Breakfast with Indie: 30 Days of Homemade Dog Food

It’s been a few years since Indie has popped in to say hello on the blog. Today, she wanted to invite you to breakfast. Or more accurately, to invite you to look at her breakfast.

In 2018, we published a post on the history of dog food and how you could easily make your own. This was and still is a daunting notion for some pet owners. But back then we were on a mission to dispel the myth that feeding your dog was a difficult, complicated ordeal. In that year, Indie was six and had strictly eaten a homemade diet since the moment she bounded into our yard during a Fourth of July barbeque four years earlier.

In the kitchen with Indie – 2018!

Now Indie is nine, considered a senior dog, and still eating that same homemade diet. Over the years, that post has sparked a lot of conversation. It connected us with a batch of fellow homemade dog food comrades who championed this from-scratch form of feeding and eating, and it also spurned a lot of questions about portion sizes and nutrition and what-if-I-do it-wrong worries. I totally understand. Feeding your pet from scratch can feel like a big responsibility. But Indie and I confidently declare, if you can feed yourself, you can feed your dog.

Today’s post is just one of several coming out this year regarding nutrition, aging, and balanced meals based on vintage dietary wisdom. In an effort to explore the ways our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived, ate, and gardened back in the 20th century, we are tackling nutrition in 2023 from a variety of angles that don’t necessarily receive so much attention. This dietary dive begins with our four-legged friends, our best pals, our constant companions. Since their overall health affects our overall health and vice versa, and since our food is also suited to be their food, this is a copacetic cooking arrangement that benefits both pets and people.

Indie is so pleased to be your food guide today through the delicious land we (and she!) call breakfast. For the past eight years now, these are the types of foods that have kept her healthy and happy.

Day 20

Each morning, throughout the entire month of December 2022, I photographed Indie’s breakfast. By sharing what she ate each day, I thought this might help show fellow home cooks how fun, easy, inexpensive, and healthy it can be to make your pup’s food from scratch. Albeit, it is not as easy as opening a can of condensed dog food or a bag of ready-made kibble pulled off the grocery store shelf, but for those of you that are interested in embarking on such a culinary adventure, with your dog’s overall health in mind, this glimpse will give you a good example of the types of foods that dogs can eat.

Ever since the commercialization of pet food in the United States, beginning in the 1860s, there have been debates about what to feed dogs, how much, and for what reasons. Motives have not always been scrupulous in the industry. And our pets have not always been considered worthy of high-quality ingredients. When mass farming and feed lots came into play in the mid-20th century, pet food manufacturers turned their focus towards cheaper ingredients and filler products rather than wholesome, natural foods. Even today when consumers are more educated than ever on balanced nutrition, this area of the food industry still remains complicated, obtuse, and not altogether transparent. Luckily, beginning in the 1970s small rumblings of a grass-roots movement began to emerge among pet owners – those who were concerned that their pets were not getting the nutritional attention they deserved. A focus towards more thoughtful diets that were less processed, less traveled and more custom to individual dogs began to take shape. Slowly across many decades, this passion has bloomed into a food love affair between people and pets.

So what exactly did Indie eat for breakfast last month? Let’s look…

In our 2018 post, we went through the basics of cooking for canines and how their diets have changed since the days of James Spratt and his meat fibrine biscuits in the 1860s. Refer to that post for specific information as to foods to embrace and foods to avoid, as well as notes on ratios and serving sizes. Below, we break down Indie’s breakfast bowls week by week, ingredient by ingredient, to show the simple combinations that make up a healthy dog’s diet.

Day 29

Indie is an English shepherd by breed and a gourmand by heart. She weighs 55 pounds and is considered a medium-sized dog. We feed her twice a day – morning and night. She gets a fair amount of exercise every day and she is always (always!) excited to see what’s in her bowl.

We stay away from anything that contains soy, wheat, and corn, as they are known allergens which affect most dogs in one way or another. Also, we stay clear of dried fruit, beer, bones, wine, citrus, onions, garlic, seeds, cores and fruit/vegetable pits when it comes to feeding Indie, as they contain toxic elements and/or possible choking hazards. Other than that, a bounty of edible options and combinations await every day.

Primarily Indie eats what is in season, so her breakfast is never the same month by month but does follow a typical consistent pattern of one to two proteins. one to two grains, and one to three vegetables at each serving. A great deal of what we feed her is influenced by what I’m making for our human meals each week as well. Since this record was kept during the month of December, many of Indie’s breakfasts were planned around holiday meals. But you’ll notice the throughlines that stayed the same each day. Protein, vegetable, grain.

In trying to care for Indie’s health and the environment as best we can, we only feed her food that we want to consume ourselves – organic vegetables, humanely raised chicken, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and eggs from pasture-raised chickens. All of her meat proteins are always cooked, never raw, and we generally buy bone-in chicken with the skin on since the bones can work double-duty as a flavor enhancer while cooking and the basis of a broth once the meat is chopped up for her meal. For dinner, Indie eats in the same fashion as breakfast, but we tend to change up her vegetables so that she has a little variation between day and night. We serve all of her meals warm to the touch but not hot and never cold from the fridge.

Rice and/or oatmeal are generally daily staples and she tends to cycle through a round of vegetables every three days or so. On days that she gets extra exercise, like going for a hike, or spending a great deal of time running around the yard, then we’ll feed her larger portions. On days, when she is more sedentary or housebound due to inclement weather, she’ll receive a little less food since she’s not exercising as much. So far this balance between portion size and activity level has worked out really well. We’ve managed to keep her at her wealthy weight of 55 lbs for all eight years following this same routine.

These days, her most favorite foods are chicken, carrots, sardines, potatoes, pancakes, cheese, and oatmeal, but every year she seems to enjoy a new love only to move on to something else the next year. One year she was all about green beans. The next year it was mackerel. Then came a love affair with roasted pumpkins. Every once in a while, she’ll boycott a vegetable at breakfast or decide to only eat some of it, leaving the rest in her bowl skillfully arranged, like she’s creating some sort of art. Note the lone brussels sprout and grain of rice here…

A left-over brussels sprout.

These left-behinds are always short-lived. As rare occurrences, if a few pieces happen to sit in her bowl after she’s walked away, we just scoop up what’s remaining, and refrigerate it until dinnertime. Then it gets thrown back into the mix with her nightly meal, never to be seen again.

So how do we know that Indie is meeting all her nutritional requirements?

First off, we can see it. Her eyes are bright, her hearing excellent, her mobility flexible, her coat ultra-soft and shiny and her responsiveness quick and intuitive. She greets each day with energy, enthusiasm and an infectious amount of joy. And most importantly, her appetite is very, very healthy.

We also have assurance from the vet community as well. When we moved to New England this past spring, we got Indie all set up with a new vet so that she could get her flea and trick program started. As part of the vet’s welcome program, all new pup patients need to have an exam before they are administered the flea and tick medicine. This once-over by a vet is always a great opportunity to see how Indie’s homemade diet is holding up. Will she get a good report? Will she be deficient in some areas? Will they tell us we’ve been doing it wrong all along? Par for the course, these worries never come to light. Every vet visit she has ever had ends with flying colors in the general overall health department. This last time, she was greeted with good news on all fronts – eyes, ears, teeth, coat, mobility, energy, and responsiveness. The vet said she was in fantastic shape and couldn’t believe she was nine years old. I attribute this continual good news about her health to her homemade diet.

So feeding your pup can be as simple as that. If you make oatmeal for breakfast, cook your dog some oats too. If you’re making a big pot of chicken noodle soup for dinner, chop up some extra chicken, celery and carrots for your pal. If you are serving watermelon in the summer or roasting pumpkin wedges in the winter, toss a few extra pieces into the pup’s bowl too. All you need is protein, vegetables, and grain and then you are on your way.

Indie is always ready to see what’s heading into her bowl.

Since we moved to New England, Indie’s been expanding her palate to include more homegrown garden vegetables and regional foods including slow-cooked beans, crab, cod, blueberries, apples, and the occasional bite or two of lobster roll. Just like Katharine Hepburn, she’s also decided that swimming in the Long Island Sound is her new favorite form of exercise.

With so many pet food recalls today, expensive vet visits, and food product companies importing unregulated dog food from other countries, making your own dog food from whole ingredients is one way to ensure a healthy, nutritious and fulfilling life for your pup. A gourmet world awaits once you get past the cans and the kibble.

If you are thinking about starting your pup out on a homemade diet this year, I hope this post helps your canine culinary adventures take shape. If you are already a fellow dog foodie, Indie would love to know what’s on the menu at your house.

Cheers to our pups and to healthy, homemade breakfasts! Bone Appetit!

The Greenhouse Diaries Entry #4: Lessons in Highs and Lows, Triumphs and Tragedies

You might not suspect that a lot could occur in a greenhouse over a two-week period, but this time off for the Christmas break equaled quite a bit of unexpected change in our little house of wonder.

We had some pretty dramatic outdoor weather over the holiday with the lowest of lows being 6 degrees one night and the highest of highs being 58 during the day just this past Wednesday. It was a wide swing of weather for certain, but it provided a good fourteen days of observation to draw some enlightening information.

Frozen ground, ice streams and patchy snow covered our landscape during Christmas week.

