The Buried Corn of the Nausets

The Pilgrims landed on the shores of America on a cold November day in 1620. They set anchor at what is now Provincetown, in Cape Cod, across the bay from Plymouth Rock.

MayflowerTheir first act upon reaching the New World was to draft and ratify the Mayflower Compact. At sunrise, on November 11th, 1620, forty-one men signed the document that would set the course for democracy in America.

A small group of Pilgrims then stepped onto the beach to explore their new homeland. As the party entered the dark forest above the beach, they stumbled into the village of the Nauset Indians. The village was empty.

The Nausets were a powerful and populous tribe. They spent their winters far inland, where the hunting was better, and returned to the coast with warm weather to plant their summer gardens.

Nauset IndiansAs the Pilgrims investigated the deserted village, they found a smooth place in the sand where something had been carefully buried. They dug down and discovered a secret cache of Indian flint corn with kernels of red, yellow, and blue. The Nausets had buried this corn in wicker baskets to preserve it through the winter. This was the seed stock for their summer gardens.

There were four bushels of corn in that stockpile. Two men could barely lift it from the ground. The Pilgrims carried the corn back to the Mayflower and returned a few days later looking for more. In all, the Pilgrims took fourteen bushels of buried corn from the Nauset Indians.  Then they sailed across the bay to start their colony at Plymouth Rock.

The Pilgrims took the corn because they were desperate. They were now stranded in a desolate wilderness, winter was upon them, and they were nearly out of supplies. They didn’t know if the barley and pea seeds they brought from back home would grow in the rocky soil of New England. They believed the corn could make the difference between life and death in the New World.

The Pilgrims vowed on their honor to reimburse the Nausets as soon as possible. The place where they found the corn and made this promise is known to this day as Corn Hill.

It was lucky for the Pilgrims that the Nausets were away at their winter hunting ground, because the Nausets hated Englishmen. Six years before, in 1614, an Englishman named Thomas Hunt had abducted a large group of Indians from New England, including twenty Nausets, to sell into slavery. If the Nausets had been home when the Pilgrims walked into their village, the history of America may have taken a decidedly different course.

SquantoOne of the Indians abducted in 1614 by Thomas Hunt was the legendary Squanto. Squanto had somehow escaped slavery and lived for a time in England before finding his way back to America on a merchant trading vessel.

Squanto became a great friend to the Pilgrims. He served as translator and helped broker an alliance with the powerful chief Massasoit. Squanto also taught the Pilgrims how to plant the corn they had taken from the Nausets. In fact, the First Thanksgiving was celebrated with the successful harvest of the Nauset corn.

The Pilgrims soon fulfilled their promise to reimburse the Nausets. They sailed back across the bay and traded fairly with the Nauset chief, Aspinet, and formed a lasting friendship with the Nauset Indians.

Squanto and PilgrimsWord spread among the tribes of New England that the Pilgrims had righted the wrong they committed in their first desperate days in America. The Pilgrims had demonstrated a remarkable toughness in their survival on the beach, and now they proved to be honorable and honest people. They paid for the corn because they believed was the right thing to do, but it also turned out to be good diplomacy.

The fair dealings of the Pilgrims led to fifty years of peace with the Native Americans of New England. This peace allowed the Pilgrims, and the pioneers who followed them, to establish a foothold of freedom in America, and begin to build the democracy that would one day reach across the continent.

The Most Italian of Vegetables

Broccoli

Broccoli

When we think of Italian cuisine, eggplant and tomatoes usually come to mind. But the most Italian of all vegetables is actually broccoli.

Broccoli was invented in Italy. During the Roman age, the farmers of Italy selectively bred broccoli from a sea cabbage that grew wild along the Mediterranean Coast. Broccoli is the enlarged unopened flower of that ancient wild plant.

A Broccoli Floret Late in the Season, Just Ready to Flower

A Broccoli Floret Late in the Season, Just Ready to Flower

Broccoli was a staple in the kitchens of Italy a thousand years before eggplant was introduced from India or tomatoes arrived from the conquest of the New World.

