Banquet Piece, Pieter Claez

Monday, August 31, 2015

Hortulus, Walafridi Strabi

Something lots of gardeners wonder about their cuke tendrils:
why are there two coils,
one going one way and the other,
the other way?
Walafred Strabo (wikipedia) was a monk (808-849 A.D) who wrote about his garden. Here he writes about gourds:

"Gourds also grow up high from modest seeds. Their leaves look like shields and cast huge shadows, and they send out their tendrils from several different branches.
You know how ivy encircles tall elms, how it wraps its arms around the tree trunk on the ground and then hides the rough bark all the way to the top in a covering mantel of green leaves.

And you know how the grapevines growing in an orchard will climb up a tree and hang grapes on the top branches, pulling themselves upwards by their own strength-- how reddish grapes hand from alien branches, and Bacchus sags down through a carpet of green, while vines poiferate and penetrate the canpoy of foliage.
The gourd plant rises up from weak seedlings and, in a similar fashion, clambers up a supporting trellis, and grasps the alder branches with its coiling shoots.

So that no raging storm can tear it loose, it sends out just as many shoots as there are knots which need to be tied, and since each tendril then bifurcates, each joint on the trellis is doubly tied left and right.
Did Walafred Strabo notice the coils? He continues.

1834 copy from New York Botanical Garden
Like spinning girls who pull soft wool over the turning spindle and wind it up row by row into beautiful coils, the shoots from the gourd attach themselves to each rung of the ladder and quickly twine around it.
With external support, they even learn how to transcend steep roofs of arched hallways and fly throught the air.
And who could adequately praise the fruits that form on every branch? They hand on long delicate stalks and swell from slender necks into strong bodies.

The shapes swell into an oversided waist and belly while inside, in a cavernous jailhouse, the seeds grow with pomise of yet another fine harvest.
As long as the gourd is still soft, and before the juice inside has dried up in late autumn leaving a woody outer shell, the fruits come to the table often with other fine foods, soaking up the fat in a hot pan. People also serve them frequently in juicy slices as a tasty dessert. But of course, if you leave the gourd on the vine, let it endure the growing heat of the summer sun and then chop it off with a knife you can make a durable container out of it.
Just remove the guts from its ponderous belly, then smooth out the inside with a scraping tool.
It will hold anywhere from a pint to a half-gallon and if you seal the vessel with some adhesive pitch, it will preserve the kind gifts of Bacchus unspoiled and potable for many a long day.

Science Friday recently reported on the "Unwinding the Cucubmer Tendril Mystery".


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