Saving Seeds, Saving Stories

IMG_4506Seeds have a story to tell. And their stories are often unique. A few gardening seasons ago, I purchased some vegetable seeds from the Iowa-based Seed Savers Exchange. Along with seeds grown on their own property, the SSE has a network of seed-saving gardeners around the United States and the world for the purpose of sharing saved seeds. This is how I have acquired most of my seeds in the past few years.  With each packet of seed I receive in the mail, I become acquainted with another seed saver and often learn the stories of the seeds they have sent me.

One of my favorite seed stories came with some English pea seeds purchased from a gardener in Little Mountain, South Carolina. A note explained that these seeds were “from the Lindler family of Little Mountain, SC. It is said to have been grown in this area since Colonial times, thus the name ‘English pea’.” Reading this, I realized I had been given more than just seeds – I had been given a story. A history. No, I don’t know all the details. But I do know this – there has been a hard-working attentive gardener planting these English pea seeds in his/her garden each year from the earliest days of our nation. Back when plows were pulled by horse or mule and water was drawn by bucket from a well. Back when saving seeds was their only guarantee of a garden the following year. Through the Civil War, two world wars, drought, floods, industrialization and technological advances, farmers in Little Mountain, South Carolina have faithfully and attentively grown these English peas and saved its seeds, not just for their own future garden, but for folks like me who want to do the same. My motivation to keep this story going, to preserve and persevere in my own part of the world, inspires me to garden for more than just a desire to grow food. I want to have a small part in this history and keep this seed story going into the future.

My first season (2016) of growing these English peas was moderately successful. For the most part we picked the pods and ate the sweet-tasting peas right in the garden. They were delicious! I intentionally left some pods to dry and saved the seeds for the following year. However, due to family circumstances, I have not been able to garden again until this year. Unsure of the viability of my saved peas, I gave them a try indoors in some peat pots. I am excited to see these English peas have begun sprouting!

To add to my excitement for gardening again, I am happy to be sharing these same English pea seeds with my son and daughter-in-law for their new garden. And I will be passing along this seed story to them as well. What will your first seed story be?

Seed Savers Exchange

Note: The website for the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa, due to overwhelming demand for seeds, is temporarily not accepting new orders. However, if you click on the “Exchange” title on the top bar, it will take you to the gardener exchange site, where you will be able to search for seeds and request them from the specific gardeners you see listed. Seeds from this exchange are free – you will pay shipping. Most of the time I have received my seeds in the mail within a week. Please read each gardener’s profile for specific information. Happy gardening!


Simple Pleasures: Homemade Granola


Granola 10 - yogurt parfaitIn these days of worldwide pandemic, many aspects of our daily lives have been drastically changed. Stay-at-home measures put into place to protect the vulnerable and slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus have caused all of us to make changes, some difficult, some perhaps for the better. For me, this pause in life has removed some things I love but also provided time to return to some things I love, particularly baking and writing. Today I find myself doing both.

With my family members eating three meals a day at home, suddenly the kitchen seems busier and the food cupboards seem emptier. The menu is requiring a little more ingenuity when certain things are out of stock at the store.  Plus, infusing a little variety into our meals seems to break up a bit of the current monotony in our days.

So, to add varietyGranola 11 - cookbook to breakfast, I made our favorite homemade granola. This recipe is easy and less expensive than store brands and most of the ingredients are pantry staples. This granola can be prepared in about fifteen minutes and ready to eat an hour later. The original recipe is from the Charm Countryview Inn, nestled in the hills of Ohio’s Amish country – a favorite place of ours! Over the years I have adapted this recipe to our family’s preferences, and you can do the same. (And if you are looking for a relaxing getaway apart from the busyness of life, the rocking chairs on the large front porch of the Inn and the TV-free guest rooms are just perfect!)

I have had a large Tupperware bowl for years, which is my go-to for this recipe. Simply combine these ingredients in a large bowl with a wooden spoon: 4 cups quick oats, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3/4 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (original recipe uses whole wheat flour), 1/2 cup maple syrup, and 1/2 cup melted butter. (Optional: 1 cup coconut, though I do not include this.)

Granola 1

In my opinion, real maple syrup is a key ingredient in this tasty granola. I just received this half-gallon jug of maple syrup from family members in New York state who know the people who make this maple syrup – what a treat! When the granola is thoroughly mixed, it will be a little bit sticky, similar to this picture where some granola mix is sticking to the spoon.Granola 6 - mix close up

The secret to a delicious batch of granola is the slow baking process. With the oven at 250 degrees, bake the granola for 45 minutes. Then take it out and, using a large flat spatula, turn the granola over and break it up into smaller pieces. This will allow the granola to dry evenly. If you want to add extras, this is the time to mix those in. Options include  graham crackers (about 11 crushed) and 1/4 cup chopped nuts. For a sweeter treat, add 1/4 cup chocolate chips after the second bake! This picture shows the granola after 45 minutes. Notice it is in chunks but not completely dried yet.

Granola 8 - almost done

Return the granola to the oven for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and break the granola up into bite-size chunks or smaller, to your preference. I use the same spatula, holding it sideways, to break it up. We like our granola to have a smaller crumb texture to it. Allow the granola to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container. That’s all there is to it! (We enjoy nibbling on it when it is still warm from the oven, but do not consume while it is still hot.)

Our favorite ways to eat our homemade granola are with cold milk, like a bowl of cereal; or slightly warmed up in the microwave, then with milk added, like a hot cereal; or as a main ingredient in a fruit/yogurt parfait, as pictured at the top of this post. This granola stores well and even makes a great snack for munching in the car on road trips.  It might just become one of your family favorites, like it has ours. My recipe here is for half the amount of the original recipe – so if you need more granola, it works fine to double this.

granola 12 (2)

I hope this simple recipe will encourage you to try something new. And perhaps to see something new. To see that this pandemic, though full of hardships and challenges, has brought us a gift – the gift of simplicity. A simplicity that embraces a little less consumerism and a little more creativity.  A little less luxury and a little more resourcefulness. A little less self-advancement and a little more other-awareness. Gifts I hope we hold on to long after this pandemic is over.