A couple weeks ago, my neighbor discovered a bee swarm on one of our fence posts. (When I first saw it, the swarm was twice the size of the one pictured.) Being a conservationist, I was concerned the swarm was honeybees. Being a paranoid dog owner/foster, I was worried what could happen if dogs and bees met. Thankfully, my ever-calm hubby hopped on the Internet and called Little Giant Beekeepers.
The woman he spoke with said the swarm was probably resting after their hive had been disturbed. They’d send out scouts, find a new home and move in a day or two. But, if we wanted, they could send a beekeeper. With me imagining one or more dogs not having the sense to leave the bees alone, getting stung, and having an allergic reaction, we opted for the beekeeper.
Turned out the bees were honeybees. When Miguel came, he suited up, and with an Amazon box and brush in hand, he swept them into the box! He accomplished the task amazingly fast. (Miguel later told us once the queen is in the box, the remaining bees pretty much follow.) Then he taped the box shut and said the bees would be relocated.
The bee incident made me thinking about Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy. This time of year, wildflowers, particularly Texas’ state flower bluebonnets, bloom along highways and in medians, continuing the conservation efforts she started decades ago. According to http://www.pbs.org/ladybird, on January 27, 1965, Lady Bird wrote in her diary, “Getting on the subject of beautification is like picking up a tangled skein of wool. All the threads are interwoven—recreation and pollution and mental health, and the crime rate, and rapid transit, and highway beautification, and the war on poverty, and parks—national, state and local.”
I’ve always felt passionately about issues. Rarely am I on the fence. These days, two of my soap box issues are conservation and saving honeybees. I keep thinking about planting bee friendly plants–sage, salvia, lavender, clover and native wildflowers. Honeybees are struggling to survive. I believe we all need to do our part to help. After all, as Lady Bird said, everything is interwoven, and honeybees pollinate most plants, including our food. No bees? Life will get tough for other animals. Humans included.
I think the bee swarm was the universe telling me to quit talking about it and improve my garden. This weekend I intend to take a tip from Lady Bird Johnson and plant flowers, because like she believed, “beauty can improve the mental health of a society,” and of course, I’ll choose bee friendly plants. We should be kind to our planet and its inhabitants, honeybees included. We’re in this together, and we should keep the Earth healthy. As French president Macron said, there is no Planet B.
Tonight I’ll select one reader who leaves a comment to receive a Book Club wine glass and a copy of To Catch a Texas Cowboy, where my heroine runs a B&B, The Bluebonnet Inn.
I am thrilled to kick off the Spring Special Week for Petticoats and Pistols. Being a born and raised Texan, I couldn’t resist doing a blog on the Spring wildflowers of Texas.
We have an abundance of variations of wildflowers in the state. Being 1,244 miles wide and 801 miles from north to south, we equal some 268,601 square miles with topography from the Gulf of Mexico to the caprock of the Panhandle then east to the thickness of East Texas and back west to the Llano Estacado. The “Lone Star” state has 254 counties spread over this quarter of a million square miles. Needless to say, we have a record number of wildflowers.
Our state flower is the beautiful bluebonnet; one of more than 5,000 species of flowering plants native to Texas. Their abundance is the results of an exceptional multitude of plant habitats and weather conditions. One of the old sayin’ around our parts is: “If you don’t like the weather, just stick around it’ll change by tomorrow.” I don’t know who coined the phrase, but it’s so very true.
My darling husband retired from the Texas Highway Department (now the Department of Highways and Public Transportation). Along the roads of the Texas highway system lie more than 700,000 acres of right of way. TexDot cares for every acre and their commitment led to making the landscape more beautiful by transplanting wild flowers. I’m not going to go into where the 5,000 wildflower species are planted, I’m just going to hit some of my favorite types of wildflowers and a tad about them. One little personal note that might save you a ticket. It’s against the law to pull a wildflower along our highways.
In my town on the corner of two of our busiest streets is a huge Yucca plant that always blooms in the spring. Native Texans held the Yucca in high regard for its practical uses. The stalks were roasted or dried for eating. Prehistoric humans reportedly twisted the fibers into twine and rope to make belts and bow strings. Yucca roots were pounded to a pulp and mixed with water to make shampoo. It’s still a popular base of many shampoos and body bars today.
