Happy Monday to everyone! Unlike The Carpenters’ song, ‘Rainy Days & Mondays’, I love to CELEBRATE Mondays! They are my 52 Chances each year, in which I get to share Memories of My Mom with all of you!
Mother Nature’s grand arena is bursting with activity, as spring has been awakening the earth. Life is regenerating all around us. Now is a great time to get out in the yard and gardens since the whole month of April is celebrating, among other things – Keep America Beautiful Month, Lawn and Garden Month, National Garden Month, National Straw Hat Month, and Stress Awareness Month! [I’ll tell you in a little bit how that one is related to the others.]
Furthermore, Wednesday is National Gardening Day! So, if you haven’t been out in the garden yet – this is certainly the week to do it! An old adage says, “April showers bring May flowers” (some fruits and vegetables too). But it’s a little more involved than that. First, you have to get the soil ready – mulching, weeding, composting, etc. – before you even plant the bulbs, seeds or seedlings.
When planting vegetables, some seeds are better to start indoors, such as tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, and broccoli. After about 6-8 weeks of growth, they’re transplanted in the garden, when there are more optimum weather conditions. Some seedlings don’t transplant well and, thus, should be sown right into the ground when weather allows. Examples of such include corn, beans, and peas. They should also be covered at night, whenever frost conditions are possible.
April is a great time, depending on your USDA planting zone, to start planting and growing perennial fruits and vegetables like asparagus, chives, rhubarb, raspberries, horseradish and more. I already have the first four in my gardens. My asparagus is usually the first to pop up, around late May.
This is also a good time to start “cold crop”, annual plantings such as cabbage, spinach and other “greens”; as well as root vegetables like potatoes, onions, carrots and beets. I’m not sure from where Mom got her original interest in gardening, as well as her green thumb; but I think I might have inherited it too.
Mom’s garden, in Algonac, had a lot of perennials, but I remember helping her plant seedlings for strawberries and tomatoes every spring when I was young! Then there was the subsequent harvesting of our labors from the family’s little garden and orchard. I recall picking tomatoes, apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb. Mom would turn it all into culinary delights such as sauces, jams, pies, cobblers, and the like.
When Mom first started writing and publishing her own newsletter, in 1974, aside from her recipes she also included a smorgasbord of different topics that homemakers, like herself, would be interested in. One of the sections was full of gardening tips.
Mom liked to use coffee grounds and ground-up, dried, egg shells to help her tomato plants thrive. A tip she learned from my Dad’s mom, who gardened and canned a lot of tomatoes, sauces and jams in her own lifetime!
But as Mom’s “Secret Recipes” business grew quickly, within a few years she had very little time to spend on her garden, because she was spending more time investigating further secrets of the food industry. Subsequently, she dropped the gardening section in the newsletter to make room for more copycat recipes!
After we moved from Algonac to St. Clair, in 1977, Mom did continue to, at least, have a few tomato plants in patio pots every spring through fall. She always had a green thumb, both, in the house and in the garden!
While most of Mom’s cookbooks (and newsletters) focused on imitating fast food, junk food, and restaurant dishes at home; one of her books dealt exclusively with imitating convenience foods, grocery products and “extenders” at home – The Secrets of Homemade Groceries (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1979) – aka: “Book 5”.
When Mom used to describe the book for advertisements, she’d say “this exceptional cookbook includes some basic principles of canning and freezing foods, as well as making your own mixes, sauces and seasonings for a great financial savings compared to buying them!”
Besides the obvious financial savings and nutritional aspects of growing your own food, gardening has many other healthy advantages. According to Six Surprising Health Benefits of Gardening, as posted by OrganicLesson.com (Published 2/26/2018, Updated 1/30/2021), gardening strengthens the muscles (as it can be a physical workout) and boosts the immune system.
Gardening is also known to increase happiness, stimulate the brain, and relieve stress. As I said in the beginning, April is Stress Awareness Month, too! Growing any kind of garden can be very therapeutic if you’re feeling stressed out and/or cooped up from this past year of quarantining for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Additionally, if you’ve gained what’s being coined as the “Covid 15” weight growth, 20 Everyday Activities and the Calories They Burn, by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd. (as seen on HowStuffWorks.com) claims that two hours of gardening burns about 648 calories or more!
If you don’t have your own garden, or the room for one, just a few patio pots will work. You can also check around your area for a community garden in which you can participate. Gardening has a windfall of benefits! I’m already looking forward to putting on my straw hat (as it is National Straw Hat Month) and getting back into my garden beds this spring.
No matter what’s planted, anyone can burn a lot of calories by taking care of a garden, as there are so many physical aspects involved – planting, mulching, weeding, composting, pruning, watering (repeating the last four or five tasks, over and over, at least a couple times a week for a few months) and finally harvesting!