The French began to cultivate broccoli in 1520, and the English finally adopted this crop late in the 1700’s. But broccoli did not catch on in America.

Those old nineteenth century varieties of broccoli required ten long months to mature. They had to be sheltered during winter and they were very susceptible to pests. Only the most skillful and patient of gardeners, like Thomas Jefferson and John Randolph, managed to grow broccoli, and even then it was more of a novelty.

Cauliflower Has a Similar Growing Culture to Broccoli

Cauliflower Has a Similar Growing Culture to Broccoli

Then, in 1923, two brothers, Stephano and Andrea D’Arrigo, immigrants from Italy, planted broccoli on their farm in San Jose, California, in growing conditions similar to the Mediterranean climate of their homeland.  They used seeds that were mailed to them from Italy.

The D’Arrigo brothers shipped their freshly-picked broccoli on refrigerated railroad cars to markets in Boston and New York.  This was one of the first successful cross-country shipments of fresh produce.  Broccoli sales quickly soared in Italian-American enclaves along the East Coast.

andyboy-logoThe D’Arrigo brothers were also the first to brand their produce.  They packaged their broccoli under the Andy Boy label, and their marketing campaign of the 1920’s and 30’s helped establish the popularity of broccoli across America.  The D’Arrigo Brothers is still a family owned company and is now being run by the fourth generation of D’Arrigos.

Broccoli Spacing of 12 Inches Companion Planted with Vegetables and Herbs

Broccoli Spacing of 12 Inches Companion Planted with Vegetables and Herbs

Broccoli is a cool-weather vegetable, and the time to plant it your garden is now.  A good way to plant broccoli is in the 2-1-2 pattern. Plant two broccoli transplants side-by-side about seven inches off-center in a wide row. Move fifteen inches down the row and plant a single broccoli transplant in the center of the row, then move another fifteen inches down and plant two more broccoli transplants side-by-side.

This 2-1-2 pattern leaves space on either side of the middle plant. Fill this space with dill, cilantro, or parsley to repel pests from your broccoli and to add color and fragrance to your garden.  This intensive planting causes the leaves of the plants to grow together to form a canopy over the soil, which helps keep the soil cool and moist and provides a hiding place for beneficial predators.

Dozens of Tender Florets will Sprout after Main Head is Harvested

Dozens of Tender Florets will Sprout after Main Head is Harvested

Broccoli matures in about eighty days. Harvest the large head that forms in the center of each plant, but leave the plants in the ground to harvest those dozens of tender florets that will continue to sprout.

In the spring, sometime around March, the sprouting florets will immediately open into small yellow edible flowers.  This is a sign that your broccoli is finished for the season, and you can plant your favorite summer produce in its place.

Deep in the Art of Texas

(Bluebonnets, Robert Julian Onderdonk.  Courtesy Art Museum of South Texas)

(Bluebonnets, Robert Julian Onderdonk. Courtesy Art Museum of South Texas)

These images are from art, and from life:

A Conquistador stares with dark dangerous eyes; the last of the bison cross the rocky divide; a woman kneels next to an oxcart in a dusky field picking vegetables.

An exhibit called “Deep in the Art of Texas” is now on display at the Art Museum of South Texas. It is a hundred years of paintings, from 1850 to 1950, when all the land was a canvas for heroes to paint their dreams upon. The land changed these pioneers, and with their plows and cattle, they changed the land.

The paintings depict the deep blue water of the Gulf with ships sailing upon it; the pink and purple cliffs of the Big Bend; and the ocean-like fields of bluebonnets with dark hills in the distance.

(Cattle and Herdsman Resting in Oak Grove, Thomas Allen. Courtesy Art Museum of South Texas)

(Cattle and Herdsman Resting in Oak Grove, Thomas Allen. Courtesy Art Museum of South Texas)

In one image, a herd of cattle sleeps in the forest, as they do on our farm; and in another, free-born farmers pick cotton in a white sun-drenched field.

Renowned artist Frank Reaugh mixed sand with his paint, so the grit that blew out of the Davis Mountains and choked him as he painted would forever be a part of his picture of the high desert.

A good painting speaks. You can read a dozen pages of history and not learn as much of the people or the place as from one good painting.