First off, the few nights of single-digit weather created a bit of havoc. It also shed some new light on an ongoing topic. Do you remember the haybale conversation from The Greenhouse Diaries Entry #3?

Well as it turns out, first-hand experience is an excellent advisor. I can see now how the haybales would have been helpful through the cold snap. Like everybody across the country during Christmas week, we experienced the freezing polar vortex temperatures with daily highs between 9-19 degrees and nightly lows between 6-12 degrees. The indoor temperatures in the greenhouse on these coldest nights, with the heater going full blast, hovered in the high 30s and low 40s, which was pretty good considering the chilly weather. The coldest area of the greenhouse was the pea gravel floor which is where the broccoli, marigolds, aloe, mint, thyme, tarragon, basil, rosemary and geranium pots sit.

Although the sun came out on most of these single-digit days, one night in particular the wind picked up and grabbed hold of a small section of the plastic covering the door frame. It was a strong enough wind to open up a small gap between the plastic and the poly carb door, so that cold air could seep in through the greenhouses’s most vulnerable area. That night the windchill forced the outdoor temperature to sway between 0 and 1 degree. Inside, the greenhouse the temperature fell to 34 degrees – the danger zone. Some problems arose.

While there was never actually any frost inside the greenhouse, there were signs of distress on the leaves of the zinnias, broccoli, mint, thyme, geraniums, aloe, basil, marigolds and tarragon. Withered plants one shelf up from the pea gravel included the tomato, the Santaka pepper seedlings, the rabbit ear cactus, the pincushion flowers, and most unfortunate of all, Liz Lemon, who had made such great strides just the week before. Everything else located the next shelf up (about 2 1/2 feet off the ground) and higher was completely unaffected. Thankfully, heat rises.

The unhappy tomato.

Had the haybales been placed around the outside of the greenhouse, they might have added just enough insulation to protect the plants sitting at ground level. The other thing we could have done was just to put all the ground plants up higher in the air so they would be protected by the rising warmth from the heater. So two lessons were learned…

  1. Add haybales around the exterior during extreme weather dips or…
  2. Move the plants up higher in the greenhouse to capture the rising warmth.

Luckily, the extreme weather only lasted for a few days.

The trickiest part of greenhouse management so far, is that there is so much conflicting information online and so much variation between agricultural zones and particular weather situations each year that there seems to be no definitive right or wrong way to care for your own greenhouse. Except by watching and waiting and recording how your greenhouse acts in your particular environment. What is expert advice on one site is a disaster on another and vice versa. It’s never my intention to “sacrifice ” a plant but this time spent learning is proving to be really valuable in understanding not only how things grow, but also what things grow in a New England greenhouse in the middle of the winter.

In continuation of our year of waiting and watching, the withered plants were left alone to see if they might perk back up again as the weather warmed throughout the week. The severely affected plants on the floor level received a trim, removing all damaged leaves in hopes that they might heal themselves.

On the good news front, most of the plants bounced right back including the withery, weepy, unhappy tomato branch clipping who is now getting ready to offer up more cherry sized tomatoes…

But on the bad news side, three never recovered. We lost the basil, the zinnias and the marigolds, all plants that really crave that warm summer sun. As discouraging as it was to see these carefully tended plants go, not all was completely lost on them. Their stems and stalks were added to the leaf mold piles (another garden experiment started last fall) and will contribute to the joy and beauty of the garden come spring, just in a slightly different, more composted way now.

Layered leaf mold stacks – our soil amendment plan for the spring garden beds.

It was a good reminder that nothing lasts forever and that there is an ideal season for everything. Sometimes one just isn’t meant to meet the other. The great thing about nature though in times like this, is that it wastes no time moping. With the lost plants now removed from the greenhouse, there was more room for what was growing well to spread out in their vacant spots. As if to add some cheer to the atmosphere, everything that could send out a bloom between Christmas and New Year’s Day did…

Clockwise top to bottom: geranium, broccoli, nasturtium, lemon.

The broccoli infact was so quick to flower, it burst into bloom before I had a chance to harvest it for dinner one night. Exploding into a pom-pom of butter yellow flowers, it became a feast for the eyes instead of the belly. That’s fine by me. Broccoli produces one of the most beautiful, delicate flowers of all the garden vegetables, so it is a joy either way. The nice thing about broccoli also, is that its leaves are edible. We might not have enjoyed the spears but the leaves are next on the menu if the broccoli doesn’t send out any new shoots.

Broccoli leaves!

Also on the harvest list is the bell pepper. Currently, it’s measuring in at just under 4″ inches in length – close to mature size that makes it ready for picking soon. This pepper comes with an added dose of mystery included too. Last summer, we grew two varieties of bell peppers in the garden. Adored by slugs, bunnies and maybe a vole or two, the pepper beds were constantly being reseeded and defended all summer.

Out of time, but not yet fully grown, just before the fall frost I transplanted three of the strongest plants to see if they would continue growing in the greenhouse. Two of the three were hot pepper plants of the jalapeno and chile variety and then the third plant was a bell pepper. I thought I had transplanted an heirloom variety called California Wonder, which if not picked when green will ripen to a deep red shade. But based on its shape right now, it could be the other pepper plant we experimented with – Orange Sun – which will as its name suggests, turn a vibrant orange when ready for harvest. In both cases, the longer the pepper sits on the vine the sweeter it gets. So a surprise is in store as we wait to see what color it turns out to be…

The other green delight that really took off on a growing adventure these past two weeks was the parsley. With no extra help or amendments, it’s doubled in height since the last diary entry. The only way I can really rationalize this growth spurt is to say that we had a little help from the gods. The ancient Greeks believed that parsley was a sign of death and rebirth.

In mythology, it gets caught up in stories surrounding the baby, Archemorus, and the parsley that grew from his blood after he was killed. Later, the Romans believed that Persophone ( the Goddess of Spring, the Underworld, and of Vegetation) was in charge of guiding souls to their final resting place in the underworld. Parsley throughout Roman times adorned gravesites and funerary objects as a gift to Persephone so that she would take good care of those that perished.

Between the demise of the marigolds, zinnias, and basil and the growth of the parsley, the flowers, the bell pepper, and the broccoli, I can’t help but think that Archemorus and Persephone were at work, guiding the greenhouse through these past two weeks of dramatic winter weather. From death springs life. And parsley too.

Bottom right: Parsley full of joy!

Cheers to weather and what it teaches us, to plants that persevere in the face of difficulty, to Persophene and Archemorus, and to this brand new year full of possibilities. Hope your 2023 is off to a beautiful start!

{The Greenhouse Diaries is an ongoing series. if you are new to the blog, catch up here with Week #1, Week #2, and Week #3 here}

Reading While Eating: Five Recommended Books about Home and History Discovered in 2022

2022. It was the year of the continuing pandemic, the year of dramatic weather, the year of gratitude, of comfort food, of appreciating small details and big moments, and finally the year of being able to get back together with friends and family. It was also the year of the recommended book. It’s so wonderful to hear so much buzz about favorite book lists and recommended reads these days all from a variety of different outlets. They’ve popped up in the usual places – bookstore emails, cooking magazines and blogs but also in unsuspecting places this year too – podcasts, garden centers, even our grocery store had a section of books dedicated to staff picks. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we have our own favorites to recommend too.

For a long-time on the blog every December, I shared a batch of books that I discovered during the year that helped fuel research for a recipe or give context to a blog story or a shop item. Then that list seeped out into other months with other recommendations, because the reading is always happening and so many books swimming on my desk, on my nightstand, on my dining table set their hooks. Sometimes it was a book about a specific person, a surprise, like Bette Davis. Sometimes it was atmospheric like the novel Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange and sometimes it was a gathering of memories about a place that made the past come to life in the present like meeting the Durrells in My Family and Other Animals or the Chamberlains in Clementine in the Kitchen. Sometimes it was even books published so long ago that they came back as new-to-the-world anniversary editions like the 1959 novel Mrs. Bridge, about the midcentury suburban home life of everywoman, India Bridge.

It’s been three years since our last book recommendation list, but I’m excited to say that our end-of-the-year wrap-up includes this tradition now taken up again. So whether you are traveling this week, and need something to read on the train, on the plane, or in the car, or you are taking a few days off to relax and wind down your 2022 festivities, I hope this list will add some interest to your December days.

Not all these books are brand new to the publishing world this year. The oldest one debuted in 1992 and the most recent was published just this past April (2022), but they were new to me so perhaps they will be new to you as well. This year, they each happen to center around the idea of home and the occupants in it. There are grand palaces, a rustic second home, a 1600s-era house passed down through generations, and a new old house ready to be revived. There are famous names attached to a few, and a long lineage attached to another. There is one house that’s continuously under construction the whole way through and then there is another house that’s patched up here and there with thoughtful consideration drawn out over generations. Through these books, we travel. To England, to Italy, to Connecticut, to Massachusetts, and then back again to England. These are family stories, personal stories, and cultural stories, but above all, they are human stories that connect us to places and people we call home. I hope you find them as fascinating as I did. And I hope they spark a conversation or two once read over a meal shared. That’s always how we like to talk about books around here.

