Leaf of the Day: Ginger: Bread and History .

“And I had but one penny in the world, thou should’st have it to buy ginger-bread.”
William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost

I love ginger, fresh, dried, crystallized, preserved, in jams, jellies, wine, just on its own, in chocolate, in curry, in cake, in beer, in ginger thins, ginger nuts, ginger snaps, and most gloriously in sticky dark rich fattening, gingerbread.
I have been thinking more about gingerbread than drawing today and ginger definitely comes into my “eat your models” category.

Ginger is an ancient and once very expensive spice, second only to pepper in its value. Originating in Asia and arriving in Britain with the Romans, it disappeared for a time and reemerged with the homecoming crusaders who brought all kinds of exotica from the Middle East. Its medicinal use was as important as its culinary value for flavouring and preserving food.
The generic name for ginger comes from the Sanskrit, sringavera, meaning “shaped like a horn” but, just to confuse things, these knobbly rhizomes, (not exactly roots as such) are known as “hands”. With hands and horns shaped like ginger roots you would be a strange arthritic creature, but you see the point.

Gingerbread as a cake or biscuit seems to have originated in medieval times and the shaping of ginger into figures is very interesting, as food fashioned into recognizable shapes is redolent of symbolic offering and sacrifice.
It seems that Catholic monks began to bake gingerbread in celebration of certain Saints, pressing gingery dough into carved forms and then decorating the figures. ..We are well past the iconoclastic era now.

East European gingerbread molds.

Medieval fairs also began to sell gingerbread (fairings) and it was made into shapes to celebrate the seasons, flowers, animals and birds ,saints and people. In one instance you could buy a gingerbread husband.. eating your spicy “husband” would apparently increase your chances of finding a real one!

An excerpt from the excellent “Baking for Britain” blog here

“Every old town or country fair in England had a different food associated with it, often a type of gingerbread, a long-lasting heritage deriving from the medieval love of spices. In Hampshire you could buy a Gingerbread Husband. These little fellows were pressed into a wooden mould to form their shape, and then gilded. If I can ever find a Gingerbread Husband mould I will be making up a whole batch of husbands (at least you can eat them if they get tiresome). Bath Fair sold Gingerbread Valentines (perhaps to give to your Gingerbread Husband).”

She has more gingerbread recipes there than you could shake a stick at! …and, continuing with quaint sayings “ taking the gilt off the gingerbread” of course refers to these dazzling, pretty, decorated sweetmeats which, once the icing and sometimes real gold was removed, left just the ordinary cake underneath. “Ginger-up” refers to sprinkling ginger on the backside of a horse to gee them up!..and little pots of powdered ginger were available in ale houses to sprinkle on your beer and I suppose on your horse.

There were famous gingerbread makers and it is clear that Joan Trash, the gingerbread woman mentioned in Ben Johnson’s play about the raucous London Barthomew’s Fair in 1619 was making gingerbread figures. An argument breaks out when Lanthern Leatherhead, the hobby horse maker accuses Joan of stealing his customers.”Sit farther with your gingerbread progeny there and hinder not the prospect of my shop”. He also reviles her products as being made with “rotten eggs, musty ginger and dead honey”

Queen Elizabeth 1 is said to have had gingerbread figures made of her courtiers. I am not quite sure what the symbolism of eating them would have been I will leave that to your imagination.

The most famous gingerbread maker was probably “Tiddy Doll” so named from his street cry. He was a well known London character who dressed like dandy and died in 1752. In Hogarth’s “ The Idle Prentice” you can see him, bottom right, holding up a ginger “snap” which, according to his own claim “ will melt in your mouth like red hot brickbat.”

Gillray drew a savage cartoon of Napoleon as Tiddy Doll baking some new Kings with his aide Tallyrand preparing the dough.

