Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book Review: Botany in a Day

This book has been around for a while but I was lucky enough to get my own copy recently. Author Thomas J. Epel has a terrific way of breaking down botany to a very readable and easy to understand level. He breaks it down in a logical way -- in fact he even has a section titled "Start here" just in case you are tempted to begin in the middle. I love the line drawings that are all through the book as they are perfect illustrations for what is being taught.  

This book goes beyond a standard field guide in that it thoroughly explains the patterns of the plants.  It includes more than 100 plant families and 700 genera including edible and medicinal herbs.   I am finding this book very very useful  but I can't say I learned it in one day!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mrs. Reppert's Herb Bag

An astute Internet friend (Thanks, Dianne) alerted us to this little stitchery kit available on several craft sites. She noticed the name connection in the written description and put two and two together. This bag was designed by Sharon at The Purple Thread. According to the package description, Sharon dedicated this sweet little project to our mother, and her 'favorite shop-lady, Mrs. Reppert who opened her lovely herb shop, the Rosemary house, in Mechanicsburg, PA in 1968'.     This sweet project is approx. 3-1/2 inches square and is worked in over dyed cottons on R & R 30ct Old Mill Java linen. It is finished into a little fabric bag, suitable to hold fragrant herbs. The complete kit includes the chart, threads, linen, beads buttons and ribbons, and the lining and backing fabrics necessary to complete the project. The following information is included along inside the package:

"Bertha Reppert was a brilliant, fun, kind woman. She founded The Rosemary Shop in Mechanicsburg, Pa. in 1968. For many years when I was making an Herb Wreath or just wanted some lovely scented oils, I would go to her shop. Mrs. Reppert was a world renowned herb expert and has been referenced in many books on the subject. Her family continues the shop and it is pure delight to visit. There are events every month during the year from creating your own Fairy Garden to creating your own Herb Charts! Visit their web site and if you are ever in the area visit the shop. This little bag is for you to fill with fragrant herbs and hang on a door or window to brighten your day and a way for me to honor another woman!"

You can purchase this little herbal tribute at The Silver Needle (scroll down about 12 projects) and also on House of Stitches, or perhaps at your local craft shop.
Thank you, Dianne, for sharing this with us! What a fun little discovery with a lovely tribute to mom, the shop, and her love of herbs. She touched many with her compassion and energy and her desire to share her enthusiasm about herbs.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sweet Pepper - National Garden Bureau 2015 Plant of the Year

Sweet Treats for Your Garden:
2015 is the Year of the Sweet Pepper!

Sweet peppers bring a rainbow of colors and a plethora of shapes to the table. It is easy to value them for looks and flavor alone, but the sweet pepper is also a nutritional powerhouse. A serving of the most popular type in the USA--the sweet bell--contains more vitamin C than the average orange, a generous amount of vitamin E and many antioxidants with only 29 calories. Peppers have high nutrient levels at any stage but are the most beneficial when eaten fully ripe. The few colors of bell peppers in the average supermarket are only the beginning--blocky shaped bell peppers can ripen to many colors; ivory, pink, purple, red, yellow, orange and chocolate. Sweet peppers come in many shapes as well; the elongated banana, the blocky bell, the oblong or “half-long” bells, flat “cheese” shapes, and smooth cherry types.

Pepper plants are easy to grow, require very little space and are an attractive addition to any garden, yard, or balcony and that is the reason National Garden Bureau chose 2015 as the Year of the Sweet Pepper.

Sweet bell peppers are a cultivar of Capsicum annuum.  Non-pungent banana peppers, sweet jalapenos and sweet cherries are also members of Capsicum annuum. Currently capsicum includes at least 25 species, four of which are domesticated.

Sweet peppers are called sweet because they do not produce capsaicin--a chemical that causes a “burning” sensation when hot peppers are consumed (or when they come in to contact with the eyes or nose etc.). Sweet peppers lack capsaicin due to a recessive form of a gene that eliminates capsaicin and, consequently, the "hot" taste usually associated with the rest of the capsicum genus.

Sweet peppers are actually a fruit (because they come from a flowering plant and contain seeds) but treated and spoken of as a vegetable. Worldwide, each culture has its own preferred shapes, textures colors, flavors and recipes.
A few examples of the plethora of sweet pepper types grown are bells, Bull’s Horn, snacking mini-peppers, half-longs, sweet bananas and sweet jalapenos and sweet habaneros.

“Bell” is a term used in the U.S.A. that refers to sweet peppers with 3-4 lobes. Bell might either refer roughly to the fruit shape or to the pendulous way the fruit hang from the plant. In the U.S. agriculture industry, the 3-4 lobed fruit that are nearly as wide as they are tall are referred to as “blocky” bells and the elongated bell peppers are called “half-long” bells. Bells can be found in many colors including red, yellow, orange, purple, chocolate and ivory.