Let’s take a look at this year’s favorites…

Living in A Foreign Language (2008)

Fans of the tv show, L.A. Law will know Michael Tucker and his wife Jill Eikenberry. They were regulars on the show for eight years spanning the 1980s-1990s in career-defining roles that still get them noticed around town. Michael’s memoir, Living in a Foreign Language, is about his purchase of a centuries-old farmhouse called Il Rustico in Italy’s Umbrian countryside just outside of Spoleto. Flanked by olive groves and herb gardens, it was initially intended as a second home to supplement but also maybe swap Michael and Jill’s L.A. lifestyle. Only there is one hitch. Jill wasn’t looking to change much about their life in Los Angeles.

Michael and Jill (far left – bottom and top row) appeared in the cast of LA Law from 1986-1994

When Michael, an unapologetic house collector, sold his wife’s dream home in Big Sur, seemingly on a whim, he tried to convince her that Italy was the answer for the next chapter of their lives. Jill, not quite as swept up in this international escapade as her husband, eventually, warms to the idea of prosciutto for breakfast, of afternoons spent in Italian language classes, and of nightly dinner parties with new friends. Michael on the other hand is all in, right from the beginning. Not knowing the language, not knowing the real estate market, not knowing anything about maintaining ancient stone houses or the country they sit on, Michel jumps in feet first with enthusiasm and a wine glass in hand.

Traveling back and forth between Italy and the U.S., Michael spends much of his adjustment time by himself, getting to know his new house in Italy while Jill is back in California. He is confounded, disoriented and enchanted by everything. He feels the heat of the sun, the twinkling light as it shines through the olive trees, the step at the top of the stairs where centuries of dwellers have walked before him. He hears the melodious Italian accents but cannot fully understand them. He doesn’t know where to deposit his trash or service his car or handle the necessary day-to-day tasks that defy international boundaries. But that is of little consequence. He’s in Italy. Realizing a dream. And really that’s all that matters. In one lovely paragraph in particular, he states his desire for this new adventure in this new land. To immerse himself in the circadian rhythm of time and place. There at Il Rustico, he didn’t want to douse the house with his L.A. energy, his American expectations, and his forced agendas. He wanted instead to fall in step with the natural rhythm of his surroundings. To experience the house, the property, the country, as it was not as he wanted it to be. Isn’t that a lovely sentiment?

Funny and thoughtful and really well-written, I read this book over the summer during our New England heatwave, which means it’s great if you are looking to warm up this winter given Michael’s descriptions of the pastoral beauty that is Italy in all its warm and welcoming ways. While reading, be prepared to be hungry for all foods Italian. You’ll never crave prosciutto and pasta more after reading about all those Italian dinner parties. If you need a great recipe for authentic Italian tomato sauce, try this one.

Martha Stewart’s New Old House (1992)

Martha Stewart’s fourteenth book, New Old House, might have been published thirty years ago, but it’s still as fresh and captivating as the day it debuted back in 1992. It tells the story in words and photographs of how she renovated Turkey Hill, her most well-known home and where so much of her content, inspiration, homesteading and presentation skills were fine-tuned before she moved on to other places and other properties.

Turkey Hill post renovation. Photo courtesy pf marthastewart.com

Built in Connecticut in 1805, Martha takes readers month-by-month through the process of not only historically and accurately restoring Turkey Hill but also making it a place where she could live, work and dream into the future. In true Martha fashion, she’s meticulous in her every effort and her recording of it, sharing her processes for each detail from window reglazing all the way to landscaping. It’s fun to see how the house transforms under her care. This book is also a great guide for anyone who is fixing up an old house of their own, as she offers lots of expert tips and guidance on how to tackle specific issues relating to antique properties.

How To Be a Victorian (2015)

I first picked up this book because I thought I might learn more about antique dishware, serving practices, table settings, and kitchen life in general. What unfolded instead was a complete history lesson in all the details of day-to-day Victorian life.

Beginning at daybreak and taking readers through an entire twenty-four-hour period of life in Victorian England between the years 1837-1901, this is a nitty gritty, detailed account of the routines of men, women, and children. Sparing no detail, historian Ruth Goodman covers all aspects of the day starting first thing in the morning with feet on the floor. Addressing each person one by one – men getting out of bed, women getting out of bed, servants getting out of bed, children getting out of bed and the processes they each go through to begin their day based on different socio-economic levels, this book is fascinating from page one. Full of insights, fun facts, and history, Ruth shares an honest, accurate, unflinching and oftentimes unromantic look at what Victorian life was really like, from how they washed their faces to how they served their soup. From fashion to finances, bathing to beauty routines, leisure activities to work, religion to education, medicine to mechanic marvels, all gets covered here.

At times funny, insightful, thought-provoking, sad, disturbing, and always engrossing, there are fun facts galore lining every page. Some of my favorites include the topic of corsets and how women were so accustomed to wearing them from girlhood through all of their adult years that their spine relied on them completely for proper posture. Take a corset off of a Victorian woman who had worn one for most of her life and you’d see that her spine would have been like jelly, flopping around like a limp rubberband unable to keep her upright on its own. As it turns out, all those muscles surrounding her spinal column never had to put forth any effort to hold her up with a corset in place, so they weren’t strong like our backs are today.

More fun facts await. Women were the ones who bathed the least, children the most, and then men. Women thought it was too revealing, too improper to be naked in a tub even inside the privacy of their own homes amongst their own family. Up until the late 1800s, children were thought of as little adults, with no societal understanding of their developing brains, emerging personalities, growing bodies or the importance of playtime. Everyone drank beer every day, kids included because water was viewed as unsanitary. The more money a Victorian household brought in, the bigger the breakfast, with most households on average consuming just beer and bread or tea and toast in the morning. Eggs, sausages, pancakes, toast with butter and jam, were luxuries that were mostly afforded to the middle and upper classes, but even then breakfast was a lighter affair. As a result of the industrial age, the air from factories that hung around bigger cities like London was so fallow with fog, smog, and pollution that sight was limited to just a few feet ahead.

The hardest parts of the book to read were about the kids, sometimes sent to work as young as three or four but mostly between the ages of seven and twelve, to work in factories or in domestic service to help feed their families and support their parents. Since they were viewed as little adults, no one was much concerned with kids making friends, developing their imaginations or getting educated. Disease ran rampant. Children were the most vulnerable to illness and death. Many of the factories offered meals to their employees so they could work longer hours (usually 10-12 hours a day) which was attractive for parents since it was less mouths to feed at home and a guaranteed meal for the financially challenged.

During this era, there was no thought to nutrition until the early 1900s, so most Victorians subsisted on a diet of bread, tea, and beer. Vegetables weren’t even considered for their nutrient values in any way until dietitians, nutritionists and sanitary kitchens came into the conversation in the early 1900s. Food was on everyone’s mind all the time. A large majority of Victorians were hungry throughout much of their lives. Cleanliness played a factor in the success of a long life. Really I could go on and on about all the interesting details packed in here, but then I’d spoil the book for you. As Ruth stated, most of us in our modern world have a very glossy, romanticized version of what the Victorian era was all about thanks to movies and novels that pull from the glamour of the era but not always the grit.

The Palace Papers (2022)

We discussed this book in our weekly email newsletter for the shop (join us here) a few weeks ago, but it was so interesting I wanted to be sure to include it here as well. Between the debut of The Crown in 2016, the death of Queen Elizabeth, this past September, the handful of royal recipes we’ve made for the blog here, and here and the new documentary series just released by Meghan and Harry, I’ve been really fascinated by the Windsor family and their long-lasting dynasty.

Since so many books have been written about the royals over plenty of decades it can be tricky to find ones that aren’t gossipy or loaded down with hearsay and conjecture or so full of faraway historical information that they become unrelatable. The Palace Papers changes all that. Written by award-winning journalist Tina Brown, The Palace Papers offers an insightful look into the lives of the modern royal family by connecting relationships, behaviors, situations and circumstances together to create a complete portrait of how and why royal members act, live, love, and work the way they do. Beginning with the parents of Elizabeth and Philip, Tina traces the family’s lineage forward to wind up with Harry and Meghan at the end, weaving together critical moments in history that directly affected the family’s relationships with each other and the world. Conducting over 100 interviews and taking her over 10 years to write, Tina captivatingly connects all the details that string together these immense lives. There is the long-standing love affair with Camilla and Charles, the relationship with the press that Diana strategically maneuvered, the behind-the-scenes moments of Queen Elizabeth following 9/11, the genial acceptance of the Middleton clan into the royal fold, the rise of Meghan’s career, and Philip’s creative get-away-from-ita-all space where he spent much of his senior years. All these details make the royal family (from page glance at least) seem both relatable and normal given the circumstances that they have all grown up in.

It can be difficult to understand the complicated life that each member of the family leads or has led, particularly Queen Elizabeth, but Tina does a great job of humanizing their actions while also giving readers a peek behind the closed doors of an institution few will ever get to see. With a journalist’s eye for detail and a novelist’s ability to craft nuance, Tina paints a picture of the royal family that is honest, raw, fallible and human above all else. It’s a big book (592 pages) about a big story set against a big backdrop, but by the end, you can see that each person is just trying to navigate life the best way they know how just like the rest of us.

