Freshly Minted

April 12th, 2012

“You know they say snakes won’t go around mint,” Laura Dorsey remarked casually.

“They won’t?” I cried.

Being of a scientific bent, Laura wasn’t about to give me any gold-plated guarantee but she did tell me this story. When they first settled their old house on the hill in Cherokee County they kept finding snake skins on the fireboard in the living room and this struck cold terror to the hearts of the young girls in the family, as it would to mine if I knew a snake was sneaking into my house unbeknownst to me to make his seasonal change of clothes.

“I planted mint all around the foundations and by the steps and the snake skins didn’t appear again,” Laura related.

However the snake himself showed up in the tool house. He was harmless, a kind of pest repellent in fact, but he also repelled Laura so she planted mint around the tool house. She never saw the snake there again.

“Where did he go, I wonder?” I mused, thinking of distant mintless regions.

“To the privy,” said Laura. “I’m planting mint around it now.”

~~~ The Sweet Apple Gardening Book by Celestine Sibley

It was with this passage in mind that I planted mint next to the side door.

Kentucky Colonel Spearmint

Kentucky Colonel Spearmint

There’s a small porch there with an open space under it, just large enough that I can’t see all the way underneath. It looked like a snaky place to me and one where I was planning to spend a lot of time.When Celestine Sibley wrote the words above, she was looking for empty places to deploy her exuberant surplus mint, but so far I haven’t had that problem. I pull up some stray runners in the spring, but that’s about the extent of my efforts to control its growth. I do use it a lot in the kitchen. With our weirdly warm winter and spring this year, it never really died all the way to the ground and we have plenty to use now – so early in the spring.

Easter Dinner was glazed ham, mashed potatoes with sour cream and chives, and peas with mint. The only garden components were chives and mint. I think I’ve mentioned peas and mint before. It’s something that I make often and usually with frozen peas (yeah, I know, sorry, but it’s easy). Put frozen peas in a microwave-safe lidded casserole. Add salt, pepper and butter to taste (more butter is better, up to a point). Microwave until the peas are tender – if you buy petit pois this only takes a couple minutes. Sprinkle with finely chopped fresh mint, and taste to see if it needs more butter, salt, or pepper.

I used ‘Kentucky Colonel’ Spearmint for this, but I also have Chocolate Mint and Peppermint growing by the side door.

Peppermint

Peppermint

Chocolate Mint

Chocolate Mint

This post is my contribution to the first Garden-to-Table-Challenge of 2012. And hopefully not my last, but this year the kitchen garden is going to be much smaller. Celestine Sibley and I reached the same conclusion, taking about the same amount of time to do it:

It’s funny how long it takes you to see a perfectly obvious thing. For the first half-dozen years in the country I wanted a big garden and everything I had ever heard about to be growing in it—the delicate spring lettuces, endive, escarole and romaine, radishes and tender young peas, new potatoes and all the summer vegetables—black-eyed peas and butter beans, okra, squash, tomatoes and great purple eggplant. I saw no reason why I couldn’t have strawberries and asparagus and blueberries and raspberries and blackberries and grapes and watermelons and cucumbers and cantaloupe.

The plain truth was that although I had the space—five acres mostly given over to young pines and hardwoods—I had neither the time nor the help to handle a big garden.

It was a terrible temptation to sit there and read and and sip coffee before work in the mornings and to sit there and sip something cool and visit with friends in the late afternoons but how could I with that disheveled, sun-baked garden standing there shaming me for my neglect?

“There just isn’t TIME enough!” I used to wail to anybody who would listen.

And then I remembered Mary Kistner and her one-woman garden.

“It’s so small!” I cried to Mary and she took me around and showed me that it was indeed small, tailored to supply fresh vegetables in season for two people and occasional guests.

She had worked out a system, probably after a little period for trial and error, that gave her time for other activities, but assured that in the growing season she would always have fresh vegetables for the table, herbs to season them and flowers to ornament the yard…

That’s my goal. Not to give up the kitchen garden, but to make it of a size where I don’t feel either frazzled or ashamed all summer long. I’m still seeking that proper size and contents. Right now the too-big garden is a mess of weeds that never stopped growing over our warm winter. Every time I looked at it, I felt so discouraged that I stopped looking at it. As a result, there won’t be many spring crops this year. There are still perennial herbs to use (like mint), but they’ll be seasoning store-bought vegetables until at least early summer.

Celestine Sibley was wrong about one thing though. I reached for the outdoor faucet handle one day last fall, and jumped back suddenly when I saw a black snake slithering along the house foundation—right through the mint.

4 Responses to “Freshly Minted”

  1. Wendy says:

    I loved reading this post. Celestine Sibley sounds like a character! The chocolate mint is so pretty with it’s dark stems. My mint never really died back either and I’m not pondering all the things I can do with it!

    • entangled says:

      Celestine Sibley had a interesting career and life, and I hadn’t heard of her until Annie in Austin recommended The Sweet Apple Gardening Book. Flipping through it again yesterday made me want to reread it.

      I don’t know what to do with the chocolate mint other than inhale ;-). It seems too strong for most uses in the kitchen, but the scent is soooo nice.

  2. Thanks for reminding me about this book, Entangled – is it time to reread my own copy? After last summer’s drought the vegetable garden was downsized here, too.
    But mints have never traveled or spread at this house. I keep trying but can barely keep one alive longer than a season or two. When the chocolate mint was alive I think I few a couple of sprigs in the filter basket & gave a hint of that flavor to coffee.

    Annie

    PS any luck browsing the 1940 census?

    • entangled says:

      Yes, definitely time to reread Sweet Apple Gardening. She was so good at the craft of writing. I remembered clearly the part about the mint, but only dimly the part about the too-big vegetable garden. It’s like she was reading my mind when she wrote that, but expressed it so much better than I could.

      I repeatedly killed mints in northern Virginia until I started planting them next to the outdoor water spigots. They picked up enough drips and splashes to survive the clay soil and summer droughts there. But here in central Virginia, we have much more moisture in the soil. We don’t drink much coffee any more, but I’m thinking the same infusion idea would work with tea and chocolate mint. I’m going to try it with my very next cup.

      My mom has been looking at the census. I think she started by looking for herself, then my dad, then her grandparents. I saw on Twitter, I think it was, that you’re indexing? Bravo!

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