In one scene, Iwonski portrays an Indian child, in the year 1859, holding a watermelon. For Indians, a melon was a symbol of friendship, and the child freely offers this gift from his well-tended garden. This child would grow up to witness the utter destruction of his culture, and a later painting, from 1890, shows a melon busted on the ground and covered with yellow jackets.

The paintings also capture the faces of the cowboys, black, white, and Hispanic, before they became legends, when “cow boy” was a term of derision, and the paintings reveal them as they were: pensive, tough, wild, and lonely.

“Deep in the Art of Texas” depicts the grand adventure of our history, the beauty of the land, the skill of the artisans, the freedom to become whoever in this world you dream to be. These images are from art, and from life, and they are hanging on the walls of the museum like portals into the distant past.

(Sunny Landscape, Robert William Wood. Courtesy Art Museum of South Texas)

(Sunny Landscape, Robert William Wood. Courtesy Art Museum of South Texas)

(Harvest Time, S. Seymour Thomas. Courtesy Art Museum of South Texas)

(Harvest Time, S. Seymour Thomas. Courtesy Art Museum of South Texas)

(Cedar Stumps, Everett Spruce. Courtesy Art Museum of South Texas)

(Cedar Stumps, Everett Spruce. Courtesy Art Museum of South Texas)

The Great Hawk Migration

(A Sky View from Hazel Bazemore Park in Corpus Christi)

(A Sky View from Hazel Bazemore Park in Corpus Christi)

This week, there is a phenomenon in the skies over South Texas that will give nightmares to every chicken in Corpus Christi. This event is called the great hawk migration.

More than a million hawks will pass over South Texas this autumn as they head south for the winter. The hawks come from all over North America.  They are funneled into Corpus Christi by the Gulf of Mexico to the east and the river valleys to the west. In fact, one of the best places in the world to observe a hawk migration is Hazel Bazemore Park in Corpus Christi, TX.

The density of birds peaks in the final days of September, and on some days more than a hundred thousand hawks fly over Hazel Bazemore Park.

(The bird watching platform at Hazel Bazemore Park.  It had been raining just before our visit, and hawks don't fly in the rain, so not much current activity.)

(The bird watching platform at Hazel Bazemore Park. It had been raining just before our visit, and hawks don’t fly in the rain, so not much current activity.)

(Hawk Watchers:  Hazel Bazemore Park has excellent facilities for hawk watching)

(Hawk Watchers: Hazel Bazemore Park has excellent facilities for hawk watching)

(Sign updated daily with hawk count)

(Sign updated daily with hawk count)

Ornithologist Karen Benson describes the hawk migration in her book Brush Country Backyard. She says hawks use thermal updrafts to conserve energy. The hawks float on these warm thermals in upward-spiraling circles, called kettles, like the stirring of a great pot.

At the top of one thermal the hawks descend to the bottom of the next and slowly rise again. By riding these thermals, hawks can fly a hundred miles on a single flap of their wings. Sometimes, ten thousand hawks can be seen riding in the same kettle.

Joel Simon, of the Corpus Christi Hawk Watch, says most of these raptors are broad-winged hawks headed to the humid forests of the Yucatan and Central America. The swainson’s hawk, he says, from the Great Plains, will fly all the way to the pampas of Argentina to spend the winter.

Simon has seen more than twenty thousand hawks land for the night in Hazel Bazemore Park, like a feathery blanket covering the trees along the Nueces River, and he has been there in the morning to watch this flock of raptors take flight into the warm, blue sky.

Simon says his favorite part of the migration comes just after the first cold front of the year, when the greatest diversity of hawks can be seen riding in the brisk north wind. The first good cold front comes to South Texas this weekend, so now is a good time to dust off your binoculars and plan a visit.

Luckily, for the chickens, these hawks fast during their long journey south, so the laying hens of Corpus Christi can rest easy in their roosts while dark clouds of raptors pass overhead in slowly circling silence.