Red House (2005)

Last but definitely not least, as this was my most favorite book of the year, Red House tells the story of the longest inhabited house in New England. Built in 1647 in Massachusetts, the Red House has always been known as home to generations of the Hatch family for three centuries. Until one day it was not. Sold in the 1960s to the Messer family, this is the story of a house in both modern and historical times as told by Sarah Messer, whose parents purchased it away from the Hatch hold and gave it a second life.

The Red House – Marshfield, MA circa 1936

Weaving back and forth between modern day and the past genealogical lineage of facts and faces, history comes alive on each page. Poetic, lyrical and with a great talent for description, Sarah masterfully ties the past with the present to completely redefine the meaning of home, showing how that definition changes with each occupant century by century, generation by generation.

Through births, deaths, weddings, fires, famine, war, peace, prosperity and purpose, the Red House evolves, gathering stories, outliving owners, and making an everlasting impression on the landscape where it stands. Beautifully written and complete with photographs that help illustrate the stories, I want to tell you everything about this book and nothing about it so that you’ll be as equally surprised and delighted by the contents inside.

Having said that, Red House encompasses a lot of different interests for a lot of different types of readers. Themes run the gamut from history, romance, familial bonds, architecture, biography, preservation, women’s history, fish-out-of-water, and coming-of-age storylines. There are stories about antique handmade brides’ towels, about wills, documents and photographs, about letters detailing human joys and maladies. There are stories of the ten years the house was a flower farm, a disaster, a day camp. Stories of people who wanted the house, and stories of people who didn’t want it. There are stories of critters, of ghosts, of construction projects that have been a part of the house’s fabric since the 17th century. There are cocktails on the back lawn, faulty electrical lines, mosquito-riddled nights, papery walls and unnerving questions proposed by the historical society. There’s the history of Two Mile (the enclave where the house rests), the history of the white house next door, the history of Sarah and her siblings. There’s so much! But I’ll stop now so that I won’t give it all away other than to say it is definitely a must-read for any old house lover.

Anna Quindlen once wrote… “books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination and the journey. They are home.” I love that. How true, especially in this case. I hope you find some new and exciting material here in this list of home and history books. If you encountered any extra special books this year please share their titles in the comments section, and of course, if you read any of the recommended books above please share your thoughts.

May the rest of your 2022 be full of engaging stories. Cheers to great books and great writers!



Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas dear kitcheners!

Hope your holiday is filled with all sorts of delicious delights and that you are staying warm and cozy. We are spending the holiday cooking up a whole new batch of vintage recipes and stories that I can’t wait to share with you.

The Greenhouse Diaries are on break for the holiday, but we’ll be back next week to share lots of news of how our little growing station has fared on these chilly days and nights. In the meantime, the geraniums surprised us this week with enough new blooms in pink and red to make a bouquet for Christmas Day.

Sending lots of love and good wishes for a happy holiday.

The Greenhouse Diaries Entry #3: Snow and Bell Peppers

current outside temperature: 33 degrees, greenhouse temp: 61.2 degrees

Last week, we left off with two cliffhangers… an impending snowstorm and an outbreak of powdery mildew. Did the greenhouse stay warm during our first storm? Have the sage and the tarragon recovered? Let’s see…

The total accumulation last Sunday night was 2.5″ inches. The greenhouse didn’t blow away or collapse (a victory!) and nothing was frost covered inside. We didn’t get the haybales purchased and placed before the storm for two reasons… 1) we wanted to see how the greenhouse would do on its own and 2) perhaps there might be a better alternative.

In theory, haybales placed around the outside base of the greenhouse act as insulation. They cover any vulnerable seams or crevices from drafts as well as act like a barrier against cold winter winds. Our greenhouse was never meant to be air-tight in its design. There are tiny exposed airways around some connector pieces and screws, which is good for ventilation. I hesitated about the bale method of winterization because there are about a dozen plants in our greenhouse that draw light from the bottom sidewalls and the hay bales once placed around the base would block their access to light from that direction. Of course, that would probably only encourage the plants to grow taller, to reach for the light above the bales and towards the roof but the idea of covering up this beautifully airy space with something heavy and dense didn’t seem quite right. In honor of light, we chose to wait and see.

So the snow came and the greenhouse experienced it sans haybales and everything was fine, except for the temperature. The coldest the greenhouse has ever been, even with the heater going at level 3 (the maximum setting) was that night. 43 degrees. Not cold enough for frost to appear but more than twenty degrees away from ideal interior temperatures. This first snowfall was such a good test. We definitely needed to protect it more.

My husband came up with the great idea of a plastic sheet covering the door frame from the peak all the way down to the base. The plastic at the roof was held down with two leftover 2 x 6 pieces of lumber, one on each side of the peak with the board ends resting in the gutters to help hold it all in place. Three treated 4x4s weighted down the plastic at the base. Essentially, he made a makeshift curtain panel for the front door that looked like this…

By covering the greenhouse in this way, it eliminated the draft that comes in around the door while still allowing lots of light to come through. Once this new plastic panel was added, the interior temp went right back up to 65 degrees within an hour. Success!

Until the next night.

Wind got a hold of the plastic and carried the curtain across the yard at some point in the middle of the night. The internal greenhouse temp plummeted straight back down to the low 40s.

Not entirely deterred, my husband set out for a second attempt. This time he stapled the plastic to the treated wood at the base, nailed two shorter boards together to form a wooden peak for the top that mimicked the pitch of the roofline, and then stapled the top end of the plastic to the wooden frame…

And that turned out to make all the difference. For the rest of the week, the plastic has stayed in place and the greenhouse is warm and draft free. To gain entry, we just take the wooden peak down and set the treated wood off to the side and then put it all back in place once we’re done inside. So simple.

Temperatures fluctuations and winter weather aside, luckily the greenhouse plants didn’t seem to be affected by all these up-and-down changes. The sage and tarragon were still flocked with powdery mildew so they got a second spray of the organic fungicide. The tarragon responded to this extra care and attention by slowly unraveling its first flower…

The marigolds have been thinning themselves out one by one since they arrived in the greenhouse, so they got repotted to a smaller container. If I had to peg any of the summer flowers that I thought would do best in the greenhouse it was the marigolds. They were such hardy growers in the garden from spring to fall, so I was surprised to see them losing leaves, drying out and getting long and leggy in the greenhouse. Hopefully, this new home will encourage them to fill out more around the middle.

On the growth spurt front, the geranium leaves tripled in size…

the broccoli grew by another inch…

the spicy Santaka pepper seedlings put out a whole new layer of leaves…

and our lone bell pepper seems to grow bigger by the minute…

Between seeing the greenhouse outlined in snow early in the week and then hearing the tinkling of raindrops on the roof at the end of the week, I can understand now why Philip Johnson built and loved his Glass House so much.

The Glass House in New Canaan, CT designed by Philip Johnson in 1945 and built in 1949.

While working on that and the neighboring Brick House, Philip mentioned being overtaken by waves of emotion for certain details during the design process. He was talking about archways and vantage points and shapes that felt like hugs, but I loved that he used the word overtaken to describe his attraction to the space and his ideas in it. That’s exactly what it feels like to stand in the greenhouse. To be overtaken by nature, by light, by warmth, by possibility, by protection. It’s no wonder plants thrive in such an environment.

Ivy-Leaf Geranium

As we work through renovations on the 1750 House during these fall and winter months, oftentimes the greenhouse is the warmest, quietest, calmest place to be. The polycarbonate walls muffle man-made sounds from the environment but oddly amplify the sounds of surrounding nature like birds singing in the trees or leaves whirling around on the ground. The bright light, even when the sky is cloudy and threatening with rain or snow, illuminates all the details on every leaf, on every petal. Possessed of an ever-evolving scent similar to warm tea the whole space changes aromatically day by day depending on what’s in bloom. And the heater – that warm little hug of a heater wraps everything up like a cozy sweater on the coldest of days. I used to think The Glass House was such a vulnerable piece of art, exposed, and unsettling in its lack of privacy. But now I see that what Philip created there was a love letter to the senses. This greenhouse is much the same. Plastic curtain panels and all.

The Greenhouse Diaries Entry #2: Surprise and Circulation

The chronicling of the greenhouse is underway. If you are new to the blog this week, catch up with our new gardening series in Entry #1 here. For everyone else who is all caught up let’s carry on to week two of news from the growing greenhouse.

It’s only been seven days since our last post but already there is much to discuss on both the good and bad fronts. First off, we’ll start with the food portion since that was a big reason to build a greenhouse to begin with.

We harvested our first bowl of arugula last Sunday and ever since, it and the nasturtiums have been adorning our plates all week long. Here, they were a part of last Sunday’s brunch of eggs cooked in foccacia bread pockets…

The tomatoes ripened! In just one week they went from a zesty shade of green apple to sunny golden orange. We were curious to see if these indoor growers would taste the same as the ones we enjoyed in the garden all summer, and much to our delight I’m happy to say they tasted equivalent. Which means they tasted fantastic. Sweet, soft yet slightly firm, and just as juicy as their summer counterparts, these two beauties ended the week on a sweet note.

