Archive for the ‘Food and Beverage Plants’ Category

Friday, July 31, 2009

Immortal Fruit

Punica granatum 'Nana' Detail from the Unicorn Tapestry showing a pomegranate Punica granatum

Above, from left to right: A potted dwarf pomegranate flowering and fruiting now; a detail of a pomegranate tree depicted in The Unicorn Is Attacked; a full-sized pomegranate ripening on a tree set in the ground in Bonnefont Garden. Pomegranates are deciduous; the leaves turn a bright yellow before falling in October. By the Middle Ages, the exotic eastern fruit had long been cultivated in southern Europe. Although it is not cold-hardy, pomegranate has been grown in the gardens of The Cloisters from their beginnings.

I went down into the nut orchard,
to look at the blossoms of the
valley,
To see whether the vines had budded,
whether the pomegranates were
in bloom.
Before I was aware, my fancy set me
in a chariot beside my prince.

Song of Solomon 6:11 and 12 (Revised Standard Version)

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chicory and Chicory

Cichorium intybus

The succory, or wild chicory (Cichorium intybus), grown in the kitchen bed in Bonnefont Garden blooms a deep sky-blue in the morning, fading to a pale blue by the end of the day. Photograph by Barbara Bell.

Two species of chicory are flourishing in the kitchen bed in Bonnefont Garden: Cichorium intybus and Cichorium endivia. The many deep-blue flowers that open for a day are a glorious sight in the morning sun, although the color fades in the heat and light of the afternoon. Read more »

Monday, July 6, 2009

Gaining Grain

July page from the <em>Belles Heures</em> July Activity: Reaping Grain The Zodiacal Sign of Leo

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for July from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409. Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Leo. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

“No tempest, good Julie,” said Thomas Tusser. In Tusser’s sixteenth-century English, “July” rhymed with “truly”—as it did until the mid-eighteenth century. (The Oxford Companion to the Year, 1999). If the midsummer storms did not spoil the crops, the farmer could count himself lucky. (For charms against bad weather, see “Midsomer Magick,” June 23.)

The great event of the medieval summer was the harvest. A poor yield meant privation for the whole cycle of the year to come. By July the grain stores of the last harvest were depleted. In the great fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman, Piers speaks of staving off hunger with a vegetable diet of parsley, leeks, and cabbages, supplemented with a little cream and some cheese, until the grain in his barn can be replenished at Lammas, the first of August. Read more »

Friday, March 13, 2009

Grapevines at The Cloisters

Grapevines in the courtyard of The Cloisters Pruning the grapevines in the courtyard Emerging leaf on the Concord grape

Above, from left to right: Grapevines have long been trained against the south-facing wall of the courtyard; Kevin Wiecks prunes last year’s growth back to a few dormant buds; the pink of the new foliage is transitory but beautiful.

Wine and wine grapes were of great economic and symbolic importance in the Middle Ages. Vineyards were associated both with royal and noble estates and with monasteries. Medieval wines were drunk new, and spiced wines, or piments, were also enjoyed. Wine was not only a beverage but a medicament, and the Tacuinum Sanitatis recommends grapes as a purifying and nourishing food. Read more »

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rosemary in Winter (Continued): Dealing with Powdery Mildew

Rosemary Stems

Above: A closer look at rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).

Most people who try to overwinter rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) inside are familiar with powdery mildew, Erysiphe sp. Similar to the whitefly I discussed in the earlier post, this fungus is favored by the indoor conditions that are typically provided in attempt to overwinter rosemary. Read more »

Friday, January 30, 2009

Rosemary in Winter

Rosemary in Cuxa Cloister Rosemary in flower

Left: Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) in the arcade of Cuxa Cloister; right: a rosemary plant in flower.

Although rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is one of the most popular plants at The Cloisters for its great ornamental value and colorful history, this plant does have its problems, which become especially evident when we bring it indoors during the winter months. Read more »

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Palm

Potted Date Palm in Saint-Guilhem Cloister Detail from The Start of the Hunt A capital in Cuxa Cloister

Above, from left to right: young date palm growing in a pot in Saint-Guilhem Cloister; a juvenile date palm represented in the northern European landscape of The Start of the Hunt; a date palm flanked by lions in a column capital in Cuxa Cloister.

A plant of ancient cultivation, grown for some five thousand years and with an equally long presence in art and architecture, the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was and is both economically and symbolically important. Date palms have provided an important food, an intoxicating liquor, a sweetener, and a building material. Identified in the ancient Near East with the Tree of Life, the palm has both religious and artistic significance in Jewish, Islamic, and Christian tradition as a symbol of grace, elegance, victory, wealth, and fecundity and is frequently associated with Paradise in medieval and Renaissance art and literature. There are forty-two Biblical references to the date palm (Moldenke and Moldenke, Plants of the Bible, 1952). An emblem of victory in Greco-Roman tradition, the palm was adopted as one of the earliest and most important plant symbols in the Christian Church, and was an emblem of the martyred saints in their victory over sin and death. Read more »

Friday, November 14, 2008

Rotten-ripe: The Medlar Goes Soft

medlar fruit The medlar tree in a detail from the tapestry <em>The Unicorn is Found</em>

Left: Medlar in fruit below the west wall of Bonnefont Cloister Garden; right: a medlar tree in a detail from the tapestry The Unicorn is Found. Learn more about the Unicorn tapestries.

Well into November, long after other autumnal fruits have fallen to the ground, the small greenish-brown fruits of the medlar tree (Mespilus germanica) cling to its crooked boughs. The fruit is not harvested until the leaves fall, when the medlars can be easily plucked, although they are still too hard and acerbic to be eaten out of hand. Experts differ as to whether exposure to a few degrees of frost, which does the fruit no harm, is important to the long ripening process to come. Once gathered, the fruits are placed stem-side down in straw and stored in a cool, dark place for several weeks until they are rotten-ripe and the pulp has turned into a delicious mush—a process known as bletting. (Lee Reich, Uncommon Fruits Worthy of Attention, 1992).  Read more »

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Golden Quince

Ripe quinces in late October

Above: Ripe quinces in late October.

The famous quince trees that grace the four beds at the center of the Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden have grown there since the early 1950s. Although the trees are showing their age, they still bear a heavy crop—so heavy that it is necessary to thin the fruits in late summer and to prop up the aging boughs to help them to bear the weight of the fruit. The quinces are not harvested; the fruits are picked up as they fall. Read more »

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Fragrant Family of Fennel

Anise (<i>Pimpinella anisum</i>) in flower, Bonnefont Herb Garden Anise (<i>Pimpinella anisum</i>) in seed

Left: Anise (Pimpinella anisum) in flower, Bonnefont Herb Garden; right: Anise (Pimpinella anisum) in seed, Bonnefont Herb Garden.

Representatives of the Apiaceae family are scattered throughout all of the gardens at The Cloisters, but they are most prominent in the culinary beds of Bonnefont Herb Garden. These plants are greatly exploited for their distinct fragrances and tastes. The essential oils, created from a fairly large group of chemical constituents within the plants, are responsible for the incredibly flavorful and aromatic properties of this family. In addition, these properties help to ensure the survival of plants in this family by attracting pollinators to the flowers. Read more »