Posts tagged ‘Victory Garden’

Dishing up New Orleans Food History

This evening marks the end of the delicious—and educational—2014 FOOD in the Garden programming in the Victory Garden. This fall we explored a different key maritime region with connections to the War of 1812 each week: the Long Island Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and this week, New Orleans. What contributed to the global and unique cuisine of the Big Easy? How did immigrants shape the culinary heritage of the original foodie city? Our final week we’ll be joined by Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company, Capital City Co., and Phillip Greene in the marketplace and our very own James Gagliardi will be signing copies of Encyclopedia of Garden Plants for Every Location, the first Smithsonian Gardens book on gardening.

'Carolina Gold' rice growing in the Victory Garden

‘Carolina Gold’ rice growing in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History.

New Orleans conjures up images of ornate cast-iron railings, boisterous brass bands, and of course, red beans and rice. The cuisine of New Orleans is a true melting pot of flavors and cultures, a product of its unique location on a major waterway and its tumultuous and storied past. Jambalaya, beignets, and chicory coffee are the confluence of hundreds of years of cross-cultural connections and shared meals steeped in French, Spanish, Caribbean, American Indian, and African traditions.

The archetypal New Orleans meal (in this author’s non-scientific, Yankee opinion) is red beans and rice. Like much of the city’s cuisine, there is debate over the origins of this nutritious & delicious one-pot dish. Precursors of the dish can be found in Spanish, Haitian, Caribbean, and African cuisine. No matter the origins, each chef has their own idea of the “perfect” recipe for Monday dinner, the traditional day to dish up this classic. Before washing machines, Monday was customarily the day to spend hours scrubbing the family clothes. Because this was an all-day process a pot of beans with a ham bone and some vegetables was set to simmer for an easy meal after a busy and sudsy day. Dishes that originated in the working class and slave communities migrated to the elegant tables of the French Quarter and into the city’s lexicon of flavor via hardworking and innovative cooks utilizing a truly global arsenal of ingredients. From the tables of stately homes to mom-and-pop joints, you’ll find this king of dishes on the menu in Louisiana homes and restaurants today.

Rice, like the apples featured on the blog last week, is a species introduced from afar but an American dietary staple through and through. The history of rice in the United States cannot be untangled from our dark history of slavery. More and more scholars argue for a West African introduction of rice cultivation techniques to the Americas, with rice being transported over the treacherous Middle Passage and grown by enslaved Africans in their small garden plots. This year we’re growing ‘Carolina Gold’ rice in the Victory Garden. It was a successful plantation crop in the Carolina Lowcountry, its sweet and clean taste complementing delicate fish stews. However, ‘Carolina Gold’ was too finicky a crop to keep up with the mechanical, modern world and was almost lost to extinction. The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation and a small group of rice farmers are leading the charge to put this historic rice back on the table.

New Orleans native Louis Armstrong considered red beans and rice to be his favorite dish among many favorite dishes. He loved red beans and rice so much he often signed off on letters with “Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Louis Armstrong.” Not able to join us at FOOD in the Garden this evening? Whip up a pot of this New Orleans favorite with this recipe for red beans and rice from Armstrong and his wife Lucille, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum and NPR.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

September 25, 2014 at 4:32 pm Leave a comment

The ‘Long Island Cheese’ Pumpkin

This month we are collaborating with the National Museum of American History to present the second annual FOOD in the Garden evening series. Every Thursday in September we will explore one of four key maritime regions with connections to the War of 1812: the Long Island Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and New Orleans. Join us tomorrow for a relaxed evening in the Victory Garden & enjoy fresh food and cocktails as we discuss the foodways and waterways of the Long Island Sound. Every week we’ll highlight a different plant from the Victory Garden with ties to the past and present agricultural heritage of the featured region.

'Long Island Cheese' pumpkin

‘Long Island Cheese’ heirloom pumpkin in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History.

The ‘Long Island Cheese’ pumpkin is a little-known heirloom with a mild, sweet flavor, making it a longstanding regional favorite for pies. This cream-colored pumpkin can be found peeking through its light-green leaves in our Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History. It was a popular variety in the Long Island Sound area in the 1800s, mentioned frequently in cookbooks and farmers’ almanacs, but is less common and harder to find in today’s modern markets. A member of the Cucurbita moschata species, this vine originated in Central or South America and made its way via trade and commerce to European and North American gardens as early as the 1500s. By the time of the Revolutionary War it was commonly found in gardens and markets up and down the Atlantic seaboard. In 1807, Bernard McMahon of Philadelphia introduced cheese pumpkin seeds to the commercial market. Cheese pumpkins made their way into seed catalogs and were popularly cultivated in the Long Island region.