An explanation from Devon Libraries site here

“The print, published in January 1806, shows in a basket the Corsican kinglings: Joseph, to become King of Naples in March 1806, Louis, to become King of Holland in June 1806, and Jerome, to become King of Westphalia in July 1807. No doubt Napoleon’s sisters and their husbands are also in the basket. The three kings being taken out of the oven reflect the provisions of the Treaty of Pressburg (26 November 1805) where Austria renounced rights over Bavaria, Wurttemberg and Baden. Gillray was not so accurate with his model of the little dough viceroys. Although untitled they represent the Whig politicians Sheridan, Fox, Moira and Derby, and are a vicious sideswipe at their policy of appeasement. The caricature of Talleyrand in the background cruelly depicts his surgical shoe, wrongly placed on his left foot. “

I think Gillray’s work is wonderful, just from an artistic point of view alone, and to my great delight I found (or perhaps I just willed it so) that ginger can be efficacious for gout…the best excuse for sharing my very favourite Gillray drawing with you.

I may get some drawing done tomorow if I am not lost in ginger research. The gingerbread man, ginger beer, a recipe and shampoo to come.

Today another ginger flower sketch. This one Alpinia zerumbet.


Shell Ginger Flower 2

Leaf of the Day: Shell Ginger Seed Pod, and some Thunderstorm Advice

Today was the first day I have been caught in the rain. The weather changes in the blink of an eye here, one minute there is sun, the next it’s as black at night. Usually it rains after three but today at midday I was cycling for the last ten minutes in torrential rain, thunder and lightening, and trying to remember the thunderstorm advice which they give on the weather channel. One is to stay away from trees, which is quite hard in Winter Park, but if you happen to be in a wood to shelter under a small tree and if out in the open you should make yourself into a very small target by crouching down. I am already a pretty small target so being short does have one or two advantages then!
Before coming to Florida I had experienced torrential Central American rain which was the tail end of hurricane Katrina and, relatively gentle, European thunderstorms but having had one incident here with horizontal rain and a whirling demonic wind which tore through the open windows in the apartment and flattened everything in its path I take good heed of all advice and forecasts.
There is the 30/30 rule, which is to count the seconds between hearing the thunder and seeing the lightning. If it is 30 seconds or less, the lightning is close enough to be a threat so seeking shelter is very important. Also one should wait 30 minutes after the last lightening flash before venturing out as apparently half the deaths from lightening take place when you think the storm is over, it can strike up to 10 mile away from its source!

If you were ever to scoff at the time and trouble they go to here to ensure we are all informed, to the minute, about approaching storms, you should read about the devastation of Hurricane Charley which swept through Orlando in 2004…even Mouseland had to close!

Charley approaching downtown Orlando 2004 ..BBC website

There will never be another Hurricane “Charley” or “Katrina” because severe hurricanes have their names “retired”, their sombre associations and destruction consigned to memory. Other names get recycled. The naming of hurricanes is interesting. Pre 1953, hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint’s day on which they occurred but from 1953 the United States Nation’s weather services began using female names for storms. ( “hell hath no fury” I suppose) Only 25 years later did they try to redress the balance by bringing in men’s names. I am not sure who is next.. and we are not even half way through the season.

But back to gingers..there are many, many more gingers than I thought there were. I am beginning to be able to spot them now and they are everywhere. Today I was going to try to understand the classification but having spent a couple of hours now trying to find the definitive guide with no luck at all I realise it won’t be easy. Here are the main types, most of which I have seen and photographed at Leu.

Alpinas– Called the “shell” gingers due to the seashell like flowers. This one is Alpina zerumbet

Curcumas — these are known “hidden” gingers, as the flowers are tucked away in the leaves. This pretty one is called candy cane Curcuma rhabdota

Dichorisanda Not a true ginger but very similar. This is a the “Blue ginger”, Dichorisnada thyrsiflora

Elettarias — Known as Cardamon ginger. I have not seen one of these at the gardens yet.

Globbas — The dancing ladies, as I drew yesterday.

Hedychiums — Called “butterfly” gingers. This is the Luna moth ginger which I drew before and the orange pagoda shaped one is hedychium coccineum

Kaempferias— Called “peacock” gingers, pretty low lying plants with patterned leaves.

Zingibers— also known as cone gingers, including the beehive ginger Zingiber spectabile and the branch of the family containing the edible ginger Zingiber officialis.

The edible ginger is a much more modest plant but completely wonderful. Tomorrow more about ginger and gingerbread.

Another image from “gingersrus” ..great ginger site here !

They are all quite beautiful, and today I found this gorgeous little seed pod from the shell ginger.

