Archive for September, 2016

Itcotton_600px‘s Indian Summer here in the Midwest although the official First Day of Autumn was last week. Pumpkins and Indian Corn popped up at the farmers market several weeks ago and I broke down and made my first batch of pumpkin-inspired baked goods this weekend (Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Icing).  I have successfully denied myself the bags of Halloween candy in the supermarket so far but my resolve is waning.

Each year around this time, our school garden hosts a “night out” to invite families and kids into the garden, to picnic and watch a movie out-of-doors. And each year I’m asked to do a short presentation on something exciting in the garden. This year, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but fluffy, white, puff balls of cotton in the Land of Lincoln. Yes, cotton can be grown as an annual anywhere with approximately 120-180 days of warmth. Our cotton plants have grown to at least 7′ high and about as much wide! Not your typical variety grown in the southern states, but certainly the same end product. I remember seeing my first cotton field in Alabama, a sea of white, and thinking it was so beautiful. I’ll give you the cliff notes version of my garden lesson:

  • evidence of cotton cloth has been discovered as far back as 7,000 years ago
  • the U.S. produces over $25 billion of cotton annually and is a major world producer
  • 95% of all cotton becomes clothing or textiles
  • cotton seeds were first planted in the colonies in the late 1500’s and cotton was considered a specialty crop because it was so labor-intensive
  • in 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which revolutionized the separation of seeds from lint (fluff) and created a huge demand for labor to pick ever more cotton
  • the demand for slave labor increased as the production of cotton exploded throughout the southern states
  • production of cotton rose from 156,000 bales to 4 million bales in just six short years following his invention
  • our garden variety has both yellow and pink blossoms which flower, die back, and leave a green boll that looks like a venus fly trap to me
  • the fibers inside the boll expand pushing out the seeds as the boll ripens until hard and brown and the lint literally pops out

It’s still a little early for the cotton harvest in the South but here in Central Illinois ours will need to be picked soon and will be carded, spun and used in fiber art by the kids at school. Nature creates such amazing things on its own that I don’t need to work too hard to find something “exciting” in the garden.

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Happy Birthday Mrs. B

Wmrsbicecreamith great fanfare (and many requests for seconds), Mrs. B’s Birthday Bash ice cream was unveiled last month in honor of the bicentennial year of Bradley University Founder, Lydia Moss Bradley (1816-2016).  Because I live within a stone’s throw of campus, I believed I should “honorarily” celebrate, i.e. taste, the new flavor created by Spotted Cow, Peoria’s home-grown and home-made ice cream maker. Vanilla ice cream with a red velvet ribbon certainly matches the color-scheme of BU, but how does it taste? I don’t know if Mrs. B. liked ice cream, but to me her signature flavor was understated as I believe she was, not too artificial or sweet, but offering enough of that red-velvety flavor to enjoy a scoop or two.  Mrs. Bradley was one sharp ice crystal if you’ve read anything about her and way ahead of her time.  She made her first investment while still in her teens and proceeded to marry, have six children, lose a dear husband, assume control of a valuable estate, marry again and divorce, heartbreakingly lose all six children, and quietly accumulate through smart business deals, over a million dollars – all of this in the mid-1800’s.  That is one determined and very strong woman who lived her life the way she wanted not how society dictated.She shattered the glass ceiling that we still struggle with today.  In addition to starting the Bradley Polytechnic Institute, she was also instrumental in donating land and funds to launch some of the bigger philanthropies in Peoria.  I think she would appreciate her cool tribute and probably chuckle in private about “those crazy kids” making ice cream for me … I hope their studying too.

Happy 200th Birthday … may your spirit inspire us all!

Spotted Cow
718 W. Glen Ave.
Peoria, IL
Mon-Thurs: 10:30am – 9pm
F-Sat: Open until 10pm
Sun: Open until 9pm
*Mrs. B’s is available through the end of the year

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