I dreamed that a profusion of roses was in bloom everywhere I went. Despite the threat of thorns, I was exhilarated as I rode my bike at the sight of a new view of life in the everyday with such beautiful roses of all shades and scents and heady clusters. I thought I must be in England. I will have to go see my mother’s family and have a cup of tea, I thought. My mother was the rare English Rose of Beauty. She loved giving tours with me and wanted nothing more than to get well to get back to them again. We lost her to throat cancer in late August.
I awoke with a sense of expectation for the New Year. Will it be filled with briars, or roses? As I stepped into our back garden, what had been green buds were transformed overnight into round jewels of camellia balls about to open into many petaled delights. With the winter green rye grass up, and now the camellias in bloom, we are a winter wonderland without the snow. All summer and fall I scrub with leftover tea leaves the scale from under the foliage of camellias in anticipation of these winter delights.
Nothing speaks Charleston more than the camellia, developed by Andre Michaux here in the 18th century for the court of France. In addition to introducing the camellia to North America through Charleston, he also brought us Crepe Myrtles, which are water nymphs, cursed, and put on land as these trees, with their fluid bark- like sculpture; and our beloved Tea Olive, the essence of Charleston when its tiny flower blooms in the spring and in the fall. Charleston gardens were designed to bloom in the winter for the highlight of the social season in the 18th and 19th centuries, The Races. Many of the plantation owners were the trainers and breeders of these magnificent thoroughbreds. The Races were held at Washington Race Course, now Hampton Park, near The Citadel. Hampton Park is a beautiful camellia and rose garden with a pedestrian bridge over a pond.
My white table cloth is now the snowy contrast to show off the three arrangements I have of camellias. Two bowls are of silver and the center is a ver de gris pedestal bowl with handles on either side and classical swags. My husband bought it for me one year for our anniversary from The Charleston Garden Shop. I use wet oases in it to arrange my jewels of camellias interspersed with a few calamondins to give it a zing!
Calamondin oranges are being made into marmalade in my kitchen, the perfect thing on a cold winter’s night. I risked life and limb to pluck these winter fruits yesterday on the tip top of our ladder in our back garden while hugging the tree’s upper branches. Ours reach for the sky. They are no bigger than golf balls, but they make the Queen of Marmalades. Our family had a calamondin deseeding party with our three daughters and friend, Jon, ’round the table after dinner last night. We played vintage albums on our new phonograph we got from Santa! We laughed until tears came to our eyes, giddy with light-hearted low stress after the holidays. Now, for the adding of sugar to my copper jam pan; nothing saves time in marmalade making like a copper pot. It cuts the time in half.
For those who have been followers of my calamondin marmalade in the past, I did not have any to share last year due to the rare freeze. I only put up one batch. This year there is only enough for one batch as well; however, I will be serving it upon request at our tea parties at the end of the tour in jam tarts and in glistening dressing over golden beets and goat cheese, Russian onion dome style. These are a few of my favorite things. It is served on Blue and White Cantonware China, the 18th and 19th century everyday ware of Charleston, shipped here in abundance on clipper ships. The English Tea Clippers were the fastest.
Persimmons are the luminescent orbs of transparency, like tiny Chinese lanterns, hanging from an otherwise leafless tree in our back garden. There is an abundance of persimmons despite my having picked at least 50 to put in floral arrangements and to make persimmon sorbet. They have been bitten by frost, which is good for them; their chalkiness has been transformed into sweet, velvet lushness to the palate. My handy husband got out his loppers, and I got out my big round basket; he lopped, and I danced underneath to catch the persimmons. Those that split were an invitation I could not refuse to receive to my salivating mouth. If not me, then the squirrels and birds will get them. When I go out before dawn, I hear an early bird squawking that the persimmons are its feast, not mine. Many have been transformed into persimmon sorbet with the help of cool Simple Syrup, and my electric ice cream maker. One calamondin is the citrus in place of a squeeze of lemon that marries well with persimmons to give it that… je ne sais quoi! My friend, Pringle, thinks I must have subtle spices included, but it is clean-and-easy and the best thing you have ever put into your mouth. Come while the supply lasts. Persimmon pudding and persimmon bread to follow. Persimmon bits tossed in a salad with the different lettuce leaves, garlic and chopped swiss chard from my raised beds in the back garden made this an all fresh garden to table salad in January grown here on Tradd Street in Charleston. Why didn’t I think to put persimmon in our kale salad tonight?
My neighbors, the Deans of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, Lee Manigault and Suzanne Pollak, are invited to pick persimmons in my back garden. According to Lee, they have been having to BUY them for their recipe Twelve-Months-a-Year Parsley Salad on page 31 in their newly published book : The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits; with Etiquette and Recipes. P.S. Who do I have to thank for this Christmas gift? It is my favorite read with only Lee and Suzanne’s signatures.
It is a good year. Look for the Good News. Report it to others. My husband’s numbers are good. The dream of roses foretold it. The Dream Maker is on the move, listening and speaking in that still, small voice.
Come to Charleston to renew your dreams, and to feel afresh the Wonder of Life. Charleston is where Magic happens, which is one of the reasons she is called The Holy City. Her history makes America’s history make more sense when you understand what first happened here, and the correlation to quotes from the Founding Fathers and diarists. I never tire of telling it. Few really know it. It is like looking at the moon that you have gazed at all your life, but from a side you have never seen before.
Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday. Make a long weekend of it. The South Carolina Wildlife Exhibition will be in February followed by the Charleston Wine and Food Festival March 4-8; then the Cooper River Bridge Run, and the Festival of Houses and Gardens. Charleston Arts and Antique Forum is coming up soon as well.
As Audrey Hepburn said of Paris, Charleston is always a good idea.
Call me on my cell phone for reservations at 843-708-2228. Tours are weekday mornings starting at 9.
Laura Wichmann Hipp, founder of the Charleston Tea Party Private Tour
Our 1773 tea party was before Boston’s!