Billy Joe Tatum

Giving a wild flower program, 1985.
There are only a few times in a lifetime when someone has such a profound influence on your life that you are forever changed and made better just by knowing them. Billy Joe Tatum had that kind of impact on my life, my garden and my writing. We met through a mutual friend in 1981 and we quickly became good friends. I liked the things she liked - cooking, foraging for wild foods, writing, eating, and she included me in the events at her and her husband's house, dubbed, "Wildflower" in rural Arkansas.

I spent a lot of time at Wildflower over the years. So did a lot of other people and I met an amazing array of talented and amazing people there. One weekend I fondly remember was at this time of year, almost April. My partner, Josh and I were at Billy Joe and Hally's (her husband), to hunt morels. It was a Sunday morning, we were up having coffee and sitting on the deck overlooking the beautiful wooded valley below. The phone rang and Billy Joe answered. We could hear only half the conversation but could tell Billy Joe was saying no to someone who wanted to visit. I heard, "No, I'm sorry, you can't come. Yes, I know who you are, I've seen your show a time or two. No, I'm sorry." Then a pause while she listened, and finally, "Because it's morel season" and she thanked the caller and hung up.
Billy Joe and Hally at their 60th wedding anniversary, 2011.

Hally asked, "BJ, what was all that about?" She replied, "Oh it was that Charles Kuralt fellow with the CBS "On the Road" program. He wanted to bring a film crew and do a story on me. I told him he could come sometime but not now because it was morel season. I guess next time he needs to call farther in advance." (Evidently he was calling from about 30 minutes away).
Billy Joe and my partner, Josh, cutting up at a dinner, 1985.
Billy Joe's first book, Billy Joe Tatum's Wild Foods Cookbook and Field Guide was published in 1976, just a year after the notorious wild food adventurer, Euell Gibbons passed away. Media types soon learned that Billy Joe was colorful (barefoot and with a feather always in her long, braided hair) and wonderfully witty and intelligent, and made a very good interview. She was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson several times, and had articles in every major gardening and lifestyle magazine. She never took those serious, just laughing and enjoying the ride.

Billy Joe, on the left, with her wild flower bouquet.
I started hosting an annual Herb Day in May festival at Long Creek Herb Farm and Billy Joe would come and give presentations. She liked for me to collect a big bouquet of wildflowers from the woods and she would pull out one at a time and tell the audience the use, flavor, cautions and tell stories about each one. People would come from many states away for the event, and guests were all in love with BJ and her stories of her family and food. (Here's an example).
Out of print but still the best.

One of those early years, about 1983, I was at Wildflower for the weekend. The event was a fundraiser for Bill Alexander, a Republican who was running for state Senate. Back in those days, politicians weren't as mean-spirited and hateful as they are today, and one of the "helpers" was Democratic Governor Bill Clinton. The party was about a couple hundred invited guests with Alexander the guest of honor. I was there as cook's helper, for one of Billy Joe's famous wild foods dinners. I saw a car drive up in the driveway and Billy Joe opened the door and gave Bill Clinton a welcome hug. She turned to me and introduced us, then turned back to the Governor and said, "Bill, here's the broom. I want you clear the furniture out of the living room and sweep the floor. We're having a square dance." Without hesitation, he thanked her and went off to do her bidding. Next to arrive was Republican Win Rockefeller. We were introduced then I heard BJ say, "Win, here's a can of wasp spray. Go upstairs to the walkway over the living room. There'll be kids watching the dancing from up there and I saw several red wasps in the windows." He, too, followed orders. I was stunned, one of the richer men in Arkansas and the Governor of the state, on opposite sides of the political spectrum, cleaning house for Billy Joe. This was one powerful woman!
Billy Joe came to visit and we canned.

Over the years, Billy Joe came to Long Creek Herb Farm and we'd can things from the garden. Once she gathered and canned a dozen pints of lamb's quarters - still my favorite greens. I'd go to Wildflower and she'd take me "botanizing" as she liked to call it. We'd tromp through the woods, sometimes just us, sometimes with the likes of Lee Allen Peterson, of Peterson Field Guide fame. She introduced me to plants I'd never found before, to people I could not have met otherwise. I once asked her if I could be her biographer because she led such an interesting life. "No," she said without hesitation. "I'm not that interesting and anyway, you know way too many stories about me."
Billy Joe last year, telling wonderful stories on her and Hally's 60th anniversary.