“Bull’s Horn” peppers are sweet and wide at the shoulder, tapering to a point. They often have thicker walls than the blocky bells and commonly mature to red. They are thought to have been brought to the U.S. from Italy and are also called “Corno di Toro”- which translates to “Horn of the Bull.”

Mini-Snacking peppers have been popular with home gardeners for many years and have gained popularity in U.S. grocery stores in the last 10 years or so. They are blocky, pointed, thin-walled, sweet, and come in bright colors including, yellow and orange. The best snacking peppers are crunchy and have just a few seeds or no seeds at all.

And now we enter the dangerous territory of varieties that can be either sweet or hot. Bananas are long and thin and usually mature from a light green or yellow to red. They are used fresh and pickled as rings. Because there are both sweet and hot banana peppers available, be sure and order the seed or buy the plant you prefer. Sweet jalapenos and habaneros are also available though not as common. They are worth searching out--the flavored revealed by removing the burn is a pleasant surprise for the pepper enthusiast.

How to Grow
Start seeds indoors in a warm spot about 8 weeks before the last frost date. Pepper plants can suffer from transplant shock so plant them in a biodegradable container that can go right into the garden later. Keep the soil warm (at least 75 degrees) and damp. Do not transplant until days are at least 65 degrees and nights are above 55.

In the nursery look for bright green plants with shiny, perky foliage. It is better to buy younger plants that have not yet flowered when possible. Older plants can become stunted and root-bound in the tiny starter containers and will not transplant as well as smaller, younger plants. Plants can sometimes become stressed in some garden centers. Choose a garden center that cares for its plants and waters regularly. Make the nursery your last stop--don’t leave new plants in a hot car or truck bed for any longer than you need to. The best technique is to ready your soil and area in advance in order to get the plants in the ground quickly. Late afternoon planting causes the least amount of stress to young pepper plants giving them a night to adjust before they need to survive the first day of sun.

Peppers like a sunny spot. They grow best in a location where plants from the same family have not recently grown--crop rotation is important for peppers (and tomatoes and eggplants). Soil should be loose and amended with compost or a vegetable soil mix from the garden center. Introduce your seedlings to the garden gradually and transplant during mild weather or in the late afternoon if possible. Transplant shock can slow the maturity of the plant and affect fruit quality and quantity.

If planting in rows set peppers 12-18 inches apart in 24-inch wide beds. If planting in squares or in flowerbeds etc. allow 12-18 inches of space around each plant. Fertilize about every two weeks, especially if you notice the plants become pale. Stop fertilizing once the plant blooms so that it can put its energy into fruit set. Pepper plants prefer full sun, but if you live in a very warm area look for varieties that have “good coverage” of fruit. A full leaf canopy will prevent fruit from sunscald. Scalded fruit, though less attractive, are still edible and taste the same.

Plants will continue to bloom and set fruit until the first frost. If temperatures are above 85 degrees, or very cool, flower set and fruiting may slow down. Keep the plants watered and wait out the weather--they often will rebound if conditions improve. At the end of the season, cut down and remove plants and add mulch or plant a cover crop for the next year.

Common Pepper Problems
Pepper plants are fairly hardy and not as attractive to insects as other vegetables in the garden. To avoid conditions spread by water it is best to keep the leaves as dry as is possible by drip-line watering or giving the plants time to dry in the sun if they are watered from overhead. Pale leaves can indicate that the plants need fertilizer. Big, healthy plants that fail to bloom can indicate over-fertilization. Space plants as instructed by the plant tag or seed packet. Plants that are planted too close will lack air circulation. Proper air circulation improves pollen distribution which is needed for fruit set. Crowded plants are disease prone and do not set as well as those that have been properly spaced. The best way to diagnosis an unknown problem is to take a photo of the area and a close up of the problem and show them to an expert in your area--an extension agent or local nursery employee.

Container Growing
Pepper plants are very attractive. The large glossy leaves and petite white flowers dress up any patio container or flowerbed. Pepper plants grown in containers are often small but usually mature earlier. Each plant should have a 2-gallon or larger container, deeper than it is wide.

A benefit of container growing is that the plant can be introduced to cool nights or warm days gradually to avoid shock. In the spring, bring plants indoors when nighttime temps are below 55 degrees. Introduce the plants to warm days (over 85 degrees) a few hours at a time until they are acclimated to their final location. Once plants are established, water every few days (or when soil is dry and pulling away from the side of the pot. Fully soak the soil and avoid spraying water on the leaves. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer package or add mature compost as flowers are setting. Taper off on fertilizer, especially nitrogen after plants flower. Nitrogen encourages the plant to put its energy into the leaves and not setting fruit.

