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The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene

July 9, 2014

From the Garden: Fibers, Lumpers & Elecampane

Flax fibers

Flax fibers

The flax has been judged sufficiently retted by the free separation of the fiber from the stem when broken.  The bundles of flax have now been taken out of the water vat and laid once again against a fence to dry. Within the week it should be ready for breaking which we will speak of in our next conversation.

The potato foliage has withered and turned brown which is the indication that they are ready for digging. The potato we grow is known as the ‘Lumper’ which was the potato of the infamous Irish Potato Famine and perhaps the oldest variety still in cultivation. It is a small potato by modern standards with a light yellowish flesh but is quite good when used as a new potato.

Lumper potatoes

Lumper potatoes

The potato reached England late in the sixteenth century, but it took over one hundred years to become common at the English table. In 1629 John Parkinson regarded it as “not altogether so pleasant” in comparison to the sweet potato. In 1708 John Mortimer observed, “The root is very near the nature of the Jerusalem artichoke, although not so good and wholesome, but it may prove good to swine.”

Elecampane

Elecampane

However, twenty years later the English had so enthusiastically embraced this versatile root that Batty Langley was able to write, “To describe Potatoes would be a needless Work, seeing that they are they are now very well known by most (if not every) Person in England.”

In the herb garden the Elecampane has come to flower. This is a large, coarse herb of ancient usage. The Roman Pliny affirmed that the root “being chewed fasting, doth fasten the teeth,” and Galen observed that “It is good for passions of the hucklebone called sciatica.” It is used by housewives in Williamsburg for pulmonary complaints such as an old cough or a shortness of breath. Mr. Tennet claims in A Poor Planters Physician that it is a sovereign remedy for the whooping cough which is so perilous to our children.

Here’s an altogether pleasant recipe for Potatoe Balls from our Foodways blog. Both the 18th century and 21st century preparation methods are described.

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  1. Thank you for the conversation on flax, Wesley. I hope you give us a glimpse of how it becomes linen that’s ready for weaving. Best


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