Tomorrow is the July 4th holiday when we celebrate our declaration of independence from Britain, so it is appropriate to begin now, as we did then, with a tea party.
We start our blog near the end of a song by singer, songwriter, baker, and farmer's market founder, Peg Loughran of Wonalancet New Hampshire. For me, the key moment in the song, Harvest Equinox, is a haunting and evocative phrase "Into a cup of tea." It represents the culmination of many actions and thoughts. This moment is preceded by listing some of the many elements of this cup of tea.
Wrapped up tight with Market Spice
Sweet smell of orange trees blooming
Cayenne pepper, cardamon
Nutmeg, clove and cinnamon
Pouring out the porcelain spout
Into a cup of tea
The Conway Public Library's Henney History Room offers a free outreach program on the history of tea as well as over a dozen other programs on topics such as Redstone granite, Conway's Abenaki Intervale site, White Mountain Art, maple sugaring, nature through history, and a variety of walking and driving tours.
Here are the complete lyrics of that song so you can explore its deeper significance and meanings. (click on images to enlarge them).
The lyrics come from her 1996 year album
So why are we talking about the harvest equinox and a cup of tea in the middle of summer? It has to do with the farmer's traditional obsession, strategies and planning involved in preserving the summer harvest to survive the winter. As the saying goes, it is how "plenty prepares for want."
In her song, Loughran expains that...
The taste of summer sealed with sun
Protected from the cold to come
It is a lot of work to preserve all of the items that can be saved for later.
Wild mint, sage and rosemary
Cattails, basil, parsley
Hung to dry in the storage shed
Winter squash of green and red
Jars of peaches, plums and peas
Beans and blackberries
(Note: today is also national "eat your beans day" but back to tea.)
Tea itself is preserved through fermentation and drying. All the hundreds of varieties of tea are from a single plant - camellia sinensis. As Loughran's song indicates tea can be flavored with many things - spices, flowers and of course fruit.
Summer fruits were both farmed and harvested wild. Blueberry picking in Conway's Green Hills is featured in a painting now at the Currier Museum in Manchester. Mount Washington can be seen in the background.
Here is a detail of the folks near the center of the painting.
The fermenting and drying of tea is one of many ways of preserving. One of my favorite ways of saving summer to savor later is through jams and jellies.
The history, science and techniques of canning can be found in the library under the Dewey decimal number 641.4. I especially recommend Pickled, Potted and Canned by Sue Shephard. According to Shephard the earliest kind of jam making dates back to pre-Roman times when fruit pulp was mixed with honey and spices and dried in the sun. Quince, found in the garden of the Conway Public Library, has a long history detailed in the book. It has a high pectin content so that when cooked, it can be made into a preserve with a solid texture.
So this weekend, have some tea, jams and jellies, and scones to remember our nation's British origins and then grill some hot dogs and serve up New England baked beans to celebrate our independence.
For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.