The ‘Long Island Cheese’ pumpkin does not, in fact, taste like cheese at all—though we think it would make an excellent filling for ravioli. The flattened shape and the ribbed, light skin of the pumpkin resemble a wheel of cheese, a common sight in early American markets. Connecticut and the New England states were famous for their dairy production, exporting their delicious cheeses to other states and territories.

The medium-sized cheese pumpkins have deep orange, stringless flesh and a sweet taste, a perfect choice for pumpkin pie. According to one D.D. Tooker in an 1855 issue of the Michigan Farmer, cheese pumpkins were the pick of the pumpkins for any self-respecting pie baker:

The ‘Sweet pumpkin,’ alias ‘Cheese pumpkin’ or ‘pie squash,’—is the only true article, in my opinion, for making that most delicious of ‘yankee notions’—pumpkin pie—and I am not alone in my opinions, for I have yet to see the individual who would not agree with me in this matter . . . The shape and color of the fruit resembles that of a small sized dairy cheese, its flesh is very firm, fine grained and brittle, is of a rich orange color, and very sweet. They will keep all winter in a cool dry cellar if picked and stored before ‘Jack Frost’ touches them.

Seeds are still available from a variety of heirloom seed companies. Or be on the lookout for one in your local farmer’s market or pumpkin patch for the upcoming Thanksgiving baking season. As Tooker observed, this pumpkin stores very well in a cool, dry place.

Tomorrow evening, September 4th, FOOD in the Garden attendees will have the opportunity to sample spirits from Westford Hill Distillers, learn about the process of salt-making from Amagansett Sea Salt, and chat with the Smithsonian Gardens horticulturists who keep the Victory Garden growing. The evening’s panelists include Cindy Lobel, author of Urban Appetites: Food and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York, Stephanie Villani, co-owner of Blue Moon Fish, and Diana Whitsit of Terry Farms.

More information about the program and how to purchase tickets for “Long Island Sound: Human Impact” can be found here.

Up next week: a pepper to spice up your seafood stew just in time for “Cultural Connections: The Chesapeake” on September 11th.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

September 3, 2014 at 3:58 pm Leave a comment

Autumn Squash

Now that tomatoes have lost their summer pizzazz it is time to look to other fresh vegetables to punch up salads. Tossing winter squash with greens may seem odd, but when the squash is roasted, it adds sweetness to salads similar to fresh fruits. Chopped pears add another layer of sweetness and make the salad juicier. Pomegranate seeds and walnuts add crunch;  cayenne pepper is necessary to balance their sweetness.

Sunnie-Holme, Archives of American Gardens.

Squash dangling from an arbor, Sunnie-Holme, Woodbury, Connecticut, early 20th century. Archives of American Gardens.

Peeling winter squash so it can be cubed and roasted is always a bit of a challenge. Smooth-skinned butternut squashes are so appealing to cooks because they are easy to peel with a vegetable peeler. But don’t let ribbed, bumpy and warty skins thwart experimenting with other squashes. Relax and take the time to carefully peel the tough skin. A vegetable peeler is still the best tool; you may have to cut the squash into smaller, more maneuverable pieces to remove the skin from all the nooks and crannies. The abundance of varying flavors is worth the effort.

Don’t take the easy way out and just cut the squash in half and roast it. Cubed, roasted squash can be used in so many different recipes: tossed with pasta, sage, garlic and parmesan cheese; sautéed with onion and served as a winter bruschetta; or combined with pancetta, rosemary and ricotta cheese and used as a pizza topping.
Roasted winter squash makes saying goodbye to summer a little easier! This fresh salad is a perfect way to celebrate the harvest on Thanksgiving.

Autumn Farmer’s Market Salad

Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit October 2008
Makes 6 servings

4 1/2 to 5 cups, 1/2-inch cubes of peeled and seeded winter squash (about 2 pounds, I used Tetsukabuto and Honey Bear Squash, both are orange-fleshed moist squashes.)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon cayenne red pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons orange juice

3 tablespoons walnut oil

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 bunch arugula (about 6 cups), torn into pieces

1 small head Bibb lettuce (about 4 cups), torn into small pieces

2 Bosc pears, cores removed; cut into bite-size pieces (to prevent browning, put pears in lemon water until it is time to construct the salad)

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses*
Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss squash, olive oil, and cayenne pepper on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Roast 15 minutes. Using spatula, turn squash over. Roast until edges are browned and squash is tender, about 15 minutes longer. Sprinkle with coarse salt and let stand at room temperature while making the salad dressing and putting the greens together.

