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Tag Archives: Holidays

Decorating for the holidays: Evergreen arrangements

Decorating for the holidays: Evergreen arrangements

 

fresh evergreen arrangement

fresh evergreen arrangement

 

You know, so many of us have artificial Christmas trees these days. For most of us, it’s a case of saving money and having a tree that doesn’t dry out over the season. It is also a matter of convenience.  Less hassle to have an artificial tree and we don’t have to worry about straight trunks or the tree having a “bad side” to it.

But, we’ve sacrificed one of the best things about having a live tree in our homes: The rich scent of the Christmas tree, whether of pine or fir.

So, how to have our cake and eat it too??

Well, if you are like me, buying those room sprays or even candles often doesn’t duplicate the true scent of a Christmas tree adequately. Many of them are close, but not quite on the mark.

One of the best ways to add an authentic scent to the air is to add floral arrangements made of evergreen cuttings.

Now, most of us have a pine tree, spruces, cedars, junipers, or firs growing in our yards. If we don’t, we can find the greens relatively easily. Most Christmas tree farms offer either free branches cut from the bottoms of the trees for customers when they purchase their trees. That, or they will charge a nominal fee for cuttings.

Whichever way you gather these evergreen cuttings, if you prep them before using them, you can add authentic Christmas scent to your home.

Start with fresh cuttings. Be sure to use a sharp pair of pruners to cut the end pieces of the stems–be forewarned, though; the cut ends often will leak a little sticky sap. You might wish to use gloves when cutting.

Once cut, plunge the cuttings in water for several hours for them to take up water. By plunge, I mean submerge them.

In the meantime, gather the glass bowls, vases, or baskets you intend to use for your arrangements.  You can use empty small butter or sour cream containers, cut floral foam to fit tightly, and add to baskets or other non-waterproof containers. You can later on hide the foam and container with a little moss.  Remove and soak the foam until saturated, place back in the container.

Remove the cuttings and cut again: About 1/4 of an inch.

Starting at the outside with the longest branches, add branches all the way around the base of the foam. Add progressively shorter stems, working your way into the middle. You can add other decorative touches such as a flameless candle in the center, some ornaments, some cones and ribbons.

Keep the arrangement misted and do not allow the foam to dry out. If you find a few branches are brittle or browning, you can remove and replace the stems with fresh cuttings treated the same way.

These arrangements, if kept watered and misted, will last up to a month and will hold their fragrance well.

Celebrating Thanksgiving with the foods & plants of the Americas

Celebrating Thanksgiving with the foods & plants of the Americas

 

Thanksgiving Dinner

New World Foods: Thanksgiving Dinner

Many plants we take for granted that originated in the New World have become such important food staples and have affected nearly every culture’s cuisine. So much so that we often forget that foods we associate with different countries had their origins in the Americas.

The same can be said for many ornamental plants now grown in gardens around the world.

So, I think it would be fun this Thanksgiving to look at some of the foods we eat for this holiday and the plants we use to decorate our homes, all of which makes this a truly American holiday and tradition.

The feature of the Thanksgiving Day Menu is, of course, the turkey. The largest game bird in North America, the turkey did not originate in Turkey, as some believe. So, how did it get its name? The Spaniards came back to the Old World with numerous plants and animals, including the turkey. At that time, many goods came to the rest of Europe via Constantinople, a major distribution center that was strategic in its location on the trade routes between Asia and Europe. The North American bird we now know as “turkey” eventually worked its way East and was distributed to the rest of Europe through Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul. Because almost anything coming out of Constantinople in Turkey would have a tag of “Turkey” attached to it, like Turkish rugs, etc., the name attached to the turkey by the English was Turkey coq, later shortened to turkey.

If we proceed down through the menu, probably the most universally featured side dish on the Thanksgiving Dinner menu would be mashed potatoes.

Although we often associate potatoes with the Irish and Ireland, potatoes actually originated in South America. They are an important food staple around the world, so much so that the country of Ireland adopted the potato as its own, both to its benefit and its downfall. The potato was such an important crop that it allowed the Irish to thrive and helped to contribute to a population explosion in Ireland. The Potato Famine of the mid-19th century, which was brought on by Potato Blight,  so obliterated the crop that many in Ireland moved to North America in a vast migration that left more Irish in the US and Canada than in Ireland itself.  So, if you have Irish ancestors, when you sit down to grub on those mashed potatoes, consider how you and your family have come to celebrate an American holiday this Thanksgiving.

Another featured item on the menu is the cranberry. Whether in relish, whole sauce or jellied, cranberries are  purely North American in origin. Previously, cranberries were pretty much used only around the holidays. With the many health benefits as an antioxidant and a urinary tract cleanser,  the cranberry is a staple as juice or a food source year-around.

Candied, mashed or baked or in a pie, sweet potatoes are another staple on the Thanksgiving menu.

A distant relative of the regular potato, sweet potatoes also originated in South America, but in the more tropical, frost-free regions. Columbus found the local Native Americans growing them in the Caribbean islands he discovered, so they were already spreading from their countries of origins even then.

Other items commonly found on the Thanksgiving Day menu include green beans or corn prepared in different ways. Often the corn is prepared in a casserole also featuring another New World food: diced sweet  peppers.

Of course, Thanksgiving would not be complete without the traditional pumpkin pie. Pumpkins, a member of the squash family, are also a very American food.

Now, the decorations at the Thanksgiving table might include pumpkins and various leaves in arrangements including the leaves of the sugar or red maple, various gourds, cattails.  And if you are lucky,  the arrangement might also include American Bittersweet, which is a plant so rare that it is on the endangered species list.

Another plant that you might find around this time of the year is the Thanksgiving Cactus, a relative of the Christmas Cactus that originated in Brazil.

So, there you have it!  Celebrate the food and plant contributions of the Americas this Thanksgiving, and a Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

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