Billy Joe wrote for The Ozarks Mountaineer for many years and it was that magazine that eventually led to the publication of her books. She stared out life wanting to be an opera singer, she told me. Instead, she became a rural doctor's wife and created her own career out of the love of her surroundings and became nationally famous for being herself. She is remembered by hundreds, maybe thousands of people beyond her own close and loving family. Like her amazing books, Billy Joe is now out of print. I truly thought she would live forever. Rest in Peace dear friend. It's hard to imagine life without you in it.


Eat Your Tulips

Like asparagus, tulips are only available for a short season.
Tulips are food as well as beautiful spring flowers. During 1944-45 after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and cut off food supplies, the Dutch survived by eating tulip bulbs. The rich history of the tulip is described in one of my favorite books, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World, by Michael Pollan.
Tulips are edible, Narcissus, and jonquils are NOT.
Most of us, when we look at a spring bed of bulbs, as above, don't first think of food, we see instead, the coming of spring, encouragement that winter is over. Some years ago I supplied fresh-cut herbs and flowers to the regionally famous Dairy Hollow House Restaurant and Bed and Breakfast in Eureka Springs, AR. Every spring, the proprietors, Ned Shank and author, Crescent Dragonwagon, asked for tulip flowers. It was always a dilemma for me, cutting my much-awaited tulips to sell, or leave them in place for their beauty. (To overcome this quandary, I simply planted more tulips!)
All tulips are edible, both the flowers and bulbs. Narcissus, jonquils and many other spring-flowering bulbs are not edible. Stick to tulips, they're safe. Are all tulips alike? No, just as the colors vary, so do the fragrances and flavors.
 The top flower is perfect for picking.
For example, most white tulips have little fragrance. Yellows and deeper colors, like deep red and variegated ones, usually have the best fragrance. Deep purple ones are my favorite as they have a deeper, fruity fragrance.

However, choose any color you have on hand. And just what are you going to do with them, you may wonder? You're going to prepare them and stuff them with something salad-like.

Pick tulips in the morning, when the flower has recently opened. While tulip flowers last for several days, it when they have recently opened that they are best to use. Why? The flavor is best then, and the petals remain attached to the stem best then, as well.

Lightly rinse the tulip flower, then gently reach into the center and remove the center parts - the stamen and pistil. You could leave those in, but you'll have pollen on the food you are adding, so I like to take those parts out (they just snap off easily).

Remove the center stamen and little pistils around it.
Now you're ready for stuffing your tulip flowers for a very elegant spring meal. I use chicken salad for the stuffing, simply because that's a favorite food of mine, but Crescent, at Dairy Hollow House sometimes made a curried vegetarian stuffing with eggs, steamed green beans and other things I don't recall (but you can likely find in one of her many cookbooks, probably Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread). You could also use tuna salad or most any favorite springtime luncheon salad)

Here's my chicken salad recipe. It has several ingredients, but it makes enough for several meals, and will keep in the refrigerator for about 4 days, although it never lasts that long at our house.

Long Creek Chicken Salad
You can use either chicken breasts for this, or turkey.

6 cups diced, cooked chicken or turkey, mostly white meat
2 cups celery, medium-diced
4 scallions (or about 1/8 cup diced fresh chives)
2 tablespoons fresh garlic chives, chopped fine
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped fine
1/2 cup (or a 5 ounce can) water chestnuts, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh sweet marjoram, finely chopped (or 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning)
1 cup pecans, toasted
1 cup (approx) seedless white grapes, cut in half
4 red radishes, sliced or coarsely diced
3/4 cup (approx.) Hellmann's mayonnaise (enough to moisten the salad)
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients, mixing well. Add more mayo if needed. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Stuff about 1/2 cup into each whole tulip flower. Serve stuffed tulip on its side, on a lettuce leaf with your favorite cracker (or...make one from my book: Homemade Crackers with Herbs). Watch my cracker video for cracker inspiration. Enjoy spring and eat more tulips!


Who Puts the Gold in Goldfinch?

Goldfinch in summer color.
Every spring flocks of goldfinches arrive on our farm. You probably wouldn't recognize them because they are not gold. The photo at the left is what the male bird looks like in summer plumage, but when they arrive, these birds are bland, gray and not very interesting.

I usually start my day with a soak in the hot tub, just as the sun is coming up. In March, around the first days of Spring, I watch these little birds in the nearby red oak tree, eating the flowers and pollen of the red oak. Sometimes there are dozens, even hundreds, busy eating the oak blossoms.

