The Shawnee News-Star Weekender March 14th 2020 Becky Emerson Carlberg Here we are in the middle of March.  Spring break is next week.  St. Patrick's Day is next week (17th).  The first day of spring, the Vernal Equinox, arrives next week (19th at 10:50 pm).  It has been 124 years since spring was this early.  […]

The Shawnee News-Star Weekender March 14th 2020

Apricot blossoms

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Here we are in the middle of March.  Spring break is next week.  St. Patrick's Day is next week (17th).  The first day of spring, the Vernal Equinox,arrives next week (19th at 10:50 pm).  It has been 124 years since spring was thisearly.  At this time of almost equal dayand night, the sun crosses the celestial equator (imagine a line in theatmosphere directly above our equator) from south to north.  The tilt of the earth is zero.  Why is spring early?

When we hit the year 2000, ordinarily that Feb would nothave had a leap day.  Leap days areomitted in century years, but things begin to get out of whack.  To straighten out the calendar, Feb 29th2000 was allowed to be a leap year.  Thisshifted days back. Remember the recent leap day Feb 29th 2020.  The 2020 was divisible by 4.   Fromnow until 2100, years with leap days will have earlier springs until leap yearis skipped in 2100 and all is reset once again. We'll not see another March 21st spring start until then!

It is called Phenology when you observe the cycles of plants and animals in relation to temperature, altitude and other influences. You can use these signs to figure when to plant seeds in your veggie garden. Farmer's Almanac states when you see your crocus bloom it is time to plant radishes and spinach.  I have one purple crocus in bloom, the only one I have, so it is a sign to put in those radishes.  If only I had some radish seeds.  The forsythia is putting out yellow blooms throughout Shawnee.  Time to plant onion sets, lettuce and peas.  And, of course, the daffodils are out so keep going with beets, chard and carrots.  Wait for dandelions to bloom before planting potatoes.  Trying to follow the Farmer's Almanac in Oklahoma is difficult since all our flowers often bloom simultaneously.  One must have the garden prepared, stock up on seeds and be prepared to plant extensively at a minute's notice.

Peach flowers

Then there's the next problem in Oklahoma.  Our temperatures go up for a few days, theflowers explode and then there is a reckoning of the ways, usually in the formof a frost or freeze.  My beautiful pinkapricot and peach flowers are now being visited by bees and other pollinators.  There is a 30% chance of a frost or freeze byApril 15th.  Risky business. Iam watching with interest the sand plums as well as other plums, since they arebeginning their spring fling in the fields and woods.  Often these natives can tolerate the coldertemps, but not always.

Have your heard?  St.Patrick's Day parades have been cancelled in Boston and many places in Irelandbecause of the coronavirus.  SavannahGeorgia is still waiting to make the call and many of the parades in New Yorkand other places are still good to go as I write this. 

The celebration will go on regardless.   My green shamrock is hanging proudly in front of the glass cabinet.   Second thoughts, though, have cropped up about making corned beef from scratch.   Have yet to locate a brisket that isn't the size of Texas, but most of the pickling spices are in the berries, whole cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, mustard seeds and ground ginger.   Lacking are the cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds and allspice berries.  

Blarney Castle in the Sister City Peace garden

If a 3 to 4-pound beef brisket does appear, shall I followSteven Raichlen's recipe or go with Martha Stewart? Steve's brisket takes 8days of brining.  Martha's is quicker at5 days. Both cooks have similar spices, carrots, potatoes, onions andcabbage.  Martha goes one step furtherwith turnips and parsnips.  She alsomakes rye soda bread to sop up the juices or eat thickly covered withbutter.  If everything falls through, Ican just purchase a corned beef brisket with spice packet, boil for hours, and finishwith root veggies and cabbage while the soda bread is cooking.  Oh yeah. 

'Corned' beef comes from the coarse rock salt the size ofbarleycorns or 'corns of salt' used in preservation.  The Irish ate dairy, pork and lamb.  The beef produced in Ireland was controlledand sold by the British, French and the colonies.  The Irish ate little beef because it was soexpensive.  Many were living ininvoluntary indentured servitude and their lives were controlled by theirBritish masters.  Even more had beenforced to farm poor soils while the cows had the best pastures.  Living in poverty, the Irish turned to thepotato to survive.  The demand for cornedbeef grew as populations increased in the British Commonwealth and Atlantictrade became even more profitable.  Then from1845 until 1849, the Irish Potato Famine rose its ugly head. 

The potato reached Ireland in 1590 from Europe.     Potatoes grew well in Ireland.   Several potato varieties had been introduced, but the high-yielding Lumper potato could tolerate the poorest of soils and rapidly spread through part of the country. It became the main meal for tenant farmers living at subsistence levels.  

Native Sand plum in bloom

Luck of the Irish. Phytophthera infestans, the fungi oftencalled water mold thrives in really moist conditions and decimates potatoes emigratedfrom North America. The potato blight fungi produce asexual spores that travelgreat distances in the air, swimming zoospores that can do the backstroke overleaf surfaces until they find a suitable site, germinate and cause extensiveleaf rot, and oospores that can survive great lengths of time in the soil. 

These microorganism arrived at the perfect time and growingconditions.  Ireland was experiencingcool, wet weather.   The fungi destroyedhalf the crop in 1845 and practically all of Ireland's potato crop in1846.  Over one million people died fromstarvation and typhus.  Two million, manyalso suffering from malnutrition, emigrated from Ireland to other countries. Moreland than ever was available for the cows and sheep that would eventually be shippedto Britain.  By 1921, the Irishpopulation was less than half that in the 1840's. 

Fast forward to 2020. I like corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes.   My mother, though, seldom made it, and, from what I recall, my grandmother never did.   But times change.   I even have British friends!   So as St. Patrick's Day approaches, regardless of the flu, virus, or plague, I plan to make merry this St. Pat's Day with family and friends.   Just don't get too close, carry hand sanitizers and bring your own dishes, cups and cutlery.  

The Storm Moon one day past full.

La Feile Padraig sona duit (Law leh Paw-drig suna ghit)

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

'May your pocket be heavy and your heart light.  May good luck pursue you each morning andnight.