Sweet peppers can be harvested at any stage of maturity. Less mature green peppers will generally be green or pale yellow, smaller, crunchy, and have thin walls and a slightly tart flavor. A benefit of harvesting early is that it triggers the plants to produce more fruit. Mature peppers will change color, have thicker walls, and a mild sweet flavor.

Fully mature sweet peppers don’t store well so eat them up. Extra peppers can be roasted and peeled and preserved in oil. There is nothing better than the aroma of roasting peppers filling the house on a late summer afternoon. With some simple preparation peppers freeze well. Sweet peppers are a great vessel for cooked fillings or cool dips. Chopped peppers can be added to soups, salads, and omelets.

No matter how they are grown or used in the kitchen, sweet peppers add beauty, variety and health to any garden or home.

Founded in 1920, the National Garden Bureau is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life through increased use of seeds and plants.  

A Few Sweet Pepper Varieties from our Members:
Pepper Aruba                                                       Pepper Aura
Pepper Big Bertha                                                Pepper Bellina
Pepper Black Knight                                            Pepper Crest Yellow
Pepper California Wonder                                    Pepper Big Daddy
Pepper Orange You Sweet                                  Pepper Sweety
Pepper Flavorburst                                               Pepper Rainbow Bell  Mix
Pepper Tasty Orange                                           Pepper Cute Stuff Gold
Pepper Thunderbolt                                              Pepper Orangesicle

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2015 Notable Native of the Year

The Herb Society of America selects a "Notable Native" plant every year. It is so important to honor our native plants many of which are being overrun by invasive plants. So many of our native plants have herbal uses either culinary or medicinal and this years Notable Native is no exception. We always called it "Stonemint" because it often grows in rocky, shale, shallow areas. It makes a very strong minty tea. Another common name is Dittany. Whatever name you call it - it is a great native to know. Below some of the information shared by The Herb Society of America.
Family: Lamiaceae
Latin Name: Cunila origanoides (L.) Britton
Common Names: Common dittany, Maryland dittany, Frost flowers, Fairy skirts, Stonemint

Growth: Perennial subshrub to 18 inches
Hardiness: Zones 5 – 8

Light: Full sun to part shade
Soil: Dry, rocky, shallow
Water: Moderately dry, tolerates drought once established
Use: Traditional medicinal and beverage plant; ornamental
Propagation: Seed, division, spring and summer stem cuttings


The genus name Cunila is from the Greek konilee for marjoram and the species name origanoides is from Origanum, resembling oregano. The common name, dittany, is from the similarities between this plant and Origanum dictamnus, dittany of Crete. O. dictamnus is quite similar in size and appearance, including delicate purple to pinkish flowers and fragrance.

Historically, the plant was used as a stimulant and tonic to act on the nervous system. The Cherokee used the plant as an analgesic for headache, a cold remedy, snakebite remedy, febrifuge and as a gynecological aid to induce menstruation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2015 Herb of the Year - Savory

Winter Savory

Every year since 1995, the International Herb Association has chosen an Herb of the Year™ to highlight. The Herb of the Year™ Program, spearheaded by IHA’s Horticulture Committee, has established Herb of the Year™ selections up to 2020. Long-standing member, Chuck Voigt, who has been involved in the selection process for many years explains, “The Horticultural Committee evaluates possible choices based on them being outstanding in at least two of the three major categories: medicinal, culinary, or decorative.”  
And for 2015 the Herb of the Year is SAVORY.

Summer Savory is an annual herb that has tender leaves. Winter Savory is a perennial herb that is pictured above and has firmer leaves and stems. It grows into a lovely bush like shape and in the summer gets loaded with beautiful white flowers. 

Savory happens to be one of International Herb Association Member  Marge Powell's favorite herbs. Here’s why:
  • It tastes a bit like thyme but is easier to use and dry
  • It is easy to start from cuttings
  • It is one of the Herbs de Provence
  • It has a strong (or pungent) culinary scent
  • It is a beneficial addition to many recipes

Merriam-Webster defines the word “savory” as having a pleasant taste or smell; having a spicy or salty quality without being sweet; or morally good. I do not know the etymology of the name of the word savory, but I doubt it is a coincidence that the dictionary definition describes exactly the types of dishes in which the herb savory would a beneficial addition. However, calling the herb savory “morally good” is quite a stretch unless we drop the “m”.

