THE PILGRIMS … THE PLANTATION

I’ve visited the Plimoth Plantation many times, but it had been a few years since my last visit.  Recently, having been housebound because of Covid, all of us needed a bit of stimulation.  So after picking up the grandkids, off we went to experience, once again, the living history museum replicating where the Pilgrims first settled.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of the pioneers who came to America for religious freedom, its a fascinating tale of how people, feeling so strongly about their need to make their own decisions, felt forced to leave the only country they had ever known and a life where everything was very familiar to them, and risk everything for what they believed.  Their journey, however, was far more difficult and complex than we were taught in school.

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In England in the late 16th century, a group of people, who had finally come to the decision that the Church of England was not a true church, banded together and formed a “separate” congregation.  Then, after years of persecution, in 1608 (twelve years before sailing for the new world), more than 300 of these Separatists left England and settled in Holland, a much more religiously tolerant country.  But, as foreigners, regardless of their wealth or previous positions, they were all forced into accepting the most menial of jobs and living in squalid conditions.  Prejudices against this group were evident everywhere.  Even more abhorrent to these Separatists was the fact that their children were becoming “Dutch”.

These people were families, laymen, farmers with no prior experience for what lay ahead.  What they did have was a powerful connection and belief in God.  Going to the New World was not, however, going to be as easy as they originally thought.  They needed a strong leader, a sound ship, an experienced captain and crew, and funding.  Also, negotiations had to be made with England giving these settlers the right to establish a colony in a world which England had already claimed.

Now ready for their adventure, in May of 1619 the Separatists began preparing for their voyage.  After accumulating all the necessary provisions, fishing supplies, tools, clothing and food, on three different occasions they were duped by ‘carpetbaggers’ who took advantage of their naivety.  After months of disappointment and frustration, running out of resources and time,  they somehow continued to forge ahead.

Finally, in July of 1620, leaving many of the original Separatists behind, the remaining Pilgrims sailed from Holland to Southampton England, on board the Speedwell.  This ship proved to be ‘as leaky as a sieve’ with water spouting through every plank.  Many of them had, by this time, lost everything and were willing to abandon their quest.  After trying three more times to set sail, they put in at Plymouth as the Speedwell went in for repairs.  The weeks turned into months.  Time was running out and if they didn’t leave immediately, they’d have to wait until Spring.

Then finally on September 6th, after twelve long years, having given up on the Speedwell and now on board an older, much-smaller, cargo ship known as the “May floure“, 50 of the original 320 Separatists, along with 52 others, set out for the two month, 3,000 mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

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Although our visit to this historic re-enactment village was much-needed, it was both a good and disheartening  visit, as the effects of Covid were evident everywhere.  Yes, it was still the authentic reproduction of the first village the Pilgrims had created when they came to start their new life in America.  Seven timber-framed, thatch-roofed cottages on either side of the dirt road, each encased by a roughly-hewn wooden fence surrounding their modest kitchen gardens.  But, everything needed a little bit of love, as the homes, the grounds, the gardens were all showing signs of wear and tear.  Since Covid, attendance is practically none existent, and the subsequent lack of income is starting to show.


The characters are still authentic in their dress and their interaction with visitors.  None were ‘tripped up’ when we asked about current events.  But there were just a few.  In the past, each tiny cottage would have had a ‘goodwife’ preparing a meal at the open hearth, or tending to the kitchen garden, eager to share with you their recipes or what herbs were best for chilblains.  Children would have been tending the pigs, or rolling barrel staves down the hill.  The men would have been standing guard at the fort, or mending the thatch on a roof.  It was truly an interactive experience.

Now the houses are roped off . . . no entrance allowed.  You may ‘look’ in, but not enter.  Just six short months ago, visitors could go into each home, sit on a chair by the hearth, sample the homemade butter, learn how to card wool.  The children could put on period clothing, lie on the straw-filled mattresses, climb the rickety ladder to the loft.  Visitors once came from all over the country, and the world, to experience how these pioneers lived and survived in the 1600s.  For some, they may never get the chance to visit again.  What a shame, it can’t be experienced the way it was meant to be.