(Hawk Watcher with Binoculars)

(Hawk Watcher with Binoculars)

(Tiny Hawk Watcher)

(Tiny Hawk Watcher)

Hawks spotting scope sky 9-29-14

The Favorite Flower of the Indians

Kayla Taking Flowers at end of Season to Seed New Sunflower Hedgerow

Kayla Taking Flowers at end of Season to Seed New Sunflower Hedgerow

The sunflowers are blooming in South Texas. Our native variety of sunflower, the silver leaf, grows tall, up to twenty feet in height, with thick trunk-like stems. Sunflowers, with their vibrant yellow blooms, have a long and colorful history in the garden.

Native American Indians began to cultivate sunflowers 5,000 years ago. They roasted the oil-rich seeds, ate them raw, or pounded them into flour.  Indians used sunflowers as medicine to treat a long list of ailments, and they made a purple dye from the seeds to paint their skin.

Indians also planted sunflowers as living fences to protect their crops. We adopted this method on our farm and planted a hedgerow of sunflowers to shield our crops from the relentless Gulf winds. This living fence now grows so dense that even deer will not try to break though it to sneak into our gardens.

Silver leaf sunflowers are easy to propagate, but you must collect the seeds now, during the fall, from mature flowers. Silver leaf sunflowers are native to South Texas, but they do not grow well outside of our area, and the seeds are difficult to find commercially.

Seed Head from Wild Sunflowers

Seed Head from Wild Sunflowers

But you can easily harvest your own seeds by cutting mature well-seeded flower heads from their stalks. To keep the seeds through the winter, store the flower heads in a zip lock bag in the freezer.

In the spring, plant these frozen flower heads into loosened, well-aerated soil. You don’t need to thin or even water your hardy sunflowers; they will grow perfectly well on their own. You can plant a living fence or a small thicket of flowers, whatever is best-suited to your landscape.

In late fall, when the flowers fade, you can weave the sturdy sunflower stalks into trellises for your winter peas, or burn the stalks to make potassium-rich ash to use as a soil amendment.

Sunflowers attract birds, butterflies, and bees to your landscape. Much of our fall honey in South Texas actually comes from the pollen of sunflowers. And best of all, sunflowers bring their golden blooms in late summer, when there is not much color in the garden.

Silver leaf sunflowers are a useful, beautiful, and age-old companion to your vegetables, and these flowers will happily make themselves at home in your garden.

A Sunflower Hedgerow

A Sunflower Hedgerow

A Beautiful Farm Video

We recently held a photo shoot at our farm for The Bend Magazine.  The photos were for a recipe, and we took the occasion of the picture-taking to have a wonderful dinner with friends and family.

Our friend Michael Diamante, a photographer based in Corpus Christi, made a beautiful video of the night.

Do you know how sometimes a wonderful evening can take on a dream-like effect in your memory? This video seems a little that way, and it is just how I remember the night.

To see the full recipe and Rachel Durrent’s amazing photography from the evening, click on The Bend Magazine and turn to page 64.

Picking Tunas for Dinner Tonight

Kayla Picking Tunas near Port Aransas

Kayla Picking Tunas near Port Aransas

Tonight, we will celebrate the fruit of the prickly pear cactus at a dinner at the Chartroom in Rockport.

Here, Kayla and I are picking ripe red tunas in the wild to deliver to Chef Mike.  This site is just off the windswept bay near Port Aransas.  Thank you Dave Ilfrey of nativedave.com for helping us find this excellent tuna stand!

At the dinner tonight, Chef Mike will feature roast pork, bacon, tomatoes, eggs, and freshly-picked basil from our farm. Chef Mike went shopping at the Downtown Farmers’ Market in Corpus Christi and will also include new potatoes, cushaw squash, and okra from our friend Casey Williams, who has a farm up near Riveria.

Dinner begins tonight at 6:30pm. Call Chartroom at 361-790-2450 for reservations.

Good Tuna Ground with Beautiful Wildflowers

Good Tuna Ground with Beautiful Wildflowers

It helps to have a good reach to get the tunas in the center of the cactus stand

It helps to have a good reach to get the tunas in the center of the cactus stand

Emma helped by being a sweet and good girl, as always

Emma helped by being a sweet and good girl, as always

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