The Indian Blanket of bright red-and-yellow-flowers in the height of spring, hold many legends. One came to light around 1928 and really stands out for me. A young Native American girl was lost in the woods, and as the cold night fell, she asked “The Great Spirit” to cover her with the beautiful blanket she had seen her mother weaving for her warrior father. When she woke the next morning, she found the fields covered in gaillardia, which her people called the Indian blanket from that day forth. The original Indian Blanket flower were entirely yellow, per folklore.
Another flower native to Texas is Indian Paintbrush. They are known as the co-star to the Bluebonnet and are seen together in many fields. There are approximately 200 different species of the flower, and nine are Texas natives. While Indian Paintbrush is by far the flower’s most common name, it is occasionally called butterfly weed, prairie fire, painted lady, and grandmother’s hair. The last nickname can be attributed to the Chippewa tribe, who used the flower to make a hair wash and treat women’s ailments including rheumatism.
I want to leave you with one of the least favorite wildflowers of Texas, but one that really sticks in my mind. The Jimsonweed, also known as the Thorn Apple and Angel Trumpet, is a large, white, trumpet-shaped flower that can be found from one end of the state to the other. It holds a refreshing surprise. My first encounter with the Jimsonweed was in San Antonio where my oldest daughter and family once lived. They built their house in an area where they had land behind the house and in the spring a number of vegetables and flowers would come up, corn for one. Along the sidewalk there was natural Jimsonweed; therefore, the walk was built to follow the plant up to the house. During the day there was nothing but a vine, no flower, really nothing by big green leaves. This went on for months until I went outside in the middle of the night and there were beautiful trumpet flowers on the branches. This wildflower stays dormant until sundown and blooms at night! One of the amazing things is that the plant is poisonous by nature and has a bad odor and taste; therefore, livestock and wild animals stay away from it. It has to be one of the most interesting wildflowers of Texas.
What is your favorite wildflower? I know I focused on Texas, but every state has their favorite. If you don’t have a favorite then please share with us your state’s flower.
For three lucky winners, I am giving away an eBook of my latest Kasota Springs Romance “The Troubled Texan”.
I just received word that “The Troubled Texan” eBooks is still on sale at all major retailers and they’ve extended both the special pricing of 99 cents to April 12th, as well as additional outlets.
I spend a lot of time talking and writing about Texas history—all the people, places, and things that have made Texas a larger-than-life state. Every once in a while it’s interesting to reflect on what modern-day Texans have done with the legacy of ancestors who sacrificed, struggled, and bled .
It’s true what they say, you know: “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” Texans take a great deal of pride in that statement, having been devoted to “big” since the state was an independent republic. From its admission to the Union in 1845 until someone exhibited extremely poor judgment and granted statehood to Alaska in 1959, Texas was the biggest U.S. state by far. Ever since that unfortunate dethroning, Texans have felt compelled to prove we can out-big the best of ’em by conspicuously displaying big houses, big vehicles, big fortunes, and big hair.
Sometimes, though, even Texans think this “big” thing has gotten out of hand. Take, for example, the list of Official State Capital Designations. Who in their right mind thinks any state needs sixty-nine official state capitals? Texas has seventy, actually, if one counts Austin.
Texas Bluebonnets outside Ennis. (photo by Jeffrey Pang)
Austin, as it turns out, lies at the heart of the ridiculously big list. In 1981, probably in an effort to head off a county-line war, the legislature passed a joint resolution naming Burnet County and Llano County the Bluebonnet Co-capitals of Texas. The Bluebonnet City is Ennis, which is in neither county but probably got its feelings hurt because it does put on quite a show during bluebonnet season.
From there, the legislature got the bit in its teeth and went hog wild. The official representatives in the official Official State Capital in Austin went on a designating binge from which the state has yet to emerge.