Grown from seed purchased from our favorite seed company (A true review! They are not a blog sponsor.) these tomatoes were determined to grow regardless. Producing fruit the size of large marbles, we grew eight plants of the Sun Gold Cherry varietal this summer. Some reached monster heights of over 10′ feet tall and they produced a couple of big handfuls every other day from August-October. The branch grown in the greenhouse was from a stem cutting. It was our first experiment to see if the cutting would root in water, which it did, and then immediately it went to flower. A little bit of hand-pollinating with a paintbrush, and two weeks later these two tomatoes started forming. They grew so quickly, we never even had a chance to plant the cutting in actual soil. These are just growing and flowering in a jar of water. Isn’t nature amazing?

Next in the ripening department is the Numex Lemon Jalapeno pepper. Because of the timing last spring of when we moved to 1750 House, we started our seeds and our garden beds pretty late in the season. The pepper plants didn’t have a full chance to grow, bloom and then produce mature peppers before the cold autumn weather settled in, so we pulled the three strongest from the ground and potted them for the greenhouse.

This summer, we had a big struggle with slugs in the garden beds so you can see the leaves are quite chewed through, but the plants continued to flower and persevere regardless. In the greenhouse, they look a little raggedy, but they are still growing so we are encouraged. Unintentionally, we may have stunted them a bit when we moved them to the greenhouse during their early post-flower days as they are now producing smaller fruit. But nevertheless, one pepper so far has turned yellow, which means in theory, it is ready for picking even though it’s just a little pip of a pepper. I’m going to leave it on the plant for a few more days to see if it grows any bigger – otherwise, we’ll pull it and see how it tastes.

Our last vegetable of the week that’s really taken off is the broccoli. It sits closest to the door, which is the coldest part of the greenhouse and since broccoli prefers cooler weather, this seems like an ideal location. From last week to this week, the floret has grown taller and wider by about an inch in both directions and has a new companion shoot growing up next to it. Like the peppers, the broccoli also suffered through slug season, but for every leaf that the slugs ate, a new leaf grew in its place. All summer I loved the broccoli’s optimism. In the face of slug defeats, it was the ever-present cheerleader that kept encouraging us to keep going.

On the flower front, the highlight of the week was Liz Lemon. For long-time readers of the blog, you’ll remember Liz from her indoor orchard stories. The last time we checked in with her on the blog was in November of 2020, when she was a Southerner living in the city and looked like this…

A little while after that photo was taken, she showered us in lemons (three!)…

But things took a bleak turn when we moved north. The indoor orchard, cultivated over six years of Southern city living, had many casualties. Avi the Avocado (age 6), Grace the Grapefruit (age 4). Jools the Date Palm (age 2). By the time, we loaded up the truck and moved a thousand miles away from the southern sun, we were down to two plants – Liz Lemon and Pappy the Papaya. Neither were thrilled at leaving the heat and humidity of the South. To put it lightly, Liz especially was NOT a fan of the new 20-degree weather, or the weekly snowfalls or the five months spent in a cottage on a lake in wintertime Pennsylvania. She lost every single leaf but three and was down to two twigs – just a skeleton of a body.

When we finally found the 1750 House in spring and became official New Englanders, I thought a summer spent in the warm air and sunny backyard garden would be Liz’s cureall. But nothing happened there either. All around her pots of daisies bloomed, the okra headed skyward, the tomatoes blushed rosy red and gold. Even Pappy flourished and became so content with New England life that he sported his first flower in August…

But Liz was not following suit. Out of ideas as to how to fix her, a repot and a move to the greenhouse seemed like the final attempt at revival. There, for more than two months, she just sat there on the shelf with nothing changing. And then this week, magic happened. At long last, Liz has come around. She sprouted five new leaves and two sets of flower buds. Just like that. Practically overnight.

Like an early Christmas gift, I was so excited, I took her inside for a portrait. Holiday magic comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes around here. And it is never what I think it might be. Two years ago, we had holiday magic in the form of a lost cookie recipe found thanks to Ken and Cindy. Last year, it was a bevy of snowstorms one right after the other. This year, our holiday magic comes with lemons.

The other happy campers these days are the geraniums, which are growing more and more leaves each day. Here’s the growth spurt from last week to this week…

But for all this growth and joy and magic of this second week in December, there has been a challenge to contend with in the greenhouse too. The sage came down with it first. And then the tarragon. Powdery mildew.

This can happen when there is not enough air circulation in the greenhouse. Along with winterizing the greenhouse, I also should be adding a small fan just to move the air around. When the daytime temperatures are warm enough (above 60 degrees) of which we, surprisingly, have had a few recently, the heater can be shut off and the greenhouse window vent opened, and that usually allows for adequate air circulation.

But now it’s too chilly to open the vent. Ideally, I’m trying to keep the daytime temps in the greenhouse between 70-75 degrees and the nightime temperature between 55-65. There are only three settings on the heater 1, 2 & 3 with 3 being the warmest. Depending on the daytime temperatures outside and the amount of sun on each particular day, there is usually a bit of fiddling around with the heat settings once or twice a day to keep things balanced. The warmer it gets in the greenhouse, the higher the humidity gets which then welcomes pesky problems like powdery mildew, scale bugs and funguses. Just like life in the outside world, life in the greenhouse is a continuous adjustment of care and considerations. I treated the sage and tarragon with an organic garden-friendly fungicide, so hopefully, that will clear things up. More on that next week.

Today there is a possibility of 2-4 inches of snow. Although we have had two nights of flurries already this month, the storm tonight will be our first accumulation of the season. Like sending a baby out into the world for the first time, I’m anxious and excited to see how the greenhouse will manage when enshrouded in a snow blanket. Will it remain warm and cozy and fragrant with the scent of honeyed perfume all season long or will it be too delicate of a creature to stand up to a strong New England winter?

Katharine with her husband E.B White and one of their furry friends.

I looked to the garden writer, Katharine White who inspired this series, for advice. She lived in Maine and was used to snow and winter and caring for flowers and plants in the off-season. “Outdoors, nature is apt to take over and save you from many a stupidity, but indoors you are strictly on your own,” wrote Katharine. It was not exactly the reassurance I was looking for.

When you move into a new (old) house in a new state with a new agriculture zone, there’s a lot of waiting and seeing and observing and guessing all buoyed by optimism. Next year at this time, we’ll know a lot more about the capabilities of the greenhouse in cold weather. But for now, here’s to hoping that the wild and willful nature present inside the greenhouse at the moment will suffice enough to save us from any serious stupidities of our own doing, at least in this first snowstorm. More on that, next week.

In the meantime, cheers to the Christmas magic of Liz Lemon, to the nasturtiums who look like little kids lined up at the window waiting on the first flurries, and to our first impending snowstorm. Hope your week brings some unexpected joys this week too.

The Greenhouse Diaries: Entry #1

Inspired by the writings of Katharine Sergeant Angell White, there’s a new series coming to the blog called The Greenhouse Diaries. A week-by-week account of growing flowers, food and ornamentals in a 4′ x 6′ greenhouse in New England, it’s a work-in-progress series that chronicles our adventures as we build the gardens of 1750 House and grow ingredients for our vintage recipe posts.

Katharine Sergeant Angell White (1892-1977)

If you are unfamiliar with Katharine, she was a longtime editor of The New Yorker magazine, working there from its infancy to the mid-20th century. She was also the wife of E.B. White, who wrote Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and other fantastic works that delighted the imaginations of both kids and adults.

Katharine and E.B.’s home in Brooklin, Maine. Image courtesy of maineaneducation.org

In the 1950s, when Katharine and E.B. left their New York City apartment to take up permanent residence in their vacation house in Maine, Katharine embarked on a writing career. After decades of working around some of the best literary talents of her generation including her own husband, you might suppose she would turn to writing things she was accustomed to reading at the magazine – fiction or poetry or short stories or perhaps some reminiscences about life in the publishing world that she had known so well for so long. Not so. Instead, Katharine was inspired by the thing that grew around her in Maine – her garden and all that it entailed. From planning and plotting to cultivating and researching, she fell in love with horticulture from all angles. On index cards, in diary pages, and in letters to friends, for two decades she enthusiastically documented her successes and failures, her insights and observations, the learned histories, and the passed-along advice relating to gardening as hobby, art, and food source.

Katharine’s expertise grew by trial and error, by curiosity, and by a passion that captured her attention year-round despite the cold winds that blew off the Atlantic, the snow that inevitably piled up in winter, and the wild, rugged landscape that made growing anything in Maine both a challenge and a reward. Her published pieces eventually led to a book of collected works on gardening compiled by E.B. after Katharine’s death in 1977. Lauded for her fresh perspective and interesting subject matters (like one essay that reviewed the writers of garden catalogs), she had a unique voice that resonated with other gardening enthusiasts around the country. Even E.B. was surprised at his wife’s candor and affection for her subject matter.

Katharine’s book of collected garden writing published in 1977.

As you might recall from previous posts, we have big plans for the heirloom gardens that will envelop 1750 House just like they would have done one hundred, two hundred or almost three hundred years earlier. Having spent most of the spring, summer and fall building and establishing garden beds and planning out landscaping details for the front and back yards, we will be ready for Phase Two of our landscape design by next spring, which means putting the greenhouse to full use this winter. Just like Katharine approached gardening in Maine with continual curiosity and enthusiasm, I thought it would be fun to share our progress of winter gardening as it unfolds. Since we are new to gardening in New England and also new to greenhouse gardening in general, this weekly diary will be an adventure in unknown outcomes. Nature is rarely predictable. Surprises can be encountered at every turn. It’s my hope that by discussing both challenges and successes, this series will help attract and connect fellow greenhouse gardeners so that we can all learn together by sharing tips and techniques discovered along the way.

