Saturday, September 10, 2016

18th Century Cooking with Jas. Townsend and Son

My son was doing some research online and came across this series of videos. He started watching them and got hooked. They really are that good!

He sent some of the links to me and now I've watched a lot of them, too. I think they are perfect for Outlander Plant fans to watch before the launch of Season 3. We know that in the next season, based on the book Voyager, Claire and Jamie leave Scotland and head to the New World. These videos give us a wee bit of insight into what life will be like when they get there. Enjoy!

Claire and Jamie likely ate their share of bisket on the voyage to North America.

Did you know that haggis is a pudding? I didn't, either.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Cascara Might Not Kill You, But...

Photo by Jesse Taylor, taken at Evergreen State College Longhouse Ethnobotanical Garden
"Poison for a rival," he said. "or at least she thinks so.""Oh?" I said. "And what is it really? Bitter cascara?"He looked at me in pleased surprise. "You're very good at this," he said. "A natural talent, or were you taught? Well, no matter." He waved a broad palm, dismissing the matter. "Yes, that's right, cascara. The rival will fall sick tomorrow, suffer visibly in order to satisfy the Vicomtesse's desire for revenge and convince her that her purchase was a good one, and then she will recover, with no permanent harm done, and the Vicomtesse will attribute the recovery to the intervention of the priest or a counter spell done by a sorcerer employed by the victim."--  From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon
You may remember this exchange between Master Raymond and Claire at his apothecary shop, in which he explains his clever solution for the problem of what to do when powerful people asked him for poison to use on their enemies. Rather than say "no," and risk the wrath of the Vicomtesse, he gave her cascara, a highly effective laxative. Depending on the dose, the intended victim probably wished she was dead once the drug took hold!

In the TV series, this exchange between Master Raymond and Claire takes place in episode three. In episode four, "Le Dame Blanche", Claire experiences first hand what "poisoning" with bitter cascara is like. She becomes violently ill during a dinner party and Jamie has to carry her upstairs to bed. She realizes that someone put cascara into her drink because she recalls the bitter taste. This is particularly troubling because she is pregnant and cathartics like cascara can induce labor or, in her case, miscarriage.

Fortunately, she recovers and the baby is OK. But we are left to wonder who was trying to poison her - was it Le Comte St. Germain? When she tells Raymond about this later he says he sold only one dose and that was to a servant boy he didn't recognize. The plot thickens.

Botanical Information

Family: Rhamnaceae
Genus: Rhamnus
Species:  Rhamnus purshiana
Common names: Cascara sagrada (which means "sacred bark" in Spanish), bitter cascara, chittem or chitticum bark

Cascara is a shrub or small tree native to the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada, from northern California into southern British Columbia, and east to the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Montana. It is often found growing in the  forest understory, beneath big leaf maples and alongside alders and osier dogwoods.

Medicinal Uses

Cascara bark was used as a laxative for centuries by Native American tribes. The bark was collected in spring and put into the shade to dry. Green bark would cause vomiting and severe diarrhea, so the aging process, taking at least a year, was an important part of preparation.

Cascara found its way to Europe by way of the Spanish conquistadores who explored the Pacific Northwest in the 1600s. They gave it the name Cascara Sagrada, or sacred bark, because of its efficacy.

According to Wikipedia, "By 1877 the U.S. pharmaceutical company Parke-Davis was producing cascara preparations, and soon afterwards cascara products were being exported overseas to European markets. The explosion of the cascara industry caused great damage to native cascara populations during the 1900s, as a result of overharvesting.[15]"

Cascara was the principal ingredient in over the counter laxatives in the US until May of 2002, 
when the FDA banned its use. Studies at the time appeared to show that cascara is carcinogenic.  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Vive Le New French Version of the Outlander Theme Song

By now, most Outlander fans know the theme song for Outlander by heart. Bear McCreary's adaptation of the Scottish folksong, The Skye Boat Song, has become a classic.

With the opening of Season 2, however, the story moves to France - and McCreary has moved the theme song along with it. Here is Raya Yarbrough (Bear's wife, by the way) singing the new version.  McCreary is accompanying her on the accordion and Noah Hoffeld is on cello.