The red oak flowers are golden yellow and last for only about a week.

I have a theory. The red oak blossoms are bright yellow and the goldfinches, still in their ugly gray winter color, are all over this tree every day while it's in bloom; they need the yellow pollen. Every day they eat the yellow flowers and you can watch the changes in their feathers, going from gray to mild yellow, then brighter, until the goldfinch is in full peacock mode, just as the oak blossoms have finished blooming.
Not much yellow yet.

Almost no color today.
It makes sense to me that goldfinches need oak flowers to change their colors. After all, flamingos require red shrimp in order to keep their feathers bright pink. It's fun to watch these scrappy little birds as they leave their winter colors and become fully summer-plummed. Next the males will begin to show off for the females, they'll pair off for the season. They'll choose nesting sites and begin the cycle all over again.
Water stands in the pathways. We received 5 inches over 3 days.
We've had days of needed rain. Yesterday, on the first day of spring, the rains quit and the sun came out. The late afternoon light was a pleasant surprise.
In the background the sunlight on the hills looks like yellow blossoms.
That far, far hill in the background is across the lake from us.
We're on the Long Creek arm of Table Rock Lake (Long Creek Herb Farm is named for both the location, and my family name). What you are seeing, above, is the sunlight as it reflects on the hills across the Lake from us. The light was amazing, like a painting, but one you could feel and smell and taste.
Part of the garden in the foreground. The distant hills were alive with color and sunlight.
Those yellow hills are across the Lake from us. We live on the east side of a substantial hill and the sunlight misses us late in the afternoon but continues to shine on the distant hills. The trees, mostly oak, hickory, elm and maple, are just leafing out and show yellow in the afternoon light.

To see a few more of the first day of spring photos, go here. Happy spring everyone!


A Story of Bonnie and Clyde

Imagine if you will, a young couple, Bonnie and Clyde, in love. He and she can't stand to be apart, can't imagine life without the other. Then, for whatever reasons, their family threw you out. Bonnie, pregnant, Clyde desperate to find a new home for his approaching family they set off walking. Other couples have begun life together this way.
The hills are high, the valleys deep and traffic is often heavy on Hwy. 65.
They took off on their own, looking for a safe place where Bonnie could give birth. She understood the time was near, knew she was within days of giving birth. Sad, frightened and alone, the two keep walking.
It's hard to see the concrete barrier in the middle. The center blue dot is where Clyde had stopped.

The spot, above, is where I saw the two Great Pyrenees couple. The 2 blue dots show the location of each one. There was traffic, lots of it, tourists heading to Branson for a vacation, people going to work. They had both evidently been on the west side of the highway. He, being the more brave, found a gap in traffic and darted across. What he couldn't see from the edge of the highway, was there was a concrete safety barrier between the 4 lanes. Clyde was stuck, he couldn't cross, the barrier was to high and he couldn't return because traffic had become heavy again.

I was driving in that traffic, I saw the problem but there was no opportunity to stop. I worried. I hoped the two were from a nearby farm and knew what they were doing. But I am not the Good Samaritan in this story and it was several days later before I learned the rest of the story.

Our friend, Steve, lovingly known as Mr. Tiger to his friends, is a volunteer at the National Tiger Sanctuary north of Branson, MO. He gives tours and helps educate visitors about the Sanctuary and about tigers in general. (The Sanctuary provides a secure home to tigers, a cougar and a lion, that were all need of homes. It's a caring, kind place and the big cats are treated with respect).

Steve is also co-owner with his wife, June Guido, of Bouvier Acres, home to award-winning Bouvier des flandres show dogs. Evidently Steve came along right behind me, saw Bonnie and Clyde, and knew better than I had that they were abandoned and in serious trouble. Driving his little yellow VW Beetle, he made some tricky turns and found a place to stop. He coaxed Bonnie and Clyde into his car and drove them to the Tiger Sanctuary.
Bonnie and Clyde with baths and new hair-dos, in their new home.
The folks at the Sanctuary placed ads in all the local newspapers, they put up posters on bulletin boards, they made lots of phone calls, then they waited. Meanwhile, Bonnie gave birth to 7 puppies.  Weeks went by and no one came to claim the pair, so, like the tigers, the pair was named Bonnie and Clyde, and have a new home. They were dubbed Bonnie and Clyde because of their adventurous travels. They are a kind, sweet couple and their little litter is growing rapidly. The Sanctuary hopes to find homes for all of the pups, but Bonnie and Clyde have a new home.