So let’s get going and growing. The Greenhouse Diaries await…

First and foremost, a formal introduction to our workspace.

Our greenhouse measures 4’x6′. It has a steel base, aluminum framing, a pea gravel floor, a door with a secure handle, an adjustable roof vent, and clear polycarbonate walls. Inside, there is room enough for two metal shelving units, a wooden stool, 33 pots of varying sizes, one galvanized bucket, two water jugs, a hand soap station, and a portable heater. Tucked in between all that, is a little extra space for standing and potting.

We assembled the greenhouse in the late spring in the sunniest spot in the backyard. During the warm months, it held trays of seed starts and some plants that preferred to be out of the direct path of slugs and cutworms. But once autumn came and the threat of the first frost hovered, we turned it into an experiment station. Curious to see what we could keep alive from the summer garden, we potted our most successful growers and crossed our fingers. So far so good. Everything but the oregano and one pot of marigolds have taken well to the location change.

The nasturtiums in particular really like their new spot. Blooming at a rate of three to four new flowers a day, they keep the greenhouse bright with color and the air sweetly scented like honeyed perfume.

Currently, the greenhouse is uninsulated, an issue that will need to be addressed as the daytime temperatures fall into the 20s and 30s. But for now, we have found success in creating a summer climate using a portable electric heater that was put into service as soon as the outdoor temperatures began to repeatedly fall below 50 degrees.

With just the help of the heater and the sun, the greenhouse right now averages temperatures that are 20-35 degrees above the outdoor temperature. Once we get our insulation plan in place, it should become even warmer. For now though, all the plants seem happy with this cozy climate.

I read once that a single geranium plant can live up to 50 years if properly cared for season by season. That’s my goal for the four pots that are overwintering now.

Accidently overlooked, two of the four geranium pots experienced the first frost in mid-November before they made it into the greenhouse. Wilted and weepy-looking, I cut off all the affected leaves and stalks and brought them into the greenhouse, hoping that the warmth might help them recover and encourage new growth. Yesterday, they started sprouting new leaves…

The other companions that make up this house full of green are…

  • lavender
  • tarragon
  • mint
  • parsley
  • rosemary
  • broccoli
  • basil
  • succulents
  • sage
  • tomato
  • peppers
  • thyme
  • arugula
  • zinnia
  • pincushions
  • lemon tree
  • collard greens
  • chives
  • aloe
  • bunny ear cactus
  • brussels sprouts
Lavender

The peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli are all sporting fruit these days. I’m not sure how long they will take to grow and ripen but if we could manage a small harvest in the dead of winter that would be exciting.

Lemon jalapenos
Cherry tomatoes
Broccoli

The winter crops that we are trying out this year – broccoli, arugula, collard greens and Brussels sprouts – hopefully, will reach maturity and harvest time by late February. We run the chance of running out of room if these guys get really big, but a full house is better than none at all, so we’ll take it one week at a time and see what happens.

Arugula

In one of her essays, Katharine wrote.. “from December through March, there are for many of us three gardens – the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind’s eye.” Gardening in a greenhouse in winter gives us the ability to experience all three – to create, to grow, and to dream during a time of year that the outside world reserves for dormancy and hibernation. Our small structure set in pea gravel with a portable heater and a steel base, aluminum framing, and metal shelves shelters big, colorful dreams – ones both realized and yet to be imagined. We can’t wait to see what blooms.

Cheers to Katharine for inspiring this new series, to the greenhouse for holding all our hopes and to nature for feeding our brains and our bellies.

A Rare Look at a Halloween Sweet Treat from the 1960s

Happy Halloween! In today’s post, we are starting off your holiday with a rare treat – a little something sweet from the files of food history.

In 1960, a bit of marketing magic happened to a specific sector of the food industry that no one ever saw coming. It didn’t burst onto the scene with immediate stardom but it was fresh and fun and set the stage for something much bigger down the road. This initial marketing campaign didn’t debut at Halloween, but it did get caught up in the fervor of the holiday and all the potential that trick or treating offered.

In celebration of this sweet treat day, in today’s post, I thought it would be fun to feature a vintage advertising campaign that centers around a very rare piece of Halloween ephemera that was almost lost to history. This one piece of found paper tells the story of a food, an industry, a holiday, and one group of clever individuals who had an unfailing love for one very specific product.

It all starts with the advertising campaign that began rolling out in 1960. This was a campaign that was not promoting a food or a recipe or a meal that was rare or coveted or exotic. It was actually the opposite. It was spotlighting a food that was quite humble and ordinary and pretty unremarkable in the appearance department. It was one of those foods that lies under the radar. Helpful, necessary, enjoyable, but not exactly glamorous, it wasn’t until a certain advisory board formed that this food’s reputation got a total makeover in the likeability department. Through clever ads, product placement, and innovative promotions, this group grabbed attention and shook things up. Eventually, two decades later the food they promoted would become a pop culture icon known by millions of people around the world. By then, it would be forever linked with a catchy theme song and a field of merchandise that stretched way beyond anything to do with kitchens and cooking. The Smithsonian Museum even took note and acquired it for their collection.

So what is it you ask? What is this magical food that went from simple to superstar over the latter half of the 20th century? Here’s a clue… it’s brown and wrinkly. It comes in petite boxes and big canisters. It’s used in baking and cooking. It’s sweet and small, mini and meaty. Can you guess what it might be?

It’s a raisin.

The group of individuals responsible for bringing the raisin into the limelight was the California Raisin Advisory Board, based in Fresno. Founded in the 1950s, the Board was crazy for raisins and wanted to share their joy of this dehydrated fruit with eaters everywhere. Their enthusiasm was backed by noble intent too. They wanted to help draw attention to the local raisin growers who were struggling to make a profit in mid-20th century California.

Typically, when you hear the words “advisory board” you don’t automatically think of whimsy and fun but the California Raisin Advisory Board (also ironically known as C.R.A.B.) proposed a marketing campaign that was full of joy from beginning to end. Their mission was to produce effective advertisements that targeted the heart of the home – the kitchen – and all the ways in which raisins could become a household favorite and a sustainable staple, cherished enough to support the industry that grew them.

This is still life painted by Clara Peeters in 1615 featuring a bowl of raisins and almonds.

Raisins of course had been an ingredient in cooking and baking since the 1600s, so in the 1960s they were not a new food, but the industry was struggling and the Advisory Board wanted to step in to help. They wanted to take the raisin out of the cabinet of yesteryear, dust off its stodgy patina, and give it some zing. With centuries worth of material to work with there was no shortage of ideas when it came to inspiration, but the Advisory Board wanted to focus on a fresh approach and universal appeal. So where did they start?

With bread. As in raisin bread. A sweet, studded cinnamon-laced loaf often enjoyed at breakfast, this baker’s delight was centuries old too, just like the fruit it featured. But in the 1920s, raisin bread received some new interest when it was deemed a “health food” by dieticians and nutritionists. Sugar aside, raisins hold a lot of vitamins and minerals in their puckered little shape including magnesium, potassium, and fiber. Added to the protein found in bread, the combination formed a magical collaboration of a seemingly decadent eating experience paired with a hearty dose of healthy goodness. That gave the Advisory Board a lot of angles to play with when it came to promotion. Raisin bread was nutritious. It was affordable. It could be store-bought or home-baked. It smelled like heaven when toasted. And it appealed to both kids and adults. Paired with some clever writing and marketing during National Raisin Bread Month (November), the Advisory Board launched a raisin campaign full of plucky personality…

A cookie campaign followed suit…

The Advisory Board was off and running. Throughout the 1960s, the Advisory Board launched a flurry of seasonal promotions that included National Raisin Week in April, summer picnic season in July, back-to-school snack packs in September, and the Raisins for Happy Holidays campaign in December. In-store grocery taste tests, advertisements, sweepstakes and giveaways encouraged repeat buyers and kept the noble raisin front of mind.

The California Raisin Advisory Board also churned out raisin recipes year-round for newspaper columns from their test kitchen. Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Bee, 1970.

When Halloween time rolled around each year, the holiday provided an additional opportunity to remind parents and kids how sweet a treat, a raisin was. Just like traditional Halloween candy, albeit healthier, during the month of October, the Advisory Board promoted the fact that raisins came in small boxes – a handy size for trick-or-treaters. Posters made for grocery stores and food shops hinted at Halloween excitement. This is an example of a very rare original grocery store poster featuring the California Raisins Advisory Board…

Measuring 25″ inches x 14.25″ inches it is a true survivor of history and a real-life example of the Advisory Board’s cute and colorful messaging. Most food store advertising was discarded in the trash promptly after a promotion ended to make way for new advertising in its place. Printed on thin, inexpensive paper these eye-catching advertisements were not made to last more than 60 days let alone six decades. Oftentimes, they were hung in store windows exposed to heat, sun,, humidity, and temperature changes which would cause them to crinkle and fade over time. When I found this one, it was in fragile and brittle shape and was held together only by hope and a dehydrated rubber band. Ripped and torn in so many places it was impossible to unravel it without it completely breaking apart. A quick peek down the interior of its rolled-up shape, yielded the image of a pumpkin face smiling back. How fun! Home to the Kitchen it came for further investigation and repair.