‘The most valuable of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it has to be done, whether you like it or not.’ – Aldous Huxley, English Writer & Philosopher (1894-1963)
We all know that when life gives us lemons, we should make lemonade! But did you know that as much as 75% of grocery products (including lemonade) are considered to be convenience foods, requiring minimal effort, which can be made at home with what life gives you (and a little effort)? Plant the seeds! In fact, many annuals produce their own seeds for future plantings, too.
Ever since the pandemic us hit hard, the art of homesteading found another revival movement. More people are learning how to grow their own food and make their own OTC health and beauty products. Many are even starting home/internet businesses, selling their homemade products to those who don’t have the time or talents for it, themselves.
WHEN YOU CAN’T FIND WHAT YOU NEED AT THE MARKET – MAKE YOUR OWN… I learned the following “trick” from my local EOC Head Start group, three decades ago, when my children were small…
EASY HOMEMADE CORN SYRUP – The best substitute for 1 cup of corn syrup is to dissolve 1¼ cups sugar (or sugar substitute equivalent) into ¼ cup HOT water. For dark corn syrup, use brown sugar; for light corn syrup, use white sugar. By the way, a 4:1 ratio of white sugar to boiled water will also yield (when cooled to room temperature) an excellent homemade nectar for hummingbirds!
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
The Secrets of Homemade Groceries (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1979)
LIFE IS A CLIMB
MANY PEOPLE FEEL that life is uphill all the way. They fail to look at the things that are good, enjoyable and worthwhile. They are conscience only of the climb. No road is ever uphill forever! We should soon learn the importance of being able to also come downhill without fear and be able to notice the scenery along the road, too.
Going through life without noticing the scenery and trying to see some of the beauty that is there – waiting to be recognized – reminds me of running helter-skelter up and down the supermarket aisles without seeing the ABUNDANCE that is there. Just take a moment to look at the heart-breaking plight of starving people in many parts of the world and, then, take a good look at the aisles and aisles of food available in this country!
We have so much available to us here… Many people fill their backyards each spring with flowers and shrubs, when they could easily plant food-seeds instead, thus cutting something off that weekly grocery bill!
‘Any change, even change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.’ – Arnold Bennett, English Novelist (1867-1931)
Convenience foods are boxed, canned and packaged food products that are manufactured for our expedient ease because we’ve become a too-busy-with-other-things, accessibility-laden society! Consider, also, that these shelf-stable products are filled with unnatural and unpronounceable preservatives and synthetic additives, in order to last for years on the grocery stores’ shelves, as well as in our own pantries.
If you’re concerned with all the additives that are put into convenient, shelf-stable groceries, then homemade is one way you can control the ingredients. Plus, you can also save money – as long as you don’t add the value of your time into the equation! The ‘overhead costs’ and ‘expected profits’ that are added to manufactured convenience foods are what actually kill our food budgets at the check-outs!
Here’s a garden decorating idea I want to re-share from a couple of years ago! I love it when things can serve more than one purpose – thus, my Christmas deer, lawn ornaments (lights removed) serve as trellises in my vegetable garden, during their “off-season”! They’re great for various vining plants like cucumbers, beans and peas; AND, as a bonus, I don’t have to worry about finding storage space for the large figures!
Suggestions for observing April’s garden-related celebrations include having a picnic in a garden or going to a nursery and buying a new plant. You could also decorate your garden (as it’s also National Decorating Month) by adding some garden art and/or a seating area, where you can relax and enjoy it all! Another way to observe is by giving a gardening gift to someone special, like seeds, garden gloves, or a patio plant! Don’t forget to share your ideas on social media with a hashtag!
In honor of April, also being National Fresh Celery Month, here is Mom’s “secret recipe” for a simple “Cream Soup Base”, with two of her many options for turning it into Cream of Cauliflower or Cream of Celery soup!
As seen in… Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 117).
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
APRIL IS still celebrating, among other things… National Month of Hope, National Autism Awareness Month, National Couple Appreciation Month, National Humor Month, National Soft Pretzel Month, National Soy Foods Month, National Poetry Month, National Pecan Month, National Volunteer Month, and Scottish-American Heritage Month!
Some other celebrations for the week include:
Today is also… National Big Wind Day, National Colorado Day, National Licorice Day, and National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day! Therefore, here’s Mom’s take on a grilled cheese sandwich – college dorm-style!
Thursday is… National Banana Day, National Glazed Spiral Ham Day, National Rubber Eraser Day, National Take a Wild Guess Day, Get to Know Your Customers Day (which is the 3rd Thursday of each quarter), and National High Five Day (which is the 3rd Thursday in April)!
…15 down, 37 to go!