Erinn sewing homesite

The Wampanoag village is still there, in its entirety.  Here, you can enter the mat-covered wetu (house), and the bark-covered nush wetu (large house) where an entire family would live.  And, a male member of the Wampanoag tribe was in full dress, busy burning the inside of a pine log to create a mishoon (canoe).  He was lean, proud and eager to answer any and all questions and share unknown facts about how his ancestors lived at that time.  But … the mask!  It was so distracting … and so difficult for the little ones to hear and understand.  Was it really necessary?  I guess so, but the few visitors who were there were very respectful, keeping the required distance from each other.

Plimoth Plantation really can transport you back to another time.  It can give you an appreciation of what life was truly like for these brave people.  I know there is an aggressive campaign to raise funds for the recent restoration of the Mayflower II, the on-going educational programs, as well as to help cover the ever-increasing operational costs.  I’m also aware that the museum is growing and wants to provide new residences for interns and a research center, but it just seems to me, that the main attraction “The Plantation” is being neglected and perhaps care and attention should be given to it before some of these other projects.

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References:  History, MAYFLOWER by Nathaniel Philbrick, Ancient History, Plimoth Plantation,

LAPSANG SOUCHONG

Lapsang Souchong, the tea that infuses fear and terror into the most seasoned tea drinkers.  But why?

This time of year my tastes change and I begin looking for deeper, darker, richer flavors – regardless of what foods it might be.  Light, refreshing salads are gone from my table to be replaced by hearty soups and stews.  The seasons have changed.  The sun sets earlier and earlier every day.  The days are cooler and quite often damp and at night I just want to curl up with a good book, a blanket  . . .  and a cup of Lapsang Souchong!

Have you ever been camping  . . .  especially in the Fall?  Is there anything more comforting and inviting than a campsite on a cool October morning when someone has just started the fire for breakfast  . . . or in the evening after a day of hiking and the smoky fire just envelops you.  You can’t help but be drawn to it.  The billows of heady, smoke that comes from a fire is so welcoming.  That same smoky flavor gets imparted into our food (and sometimes into our clothing) and we love it.  So why then do so many tea drinkers say “no thank you” to a cuppa Lapsang Souchong!

Lapsang Souchong … I just love the name!  It’s exotic, unique, rhythmic.  The name comes from the Chinese Fuzhou dialect combining “la” or “pine” and “sang” or “wood” with the size of the leaf, “souchong“, which is the largest or  third leaf in a fine pluck.  The trade name for this tea then became Lapsang Souchong or “smoky, piney large leaf” tea.

This  dark, rich black tea is said to have originated in the Wuyi Mountains of China, as so many distinguished teas have.  The legends about how this tea originated are many.  The one I like most says that during the Qing dynasty in the early 17th century, the Wuyi area was overrun with Manchu soldiers who were terrorizing the local villagers.  The tea growers were already selling teas to the Dutch by that time.  Gathering all their belongings to flea this invasion and not knowing how long they were going to be gone, the farmers quickly dried their tea leaves over open fires in order to speed up the drying process.   Throwing the tea leaves into sacks, they were then able to bury the sacks of teas to keep the soldiers from getting them.  When the farmers returned to their village, they found that their teas were dark and had a smoky flavor . . . ruined, or so they thought.  But to their surprise, not only did they preserve the tea leaves, the Dutch buyers actually liked the flavor better.