Carefully rolling out the paper, rehydrating it with a warm, ever-so-moist-paper towel, and then gluing it to acid-free archival poster board took a couple days of attention. Each time a ripped section was flattened out and smoothed over it was a small victory in revealing the bigger picture. Little by little, inch by inch, the poster’s overall image went from bits and pieces to one whole poster.

Finally put back together, for a year, the poster sat just like that – attached to the thick archival poster board with a big wide border surrounding it. Waiting to see if it would stay secured, retain its bright colors and not disintegrate, it was wonderful to see that 360 days later the poster looked exactly the same. Removing the excess matting by cutting it down to its original size, a wood frame was built for it using antique wood remnants from the 1750 House. Floating the poster inside the wood frame allows for all the imperfections along the top nad bottom edge of the poster to show – a visual record of its fragile history. The poster, although greatly improved from its original found state, still bears its wounds in Frankensteinish patchwork.

But what I love most about this poster now, is how despite all its rough and tumble elements, it still manages to radiate joy and a sense of enthusiasm. That was the power of the Advisory Board’s campaign. Raisins are fun.

Raisin drying racks. Fresno, CA. 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

The first raisin farms in Fresno were started by a group of female schoolteachers in 1876. They decided to set aside four acres out of one hundred acres that they purchased so that they could grow grapes for a raisin harvest. Two years later, the first batch (30 boxes) was ready for market and a West Coast industry began.

In the early 1900s, Raisin growers in Fresno would make anywhere from $50-$125.00 per harvested acre.

By the 1960s, the US produced 250,000 tons a year, mostly from farms in the Fresno area. Foreign competition was tough though and the raisin growers were struggling to keep afloat. That’s when the Advisory Board stepped in with their breads and their cookies and their sweet, colorful, clever campaigns declaring raisins raisins raisins a wonderful thing.

As cute as the pumpkin goblin face was on the poster, it was not the imagery that launched the raisins to worldwide fame. That would happen in the mid-1980s when the Advisory Board approved an idea from a Foote, Cone, and Belding advertising executive who pitched an idea about raisins and a band and a signature song.

The California Raisins, singing Marvin Gaye’s 1968 Motown hit, Heard It On The Grapevine was born. Indicative of the Advisory Board’s continuous efforts to pitch their product in clever ways, the California Raisins soaked into the fabric of mainstream society like no other fruit campaign had done before. This is the first commercial that started the success…

Making up a whole world of claymation figures and storytelling, the California Raisin band was an immediate hit and could be seen everywhere – on tv, in print ads, and on cross-promotional advertising products across grocery store shelves. This was the kind of big-splash notoriety that the Advisory Board was after in the 1960s. With more and more customers buying raisins in the 1980s and 1990s, thanks to the singing sensations, the Advisory Board was fulfilling its mission.

Photo courtesy of Crazy for Costumes.

In 1986, the California Raisin became the most popular Halloween costume of the year. The Raisin band members were reproduced in figurine form and Heard it Through the Grapevine reached the top 100 song charts. When the Smithsonian acquired the original California raisin claymation figures in 1991, it firmly sealed the success of the Raisin Advisory Board. Their singularly beloved product was now beloved by all.

Unfortunately, the sweet taste of success didn’t yield the type of monetary compensation that was hoped for when it came to the raisin growers. The Advisory Board disbanded in 1994 after struggling to balance the costs between promoting the raisins and keeping the growers profitable. Creativity can be harsh that way. Sometimes clever doesn’t equal capitalism. But in this case, it sure did produce some fun art and a new way to look at the world, even if it was discovered decades later than intended.

Cheers to joyful advertising, loving what you love completely, and to our little rescued poster whose celebrating its 60th Halloween this year! Hope it added a little something sweet to your holiday. Happy Halloween!

Cheers to All Souls: Our Annual 40% off Sale Is Next Wednesday

The last bouquet of summer included the final flourish of zinnias, dill, okra, daisies, cosmos and nasturiums.

The leaves are falling, the pumpkins are picked, the last of the summer tomatoes have been plucked. The zinnias were clipped for a final garden bouquet. The okra stalks were added to the compost pile. The herbs moved from the garden to the greenhouse and the rockery raised beds are full of autumn leaves. October is waving goodbye. And that means something exciting is just around the corner… our annual one-day-only 40% off sale.

If you are new to the blog or the shop, you might not know that we always host this sale on All Souls Day, which falls on November 2nd every year. Technically a Catholic holiday, we selected All Souls Day not for its religious connection, nor its aura of spookiness (being so close to Halloween), but for the sheer fact that it is one of the few holidays in the calendar year that pays tribute to deceased ancestors. We wouldn’t have a shop full of wonderful heirlooms had they not traveled through other people’s lives, other people’s hands for generations, collecting stories and memories along the way. To us, all Souls Day seems like the perfect day to celebrate vintage style.

It’s also a lovely time of year to start preparing not only for the holiday season but also for the winter ahead where cooking adventures, gift-giving, and craft time await. Autumn doesn’t officially end this year until December 21st. If you’d like to hang onto the season as long as possible you’ll find many fall-favored pieces in the shop that will carry you all the way through…

If you are ready to start gathering ideas for Thanksgiving, you’ll find an assortment of items ideally suited for Turkey Day 2022 and beyond…

Christmas in the Vintage Kitchen always comes in little details. Red and white restaurant ware, a mini Christmas tree, an antique green striped serving plate or a shimmery candelabra that we are sure has seen some magnificent parties in its day. In the shop, you’ll discover a sampling of festive treasures waiting to add a little sparkle to your celebrations…

The sale begins at 12:00am on Wednesday, November 2nd, and ends at 11:59pm that same day. All items in the shop will automatically receive the 40% discount at checkout, so there is no need to fuss with coupon codes or discount names. We encourage you to use the wishlist feature on our site if you have multiple items that have caught your eye. Just click on the heart under each listing title and it will automatically add the item to your favorites list where you can then add them directly to your cart.

Since it is our only sale of the year, shoppers in the past have been known to set their alarms for the moment the sale starts at midnight. If you have fallen completely in love with something in particular, please keep that in mind. New (old) items continue to be added to the shop daily, so stop by for fresh finds leading all the way up to the sale. One of the items coming to the shop today is this set of six vintage Czechoslovakian luncheon plates full of pink, purple and cranberry-colored flowers.

.

As always, if you are looking for something that we no longer have in stock or you can’t find in the shop, please send us a message. We’ll be happy to add your name and needs to our waitlist. Having said that, I hope on this year’s sale day you will find something truly magical that makes your heart sing with joy. Cheers to all the old souls. And to all the cherished items that they have left for us to enjoy. Happy shopping!

On the Grill in Autumn: Julia Child’s Soup in a Pumpkin

Rumor has it that one time when Julia Child made this recipe for dinner guests, she overcooked the pumpkin and the whole entire bottom of it fell out onto the floor on its way to the table. I mention this right off the bat, not to illicit alarm as to the perils that might befall cooks who attempt this recipe but to demonstrate the joy of Julia in all her humanness. Isn’t that what was so endearing about her to begin with? As experienced as she became, as attentive a cook as she was, as precise she always endeavored to be, Julia was still fallible just like the rest of us.

Julia in her kitchen in Cambridge, MA circa 1980s. Photo credit: Jim Scherer

Cooking mishaps and all, Julia’s golden rule in the kitchen was to have fun and enjoy the pleasures of preparing food and feeding people. Pour a glass of wine, engage in a little chit-chat, chop some vegetables, create a convivial environment. That was Julia’s way. Cooking is fun. Whatever situations happen along the path to culinary creation is part of the adventure.

That being said, this vintage recipe is one of the most interesting we have made on the blog to date. In part, because it is very fitting with the season which makes it very fun for fall, but also in part because we added a little twist, a bit of experimentation, based on our current kitchen renovation constraints. The recipe that we are making today, the one that hopefully will not end up on your kitchen floor, is Julia’s Soup in A Pumpkin from her 1989 The Way to Cook book…

Julia published this cookbook twenty-eight years after Mastering the Art of French Cooking debuted – the book which set her on the path to international acclaim. By the time The Way to Cook came out, Julia was in her late 70s and was most interested in producing a cookbook that showcased creativity in the kitchen for a younger generation. One that might not have experienced some of her older work. Based on her signature time-honored techniques, Julia featured a looser, more casual style of cooking instead of precise by-the-book formalities. More aware of health-conscious choices, she slimmed down butter usage and altered heavier recipes turning them into lighter, leaner, but still equally delicious offerings. She encouraged independent variety by suggesting alternative ways to serve dishes and was cognisant of budget and time-saving methods that would appeal to busy cooks who didn’t want to sacrifice quality meals for lack of adequate funds or hectic schedules. At the turn of every chapter, she championed experimentation and creativity.

In true spirit of the cookbook and Julia’s encouragement to amend, invent, and explore new ways of approaching meal preparation, we took her lead and added our own twist to her recipe by grilling the pumpkin outdoors instead of baking it in the oven indoors as Julia did.

