Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Preserving the Fortna Family’s Pumpkin Pie

Blog entry by Joanne Ranck-Dirks
A pair of Fortna White pumpkins
The Heirloom Seed Project is committed to seed preservation.  One piece of the program that brings us joy is sharing these garden heirlooms with others and also knowing that sometimes we’re saving more than seeds!

Last April, a seed order arrived for just one packet of seeds – the Fortna White Pumpkin.  The shipping charge was higher than the price of that one packet of seeds so I pondered how I could increase the value of those seeds to the customer so that she wouldn’t mind paying more in postage that she did for the seeds!  Perhaps sharing the history of the pumpkin could add some value.

Every seed donated to the Heirloom Seed Project is documented in an old card file.  I went digging into the file to learn more of the history of the Fortna While Pumpkin.  It had been donated 25 years ago in 1990 and had been grown by the Fortna families in Franklin and Adams Counties.  It is an unusual white, pear-shaped pumpkin and creamy yellow on the inside.  To my amazement, I saw that it had been donated by the same person who was now ordering the seed!

I sent Sue a quick email and said, “This is your family’s pumpkin!”  She replied, “I am not the farmer my dad was, by any means!!”  I did grow one pumpkin last year and didn’t let the seeds dry as long as I should have, and the seeds molded.”

“So I am extremely grateful that you do the hard work of keeping these heritage seeds alive – if you hadn’t had the seed, it would surely have died out with my generation. (Not to mention that all the extended family would have been so disappointed to not have a Fortna Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving – we all still think it’s the best for pies!)”

Happy Thanksgiving to the Fortna Family.  We hope you enjoy your pie!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Darkness and Innocence: Learning About Floral Symbolism from Dr. Irwin Richman

Blog entry by Shayla Carey

Working at Landis Valley is always a learning experience, but rarely more so than when Dr. Irwin Richman is sitting next to me.  He and I share a cubicle wall, the same ringtone on our landline phones (which has led to many a cheerful hello to dismal dial tone by yours truly), and a passion for writing.

Every other day, he comes around the cubicle wall and shares some of the informative and witty snippets that will, eventually, go into his books.  Sometimes I even get to edit some of his work (although his wife, Susan, does the bulk of the editing during the first read-through).  When I have a press release that needs another set of eyes, I can often count on his insight to help me polish my work.  It’s like being part of a writing club and is one of the perks of my job.

During my four-year tenure here, Dr. Richman has finished at least three books and is working on another one now with our museum educator, Michael Emery.  Titled Roses and Ray Flowers, it promises to be a real feast for the eyes with fascinating information thrown in.  He’ll cover roses, daisies and other members of the mum family, zinnias, and wild ray flowers such as black eyed Susans and purple coneflowers.  Here are some interesting tidbits for use with illustrations, which led to further research for the book.

The Black Rose

“The black rose is a legend.  All available “black roses” found in nature are actually a deep red.  This artist’s version of a black rose is done in watercolor and was painted circa 1950 for use in an advertisement.”  The black color can be achieved by dying a lighter flower, much as carnations are dyed by florists.  A step by step process is recorded in “3 Easy Techniques to Create Black Flowers” by Gina Kellogg.  It is interesting to note that the printing process for this particular illustrated bloom started with a black rose and added pink half-tone to the flower and blue half-tone to the stem (not pictured).

Black roses have many different meanings:  death, mourning, mystery, etc., but they also have a political meaning as well, as evidenced by the song “Róisín Dubh,” or “Dark Little Rose,” a song sung in Irish that was covered by artists such as Sinead O’Connor and Cherish the Ladies, among others.  In the James Clarence Mangan version of the song (“Dark Rosaleen”), Ireland is the black rose and the singer willingly martyrs himself for her, as described in the book, Seamus Heaney and the Emblems of Hope, by Karen Marguerite Moloney.  A copy of the poem can be found in the book, The Song Lore of Ireland: Erin's Story in Music and Verse by Redfern Mason.

In an interesting twist, black roses and other dark flowers are becoming popular as bridal bouquets—despite their traditional meaning as the death of a relationship—and the meaning is changing to represent the birth of something new, according to the blog post, “The Meaning of the Color of Roses,” by color expert Kate Smith.

The search for a perfect black rose continues, with cultivars like Black Baccara and Black Jade coming close but requiring close monitoring and patience to achieve their darkest potential.  Wiki How has a nice article on growing dark roses, for those who want to cross over into the dark side of gardening.