Here are 2 of the 7 pups. Cute as a puppy certainly applies!
If you would like to know more about the National Tiger Sanctuary, here's the link. And if you would like to receive the weekly Tiger Tales, which Steve produces and emails each week, here's that link. (I've learned a lot about tigers through Tiger Tales, it's always entertaining and you will probably enjoy it as much as I do). For example, did you know each tiger has a different set of stripes, much like human's fingerprints? Or what is the difference between Siberian and Indian tigers? You'll learn a lot and you can subscribe to Tiger Tales for more fun facts and information.

And how does all this relate to our garden? We've been testing tiger poop up in our woods to see if it will keep deer away from our garden area So far, the possibilities look good.

Spring is here, the garden is slowly coming to life.


Edible Spring Flowers

Plum blossoms; sweet scent, delicious flavor!
Did you know that several spring flowers are edible? Plum blossoms, for example. The tantalizing fragrance is a hint to the flavor you'll find. These, as well as lilacs, are my favorite flowers for sorbet. (You can find recipes in my book, Fabulous Herb and Flower Sorbets, on my website; also I've written about these in previous blog posts, the lilac sorbet recipe is here).

Peach flowers add color to salads.

Our peach trees are in bloom, as well. Scatter peach petals in a salad for some color and variety. I took this photo yesterday in the rain. The flavor isn't strong in peach flowers but they still add color. When using them, just pull the petals from the center and use just the petals, the rest of the flower would be tough.
Flowering quince blossoms.
Quince is a cousin of the apple and its flowers are edible. Like peach blossoms, pull the petals away from the center of the flower, discarding the tougher part. Quince blossoms make a beautiful vinegar for salad dressings. Use the basic directions in my book, Making Herb Vinegars.

Spice Bush (Lindera benzoin) blossoms.

Another flower that is edible and packs a burst of flavor is Spice Bush, a native shrub that grows from Georgia upward to Ohio, west into Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and southward into Texas. Spice Bush (Lindera benzoin) grows at the edges of woods, generally in shady areas. The leaves, twigs, berries and flowers are all used for culinary purposes. Ours is blooming now. Use the flowers in salad dressings or when cooking any meat dish. Use just a few as the blossoms have a spicy, herbal flavor and like bay leaf, a little goes a long way. Spice Bush was the Native Herb of the Year for 2011 as designated by the Herb Society of America.
These are not edible but are useful for dreaming.
There are spring flowers that you don't want to eat. Forsythia, for instance is not considered edible. Neither are hyacinths or daffodils (narcissus). They have uses in Dream Pillows to enhance dreaming, but they're not edible. To learn more about Dream Pillows, visit my Dream Pillows blog here.

Happy spring!


Buy Seed, Help the Kids' Garden

The Jonesboro Health, Wellness and Environmental Studies Magnet School, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, is doing some remarkable things in teaching kids how to grow and prepare their own food. I've written about them a couple of times before. I continue to be amazed at the ways these dedicated teachers are teaching 600 kids, grades 1-6, about where their food comes from. From how to start seeds in their greenhouse, to transplanting into pots for their plant sale, as well as planting vegetables to grow in their raised beds, these kids are learning very useful skills. They visit farmers markets, even put together their own plant projects and sell at the markets, too.
Melinda Smith in the kids kitchen.
Melinda Smith is the school garden coordinator, grant writer and teacher. Everything in this magnet school curriculum revolves around health, wellness and the environment. The kids learn to prepare simple meals in their kitchen, learn about how to wash and prepare vegetables and learn cooperation, too.
Kids weeding.
Kids learn to tell the difference between the edible plants and flowers, and the weeds. It's a lesson we all learn as gardeners - if you don't pull the weeds, the tasty plants won't grow.
The kids look for the rabbits each day.
Rabbits and chickens are part of the school project. The kids learn about gathering eggs, feeding the chickens and rabbits and how those relate to the gardens (such as, the rabbits will eat the lettuce if you don't put them back in the cage).
This garden contains the larger number of vegetable beds.

There are 2 atrium gardens. The one above has the most raised beds. Classrooms and hallways surround both gardens so the kids look out on the progress of the plants, even on days when it's rainy. There are 2 small greenhouses and an outdoor teaching room, adjacent to the gardens.

Picking chive blossoms.

