartres) was soon underway. With cannons firing, the fort’s volunteer event featured games, archery, rope making, dancing, singing, and an artifact display. In the garden, our visitors used the native hoe, learned about the 1700s French kitchen garden, and adopted our donated native pecan trees. The heirloom cabbage, carrots, lettuces, peas, onions, and turnips were growing strongly and it seemed one could stand and watch the asparagus grow in front on one’s eyes. From the rain cooled temperatures of the morning, the day soon warmed and the jardin potager welcomed all who visited.

22 May, Sunday

87 Degrees F

Sunny, Windy

Continuing this May, the garden grew in pace with the wet and cool conditions. As temperatures rose and fell and continuing rain, every moment the sun shone was an opportunity to plant and work in the garden. Preparing beds and nurturing the emerging plants, struggling beets and spinach weakened as this wet season moved along.  The day was very warm and mon ami Toni accompanied me to work in the squash and melon bed. Earlier in the week, the large bed beyond the garden fence was tilled and prepared for planting. Our day’s work this afternoon included measuring, creating mounds, dibbling holes for the seeds, then planting. Once planted, we watered the mounds thoroughly and took a moment to do some quick weeding in the other beds as well as watering the new fruit trees. Very productive afternoon’s work, accomplished with the help of a friend.

Earlier in the week, the native Three Sisters Garden area was hoed and weeded by Dennis and Jeremy. One afternoon before the rains came, a quick trip to the fort was in order to create the mounds and plant the corn in the center of each mound. We were excited this year to try the native Bear Island Flint corn, which features dried yellow, white, red, some speckled, and occasionally all burgundy ears. This Native American variety reportedly makes good corn flour, slightly pink, and we hoped that the hardness of the cobs would deter the raccoons. Scarlet Runner beans were planted on the outer rim of the mounds and the winter squash in the spaces between. Sophie, the new feline fort mascot, kept me company and surveyed the completed garden area. It is hard to tell if she approved of my afternoon’s work, but it was nice to have the company none the less.

Haute Louisiane en Automne

28 October, Thursday

52 Degrees F

Partly Sunny, Strong N Winds

With changes of the season sweeping through the bottomlands on strong northerly winds, that night would be the first strong frost of the fall. Work in the garden focused on the harvesting of the garden’s seasonal crops, while leaving some to withstand the colder temperatures. Carrots, leeks, lettuces, radishes, spinach, turnips and one last watermelon were pulled from the beds. Produce was gathered, compost and leaf mulch were added to amend the soil and to prepare for next year. While clearing the beds, a few visitors lay among the ruins of this past growing season.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

They were a reminder of the ever renewing cycles of nature, each with its own season and form. Even as there was much to be enjoyed in the autumn’s harvest, a bittersweet pleasure lingered as we realized this year’s growing season was coming to an end.

Once home from garden travels, my thoughts turned to the uses for these vegetables of the past. Using as a guide the ingredients that were on hand, recettes were reviewed to determine what could be prepared with our historic and heirloom vegetables. A warm beginning for our harvest meal would be a white turnip soup, potage aux navets blancs.  Next a salad was made utilizing jardin lettuce, spinach and carrots making a simple dressing of the juice of a lemon, mustard and oil. A souffle of gruyere and leeks accompanied with a black Spanish radish remoulade and freshly baked bread prepared for the main course. The last of our Georgia Rattlesnake melons completed our autumn repast with its perfect sweet taste as a final reminder of the summer past. 

Though this meal was created from modern sources, the recipes were not far off the historic mark. As seen in regionally historic recettes and in 18th century French cookbooks, a meal of the French ancestors of this region might have easily included a ramekin, slaw made of turnips or radishes, a chicken bouillon or a potage of leeks or turnips, and sallet of greens. Historic harvest meal recipes are listed in our new blog recette file. The recipes for the modern versions made for the harvest meal can be viewed by clicking on the individual dishes mentioned above.

The next Jardin posting on the Fort events page will feature a late fall holiday spent at the Fort and the activities and food we enjoyed as we made our annual journey into 18th century Pays des Illinois.

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