Blue-Ribbon Nasturtiums at the Blue Hill Fair

2021 Blue Hill Fair poster

I always try to be in Blue Hill by early September to celebrate two events: Emilie Loring’s birthday and the Blue Hill Fair.

The fair is a 130-year tradition, even longer, if you consider the earliest years, when the oxen pull took place on village streets. It’s all here: rides, foods, games, exhibits, and both oxen and horse pulls.

This year’s fair had a demolition derby. In 1912, Emilie’s sister, Rachel, won first prize in the first-ever “Automobile Parade.”

“A large number of machines were entered, all of them decorated, and many of them handsomely.”

Ellsworth American

Sincerity reigns in the Exhibit Hall, where earnest gardeners enter their best examples of fruits, vegetables, and flowers to be judged.

First Prize to Emilie Loring!

Emilie Loring won blue ribbons at the fair for three years running: 1911-1913. From her books, I might have guessed she would enter chrysanthemums or calendulas.

There was a tall crystal vase of huge golden-yellow chrysanthemums standing on the floor beside the fireplace and a ruddy copper bowl filled with smaller mums of the same color on a table.

When Hearts Are Light Again

… along the path bordered with Orange King and Lemon Queen calendulas, which glowed like two rows of footlights…

Where Beauty Dwells

But no, she entered nasturtiums. They were tremendously popular in 1912, in the vase and in the kitchen.

Nasturtium flowers have a light, spicy flavor, much like water cress. Their leaves can be added to salads, used to make pesto, or mixed with soft cheese to make a peppery spread. Even the seeds, which look a little like garbanzo beans, can be pickled and used like capers.

Beautiful and tasty nasturtiums

“If a little girl wants to have a party, all she has to do is to put some nasturtium flowers or young leaves between thin bread and butter to make very nice sandwiches.”

Fall River Globe, 1912

The nasturtiums that Emilie entered in the Blue Hill Fair grew on either side of her Stone House front door, on trellises that remain today. A year after her first-place wins, the flowers and their leaves appeared in her syndicated newspaper article:

First, she described “a sunshiny breakfast table” with a bowl of yellow blossoms in the center, white china with yellow flowers, cream and sugar servers in soft yellow, a dish of golden marmalade, and at each place, a halved grapefruit. Then, she advised a special accent:

By the kitchen window grow nasturtiums in a box–in the Winter inside; in the Summer outside–that I may have the leaves of this hardy plant to lay beside the fruit on the plate. They give a vivid, refreshing touch and make the simplest meal seem like a party.

“How I Kept House Without a Servant,” Josephine Story (Emilie Loring), 1914.
Dwarf nasturtiums for an indoor garden

As the days grow shorter, I’m going to try my own indoor nasturtium garden. Maybe you will, too. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds sells heirloom nasturtium varieties, dwarf for winter and vigorous climbers for summer.

How to grow nasturtiums in winter.

After the fair, I had good friends out to the cottage for lunch. Everyone brought a dish to share: chicken salad, fresh cucumbers with blackberries, apples fresh from the orchard, and an array of fresh salads–one made special with the addition of brilliant nasturtiums!

Buffet luncheon with fresh salads, one topped with nasturtium flowers.
Our sunshiny luncheon

Another Emilie Loring tradition kept!

9 thoughts on “Blue-Ribbon Nasturtiums at the Blue Hill Fair

  1. Your posts are such a great mix of beautiful pictures, interesting facts, and possibilities to try; thank you! Now you have me thinking about a winter box of nasturtiums too…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for all the lovely pictures and the historical context. Your own feast of fruits, veggies, spreads, and crackers, etc. looks very inviting as well….I’m getting hungry! Thanks for being there and sharing with us who cannot!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It felt great to get out on the road. Driving instead of flying let me see so much beautiful country that I would have missed in the past, and I was able to observe Covid precautions the whole way. I collected SO much new Emilie-related material that it will take me all winter to share it all.


      1. Wow! “SO much new Emilie-related material”! Exciting! This gives us something to look forward to over the winter which can often get bleak, especially after Christmas holidays and the cold/snow really set in.

        I bet that was an interesting drive. So long as you’re in no hurry, it’s great to drive and see the country!

        Here’s my LIKE. I haven’t created a WordPress account to be able to vote…I guess I should! 🙂 [I can’t copy an emoji here either. I’m such a luddite!]

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Aloha! This is a special posting. Thank you. I was today chatting with a friend about the need to grow a garden for my own salad greens. The markets have had sad choices this past year. I described a raised garden that my husband will be able to tend from his wheelchair. The idea of having nasturtiums is brilliant! They grow well here in Oregon. Your suggestion of a type of dwarf nasturtium for indoors is perfect to get a start on exciting salads for winter. I have always loved chrysanthemum and calendula. Since trying to grow many things here, I am finding that I have been too ambitious to try to grow things that don’t like the climate. Small mums do well, so perhaps the large mums I love might just work. Thank you for sharing this lovely experience. Aloha, pam

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Pam, I grew Cherry Rose nasturtiums one season, and they were beautiful, so easy-care! I like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (wonderful catalog!), so I’ll order the dwarfs from them and get started. I want to follow the directions from that early Boston Globe article–a little retro styling for my winter garden. The only question is how it will get watered when I travel… Maybe I’ll need to adapt and use a self-watering planter. Best of luck to your garden!


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