Makes ½ cup
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried savory
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
Combine all ingredients in a blender process on a low to medium setting for about 10 seconds or until the lavender has been broken down into very small pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Taking Tea at The Hotel Hershey

We spent a snowy afternoon this past weekend in the Fountain Lobby of The Hotel Hershey where they serve Afternoon Tea as part of their month long chocolate themed events for February. As many American hotels are want to do, they called this event a High Tea.
Immediately upon being seated, one of the wait staff placed an Apricot White Chocolate Scone on the small plate while the other hostess poured hot water into our teacup. In the center of the table, there was a plate laden with an assortment of Harney & Sons teabags alongside true clotted cream and raspberry marmalade. We each quickly selected our tea flavors and took a peak at the menu.
As we were enjoying our scone, the plate of tea sandwiches was presented before us. It featured an Egg Salad with White Chocolate and Chives triangle, a Chocolate Chicken Salad with Red Grapes and Pecans on whole wheat bread, Smoked Tenderloin of Beef with Chocolate-Chili Mayonnaise and Smoked Salmon with Sliced Cucumber and White Chocolate Crème Fraiche. The presence of the chocolate in the tea sandwiches was very delicate. It was decided that the white chocolate contributed a smooth flavor to the egg salad although the chives were a predominant flavor. Most of us picked the smoked salmon off the sandwich and ate it as a cucumber sandwich! The least popular at our table was the chicken salad.

 Our tea cups were frequently refilled with hot water, and a second scone was offered.

Once we were done savoring the tea sandwiches, a beautiful plate of pastries was presented to each of us. This featured a Pistachio Macaron, Blueberry Almond Tea Cake, Key Lime Meringue Tartlet, and Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Tartlet with a smear of chocolate fudge on the plate. These were all favorites among us! The almond tea cake had a delicious almond flavoring, the meringue tartlet was almost like marshmallow, the chocolate truffle tartlet was fabulously rich, and the pistachio offered a crisp contrast. Several of us practically licked the chocolate fudge off of the plate.

The boys were away this weekend, so several of us made plans to make it a special Saturday gathering. Unfortunately lousy weather inhibited travel for those coming a distance (we missed you guys), but Kandy was happy to be part of our intrepid tea group.

This beautiful floral arrangement greeted us as we arrived at the hotel. But don't be fooled, Old Man Winter was still wrecking havoc outside when it was time to leave.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Looking Ahead - Traveling Herb Seminars - 2015

One of the most frequent questions we hear is 'where are you going on your bus trips this year?' It's always exciting news when we know the answer to that question! In May, we will travel to New Jersey to explore sculpture gardens and historic homes and savor amazing organic meals. The journey takes place on Wednesday, May 13th. Details - NJ Exploration.

In June we will experience a Pennsylvania Lavender Odyssey tour! We will enjoy the fragrance of lavender the Carousel Lavender Farm, Peace Lavender Farm and Hope Hill Lavender Farm. Each farm a fragrant delight. Details - Pennsylvania Lavender Odyssey tour
And finally, in September we will journey to the Hudson Valley, NY to experience gardens, estates, and a herb festival. This three-day adventure explores West Chester County with a peek into gardens, art, history and spectacular scenery. Join us for this extra special adventure beginning Wednesday September 16 through Friday September 18th. Details - Gardens, Estates & Herbs of the Hudson Valley, NY

                           No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow. ~Proverb

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fat Tuesday - Fastnachts

Once a year, on the Tuesday before Lent, known as Fat Tuesday, traditionally the Pennsylvania Dutch woman would make fastnachts to use up all the fat and lard in the house. Fastnacht is translated from German to mean 'night before the fast'.

Churches in the area and even supermarkets have been making these little fat cakes as fast as they can to meet the demand for this heavily fried delicious little doughnut like staple. You can find them plain, sugared, or dusted with confectioner's sugar. Here in Central PA, we are fortunate to be the recipients of some homemade fastnachts shared with us by family friends.
You can find many recipes on the Internet, made with either baking powder or mashed potatoes. Follow this Wikipedia link to find a few variations on the traditional recipe. However you enjoy your fastnachts, we suggest a piping hot mug of tea to accompany this special once-a-year treat.
Special thanks to Matt H. for sharing his recipe with us: (and an even bigger thanks for sharing the already deep fried fastnachts with us this morning!)
2½ cups hot mashed potatoes
1 cup milk
3 beaten eggs
2 Tablespoons melted butter
2 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons baking powder (I used King Arthur self rising flour and omitted the baking powder)
5 cups flour