“Lots of Daisies here, ready to be picked.  A postcard circa 1910 in the Alice Marshall collection at Penn State Harrisburg in Middletown, PA.  In the early years of the 20th century, ‘Daisy’ was a common girl’s name popularized by the song ‘Daisy Bell,’ written by English song writer Harry Dacre in 1892.  Everyone could sing the forward,

‘Daisy, Daisy, give me your heart to do
I'm half crazy, hopeful in love with you
It won't be a stylish marriage
I can't afford the carriage
But you look sweet upon the street
On a bicycle built for two’”

While the name never became as popular as Rose was during the early two decades of the 20th century, it held its own until the 1920’s, when it dropped off the list of top 200 names given to babies in America, according to the Social Security Administration.  It is one of those enduring floral names used in literature, though.  Symbolizing innocence and gentleness—who ever thinks of a hard and bitter nature when imagining a daisy flower?—the name has graced such literary characters as Daisy Miller, a bright and naïve young American lady in Henry James’ novella by the same name; Disney’s sweet and sassy Daisy Duck; little Daisy Armstrong, the true victim in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express; and Daisy Buchannan, a hard and selfish woman who proved to be Jay Gatsby’s downfall in The Great Gatsby (a great study in symbolism and the expectations of modern society).  More recently, Jessica Tandy became Daisy Werthan in the Oscar winning movie, “Driving Miss Daisy,” and Sophie McShera stars as kitchen maid Daisy Robinson Mason in the popular British drama, “Downton Abbey.”  Just thinking about the symbolism attached to the name brings depth to each of these characters, whether it's because they epitomize innocence or because they are the opposite.

Will Daisy ever top the charts of baby names?  Probably not in my lifetime, but I believe it will continue to adorn little girls throughout America as long as we believe in hope, innocence, and peace.

For more of Dr. Richman’s writing, pick up a copy of his newest book with Michael Emery, Living Crafts, Historic Tools, at the Landis Valley Museum Store.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bringing in the Harvest

Blog entry by Joanne Ranck-Dirks

As summer comes to an end and fall begins, the Heirloom Seed Project volunteers are gathering a bountiful harvest of heirloom vegetables.  From numerous Landis Valley gardens we have gathered ten different varieties of tomatoes, half a dozen different kinds of beans, as well as peas, peppers, kale, cabbage, cucumbers, watermelons, squash and corn. 

From these vegetables we are now harvesting seeds.  After slicing open the vegetables to remove the seeds, the chopped up tomatoes and peppers go home with volunteers and into the soup pot. There are as many variations of tomato soup and sauce as volunteers.  Trays of drying seeds fill the Seed House and there will still be beans to shell for several weeks.

We worked for this harvest!  We pulled weeds even when it was hot, gave the tomatoes and melons thick mulches of straw and trained the pole beans onto trellises.  We chased the geese out of the garden even as the groundhogs nipped off peas and beans and the horse knocked down the fence to plunder the corn!  So we shared our harvest grudgingly but there is still enough.
HSP volunteers Mary Holovack (l) and Mickey Blefko (r)
In several trial plots in the garden are varieties of heirloom vegetables that we haven’t grown before.  With a vote of confidence from volunteers, we will add several to our selection of plants to sell at the Herb and Garden Faire next spring and package seed to sell in the Museum Store.
As shelves in the Seed House are lined with jars filled with the harvest of seeds from our summer’s work, a sense of great accomplishment and satisfaction is the reward for our labors.  Soon it will be time to let the geese penned up in the horse pasture go free to glean the few green tomatoes left in the garden!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Brew Some Yeast with Hops

Guest blog entry by Dan Silfies

Hops vine along the Woman's Garden fence
Fresh hops drying in the Tavern
Today when we hear "hops" our minds go directly to beer, but that wasn't always the case. Of course hops were used for beer but they were commonly found in women's gardens for another use, yeast. That's right--to capture yeast from the air one could take a large handful or so and boil them in a few pints water. Then add the strained hop water to enough flour to make a thick batter (think pancake batter) and a little sugar in a pot or bowl. If you leave it uncovered in a few days it will start to bubble. That bubbling is the yeast that was in the air which fell in the batter and is now growing. Interesting, though, is that every hop yeast receipt that I have read calls for the addition of a half to full cup of liquid yeast to the batter before leaving it set out. This means that to get yeast you need some yeast to get you started.