The truth, however, is that the Dutch had been importing Lapsang Souchong or bohea tea since long before then.  By the time the East India Company began trading in tea, Lapsang Souchong, was already being drunk in Europe . . .  and happened to be Princess Catherine of Braganza’s favorite tea.  It was, in fact, this Portuguese Princess who is credited with making tea the sought-after beverage of aristocrats in England.   Catherine had grown up drinking tea in Portugal, and in 1662, when she was betrothed to British Prince Charles, along with her other possessions was a chest of tea.  Then, as Queen Consort of England, she helped promote tea into upper-class society with her much-sought-after afternoon tea parties.

Loose Leaf Lapsang Souchong

Lapsang Souchong is available everywhere, on supermarket shelves, through Amazon and from your local tea purveyor.  If you are still unsure about whether or not you might like it, do yourself a favor and invest in the best quality you can find.  There are  ways to produce Lapsang Souchong, which I really don’t want to get into, using artificial smoke flavorings and additives, but you can still find high-quality Lapsang Souchong made the traditional way . . .  in China, in wooden smoking sheds.

After plucking, the large leaves are heated and rotated every 20 minutes until they are pliable.  They are then rolled and, after panfrying, are placed into wooden barrels and covered with canvas, until they are copper in color and have a pleasant fragrance.  The next step is to spray the tea leaves with water, place them into baskets over smoking pine fires to dry and absorb the smoke flavor.  Controlling the withering, oxidation as well as the amount and timing of smoke is critical to producing a great Lapsang Souchong.  A tea which I love.

In the culinary world, the complex piney flavor of Lapsang is a great flavor enhancer.  Add it as an ingredient in marinades or in your next dry rub for meats or fish, or toss a teaspoon into a pot of stew.  The richness and depth of flavor it imparts is wonderful.  Even vegetarian recipes can benefit from a bit of Lapsang Souchong.

Here are a couple of ideas for you.  For a dry rub, mix one tablespoon salt, 3 tablespoons each of brown sugar, paprika and Lapsang Souchong with 2 teaspoons black pepper and ground cumin.  Grind them all in a mill and keep in a closed jar in the cupboard until you’re ready to use.  Or try infusing olive oil with this tea to be used in marinades or to dress vegetables or fish – 2 teaspoons crushed Lapsang into 4 oz. of olive oil, let sit for a week or two and then strain out the tea leaves.  Wonderful!

But, of course, I divert from what is the best way to experience this dark, piney, smoky-flavored tea and that is in your cup!  Steep with boiling water for approximately 3 to 4 minutes.  No milk, no sugar, just hot, comforting and wonderful!!  And should you want to experience this full-bodied brew for yourself, I can recommend the following tea purveyors:

The Larkin Tea Company
Mrs. Kelly’s Teas
The Cozy Tea Cart
Upton Teas
The Tea House

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References:  Wikipedia, Vicony Teas, Boston Tea Party, New World Encyclopedia, Greenhalge,

The “John” Company

Why am I writing about this company, which actually changed the face of Britain?  Because I am frequently asked “If England never grew tea, how did tea get to England?” Well, here’s the answer.  It all started with establishing the spice trade for Great Britain and the “John” Company …..

spicesSpices had been known to man since the beginning of recorded time.  Pepper, cinnamon, clove, saffron, ginger and nutmeg are some of the oldest.  Not only for preserving foods, spices made spoiled foods taste better, and helped make the ‘unwashed’ smell a little better.  Spices were used for embalming the dead, in religious practices, and as medicine.  Nutmeg, in particular was thought to be a miracle cure for the plague, which killed more than 35,000 people in 1603 in London.

 With spices grown primarily in Asia and the surrounding islands, the Indonesians were the first to begin selling their spices through what is now known as the Ancient Spice Route.  This long and arduous journey began in Indonesia, traveled through China, India and the Middle East to the east coast of Africa and ended in the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria thus became the central trading center for most of Europe.  Needless to say, these much-in-demand spices became very expensive.

