Winter Solstice, Winter Arrives

December 21, Winter Solstice, the first official day of winter. Brrrr. Isn't this the shortest day of the year? Or is it the longest because it's so cold? It's about 11 degrees or thereabouts here. But, hooray, sunshine, finally. In just a couple of weeks I'll be ready to plant onions and potatoes in the garden.

Regarding the blog comment left by, "Anonymous" about his/her parents growing up in western St. Clair County, MO....where? That's where I grew up! Taberville.
And a comment to the fellow who said,
"Ever wonder who the first person was to eat bitter gourd, and why?" Yes, I have, because it's so intensely bitter. Also wonder who was the first to take the dare to eat a raw oyster. I'm guessing it took a quart of something alcoholic for that first oyster. Barbara Young, Josh's mother, who is visiting us over the Holidays, is reading, Founding Mothers, The Women Who Shaped Our Nation by Cokie Roberts. Yesterday Barbara read a recipe to me from one of the books' chapters, on how to properly cook a calf's head, from an 18 th century cookbook. It took days of preparing, cooking, boiling, frying, stuffing with oysters, baking, saucing, until that calf's head was considered, "done." The bottom line is, I think we humans will eat anything that moves, or doesn't, grows or has hooves, paws, feet, fur, feathers or, even, bitter gourd. Thanks for all your comments! It made me think about plant names, like love -in-a-puff, which I mention below.

Because of my posting information about our friends, the Shouse family's loss of their home in a fire right before Thanksgiving, I've gotten acquainted by blog mail with a guy named Taylor, who was kind enough to pick up my post about the fire and post it on the blog at The Herb Companion magazine, which carries my Down to Earth columns in each issue. I check his blog often to see what craziness he's up to (he just started working for Ogden Publications, who publish Herb Companion, Mother Earth News, Grit and others). He posted a YouTube video he made of the Grit & Herb Companion staff decorating the office for Christmas. I've never seen some of those folks before even though I email them and talk with them on the phone as I write. If you'd like to see some of the folks I do business with, check it out. (The blooper video

Josh gathered some love-in-a-puff seed pods from the garden for Barbara's Christmas centerpiece arrangement. Ever wonder love in a puff (Cardiospermum halicacabum)has that name? Plant names always relate to something, kind of like names people give their pets. Like our friends, George and Pat, who named their new dog, a stray that showed up at their door...they named him, "Larry the Cable Dog." He has to be tied most of the time so he doesn't get run over (and because he was dragging home "gifts" like wrenches, a 20 lb. frozen turkey, etc.") It's a perfectly logical, and fun name. But people name their pets less creative names. "Bob" comes to mind. "Blackie" for a black cat; "Snow" for a white one.

Most plant names are there because of some trait or use. Bitter gourd is called that because it's a gourd, and it is so bitter you want to spit. So the name love-in-a-puff, comes not from the flowers, which are almost invisible, but from the seed. Little bb sized black seed with ...
drum roll please....a white heart on each one! Love....(a heart)...in a puff! In winter the seed pods fall from the vine and float in the wind for considerable distances. So the name comes from the black seed with the white heart on each one.

Yesterday I made a batch of pâté and Barbara filled gift jars with the mixture. I cooked up a batch of homemade Swedish hardtack crackers (from my book by that title, of course). We had our annual Friday night dinner group's Christmas party and everyone's gifts from us was a jar of pate, some homemade crackers and a little bag of spicy nuts for snacking. The party was fun and I was touched that friends gave me a donation to send on to the Shouse family for their construction supplies.

Molly, our Jack Russell, slept by the woodstove as we cooked during the day, then went out to the woodlot with Josh. She was in hot pursuit of a rabbit when she dove into a thicket of greenbriers, an especially tenacious vine with sharp thorns, but an also good edible native plant. She came out yipping and bleeding, having torn her ear on a thorn. She bled and bled - like cuts on ears can do. Not serious, but she looked a mess. She's better today but worn out from her ordeal. She's a hard-core hunter and not much slows her down but she's rather subdued today from her wound.

On the longest (or is it shortest) day of the year, depending upon your point of view and how much you like the cold of winter, I wish you a very happy holiday season.


Grumpy Gardener said...

Hey Jim,

I think we should all write something about greenbriers (Smilax sp.). The one you linked to, Smilax rotundifolia, is prickly, but the foliage is handsome and turns a nice russet color in fall. Jackson vine (S. smallii) is practically thornless and a very good ornamental. I posted about it on July 18 on the GG.

Merry Christmas to everybody in Blue Eye. Stay inside or the rest of you might turn blue.

Anonymous said...

It was me! My parents grew up about 1 mile from Chalk Level-- in the 20's & 30's. Dad would take mom & me out to the woods every thanksgiving to get cedar & the MO holly as we called it. Now Dad can't drive anymore & its just not the same. I love to see it when the snow is the ground-- what a visual contrast.

Merry Christmas!

Lila @ misspittypat51@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...


Thank you for mentioning Mother Earth News on your website. We appreciate the attention.

Laura Evers
Mother Earth News