Yes, crape myrtles are pretty. Evidently, they’re pretty enough to fight over in Texas. (photo by Atamari)
Evidently another botanical fight erupted in 1997, this one over crape myrtles. Waxahachie, Paris, and Lamar County all got a part of that designation, as Crape Myrtle Capital, Crape Myrtle City, and Crape Myrtle County, respectively. It should be noted that the Crape Myrtle City is in the Crape Myrtle County, about as far north and east as one can go in Texas. Why Waxahachie, which is south of Dallas, insisted on a piece of the action is anybody’s guess.
Wildflowers evidently caused yet another set-to, because the legislature named both the City of Temple and DeWitt County, about 162 miles apart, the Official Wildflower Capital of Texas. Both probably remain dismayed they have to share the honor.
“King George” Strait is a Resistol fan.
The legislature named Garland the Cowboy Hat Capital of Texas in 2013, which makes sense because that’s where Resistol Hats got their start. The designation Dinosaur Capital of Texas also makes sense for Glen Rose, since a plethora of dinosaur tracks—including some that had never been seen before—were discovered in the area at the turn of the 20th Century. But the Hippo Capital of Texas (Hutto)? The Jackrabbit-Roping Capital of Texas (Odessa)? Even Texans wonder who had gotten into the mescal when those ideas were trotted out.
A Texas horny toad. Cute li’l feller, ain’t he? (photo by Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Since the Official Texas State Reptile is the horned lizard—horny toad to Texans, and found only in our state—it’s only right the little critter have its own capital. The legislature went wild on this one, in 2001 designating Kenedy the Texas Horned Lizard Capital of the World. That may be justified, though, because Kenedy’s human population of about 3,000 is probably outnumbered by the reptiles.
Caldwell is the Kolache Capital of Texas, but the Official Kolache of the Texas Legislature resides 100 miles away in West. Yep—must’ve been another fight.
Quite a few of Texas’s Official Capitals are associated with food:
In Texas, we call crawfish “crawdads.” They look like miniature lobsters, and they’re the only thing in Texas that looks miniature. (photo by Jon Sullivan)
Elgin is the Sausage Capital.
Floydada is the Pumpkin Capital.
Friona is the Cheeseburger Capital.
Hawkins is the Pancake Capital.
Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital.
Madisonville is the Mushroom Capital.
Mansfield is the Pickle Capital.
Mauriceville is the Crawfish Capital.
Parker County is the Peach Capital.
Weslaco is the Citrus Capital.
West Tawakoni is the Catfish Capital.
Knox City is the Seedless Watermelon Capital. (There appears to be no Seeded Watermelon Capital, but I’m sure the legislature will remedy that oversight soon.)
In case anyone isn’t completely fed up by now with Texas’s determination to out-big everyone else (Sixty-nine official state capitals? Seriously?), the complete list of Texas Official State Capital Designations is here.
In Texas, pecans are a Big Deal. The trees are native to the state, and according the archaeological record, they’ve been here since long before humans arrived. When people did arrive, they glommed onto the nuts right away as an excellent source of essential vitamins (19 of them, in fact), fats, and proteins. Comanches and other American Indians considered the nuts a dietary staple, combining pecans with fruits and other nuts to make a sort of “trail mix.” They also used pecan milk to make an energy drink and thickened stews and soups with the ground meat. Most Indians carried stores of the nuts with them when they traveled long distances, because pecans would sustain them when no other food sources were available.
An individual Texas pecan tree may live for more than 1,000 years. Some grow to more than 100 feet tall.
Pecans have been an important agricultural product in Texas since the mid-1800s. In 1850, 1,525 bushels left the Port of Galveston; just four years later, the number of bushels exceeded 13,000. In 1866, the ports at Galveston, Indianola, and Port Lavaca combined shipped more than 20,000 barrels of pecans.
Nevertheless, as the state’s population exploded, pecan groves dwindled. Trees were cut to clear fields for cotton. Pecan wood was used to make wagon parts and farm implements. One of Texas’s great natural resources was depleted so quickly that in 1904, the legislature considered passing laws to prevent the complete disappearance of the pecan.