Whisk orange juice, walnut oil, and lemon juice in large shallow bowl. Season to taste with salt and coarsely ground pepper. Add arugula, Bibb lettuce, pear, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds; toss to coat. Season greens to taste with coarse salt and pepper and then add cooked squash. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses and serve.
* I found the pomegranate molasses at Whole Foods, but it can also be found at groceries specializing in Middle Eastern cookery.

 -Cindy Brown, Manager, Horticulture Collections Management and Education

November 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

A Green Arsenal

“Working your own little patch of ground is part of the home front fighter’s front-line assignment. Chief weapon should be tomatoes.”

— From an article in the March 20, 1943 Science News Letter

When the United States joined the Allied forces in World War II, American citizens committed to the war effort. Rationing and other measures impacted ordinary people across the country, especially with regards to metals, munitions, and most importantly, food. To combat food shortages and build national morale, the US government encouraged citizens to cultivate private and community food gardens, called victory gardens. Maintaining a victory garden gave Americans a feeling of patriotic contribution and sense of order and connection to the earth despite the turmoil of war.

In his article, “In the Sweat of Our Brow:  Citizenship in American Domestic Practice in WWII – Victory Gardens,” Dr. Char Miller of George Mason University discusses the  The US government embarked on a massive propaganda campaign to rouse a passion for food gardens in the American people, through departments like the Office of War Information and the USDA. By growing their own fruits and vegetables, patriotic gardeners reserved more commercially grown food for the troops. Buying fewer commercial goods also reserved other supplies, such as fuel to transport food and metal for cans, for the war effort.  Victory gardens yielded better tasting, healthier foods to keep the American people strong despite the stresses of war. War propaganda urged citizens to work hard in their gardens as the labor of gardening also contributed to maintaining a healthy bod, meeting the needs of the nation-state. Victory garden materials, such as magazine articles, posters, and short films, emphasized the importance of planning and efficiency to the effort. Not a single seed, foot of land, or ounce of effort should be wasted. Every citizen needed to be efficient to aid the war effort.

Victory garden 1

War propaganda from the Office of War Information, image credited to Al Parker in 1943

Victory garden 2

War propaganda from the National War Garden Commission

Victory gardens served an important emotional need as well as physical sustenance. As Americans struggled to come to terms with the ravages of modern warfare, especially the atomic bomb, gardening bestowed a sense of calm and order to their lives. Working in the garden reminded people of the rhythms and order of nature, something from which many Americans felt increasing disconnection. In the uncertain times of WWII, citizens needed the assurance that some things in the world still operated under a set of defined rules. Growing their own food also gave Americans a sense of accomplishment, contribution to the war effort, and security in their ability to feed themselves.

Food wasn’t the only thing growing in victory gardens across America. Colorful flowers had their own place in the gardener’s repertoire. The health of the soul mattered almost as much as that of the body, so the government encouraged gardeners to grow flowers to evoke memories and promote tranquility. According to Dr. Miller, seed companies sold British flowers to Americans so those on the home front could experience some of the scents and sights of the troops overseas. Flowers also calmed anxious nerves and produced happier feelings in gardeners. Due to the demands for efficiency, flower gardens contained relatively low maintenance blooms so as not to distract from the overall mission of gardening.

Victory gardens and their accompanying propaganda played an important role in the home front of WWII. The program experienced wild success across the nation, and the concept has lived on into today. You can visit the Smithsonian Gardens’ Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History. Containing heirloom species from the time, the garden grants visitors an authentic feeling of what it may have been like to grow your own food in WWII.



-Amber Schilling, Summer 2013 Education and Outreach Intern

Source:  Char Miller, “In the Sweat of Our Brow:  Citizenship in American Domestic Practice During WWII – Victory Gardens,” The Journal of American Culture, Vol. 26 Issue 3 (2003):  395-409.

September 20, 2013 at 10:00 am 3 comments

Outstanding in the Field

Outstanding in the Field Dinner at NMAH

On October 1st, Smithsonian Gardens’ Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) was the pre-dinner reception site for attendees to an Outstanding in the Field (OITF) event which benefited NMAH’s upcoming exhibit, Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.

Joe Brunetti of Smithsonian Gardens gave opening remarks and was ‘Host Farmer’ for the program. Organic produce from the Victory Garden was provided to the OITF chef to use in the main event, dinner on NMAH’s rooftop. Joe and his SG colleague Erin Clark gave tours of the Victory Garden and answered gardening questions from some of the 150 attendees. Outstanding in the Field’s mission is to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.