Dried hops ready for brewing
It is now halfway through September and if you haven't already picked your hops, I'm afraid you maybe out of luck this year. The common rule of thumb was that one should "never let the September winds blow across your hops." I have picked mine and plan on making a pale ale with mine. It has been  suggested to me  that if you use fresh hops for beer, let them dry first then use the weight your beer recipe calls for. They can be used fresh and not dried but you have to double the amount called for. I get nervous not drying them because if you want to ever go back and replicate your brew it will be more difficult due to the varying moisture amounts that could be in the hops from harvest to harvest.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Saffron: a Lovely Little Spice

Blog entry by Joanne Ranck-Dirks

Late August is planting time for the fall-blooming saffron crocus (Crocus sativus).  Large corms planted in August may bloom in October and smaller corms will come into flower in fall next year. Saffron crocus blossoms yield perhaps the most expensive spice in the world – it’s also an essential ingredient in local Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.

The dark purple flowers each have three deep-red stigma which are called saffron threads.  At harvest the whole flower is cut and the threads are carefully extracted and spread to dry overnight.  Flowers need to be harvested daily as each blossom lasts only a day or two. The saffron flower harvest extends over several weeks in October. Here at Landis Valley, saffron is grown in the kitchen gardens at the Log Farm and also by the Brick Farmstead.

Saffron develops its rich flavor and fragrance if left to cure for about six months.  No special measures are needed for the curing process, just the discipline to resist using the saffron immediately. Saffron is most often used in cooking mildly flavored meats like chicken and also with noodles and potatoes. The red saffron threads add a warm yellow color to chicken corn soup, scalloped potatoes and enrich the flavor of bread fillings and stuffing for roasted pig stomach.

Saffron is part of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking in a geographic area of Pennsylvania sometimes referred to as the “saffron belt.” This area includes parts of Lancaster, York, Lebanon and Berks counties.  It is thought to have traveled to Pennsylvania with German immigrants in the early 1700’s from the Palatinate in Germany and may have been brought to that part of Germany by immigrants from Switzerland.

In our Pennsylvania Dutch past, many gardens reserved space for a saffron bed.  If gardens yielded more than the household needed, extra saffron found a ready market in local towns.  As the practice of growing saffron diminished, imported saffron took its place.  Small envelopes of saffron are still widely available in local grocery stores.

Saffron was traditionally stored in airtight wooden containers – a small bowl topped with a tight-fitting lid. The most prized of these containers are Lehn saffron cups turned on a lathe by Joseph Lehn (1798-1892) and then brightly painted.  Lehn made these decorated containers as gifts for family members.  The collection here at Landis Valley includes a number of these pieces.

Friday, July 24, 2015

From Gettysburg to Landis Valley: How History is Interconnected

Blog entry by Shayla Carey

History isn’t just what happens in a certain place at a certain time.  It is all interconnected and what happens at one place likely effects another.

Take my recent trip with Boy Scout Troop 241.  On our 15-mile hike around and through the Gettysburg battlefield, we stopped at various monuments to present research on the backgrounds of the men and women honored, as well as the structures themselves.

Hiking along Cemetery Ridge

I chose the 71st Pennsylvania, also known as the 1st California regiment.  I have family in both states, so it seemed a good fit for me.  In my research, though, I found a deeper connection to the regiment.  At our Civil War Days, on July 25 & 26, re-enactors from the 71st will come to Landis Valley to interact with visitors and demonstrate life during the Civil War.  Once I learned this, I became really excited and eagerly hit the books for more information to share here.  I first got an idea for the background of the war as a whole and the Battle of Gettysburg, in particular, from the Ken Burns documentary, “The Civil War.”  Then, I consulted the book, Pickett's Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg, by Earl J. Hess, a paper titled, “The Unsung Heroes; A Report on the Unique History of the 71st Pennsylvania in the Civil War,” by Paul Cleveland, and the article, “The California Brigade:  In West Philadelphia Born and Raised,” by Daniel Landsman, on the Civil War Trust’s website.

Their story began in April of 1861.  Colonel and Senator Edward Baker mustered the 1st California Regiment, consisting of 15 companies of men from along the East Coast—around Philadelphia—to satisfy California’s quota of men for the U.S. Army.  The men trained, lived and fought together as the 1st California under the command of Colonel Baker until the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in October, 1861, where Baker was hit by a volley of bullets to the heart and brain.  He died instantly.  In November of that year, they were claimed by Pennsylvania as part of their quota.

