Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Jumpin Geraniums!

Geraniums are my fiancé’s favorite flower. When he was a child his grandmother grew geraniums in their yard, and to him, this scent means home. When we began dating my mother gave him a clipping of the smelliest geranium she could find, an old fashioned variety that had been growing in our yard for years.

As you can probably guess from my introduction, geraniums hold a special place in my family. The geranium my mother gave my fiancé is currently in full bloom, on our back step, celebrating its second anniversary in that big blue pot.
Pelargonium common name, Geranium. A gift from my mother's garden.

When I started to do research for this post, I honestly didn’t think I’d find much about geraniums. They’re a friendly flower and a staple in many gardens, but they just didn’t seem like the type of bloom that would inspire very many stories.  Well, I was wrong.

First of all, there is a story that credits the geranium with a rather illustrious beginning: one day the Prophet Mohammed washed his shirt and hung it on a mallow plant to dry. Once it was dry and he removed the shirt, the plant had transformed into a beautiful blooming geranium. The other legend I found that included Mohammed told that one day a swallow touched the edge of the Prophet’s robe and was transformed into the geranium. I’m unsure if the transformation was a blessing or a punishment, but I do find it interesting that the geranium seems not to be able to simply exist, but that it is believed to be the result of an entity’s divine transformation.

A common name, cranesbills, also plays with this idea of a geranium being more than merely a flower. This nickname is often given because the physical feature of some geranium species where the flower stem has a craning neck, and/or black seed-heads that resemble a crane’s bill. 
Geranium 'Rozanne' Rozanne Cranesbill, at HBG

Similarly, I found two conflicting stories regarding red or scarlet geraniums. Supposedly, if you keep a scarlet geranium in your house year round, a family member will die. Very depressing, so please take your flowers outside! However, good witches are said to plant red or scarlet geraniums in pots outside their homes. Pink geraniums also have a home in the witches’ cupboard, where they can be an ingredient for love spells.

Geraniums also have an active role in folklore. One old belief in New England is that snakes will not go near a spot where wild geraniums grow. But my favorite legend is that if you come upon a geranium with the blossom pointing downward, it is warning that you are stuck in the past and that constant reminiscing is stealing your future.

It seemed to me that a plant that protects from snakes, can cause death when cloistered, warns against melancholy, aids with love spells, and graces the yards of good witches might have attracted some attention from the literary community. After all, these are some rather juicy attributes that must have inspired at least one writer, and after a little digging, I wasn’t at all disappointed. In fact, I have a few new tomes added to my to-read shelf.

Agatha Christie wrote her short story The Blue Geranium in 1929, and it is now available in a collection of stories called The Thirteen gives us a brief summary of the tale:

Mrs Pritchard, has arranged to see a psychic who warns her there is evil and danger in her house.  Two days later she receives a letter from the psychic; she must beware the full moon: blue primrose means warning, blue hollyhock is danger and blue geranium is death!  When the warnings begin to appear poor Mrs Pritchard is terrified – could there be truth in the psychic’s message?

Dire warnings, especially when blue geraniums are so lovely!  But Ms. Christie was not the only lady in literature to include these lovely flowers in her writing. Flannery O’Connor’s first published short story was The Geranium, (1946) which she later rewrote and retitled  An Exile in the East. (1954)

In addition to being the stars of these short stories, geraniums have turned up in many famous pieces of literature. In both Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) and E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View (1908) there are characters that cultivate red geraniums. Also, in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, (1960) Mayella Ewell keeps red geraniums in jars outside her rundown homestead, hoping to create an air of civility.

Leaves of the Pelargonium, common name Geranium 

I’d like to leave you with something rather interesting item I found in Jan Berry’s recipe book, Art of Preserving.  It turns out that both the blossoms and the leaves of geraniums are edible. Perhaps that is not surprising to everyone, but I had never even considered adding this plant to my menus. But to finish my entry today I’d like to leave you with one of the recipes in Ms. Berry’s book, which to me sounds like it would be delicious to have out at a dinner party with a bit of sharp cheddar and some water crackers….. Yum!
By Lori Conkling

Apple and Geranium Jelly
From Art of Preserving by Jan Berry
4 pounds (2 kg) firm cooking apples, roughly chopped
12 rose or spiced geranium leaves, washed
4 cups (1 liter) water
White granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Place the apple and geranium leaves in a jam pan or a large, wide saucepan, add the water, bring to a boil and simmer until the apple is very soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Discard the geranium leaves. Ladle the pulp into a jelly bag and allow it to drip into a bowl overnight. Discard the fruit pulp left in the bag. The next day, measure the juice and for every cup (250 mL) juice add 1 cup (8 ounces/250 g) sugar. Place the juice and the sugar in the cleaned pan with the lemon juice over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil rapidly until setting point is reached, about 30 to 40 minutes. Ladle the jelly into warmed, sterilized jars and seal.

Makes about 6 cups

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