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.
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.
“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.
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.
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!
Another Emilie Loring tradition kept!