While we have the ceiling in, the pantry framed out, and the exterior walls sealed up for the winter ahead, we are still hard at work on our kitchen renovations in the 1750 House. Photos of our work will be coming soon! In the meantime, currently, our fridge is in the living room, our sink is in the basement and we are without a stove, so the choice to grill the pumpkin came out of necessity but also curiosity. Can you even grill a pumpkin? We weren’t sure but we had Julia’s confidence and joie de vivre on our side, so we were ready to experiment with our trusty grill that has yet to disappoint us.

Rest assured, despite our change in cooking method and Julia’s tipple, this is not a difficult recipe to make and you don’t need to be nervous about executing it. It actually is quite a fun cooking adventure.

Soup in a Pumpkin made on the grill.

Full of autumn color and flavor from start to finish, the seasonal joy of this vintage meal starts with picking out your pumpkin. We are very lucky here in Connecticut to have this really gorgeous nursery just a few minutes from the house that has a dazzling display of just about every plant and homegrown pumpkin you could ever want in a New England garden. Right now there are mums for miles…

And rows of squash and gourds and pumpkins in all different shapes and shades…

So many beautiful pumpkins to choose from!

Since Julia didn’t specify what type of pumpkin to use, we had our choice of over a dozen varieties to pick from at the nursery. While all pumpkins are edible, even the little minis, for this recipe, we chose the sugar variety which is the preferred pumpkin for baking.

Sugar pumpkins!

Also known as pie pumpkins, they come in smaller sizes – an ideal factor for this recipe since we had to make sure it would fit on the grill. When you are selecting your pumpkins, look for ones that are of equal size and shape and that sit flat and balanced on the counter.

It is important to note that sugar pumpkins have thicker skin, and less stringy fibers, making them a good choice for roasting whole. A part of the American diet since the 1800s, they are ideally suited for baking and pie-making thanks to their slightly sweeter flesh. Larger carving pumpkins, on the other hand, have thinner skin, which makes them best for Halloween carvings but less stable in the oven or on the grill due to their more fragile composition. Instead of one 7-pound pumpkin that would serve 8-10 people as Julia recommended, we picked two 2 lb. sugar pumpkins that would serve two to four people and then cut Julia’s recipe in half.

When Julia was preparing The Way To Cook, she was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She noted that this recipe was a delightful start to any fall dinner but also that it held its weight as a main course. “A real rib sticker,” she called it. I couldn’t agree more. It’s a meal just calling out for cold, blustery days and hearty appetites. Filling and full of flavor, while it is cooked in a pumpkin, this is not a typical pumpkin soup that has been pureed in a pot and accented with aromatic seasonal spices. This soup is chunky and layered. More like onion meets squash, it’s a veritable hot pot that contains all the delicate, deconstructed elements of French Onion soup with bites of pumpkin that you scrape from the inner walls while you eat. Swiss cheese and heavy cream add a bit of rich flavor. Toasted bread crumbs, garden herbs, and chicken broth add depth, and the pumpkin itself adds color and dimension when presented at table.

I love the fact that the pumpkin is an individual-sized serving bowl and that it really keeps the soup hot and insulated for quite a length of time. Since it cooks on the grill in a simmering bath of butter, broth, and the onion, cheese and herb mixture, the pumpkin soaks up all the savory flavor components making it taste bright and vibrant, instead of what sometimes can be a bland vegetable when eaten on its own. Grilling the soup outdoors made for a real sensory experience between the cool weather, the falling leaves, and the excitement of trying something new.

The recipe below is adapted for the grill but continue reading all the way to the end and you’ll also learn how to easily return the recipe to Julia’s original design.

Soup In A Pumpkin On A Grill

Serves 2-4

1 1/4 cups fresh country-style white bread, cubed for crouton-style bread crumbs

1 cup sweet Vidalia onion, minced

2 oz. butter (1/2 stick) plus 1 tbsp soft butter

2 two-pound sugar pumpkins

3/4 cup coarsely grated Swiss Cheese

2 cups chicken stock

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

8-10 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup fresh parsley for garnish

Heat the grill to 400 degrees. Preheat a medium cast iron pan. Cut the bread into crouton-style cubes, about 1/2 inch in size. Spread crumbs in one single layer in the pan and toast for two minutes with the grill lid open. Remove from heat and set crumbs to cool in a single layer on a plate. Cover the grill to keep warm and maintain the 400-degree internal temperature.

Toasted bread crumbs.

In a pan on the stovetop (or in our case an electric hot plate!), melt the 1/2 stick of butter. Add the minced onion and cook over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent and tender (about 15 minutes). Add the toasted bread crumbs to the onion mixture, toss them completely, and cook for an additional three minutes. Remove from heat.

Rinse the outside of your pumpkins with warm water to remove dirt and dust and towel dry. Cut a lid out of the top of each pumpkin in the same way you would carve a hat for a jack-o-lantern. Remove all the seeds from the interior of each pumpkin and scrape the inner walls to remove the pumpkin strings. Rub the interior of each pumpkin with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Place the prepared pumpkins on a large flat cast iron pan or tray.

Add the onion/breadcrumb mixture to the inside of each pumpkin, making sure the mixture is evenly distributed between the pumpkins. Repeat with the grated cheese.

In a separate pan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Once it is hot remove from heat and fill each pumpkin cavity with the broth. Make sure to leave at least two inches of space from the broth line to the top rim of the pumpkin so that the soup does not boil over onto the grill while cooking. Season each pumpkin with salt, pepper, and sage. I used about 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground sea salt and about 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper per pumpkin. Depending on your taste and the saltiness of your broth you may want to add more or less according to your preference. Place the pumpkin top lids back on the pumpkins.

Making sure the grill is still holding an even 400-degree internal temperature, elevate the cooking pan or tray holding the pumpkins so that it is not sitting directly on the grill rack. We did this using a brick wrapped in tin foil and then placing the pumpkin pan on top of that, but whatever system you can manage to achieve indirect heat for the pumpkin pan is fine just as long as the pumpkin pan is not sitting directly on the grill rack.

Cover the grill and cook the pumpkins for 30 minutes. It is important not to overcook the pumpkins or you will wind up with weak bottoms and your soup might fall out like Julia’s did all over the floor. At the 30-minute mark, check the pumpkins to see if the outer skin has softened to the touch. Instinct will definitely guide you here. When you press the outer skin you want it to give but not collapse. You are looking for a similar firmness to a semi-deflated basketball or a just-about-ripe avocado. If the pumpkins are not quite soft enough, lower the grill lid and keep checking them every five minutes. As a reference guide, one of our pumpkins wound up taking 35 minutes to cook and the other 40 minutes.

When they are ready, remove the pumpkins from the heat to small plates (bread and butter size) and serve immediately. If one of your pumpkins is ready before the other, you can remove it from the grill to a plate and cover it in tin foil until the other pumpkin is ready. But do not let the pumpkins sit on their own for an extended amount of time before serving. As they cool, the pumpkins will eventually start to sink into the plate. Rest assured though, there is plenty of time to enjoy your soup before the pumpkin begins slumping so if you are worried about table presentation, don’t fret, you should be able to get through all of your meal before the pumpkins start to droop.

Cheesy, warm, and brothy, all you need is a soup spoon in the flatware department for this meal. The inner walls of the pumpkins will be soft enough to scrape with just the edge of the spoon. No forks or knives required for this dish!

Since presentation is a big part of the fun of this recipe, it is best enjoyed on the day of, hot off the grill. If you have leftovers, the soup is still delicious the next day but the breadcrumbs will continue to soak up the broth, so you will need to add more broth and a dash of cream if you choose to reheat it. Also, the pumpkin bowl will not keep its shape well overnight, so it is recommended to scoop out any leftovers, discard the pumpkins and store the soup in a separate container in the fridge.

If you choose to make this recipe using Julia Child’s oven method. Follow the instructions exactly but set your oven to 350 degrees to toast the bread crumbs and then to 400 degrees to roast the pumpkins. And if you choose to use one big pumpkin like Julia’s below, then double the number of ingredients for a 6-7 lb pumpkin which will serve 8-10 people.

Julia Child’s Soup in a Pumpkin utilizing one 8lb pumpkin circa 1989. Photo courtesy of her book,The Way to Cook.

Either way you cook it… oven vs grill… big pumpkin vs. small pumpkins… I hope you love this recipe just as much as we did. As we enjoy the autumn weather, this pumpkin soup is lovely outdoor party food and also tailgate fare for all you sports enthusiasts who like to gather around a grill while cheering on your team. Celebrate beforehand with an autumn-themed cocktail or serve a glass of wine with your soup and you’ll be warm and full of autumn joy by meal’s end. This soup pairs especially well with red or white wine. I recommend Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay depending on your preference. Add some fall leaves to your table for decoration and you’ll have an easily put-together autumnal feast accented by Mother Nature. Come winter, this soup will fuel you through the holidays and snow shoveling season with aplomb. It might even inspire you to plant a few pumpkin seeds next spring, so that you can continue this creative cooking endeavor year-round and grow your own serving bowls for next fall.

Cheers to a happy Autumn and to loveable Julia who always paves the way to wonderfully delicious dining experiences.

Autumn has officially arrived in our neighborhood! Keep up with us on Instagram to see how the sugar maples are changing day by day in the yard of 1750 House.