Outstanding in the Field Dinner at NMAHThe beauty of this event went beyond just lapping up the good food. Some of the magic arose from the conversations with complete strangers, the handshakes welcoming each other, and the cohesive celebration for the nourishment on the table. Even though attendees came from all parts of the country, we were all coming together with the same passion for land, food and drink. This movement of reconnecting to our land is happening on many different fronts. People are interested in where their food is coming from, how it is being grown, and who it is supporting. It seems a simple idea, but an idea we have removed ourselves so far from. With the increasing number of farmers’ markets and the re-evolving lifestyle of being a locavore, we can hold our glass up high and say ‘cheers.’

In the words of Julia Child, ‘Bon appétit’!

-Joe Brunetti, Horticulturist, Victory Heirloom Gardens at the National Museum of American History

March 18, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

January is National Mail Order Gardening Month

Images from the 1902 W. Atlee Burpee & Company Farm Annual. W. Atlee Bupee & Company Collection, Archives of American Gardens.

Images from the 1902 W. Atlee Burpee & Company Farm Annual. W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection, Archives of American Gardens.

As we enter the deepest winter months, thick tomes of eye candy for gardeners are beginning to arrive in mailboxes across the country, a small reminder that spring is just around the corner. ‘Mortgage Lifter’ or ‘Tasty Evergreen’ tomatoes this year? ‘Tennis Ball’ Lettuce anyone?  And peppers that come in every color of the rainbow with names like ‘Purple Glow in the Dark’? Thick with gorgeous pictures, mail order seed catalogs offer a seemingly infinite variety of choices. It’s no wonder that a gardener could easily order more seeds than they have plot to plant.

Mail order seed companies have a long history in the United States. When you order from a seed catalog, you’re engaging in a time-honored winter ritual. One of the most recognizable names in the mail order business, W. Atlee Burpee & Company, was founded in 1876 in Philadelphia. In addition to flower and vegetable seeds, the company also sold livestock and poultry. W. Atlee Burpee sought the best seeds from the United States and Europe, following leads to strange and faraway places, and his mail order business quickly grew to a national level. He founded Fordhook Farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania to develop hybrid plants and test new varieties, ensuring only the best seeds were mailed to consumers.

With the introduction of the Rural Free Delivery Service in the 1890’s, the company took advantage of the service to widen their audience for their yearly catalog. By that time Burpee was the largest seed company in the United States. Some of the varieties made famous during the company’s early years are still known and loved today. ‘Iceberg’ lettuce was introduced in 1894 and ‘Golden Bantam’ corn in 1902. Both remain favorites with gardeners today. The lush watercolor illustrations of the early catalogs gave way to color photography, and now it’s just as easy to visit the website as it is to browse the catalog.

Fish Pepper, Capsicum annuum ‘Fish’

Fish Pepper, Capsicum annuum ‘Fish’

The W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection at the Archives of American Gardens contains business records, catalogs, diaries, and other company materials spanning the years 1873-1978. You can read more about the collection here:

If you are looking for new ideas for your own garden, Joe Brunetti , Horticulturist at the Victory and Heirloom gardens at the National Museum of American History, has a few suggestions:


Tried and True!

Cool & Unusual:

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

January 14, 2013 at 9:00 am 2 comments

Spotlight on Kohlrabi

What’s going to be on your Thanksgiving table this year? Oyster stuffing, cranberry sauce (savory or sweet), a delicious turkey with crispy skin? What about a purple bulb with a funny name that looks like an alien turnip from another planet?

Kohlrabi growing in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History.

Though it looks strange, kohlrabi is a delicious root vegetable in the cabbage family (Brassica oleracea), which also includes kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Alluding to the fact that the vegetable resembles a turnip more than a cabbage, the German name is a combination of kohl (cabbage) and rübe (turnip). The entire plant is edible but the bulb is most often used for cooking. Skin color ranges from white to green to vibrant purple, and all of the variants are pale on the inside. At the grocery store look for bulbs (preferably still with the delicious leaves) that are no more than 3” in diameter. Larger bulbs tend to be too woody and tough to eat. Low in calories and high in fiber, kohlrabi is a healthy addition to any meal.