The French lyrics are below the video. Enjoy!

Chante-moi l'histoire D'une fille d'autrefois S'agirait-il de moi? L'ame légère Elle prit un jour la mer

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Kitchen and Love Gardens at Chateau Villandry

You're not in Scotland anymore, Outlander Plant lovers! 

Just look at this magnificent kitchen garden.  I can't imagine what Mrs. Fitz, the thrifty and efficient head housekeeper of Castle Leoch, would have said about a "working" garden this elaborate.

Suffice it to say that they do things differently in France.

Located in the Loire Valley, about a 3 hour drive southwest of Paris, you'll find Le Chateau Villandry, one of the last great Renaissance chateaux built on the Loire River. The chateau itself is not that impressive, compared to others from the era like Chenenceau and Chambord. The main reason to visit Villandry is to see the gardens. The gardens I most appreciated were the kitchen and the love gardens.

The kitchen garden, which you see above, is divided into individual rectangular beds, each bordered with tightly clipped boxwood hedges. The vegetable planting scheme is designed to alternate color and texture to give the impression of a living chess board. 

You'll see blue-grey leeks; lacy, pale green carrot tops; almost black dino kale; purple cabbage; red-veined beet leaves; arching artichoke branches; orange pumpkins and red peppers - all arranged as a work of art.  Adjacent to the kitchen garden is an herb garden containing around 30 different species noted for their medicinal or aromatic qualities.  I can see Claire strolling through these garden beds, reveling in the abundance of herbs and fresh produce.

Tree roses punctuate the beds, adding height and color. The perimeter of the garden is lined with colorful flower beds and bordered with espaliered apple and pear trees.  Grapes are trained along the arbor above the stone walls. Even in fall, when most vegetable gardens are looking tired and unkept, the kitchen garden at Villandry is beautiful.

The Gardens of Love are another special feature at Villandry. 

Best viewed from the chateau balcony, separate parterres represent four aspects of love:  Tender Love (upper left corner), Tragic Love (lower left corner), Passionate Love (upper right corner) and Fickle Love (lower right corner).  

Tender love is shown with perfect heart shapes, separated by red "flames" of love. The boxwoods in the tragic love quadrant are pruned to take the shapes of swords and daggers; the red flowers are the blood shed by men fighting over women. The hearts in the passionate love parterre are split open by the intensity of love. The fickle love garden has horn shapes and fans to indicate flirtation. Although not the case in this photo, the flower color in the fickle love garden is usually yellow, the color that symbolizes betrayal. 

Here is a view of the Tender Love garden with the Kitchen Garden in the background on the right. The clipped, upright evergreens that look like chess pieces are yews.

Today the chateau is undergoing renovation, its rooms reflecting the French art of living in the 18th Century. The kitchen garden is transitioning to becoming entirely organic and the produce from the garden is used in the preparation of food served in the chateau restaurant. So if you want to get a wee taste of what a grand French castle was like when Claire and Jamie were there, I highly recommend a visit. For more information about the Chateau and gardens, visit their website

Related Posts:

September in Monet's Garden

Le Jardin Luxembourg - Paris

Les Jardins de France

Sunday, March 20, 2016

September in Monet's Garden

The famed impressionist painter, Claude Monet, made his home in Giverny, France, from 1883 until his death 43 years later. During those years, he built the gardens around his farmhouse, constantly reworking parts of them to create the beautiful landscapes that became the subjects of his paintings. Working with plants allowed him to experiment with colors and textures in various combinations. He created a Japanese garden because he was fascinated with Asian art. He found a way to divert water from a nearby river to fill a pond where he grew aquatic plants, most notably his famous water lilies.

The garden in September has a different color palette than is found there in spring, or in summer, when the water lilies are in full bloom. But there is a quality to the light in early autumn that casts everything in a certain glow that is quite special.

The green foot bridge so familiar from Monet's paintings is almost lost in the abundance of weeping willow foliage as you look across the pond.

Here's the view as you walk across the bridge.

From the bridge, you look down onto the water lilies, a few still blooming here and there. Monet's series of water lily paintings are perhaps some of the best known of his works. 

Fall blooms include roses, dahlias and trailing nasturtiums that flow onto the walking path. 