Left alone to regenerate for a couple of decades, Texas pecan groves came back bigger than ever. Until 1945, Texas trees produced more 30 percent of the U.S. pecan crop. In 1910, pecan production in the state reached nearly 6 million pounds, and the trees grew in all but eight counties. During the 1920s, Texas exported 500 railcar loads per year, and that was only 75 percent of the state’s crop. The average annual production between 1936 and 1946 was just shy of 27 million pounds; in 1948, a banner year for pecan production, the crop zoomed to 43 million pounds produced by 3,212,633 trees. In 1972, the harvest reached a whopping 75 million pounds.
Texas pecan orchard
During the Great Depression, the pecan industry provided jobs for many Texans. The nuts had to be harvested and shelled. Shelling employed 12,000 to 15,000 people in San Antonio alone.
The Texas legislature designated the pecan the official state tree in 1919. Between then and now, pecan nuts became Texas’s official state health food (Texas has an official health food?), and pecan pie became the state’s official pie (and my official favorite pie). Pecan wood is used to make baseball bats, hammer handles, furniture, wall paneling, flooring, carvings, and firewood.
Yep. Pecans have always been, and continue to be, a Big Deal in Texas—especially during the holidays. I’d be surprised if any native Texans don’t bake at least one pecan pie for either Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or both.
Texas pecan pie. Do you see how dark and luscious that is? Milk-custard, my hind leg.
The first known appearance of a pecan pie recipe in print can be found on page 95 in the February 6, 1886, issue of Harper’s Bazaar. I’ll bet Texans were baking the pies long before that, though—and I’ll bet even back then Texas pecan pies weren’t the wimpy little milk-custard-based, meringue-covered things Harper’s recommended. In Texas, we make our pecan pies with brown sugar, molasses or corn syrup, butter, eggs, a whole bunch of pecans, and sometimes bourbon.
Another thing Texans have been making with pecans for a long, long time is cinnamon-pecan cake—another treat lots of folks enjoy around the holidays. My family doesn’t put bourbon in this dessert. Instead, we pour a delicious whiskey sauce over each slice. (It occurs to me that for a passel of Baptists, my family sure cooks with a lot of liquor. See the old family recipe for muscadine wine here.)
On to the cake recipe!
Cinnamon Pecan Cake
1 cup butter, softened
2 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped pecans
Additional chopped pecans or pecan halves for topping, if desired
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.
In large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.
In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed 3 to 4 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beating at low speed, add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
At low speed, alternately add milk and flour mixture into sugar mixture, beating just until blended. Fold in pecans. Spread in pans. Sprinkle chopped pecans or arrange pecan halves on top, if desired.
Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove to wire rack and cool completely.
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
½ Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup bourbon
In small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to a boil.
Whisk cornstarch and water together and add to cream while whisking constantly.
Bring to a boil, whisk and simmer until thickened (taking care not to scorch the mixture on the bottom). Remove from heat.
Stir in sugar and bourbon. Taste. Add sugar and whiskey to adjust sweetness and flavor, if desired.
Folks in Fort Worth in the 1880s would’ve eaten this cake—or something very similar—during the holidays. That’s exactly when and where “A Long Way from St. Louis,” my contribution to Prairie Rose Publications’s Christmas anthology A Mail-Order Christmas Bride, takes place. The book—with stories by fellow fillies Cheryl Pierson and Tanya Hanson—bows November 27, but it’s available for pre-order now at Amazon.
Here’s a little about “A Long Way from St. Louis”:
Cast out by St. Louis society when her husband leaves her for another, Elizabeth Adair goes west to marry a wealthy Texas rancher. Burning with anger over the deceit of a groom who is neither wealthy nor Texan, she refuses to wed and ends up on the backstreets of Fort Worth.
Ten years after Elizabeth’s father ran him out of St. Louis, Brendan Sheppard’s memory still sizzles with the rich man’s contempt. Riffraff. Alley trash. Son of an Irish drunkard. Yet, desire for a beautiful, unattainable girl continues to blaze in his heart.
When the debutante and the ne’er-do-well collide a long way from St. Louis, they’ll either douse an old flame…or forge a new love.