In 1909, one W.J.H. Moses bemoaned the lack of familiarity with kohlrabi in the gardening world in the pages of The Country Gentleman. Kohlrabi, he wrote, “can be prepared for the table with the least trouble, has a flavor every bit as good as the best Brussels Sprouts, and if not the easiest raised of all cabbages it is as easy as any . . . and yet with all these advantages kohlrabi is as little known to the general palate as olives were a few decades ago.” Lucky for us kohlrabi, though not the most common vegetable, has become increasingly easier to find in grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

Early twentieth-century cookbooks suggest boiling kohlrabi and serving it au gratin or with a heavy béchamel sauce. We, however, prefer to take a lighter approach. The spicy-sweet, fresh flavor of kohlrabi lends itself to  shredding or julienning raw for salads, but for Thanksgiving we love to serve it roasted with onions and other root vegetables with a dash of olive oil and salt and pepper. Another idea is to swap out half of the potatoes with kohlrabi in your favorite mashed potatoes recipe for a sweeter, lighter take on a holiday favorite. Don’t discard the greens! They can be sautéed on their own or with other greens such as mustard and kale for another healthy side dish.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

November 20, 2012 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

The Tomatillo (tohm-ah-TEE-oh)

*Note: This blog post from Smithsonian Gardens’ Horticulturist Joe Brunetti originally appeared as part of the National Museum of American History’s “O Say Can You See?” Blog as part of NMAH’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

“What is a tomatillo?” “What sort of recipes use tomatillos?” “What do they taste like?” These are just a few of the questions I get asked when I show visitors the tomatillos growing in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History.  Simply put, tomatillos are small fruits ensconced in a papery husk.  These beauties belong to the nightshade family – yes, the same nightshade family that contains the usual scene-stealers – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, tobacco and even petunias. The tomatillo is like the distant cousin that doesn’t make it to the family get-togethers, and it’s high time you two got to know each other.

Tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa) are a summer annual originating from Mesoamerica and therefore grow best under similar conditions as a tomato plant. In the spring, when the danger of frost is no longer at hand, plant tomatillos in full sun and in rich organic soil. Provide a supporting structure like a tomato cage as it grows.  A ripe tomatillo looks and feels much like an un-ripened tomato – typically firm, with a green and/or yellow hue. They vary in size from one inch in diameter to plum-sized.  You want to harvest your tomatillos when the husk has not browned and the fruit is still firm to the touch.

Speaking of the husk (which most people associate with corn), it is botanically known as the calyx. Think of it as a paper-like shield protecting your produce from ravenous varmints. Thank you calyx! When this shell is peeled off of the tomatillo a sticky resin is left on the skin, but it washes off easily.

The taste of a tomatillo combines the heartiness of a tomato with the citrus zing of a lime.  It is sure to get your taste buds dancing. The texture is like an under-ripe, spongy tomato.  Trust me, it’s cool. 

Tomatillos have been cultivated for millennia and were a staple food in ancient Mayan and Aztec communities. In fact, the Aztecs are credited with domesticating the tomatillo. To this day, this peculiar fruit is a constant component of Mexican and Guatemalan diets. Traditionally, tomatillos are combined with chili peppers to make sauces, with the coolness of the tomatillo balancing out the hot flavor of the pepper. Have you eaten salsa verde (green sauce)? Well then, you’ve probably eaten tomatillos since they are typically the main ingredient in salsa verde. Other uses for the tomatillo include chopping them and adding them to salads and salsas, or pureeing them into gazpacho and guacamole. Less commonly, but still worth mentioning, tomatillos are used to flavor rice and tenderize red meats. 

Right now in the Smithsonian’s Victory Garden grows a tomatillo that demands attention. Instead of the familiar green, this variety’s fruit and husks are tinted midnight purple. Come by sometime and have a look!

Tomatillo Tortilla Soup with Ground Bison
Makes 4 – 6 servings.  Prep time: 15 minutes.  Cook time: 20 minutes)

Olive oil

1 lb. ground bison (or any other ground meat or meat substitute)

1 red onion, diced

A dozen tomatillos, de-husked, rinsed, and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 cups chicken broth

1 15-oz can diced tomatoes

1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream or Greek yogurt with a splash of lime juice (that’s what I always use!)

Cheddar or Mexican blend cheese, for garnish (plus some on the bottom of your bowl, of course)

Tortilla chips, broken

In a soup pot, heat about 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the ground bison, reducing the heat to medium after about two minutes of browning.  Cook through.

Meanwhile, put the tomatillos and about 1 cup of the chicken broth in a blender.  Blend thoroughly, until all of the tomatillos are pureed.

Add the tomatillo mixture to the browned bison.  Add the diced tomatoes, black beans, remaining, chicken broth, and spices.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to medium low.  Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding either more broth or water as necessary, so it keeps the consistency you want.  Taste it a couple times during the cooking process so you can adjust the seasonings if you want.

To serve, sprinkle a little cheese in the bottom of the bowls, then add the soup, then top with more cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream/Greek yogurt-lime juice mixture.  Enjoy!

Recipe: from

September 21, 2012 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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