A sure sign of fall is the reddish tinge on the Parthenocissis vine 
that grows on the walls of the house. 

For more information about Monet's Garden, including travel information, visit the garden website.

Related posts:

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Le Jardin Luxembourg - Paris

In 1613, Marie de Medici began building her "dream home," a palace in Paris in the style of Pitti Palace in Florence, the city where she grew up. The result is what you see today, the Petit Luxembourg Palace, located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris.

A grand home should, of course, have a grand garden. So Marie bought land to expand the Luxembourg Garden from around 20 acres to just over 74. She planted 2,000 elm trees for a start. Then she hired garden designer, Jacques Boyceau, an early proponent of the formal "jardin a la francaise" style. He laid out the garden in a series of parterres and fountains, following on work he did during the development of the gardens at Versailles and Tullieres. Some of of those features are still part of the garden today.

Sadly, after Marie passed on, the gardens fell into disrepair. After generations of neglect, a renewed interest in the garden was sparked in the late 1780s and restoration efforts began. The gardens now belong to the French Senate and are open daily to the public from early morning until dusk.

Today, the Luxembourg Garden is a popular place for Parisians to relax. Here locals are enjoying their workday lunch break. If this looks more leisurely than what we're used to in the US, it's because it is. Lunchtime in France is sacred. The entire country takes a two hour break from noon until 2 p.m., and during that time everything is closed, except for food service establishments. The French believe le dejeuner is the most important meal of the day, one to be eaten slowly and followed by either a quick nap or some leisurely activity.

Statuary abounds in this garden; over 100 statues, monuments and fountains can be found here. 

From the garden, you can see the Pantheon (above in the distance), the famous mausoleum where French national heroes are buried. These include Voltaire, Rousseau, Emile Zola, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie and many more.

I was struck by the fact that none of the chairs in the garden were secured - in the US, you'd either bring your own chair or the ones provided would be chained to a post.

Although the Luxembourg Garden is not mentioned in the Outlander books, it has played a role in various works of fiction, such as: Victor Hugo's Les Miserables and William Faulkner's Sanctuary.

I leave you with this final image - which could be a fitting illustration for this quote from the Parisian film maker, Claude Chabrol: "You have to accept that sometimes you are the pigeon, and sometimes you are the statue."

Related post:

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Les Jardins de France

Season Two of Outlander is going to look very different from Season One. The story moves from the  wild, mystical scenery in the Scottish Highlands to urban French landscapes with carefully designed and groomed gardens.

I've been going through photos I took on a trip I made to northern France some years ago, thinking that as we wait for the new season to begin, it might be fun to share my photos of French gardens. Perhaps they will give you an idea of what we might see in Season Two. This and the next few posts will feature some of my favorites.

These are the gardens of Bourges Cathedral, located in the city of Bourges, at the edge of the Loire Valley. The cathedral was completed in 1230 and features double flying buttresses, like those of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The gardens surrounding the cathedral are formal and beautifully maintained. 

Here's a close up of one of the planting beds.

This photo was taken in late September, when color in most gardens is winding down. But not here!

Not far from Bourges, about 190 miles southwest of Paris, is the city of Angers. Its strategic defensive location was first recognized by the ancient Romans, who built a fortress there. The fortress was replaced by the Chateau d'Angers, a castle built in the 9th and early 13th centuries. Over the centuries the castle passed through the hands of many powerful people including the Plantagenet Kings of England, King Louis IX (referred to as St. Louis) and members of the Medici family. 

Today the Castle is a museum, operated by the city of Bourges. The moat, once filled with water to protect the castle from invaders, is now filled with elaborate gardens, like the one below.

I'll close this post with one more favorite memory - the garden at Clos Luce, the home of Leonardo da Vinci in his final years. Clos Luce is a small chateau in the city of Amboise. It came as a complete surprise to me that da Vinci died in France; I thought he spent his last days in Italy. I was also surprised to see that the Chateau is home to an impressive collection of exhibits that illustrate da Vinci's many inventions - the same collection I'd seen a few years earlier in Victoria, BC!