So, readers… What dish—dessert, main course, side, or appetizer—absolutely must be part of your holidays? I’ll give an ebook version of A Mail-Order Christmas Bride to one of today’s commenters who answers that question. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)
Thanks to everyone who stopped in and left a comment on my Burpee’s Seed post – it was fun reading about many of your experiences with gardening. I tossed all the names in a hat and drew out the name of the winner, which is
If you’ll just email me with your mailing info I’ll get your prize right out to you.
Hi, Winnie Griggs here. With the start of the new year I’ve been in a cleaning out and de-cluttering mood. And I’ve been surprised by the number of things I’ve come across that I’d forgotten I had. One of the items is a pretty little tray, with a picture on front that is a reproduction of a picture that was featured in a 1913 Burpee seed catalog. Which got me to wondering, since I know Burpee Seeds are still around, just how long the Burpee Seed Company has been in business. Which naturally gave me an excellent excuse to stop cleaning out my spare room and start in on a little research.
W. Atlee Burpee was born in 1858 into an established Philadelphia family that was descended from French Canadian Huguenots. Both his father and grandfather were physicians and it was expected that Atlee would follow in their footsteps. But Atlee himself had different ideas.
From an early age he had an interest in animals and plants. He started with poultry breeding (chickens, geese, turkeys) but it wasn’t long before he was also working with livestock, dogs and plants. Atlee was fascinated with the still-new and little-respected science of genetics. A man who loved research, Atlee conducted his own experiments, and met with a great deal of success. He corresponded with poultry experts across the world and contributed articles to poultry journals as well.
In 1876, when Atlee was eighteen, he took a loan of $1000, most of which was provided by his mother, and started a mail-order chicken business out of the family home. Because of the success of his breeding experiments and the numerous articles he’d written, many poultry farmers already knew his name and expertise. His business became so successful that he was soon able to open a poultry and feed store in Philadelphia. Because of a growing demand from his customer for quality vegetable seed, by 1878 Burpee had formed W. Atlee Burpee & Company.
But Atlee had a near-obsession with innovation and improvement. And he had the intellect and skills to follow through on this keen interest. In 1877 he was able to introduce a new variety of cabbage he called Surehead, in 1881 he produced an improved carrot, in 1884 it was both an improved celery and a better pepper and in 1887 he produced an improved radish..
In 1888 the company established Foodhook Farms in Doylston, PA to test new flowers and vegetables. This was before the US government had a seed testing or research station of their on.
Atlee traveled extensively through Europe and the US every summer. And much of his travel time was spent visiting farms. When he found flowers or vegetables he thought of as exceptional, he would ship these to Fordhook Farms where they could be tested and crossed with other seed stock to produce hybrids – in fact Foodhook Farms was on the leading edge of this type of seed production.
Although garden seed production became the company’s primary business, Atlee and his successors never forgot the company’s beginnings and it wasn’t until 1940 that live poultry disappeared entirely from the Burpee catalog.
At the time W. Atlee Burpee died in 1915, the company he founded was the largest seed company in the world and was receiving approximately 10,000 orders a day. Burpee’s employed 300 people and was sending out a million catalogs a year.
Atlee was succeeded as head of the firm by his 22 year old son David. It was shortly after David took over the company that World War I began taking a toll on seed production in Europe which pushed America to the forefront of world seed production. David Burpee was one of the forces behind the ‘War Gardens’ movement of WW I. This is what he had to say about it:
Food will win the war , we were told by Washington and I decided the best way I could help our country’s war effort was by showing people how to grow a good share of their food right in their own back yards. To dramatize this, I set up what we called War Gardens in a number of cities. The biggest attention-getter was the one in New York. It was in Union Square, directly opposite an imitation battleship bristling with wooden guns aimed at the tomatoes and cabbages. It was a huge success. I would guess that that garden alone must have started thousands of people gardening.
So, do you have any experience with Burpee’s seeds or their catalog? And was any of this information a surprise to you.
And since, as I said, I’m trying to de-clutter my home, but would like to give some of my ‘treasures’ to folks who will appreciate them, I’m going to give the tray pictured here to one of today’s commenters.