The Portuguese were the first to set their ships off to find the spice islands and by the 1400’s, they dominated much of the overseas spice route.  It wasn’t long, however, before the Dutch and the Spanish went in search of these treasures. Who doesn’t remember the poem “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue ….“? Columbus was, of course, searching for the spice islands, but, as we know, went a bit off course.  By the 1600’s, however, these countries all had a stronghold in this area.

The British East India Company, which was originally named the Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, but more commonly known as the “John” Company, was the brain child of London businessmen in 1600 for the sole purpose of importing these expensive and important spices from Asia, which was now dominated by the Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish.

 Led by James Lancaster, the John Company set off for Indonesia with five ships laden with linens, iron and lead to trade with the Indonesians. These items were of no interest to the leaders of these tropical islands. The Company continued on and finally ended up establishing trading posts in India where they bargained with tribal leaders and received exclusive rights to build factories.

The Company brought back all sorts of exotic goods in addition to the spices … silks, porcelain, lacquerware, cocoa, tobacco, tropical fruits, sugar, coffee and tea.  The Queen was delighted!  Royalty and the affluent members of society were fascinated by these, before now, unseen treasures. Although these rich and powerful people knew very little about these other things, what they did know was that they wanted them … all of them!

Trade wars began and because of their violent encounters with the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese competitors, as well as with pirates, the “Company” found it necessary to create their own military and administrative boards, making them an imperial power.  With this overwhelming power in place, the East India Company soon became the ruler of this massive territory.

One of the more popular items they brought back was, of course, “TEA“.  As with spices, TEA was also first touted for its medicinal benefits …. it “helpeth headaches, giddiness and heaviness …. good for colds, dropsies and scurvies.”  It didn’t take long, however, for tea to be drunk purely for its exotic qualities.  Coffee had been adopted by the French and the Italian.  TEA was to be for the British.  (For more information, be sure to read Earl Grey … The Man The Tea.)

The Company continued building trading posts in India and continued to buy tea from the Dutch, because the Chinese would not trade with the English company.  With the Dutch as the middleman, this made the tea even more expensive.   The Company persisted.  It took about 50 years, but finally they were able to negotiate a trade deal with the Chinese to purchase tea directly.  Their first order was for 100 lbs. The demand for tea grew to the point where less than 100 years later the Company was placing orders for almost 5,000,000 pounds of tea each year!  England was addicted.

The Company was in full control now and was setting the prices. The Chinese wanted to be paid in silver bullion.  At the beginning this wasn’t a problem for the British because silver was in great supply; but with losing the American colonies, access to South America, where the silver was mined, was becoming more and more difficult.

Several decades earlier the Dutch had begun trading tobacco and opium with the Chinese – which the Chinese used mainly for medicinal purposes.  The British, led by the Company, was now ruling over India and had established some opium plantations.  They soon realized the answer to their “tea” problem was to increase their opium trade with the Chinese, ultimately leading to the Opium Wars.

The Company would sell their opium to the Chinese at auction for silver; the very same silver that the Chinese were being paid for their tea.  For the next twenty years, this trade was so lucrative that other trading companies wanted a share.   Although China issued an edict that opium importing and consumption were illegal.  The edict had no effect whatsoever.  The Company, using smugglers and corrupt Chinese officials, continued to bring the drug into the country, using a technique still in practice today of giving away free samples.  Interestingly, the term for accepting bribe money was called “tea money”.
The British East India Company aka the “John” Company had grown into a very powerful political and trading monopoly which rivaled the British Government, and, in effect ruled many of the British Empire’s territories.  It fought nations, set prices and taxed goods.  (We’ll discuss the Boston Tea Party in another blog.)  They had become too powerful and the British government sought to regain control.  No longer was the John Company simply a commercial venture.  It was now a political one.

In 1834 the Company was finally dissolved and it was then that London merchants sprang into action. The first thing they did was to purchase as much tea as possible and as cheaply as possible.

More to come ….

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References:  The Spice House, The East India Company, THE STORY OF TEA by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert Heiss, Wikipedia