Mix everything together except flour. Mix flour in slowly (one cup or so at a time).
Divide the dough in half or thirds. Roll to 1/4 to ½ inch thick. Cut with a donut cutter or use a knife to cut into triangular shaped pieces. Deep fry in hot fat or oil (between 325 and 350 degrees--use a thermometer-- keep a lid for the pan handy in case it catches fire, and keep water far away from hot oil) until done.
Coat with powdered sugar, if desired, by shaking in a paper bag filled with a generous amount of confectioners sugar.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day Tea - 2015

Happy Valentine's Day! We welcomed many guests to the tea room on Friday and Saturday to celebrate love and friendship with our very special Valentine's Day tea. Once everyone was served their choice of piping hot tea, the Afternoon Tea began.
The first course featured a Sweet & Sassy Salad topped with I Love You Berry Berry Much Fresh Raspberries and Blueberries, Feta Cheese, and Love's Me, Love's Me Not Poppy Seed Dressing. Delicate little heart candies garnished the salad plate.
 The sandwich plate featured an assortment of six finger sandwiches, many either heart shaped or shades of red. Starting at the top of the plate was Cozy Rosy Raspberry Brie Phyllo Cups, Be My Valentine! Parmesan Cheese Toasts, My True Love's Sliced Chicken Sandwich, Kiss Me Quick Roast Beef and Savory Tomato Muffin, Be mine! Strawberry Bruschetta, and Heart's Delight Red Pepper Pinwheels.

The scone course included fresh from the oven Love Me Tender English Cream Scones, Forever Yours Cranberry Scones served with Hugs & Kisses Cranberry Mascarpone Topped Strawberry, Cara Cara Oranges, and Star Fruit. The toppings for the scones were Sweet Cream, Strawberry Butter and Jelly.

And for dessert, Chocolate Lover's Raspberry Cake, Cupid's Coconut Ruffles, and Sweetheart Sugar Cookies.
Such a fun celebration in the middle of a very cold long winter!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Burg

The Burg, as in Harrisburg, PA is a free publication with emphasis on the community, the people and the businesses that comprise the area. This monthly magazine  shares a multitude of stories covering such topics as dining, culture, happenings and new businesses.
It just so happens that the February issue of this take-away publication featured an article on possible locations to step back in time and celebrate A Victorian Valentine's. And, Sweet Remembrances was included as a romantic way to begin your Valentine's day weekend.

Tea for Two! Perfect! If you'd like to take a peek at the write-up authored by Don Helin, follow this link to the online article.

Mr. Helin authored "Thy Kingdom Come", a thriller, in 2009. His most recent novel, "Devil's Den," has been selected as a finalist in the Indie Book Awards while his latest thriller, "Secret Assault" was published this past November.
And the tables are set in anticipation of our Valentine's Day tea.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Bosie Tea Parlor, NYC

Situated in the West Village around the corner from bustling Bleeker Street is Bosie Tea Parlor at 10 Morton Street. This cozy tea parlor (café & wine bar) was established in 2010, and offers lunch, dinner, Afternoon Tea, and weekend brunch. When we arrived, the tea room was filled, but we walked around the Village until they called us when a table became available.

 They boast a selection of over 100 teas stored in these golden tins shelved behind the counter and also lining the walls around the tea parlor. Difficult to select from such a variety, the Rosemary Caramel Oolong 'spoke to me' since it is a flavor I have not sampled. Although I typically select a plain black tea, this was the opportunity to taste a unique combination of flavors that included rosemary and lavender.

The tea offered a nice blend of flavors although the rosemary was the prominent flavor with caramel undertones. The lavender was ever so subtle.

Having studied the menu options on the website before we arrived, we knew we wanted the Afternoon Tea menu. Sugar crusted triangular vanilla scones were on the top tier with Devon cream and raspberry preserves. The middle tier held an assortment of Chef's choice petite tea breads, chocolate, lemon, matcha, and orange along with macarons. The macarons are a specialty of the house, and you select the flavors you prefer. The sandwiches are on the bottom tier, and again, you select three flavors from this delectable assortment: Farmer’s Egg Salad with thyme blossoms on whole wheat, Cucumber with cream cheese and dill on white, Chicken Breast with golden raisins and curried mayonnaise on multi-grain, Cheddar Cheese and Branston pickle on whole wheat, Smoked Salmon with red onion, lemon zest and cream cheese on pumpernickel. You receive two triangular sandwiches of each of the three flavors selected.
All the tables and stools at the bar were filled while we were there so there was a definite hustle and bustle for the staff. Bosie Tea parlor boasts an 'atmosphere of serenity and just enough energy'. Along with the tasty afternoon tea, we enjoyed both the serenity and the energy as we savored our time here.