This is a view from one of the upstairs windows, looking out toward the gift shop. I'm sure the view was quite different in Leonardo's day - none of these plants are that old. But it was nice to stand there and think that perhaps he looked out that same window onto a similar garden long ago. 

In future posts, I'll take you on a tour of Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, show you some of Monet's waterlilies and introduce you to the most awesome kitchen garden you've ever seen! Stay tuned. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Juniper: The Clan Badge of the Murrays

Berries on a Hollywood juniper,
Juniperous chinensis 'Torulosa'
"The Corporal went away and I sat by myself, eating scorched potatoes and stringy beef. I'd found a late patch of charlock near the stream, leaves wilting and brown around the edges, and had brought back a handful in my pocket, along with a few juniper berries picked during a stop earlier in the day. The mustard leaves were old and very bitter, but I managed to get them down by wodging them between bites of potato. I finished the meal with the juniper berries, biting each one briefly to avoid choking and then swallowing the tough, flattened berry, seed and all. The oily burst of flavor sent fumes up the back of my throat that made my eyes water, but they did cleanse my tongue of the taste of grease and scorch, and would, with the charlock leaves, maybe be sufficient to ward off scurvy." 
-- DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 33, "In Which Quite A Lot of Things Gang Agley" 
This is the most unappetizing passage I can think of from the OUTLANDER books. Having cleared more than my share of overgrown junipers from neglected landscapes and suffered prickly skin rashes from contact with their leaves, I cannot imagine thinking that eating the berries would be a good idea. However, people have and apparently do - see the Medicinal Uses section below.

As far as I am concerned, the Murray clan has found a better use for the plant. They use juniper (in Gaelic, it is called Aitionn) as their clan badge. Men attach sprigs of it to their caps; women fasten bits of the foliage to their sashes at the shoulder.

As you may know, the berries are used to flavor gin, a practice that is believed to have originated in Holland. The name of the drink is short for the Dutch word for juniper - "genever." However, I've discovered some bad news for fans of gin and tonic in Scotland and England. A fungal disease, phytopthora austrocedreae, has infected nearly 80% of existing junipers in the UK, causing people there to wonder if they may be facing a gin shortage. 

Botanical Information

Family: Cupressaceae
Genus: Juniperus
Species: There are many! By some counts over 60 different species grow in the Northern Hemisphere. Here is a list.
Common Name:  Juniper is the name used generally, but individual species have their own names. For examples, Juniperous chinensis is called Chinese juniper; Juniperous conferta, Shore juniper; Juniperous virginiana, Eastern juniper or Eastern Redcedar (this is the so-called cedar used in drawers to repel moths).

Medicinal Uses

According to Ellen Evert Hopman, writing in A Druid's Herbal, juniper is "primarily a diuretic, the berries help digestive problems, gastrointestinal inflammations, and rheumatism."

During the Thirty Years War, gin, called "Dutch Courage" - was given to English soldiers before battle to calm them.

The popular drink, gin and tonic, had its origins as a sort of medicine in tropical British colonies. Tonic water in those days contained quinine, the only effective anti-malarial compound available at the time. Gin was added to the tonic water to mask the bitter taste of the quinine.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Getting Ready for Season Two

I had hoped that Starz would start the new year by giving us a definite date for the premiere of Season 2 of Outlander. But I haven't been able to find anything more definitive on their website than "coming in Spring 2016." Rumors on social media predict the series to air starting in April, but who knows? For now, I suppose we'll have to be content to wait and see.

While we wait, I've been preparing. I re-read DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, partly to become refamiliar with the part of the story that takes place there. Since I've read all 8 in the Outlander series, sometimes I have trouble remembering where the story leaves of at the end of each one. The main reason to reread DIA, though, was to take note of plants mentioned in the book so I could create a fresh crop of blog posts.

Unlike OUTLANDER, DIA doesn't have many mentions of plant material. The story, as you know, changes considerably in its focus. However, I have a few ideas and a couple of posts started, so rest assured that there will be Outlander Plants for Season 2. In fact, there are already a couple of DIA plant posts that I published earlier, which you can find here. 

As we wait for the new season, I have a question for you, Dear Readers. Are there plants you are curious about that you'd like to see featured here? If so, please let me know in the comments.

Thank you and Happy New Year!