They fought many other battles together, seeing action at Fredericksburg and Antietam.  Among their officers was Captain Richard Penn Smith, who was promoted to Major after leading the men at Antietam and then to Colonel after the Battle of Bank’s Ford, during the Chancellorsville campaign.
Plaque for the 71st at the Pennsylvania Monument
Fast forward to May, 1863.  General Ulysses S. Grant began a 2-month-long siege at Vicksburg, a strategic stronghold along the Mississippi River.  Because of Vicksburg’s vital importance to the South, Confederate President Jefferson Davis summoned General Robert E. Lee after the Chancellorsville Campaign to Richmond, to discuss what to do about the Grant problem.  Davis wanted to send reinforcements to Vicksburg from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  Lee, straight from a major Confederate victory, had a bolder plan.  He proposed that his army move north into Pennsylvania, taking Harrisburg, then Philadelphia.  This would force Grant to draw back to defend Washington.  Davis was convinced.

The Army of Northern Virginia marched north, attracting the attention of the Army of the Potomac, led by Major General George G. Meade, which followed, carefully keeping between Lee and Washington D. C.  Eventually, they reached a crossroads town called Gettysburg.  Rumors state that the battle was started over shoes, but, according to the Civil War Trust, the armies met because the surrounding roads led to the town.  The Union Army arrived nearby and fighting broke out on July 1.  The federals retreated from the town to the hills to the south on the first day of fighting and, by the end of the day, both sides rested and regrouped.  On the second day, after both sides received reinforcements overnight, Lee ordered General James Longstreet to swing around the flank of the Union Army to capture the strategic point of Little Round Top.  Meade was equally determined to keep the position at all costs.  After heavy fighting, the Confederates came very close to taking Little Round Top, but were forced back by the brilliant maneuvers of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine.  As for the 71st, it was part of the Philadelphia Brigade that was stationed at a sharp angle on the stone fence on Cemetery Ridge.  They helped to repel a Confederate attack that evening, taking back a captured cannon in front of the wall.  Later that night, they were sent to Culp’s Hill to assist the 137th New York, but retreated back to the Angle when met with heavy fire at a point their commander deemed indefensible.  “Damn them, they had me flanked,” related Col. Richard Penn Smith.  “It was not my fault.”

Both sides won and lost ground that day, losing many men in the process.  “When the 2nd day’s battle was over, General Lee pronounced it a success.  But, we had accomplished little towards victorious results,” wrote General Longstreet.

By now, Lee’s blood was up.  He was convinced that he could deliver a crushing blow to the Union Army if he could attack the center and drive a wedge through the enemy.  Believing that his army was invincible and his men could do anything he told them to, he ordered Longstreet to concentrate his force on Cemetery Ridge, the heart of the Union Army’s position.  Longstreet gathered 11 brigades and put General George Pickett in charge of 3 of them.  Lee also ordered an attack on Culp’s Hill, to divert some of Meade’s forces, but it did little to help Longstreet’s attack.
The 71st took their position at “The Angle,” behind the sharp right turn in the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge and just to the right of Lt. Alonzo Cushing’s Battery A, 4th U. S. Artillery.  From 11 a.m. to just after 1 p.m., the Confederates put the finishing touches on their attack formations and the Union forces rested.  Finally, at 1:07 p.m., the Confederate heavy guns opened fire.

135 Confederate artillery guns bombarded the Union line, with the intention of softening the enemy.  The Union Army’s chief of artillery, Henry J. Hunt, ordered his men to wait about 15 to 20 minutes before answering fire, in order to gauge the most effective targets. 

Col. Smith recalled, “the air appeared to be thick with cannon balls, and the destruction caused by them was the most severe I have ever seen.” The 71st suffered minor casualties, but Cushing’s Battery, directly in front of them, did.  Smith was ordered to help man the guns and he sent between fifteen and fifty men (his accounts, written years later, vacillate between the two numbers).  These men stayed with the cannonade throughout the rest of the battle, according to Smith.

