Harriet Skinner’s Food Blog

Harriet Skinner

Early in the Spring, when the snow which has prevailed upon the earth and covered every green thing for a hundred days or more, begins to abate, a little olive leaf of promise appears in the fields, here and there, called Winter Cress, or Belle Isle Cress, or more vulgarly, scurvy cress*. It has long been known as a medicinal plant, but the use of it as greens could be patented, we imagine, by the O. C.  It is better than spinach or dandelions, besides being much earlier; and so many people have a longing for some such relish in the Spring, we count ourselves as benefactors of the race in revealing our discovery and giving directions how to prepare the dish. (Coming soon in O.C. Recipes )

Perhaps we should give the botanical name to ensure the identification of this plant, Barbarea praecox. The taste of the leaves uncooked is bitter.

*Scurvy Grass ~ (Barbarea praecox)  A biennial herb growing 4-12 inches high.  Its curving or upright stems bear fleshy, dark green, long-stalked leaves that are oval to heart-shaped.  Small white flowers of scurvy grass (June-August) with four petals that form a cross are borne in terminal clusters.  A plant of the seashore and salt marsh, scurvy grass proved a good friend to seafarers. In the old days, scurvy – a devastating disease caused by a prolonged deficiency of vitamin C – was a scourge of sailors, who might pass months at sea without fresh fruits or vegetables.  But if a captain stowed a supply of scurvy grass, as the 18th-century English explorer Capt. James Cook did, the sailors were safe, for the herb is rich in that vital nutrient.  Perhaps because scurvy grass flourishes in salty soils, some herbalists thought scurvy grass would dissolve the “salts” of gout and rheumatism.  Because it contains tannin, scurvy grass is astringent and can be used to stanch a nosebleed or other bleeding wound.  The plant has also been classified as a diuretic, recommended for use in the treatment of kidney stones and dropsy (edema, or accumulation of fluids in the body).  Herbalists claim, too, that the juice and leaves clear up skin blemishes.  Wild-food enthusiasts use the young leaves and stems of scurvy grass as salad greens and a potherb, comparing the taste to that of the plant’s relatives watercress and horseradish.  From Herbs2000.com 


Pears are as common as apples through the fall, but it is a poor pear that can be improved by any cooking.


Soft water is much to be preferred for all purposes of cooking.  Our spring-water is hard, and we use filtered cistern-water, which indeed is supposed to be the best of any as it is free from all organic impurities.


Men say that women never measure. Mr. A. thinks that cooking could be reduced to mathematics. . . . we are afraid it is because instinct and experience are such an art and are more reliable than figures.


Visitors to the O. C. praise the dinners.  Sometimes when parties first sit down and see no meat, they demur, and doubt whether anything can compensate for the absence of roast meats and broiled chicken; but after eating they are pleased to assure us that they missed nothing, that the bread and the vegetables and the fruits were so nice they did not want any meat.  It is not the rustics simply that enjoy our meals, but the gentle folk from the city are particularly delighted with them, and the attendants at the table are often embarrassed with what is said about the deliciousness of the food.


Three things are necessary in making good bread: 1st, good flour; 2nd, thorough mixing, kneading and molding; 3rd, care to make the dough as soft as possible, and yet be capable of molding.


Buy a barrel of indifferent flour, and what you gain in price will be lost in waste before it is used up, not to say anything about the superior wholesomeness and attractiveness of the good material.


O. C. cooking without the bread would be like the play of Hamlet with the part of Hamlet left out.


Season to taste,” appears to be a very favorite rule.  But truth to say, amateurs at the range must have intuition as well as rules because the ingredients are so liable to differ.


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