One day when I visited, the kids were picking chive blossoms. Most hadn't tasted a chive flower before. Some were not overly-impressed with the flavor. As you probably know, children's sense of taste changes as the grow up. Sweet and sour are the more familiar flavors kids like. 

"Yech, this smells like an onion, I don't like onions!" this boy said. "Not even on hamburgers?" I asked. "Noooo!" was his reply.
Buy Seeds - Help kids learn about gardening.
 Since many of you are buying seeds for your gardens, how about ordering seeds from a company that helps kids garden projects? If you go to my website and scroll down to the bottom left-hand corner, you will see the red button, above. If you click it, you'll see this page:
It gives you a code FR556A to use when you follow the link to Renee's Garden Seed. I've been a fan of Renee's Garden Seed for years. I especially like her mixtures (like several lettuces in a mix, or 3 colors of squash in one packet). She is offering an Italian heirloom mint that comes from seed this year. When you place an order and use the code FR556A, 25 percent of the price of your order goes to the Jonesboro Health, Wellness and Environmental Studies project. We like to support this very worthwhile project and I hope you will, too. Plus, you get some really great garden seed. The cost of the seed is the same, whether you order with the code or not, but Renee Shepherd very generously donates the 25% back to the school. Last year we raised a little over $100 this way. If you're ordering seed, we'd love it if you order from Renee's Garden Seed and help out kids learn about gardening. Thank you!


Art in the Garden

Today I've been working on a new program that I'll be offering. (You can see my list of programs and descriptions I currently offer, on my website). This new program is one just for fun, sort of a "Don't take the garden too serious, have some fun, too!" Here are a few of the photos I'm considering. I have hundreds to choose from, so if any of these aren't that much fun, tell me.
Dr. Art Tucker
The title slide, "Art in the Garden" has our friend, Art Tucker, framed in in a moss frame of sedums, at the Huntsville, AL Botanic Garden. Since he's one very inspiring guy, I figured he fit right in.
Blue Bench, Toledo Botanic Garden, where I spoke for the Maumee Valley Herb Society last March.
Bonsai in January, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
A garden needn't be large to be artful. This one's only 24 inches wide.
Not everyone likes cattle roaming their front lawn.
If you've made your fortune raising cattle and you have a mansion in  Dallas, then a yard full of big beefy cattle is art you want to show off. That's the front door behind the bovines. I think Texans like to put their art right out front for all the world to see.
Glass table from recycled materials.
This glass table was in the garden of a very posh house, also in Dallas. Personally I like the cattle slightly better, although the owner of this gets credit for trying. Art is in the eye of the beholder, after all. It may be art but I wasn't impressed.
The mermaid tub.
Lucinda Hutson, our prolific writer friend in Austin, TX, scatters great, surprising spots of color throughout her gardens. She's a colorful lady and a fantastic cook, too.
Adam decided a blank slate deserved some creativity last summer.
This chalkboard is by the front door to our Herb Shop. Adam, who was here for the summer has a degree in art and can't stand to see blank canvasses going to waste. While it's not his typical kind of art, it remains a cheerful welcome to the front porch.
Bell tower atop our shop at Long Creek Herb Farm
I think we have the only privately owned bell tower in the Ozarks. You can view the garden from the bell tower deck.
Garden gate made of mesquite limbs.
Another substantial house with art in the garden everywhere. So simple, yet a nice touch to the vegetable garden, this gate also functions to keep the family dog out of the plants.
This simple gazebo, just steps from the gate, above.
Rocks on sticks.
I especially liked the effect of these round rocks in metal frames set above the greenery. There were 3 collections of them leading up to the front entry of the house, in Seattle, I believe.
Weird art.
Half lion, half woman, by any standard this is bizarre art. However, the setting was the lawn of the Barnum-Bailey mansion in Florida, so, seeing as how they made their fortune from the circus, it makes sense.
This one's more traditional, more contemplative. Given the choice between this and the lion-lady, this one doesn't give me chills.
Color in the garden at Yucca Do.
The one above I like a lot. It's on the grounds of our friends at Yucca Do Nursery in Texas. Yucca Do is a specialty nursery that introduces newly discovered and recently named, heat tolerant plants into the plant world.
Anyone want to guess?
Art can be simple. This was on the grounds of a botanic garden I visited last  year. Art doesn't need to be expensive, it can be as simple as this. Or as simple as a gate made out of twigs. Or it can be a herd of  bronze cattle scattered throughout the lawn. However you do it, put some art in the garden this year.