The skirmish at The Angle, as depicted in the Cyclorama, located at Gettysburg's Visitor Center
The actual charge was a slow and deliberate march that began at approximately 3 p.m.  The 69th Pennsylvania, which had been in front of the wall, was ordered back behind it and the 71st was to stay to their immediate right flank.  The 71st was too large for this position, though, and Smith pulled two companies of them to the rear wall, which offered them more protection and allowed them to reinforce the other eight companies on the left flank if they needed them.  The left flank used their own weapons and others that they had taken from fallen men to fire into the advancing Confederate lines.

Turns out, they did need them as, despite the heavy losses the Confederates took as they marched across the field, they managed to reach The Angle.  While the 69th fought tooth and nail, Smith pulled the 71st back.  It was a questionable move, as this allowed the Confederates, led by General Lewis Armistead, to stream over the wall.  Accounts other than Smith’s (including those of this superiors) suggest that the 71st broke rank and fled, but what happened next sealed the fate of the battle.

While the 71st’s left flank reformed and the Confederates fought the 69th at The Angle, the remaining two hundred men on the 71st’s right opened fire into the Confederates.  The left flank joined in, along with the 72nd Pennsylvania (which, up until this point, had been held in reserve) and two companies of the 106th Pennsylvania.  General Armistead fell and, with him, went the impetus of the Confederate attack.  After this, the Union forces counter-attacked in a melee of blue and grey.  Brigadier General John Gibbon said of the 71st and those they fought with that day, “had turned again, drove [the Confederates] back over the wall, capturing a large number of prisoners and many colors.”  Cleveland states,

“Private John E. Clopp of the 71st’s Company F captured the regimental colors of the 9th Virginia, subduing the enemy colorbearer with literally his bare hands.  Clopp received the Medal of Honor for his actions, and was the sole member of the California Regiment to be distinguished with the award.”
The 71st lost 21 killed, 58 wounded, and 19 missing of the 331 men who battled that day.  Smith was commended by Union General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the Federal II Corps.

They had other commanders since then, but, on July 2, 1864, almost a year after he led them at Gettysburg, the 71st Pennsylvania, formerly the 1st California, mustered out under Colonel Richard Penn Smith.

It didn’t rain during the battle and it didn’t rain while we marched 15 miles through the battlefield, but it rained the day after.  We were bombarded with rain and, after a valiant effort to remain dry as we hiked through the town and upon returning to our campsite to flooded tents and more rain and storms in the forecast, we bid a hasty and wet retreat from Gettysburg, just as Lee did 152 years ago.

You can meet re-enactors from the 71st Pennsylvania during Landis Valley’s Civil War Days, to be held tomorrow, July 25, and Sunday, July 26, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.  They will actually be in civilian costume and explaining the role of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, but they will, no doubt, be happy to talk about their regiment’s role in the war.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pure Bliss in the Form of Raspberries, Cake & Cream

Blog entry by Daniel Silfies

Welcome to my first entry into the Landis Valley Blog. My name is Daniel Silfies and I am an associate guide here at Landis Valley Museum. I do several crafts around the museum; my two personal favorites are weaving and cooking. In this blog, I will focus more on open hearth cooking, which I have been doing since January of 2014. As I am still learning and finding new recipes to try I will share some of my discoveries with you here on this post

For my first post, I didn’t know what I wanted to share until last night. While at home picking through my garden, I noticed that my blackberries are starting to ripen with my raspberries soon to come. The recipe below for cream sponge cake is a personal favorite of mine and both my wife and I have enjoyed it several times. I only learned about this recipe when I started working here, but it can be found in the Landis Valley Cookbook. We found  that a slice of this sponge cake covered in mixed berries and whipped cream is wonderful. The sponge cake has a lemon flavor that goes well with the berries. So, next time you want that strawberry short cake for dessert, stop and try this cake instead of the pound cake from the store.

Cream Sponge Cake
You will need:
2 eggs
About a cup or sour cream
1 cup sugar
The juice and rind of 1 lemon
1 tsp cream of tarter
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 350. In a one cup measuring cup beat the 2 eggs, then fill the cup the rest of  the way with the sour cream. Put this in a medium mixing bowl. Then beat in the sugar, lemon juice and lemon rind. In a separate bowl mix the flour, cream of tartar, and baking soda. Slowing add the flour mixture to the medium mixing bowl. Stir until well mixed. Add to a greased and floured bundt pan. Bake in oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until cake tested comes out clean.

Note:  Click here to purchase a copy of the Landis Valley Cookbook from our Landis Valley Museum Store website.