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Officers’ Mess Kitchen Garden

Saving seeds saves heritage! No GMO here!

SEPTEMBER… With cabbages in full bloom the Officers’ Mess Kitchen Garden reached the end of its growing season. Inside the kitchen, lay the fruits of the garden’s harvest. Pickles from the nutmeg melons, coleslaw from the cabbage prepared the 19th century way – vinegar and mustard only, no processed mayo in sight! With plots being cleared came the process of saving the seeds, a case of drying and storing and the patient awaiting of next spring’s planting!

A prize cabbage indeed!

Bound for the kitchen, beets and cabbage.

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August in the garden: the cabbages are hardening, and the beetroots (or beet-roots as per the 19th century spelling)  are getting harvested to be pickled. This pickling will involve the beetroots being formed into shapes. As to which shapes are historically correct, historic cook, Elizabeth Baird was unprepared to say, but shaped these beet-roots, pickled would be. To note: Traditionally, the jars of pickled beets would be kept airtight with a piece of bladder pulled tight over the top of the jar. and then held in place with some twine.  See the image below for the various ways, the Fort’s historic cooks experiment with traditional coverings for their preserves.

Green Nutmeg Melon

July 15: The Lettuce has bolted….But elsewhere in the historic kitchen garden, good things are heppening.. A plot was cleared of earth-choking weeds and in their place Purple Spreading Broccoli and Salsify (Oyster Plant) sowed. Gathered: seeds from both the Sorrel and a Lettuc.  Harvested:  Six Week Yellow Beans, Beets, and Green Nutmeg Melon all of which were dispatched to the Officers’ Mess Kitchen for preparation.

Our garden’s beets: picked and ready to be made into “Pink Pancakes”.

Of the Green Nutmeg Melon, Fearing Burr said in 1863, “The Nutmeg Melon has long been in cultivation, and is almost everywhere to be found in the vegetable garden… It is of most delicious excellence… one of the best.” It is a medium-size green-fleshed melon that has a heavily netted skin and rich, sweet, delicious flesh with heavy aroma.”  It is the intent of the historic cooks to pickle it. Or they might mango it. If you have never used mango as a verb it means “to remove the innards of, stuff (with spices or spicy foods), seal and pickle, or pour boiling water over.”No doubt there will be a tasting one day. Meanwhile, served as a treat for the volunteer gardeners. Pink Pancakes – their hue derived from the garden’s beets, of course.

Pink Pancakes in the griddle.

The Recipe: Boil a large beet-root tender and beat it fine in a marble mortar, then add the yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, and three spoonfuls of good cream, sweeten it to  your taste, and grate in half a nutmeg, and put in a glass of brandy: beat them altogether half an hour, fry them in butter, and garnish them with green sweet-meats, preserved aprictors, or green sprigs of myrtle. It is a pretty corner-dish for either dinner or supper. (From the Art of Cookery, Hannah Glasse).

Our Yellow Six Week Beans ready for the Pot!

A TASTE OF HISTORY….Summer Harvests and Heritage Cuisine! In celebration of our seasonal harvests, throughout July, August and September Fort York’s Historic Kitchen is hosting ” From The Kitchen Garden” a series of four cooking demonstrations of 18th and 19th century recipes featuring the fruits of the season. Produce from the Fort’s own Officer’s Mess Kitchen Garden will also be included in this delicious mix.  Visit and get a taste of history!

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June 1st: Report from Fort York Officers’ Mess Kitchen Garden Curator Eva MacDonald: “After a week of warm weather, many seedlings have sprouted in the Officers’ Mess Kitchen Garden.  Tonight I could see the beets that Hugo sowed, the six weeks bush beans that Patrisha sowed, one of the squash varieties that Caroline sowed, the scarlet runner beans that Joe sowed, and the nutmeg melons that I sowed. The nasturtiums, carrots, cabbage, parsnip etc. are not yet discernible.  Keeping the beds watered until everything is sprouted will be a priority, then once we can tell the veggies from the weeds, weeding will be a priority. The Risser Sickle peas continue to climb, and tonight I added a traditional brush support. Amelia Simmonds discusses pea varieties in terms of whether they need a heavy or light brush support. They should be blooming soon.”

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Victoria Day, 21 May, 2012. A sweltering day did not wilt the spirits of the volunteer gardeners of Fort York’s Officers’ Mess Kitchen Garden.

Under the guidance of Eva MacDonald, the season’s seed went in, lettuce which had bolted last fall and then seeded itself until it resembled a blanket of green was thinned

Joe, prepping the bed.

and transplanted, squash planted in great mounds got cane tripods, handknotted by Joe, to anticipate their upward spiral. The seeds, all heritage and detailed below, were carefully sown into rows. Peas, planted a month prior while it was still cold, had made their appearance and would later be joined by bush waste around which they would be allowed to troll around. The morning’s work culminated in another delicious lunch. Greens  from the garden, a salad dressing dating from the 18th century, and Mark D’Aguilar’s homemade bread, made with yeast from Steamwhistle Brewery. Thanks are extended to Fort York’s Historic Cooks for their hospitality.

Sallad Dressing from the mid 18th Century. Delicious today!

After a morning’s gardening….lunch is served!

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Spring planting for the Officers’ Mess Kitchen Garden will take place on Monday, May 21, Victoria Day. Volunteers can gather at 11.00 am and get down and dirty planting such heritage seeds as: Hollow Crown parsnip, Early Blood Turnip beet, and Early Scarlet Horn carrot.  A Bean selection includes Early Yellow Six Weeks bean (which Amelia Simmonds mentions by name), and Purple-Podding pole bean. Late Flat Dutch cabbage and the Green Nutmeg melon will also be planted for pickling purposes. And for colour and spicy leaves, nasturtiums! All volunteers will be able to enjoy early salad greens harvested from the garden at a light summer luncheon in the Officers Mess’ afterwards.

The Officers’ Mess Kitchen Garden consisting of several raised beds is located on the west side, just north of the entry and east of the Officer’s Mess. Dedicated to planting period-appropriate vegetables from the 19th Century, the produce is harvested and utilized in the Fort’s historic food program. The reference to Amelia Simmonds (above) refers to the author of American Cookery, published 1796 and the first known cookbook written by an American. The full title of the book was an utterly untwitterable:  “American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life.

The Early Yellow Six Weeks Bean: In the 1800’s this was a very popular variety due to its early ripening characteristics. The green pods are 5″ long and are best used when quite young. The seeds are beige in color. Fearing Burr (Field and Garden Vegetables of America, 1865) stated that, “It is quite productive, and an excellent early string bean, but less valuable as a green shelled bean, or for cooking when ripe.”  Status: Extremely Rare. (Image and description: Heirloom Beans)


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