Shell Ginger Seed Pod

Leaf of the Day: Dancing Lady Ginger Flower

With so many gingers springing up and flowering I am going to try to devote the next few days mainly to drawing gingers and their relations. This one is probably the most complicated flower I have tackled so far and it may well not get past this sketch stage.

But how can such an astonishingly dainty little thing like this be given such an ungainly Latin name. However you say it, Globba winitii does not trip lightly off the tongue.

This little plant originated from Thailand and Vietnam and arrived in Europe in the 1700s. Linnaeus named them, possibly from their Indionesean name “galoba” which seems slightly more attractive, but this branch of the ginger family can certainly rise above its awkward taxonomy purely on looks alone.
Globba winitii is one of many varieties of globba, all differing in design and colour. The dangling inflorescence is adorned with purple bracts and delicate yellow flowers and the slightest puff of wind has them dancing like little puppets. They are said to look like traditional Thai dancers or possibly tiny fire breathing dragons, there is a particularly pretty white version called White Dragon.

There are many good photos and information about cultivation and varieties of gingers on this site. http://www.gingersrus.com/ and the image of the white dragon is from http://www.heliconiaparadise.com/

Dancing Lady Ginger

Leaf of the Day: Indian Ginger Flower

I have been thinking that Leu Gardens really needs several small booklets as a guide to the more exotic plants to be found in the 50 acres with several different titles, one being “Eat your way round the Garden”. I suppose health and safety issues here, in the land of the very affluent fat cat litigation lawyers, would prohibit such a publication and it could all go horribly wrong. To my very certain knowledge there are some potentially deadly things in the bushes as well as very edible herbs, fruits, leaves and roots. Just on Friday Pedro showed me the delicious bright red cherry like fruits of the Malpighia emarginata, the Barbados Cherry which grows happily untouched in the Demonstration Garden.

This sketch today is of one little floret from the inflorescence of the Alpina calcarata the Indian ginger. This is not the ginger root which we see in the supermarkets which comes from Zingiber officinale but is from the same aromatic family.

One of the “shell” gingers (so called because of the pretty shell like flowers), it is a native plant of India and is also known as the cardamon ginger or false cardamon. This is a lovely, tall and elegant plant with long slender leaves and can reach a good 5 foot. The little flowers, which somewhat resemble snapdragons (it’s also called Snap ginger) are held upright in spikes, and are a pretty bluey white with yellow and reddish-maroon stripes. The ‘edible’ parts are the leaves, which can be used to flavour steamed rice, for tea like infusions or as wraps for fish and, as I am holding them in my hands the flowers smell faintly of ginger…lovely.
It is also used in medical preparations in India in Ayurvedic medicine and ginger in general is well known to help control nausea and as a powerful digestive aid.

From the strange ‘beehive’ gingers to ‘dancing ladies’ and the heliconias, this family of plants is both beautiful and useful. If I had a garden here (and it would have to be acres and acres) I would definitely plant gingers and become a ginger expert.

There is an old Sanskrit saying “Adrakam sarva kandanaam” which means “Every good quality is found in the ginger.”
This is another useful phrase for the boring dinner party which will no doubt impress and alienate the other guests in equal measure. I am becoming the nightmare dinner party guest who can waffle on ad nauseam (better have that ginger dessert ready!) about things that probably only a handful of people in the whole world are interested in. Pedro politely describes me as very nice, if a little eccentric, (but then it won’t be long before the mother ship comes to collect me so I shouldn’t worry).

This little flower is a candidate for the next submission for the course, if I can find one in bloom in a couple of weeks time when I am due to start the finished work.

Indian Ginger Flower

Leaf of the Day: 4 Coloured Leaves and Notes

It’s that day.. that Friday 13th day, when sensible people stay at home and artists don’t pick up a paintbrush before noon.. but I have things to do and have braved bad luck… It is interesting that in Spain it was Tuesday 13th that was considered unlucky and I am still not sure why these dates in particular are so much maligned. Christan belief certainly regards it as unlucky, to do, in the main with the day of the crucifixion and, some say, with that first naughty apple-eating escapade in Garden of Eden which supposedly occurred on Friday 13th. However the Egyptians thought it was a lucky number so today I am with the Egyptians.

It would, however, be convenient if I could just blame all my artistic problems on various inauspicious dates but I know it really has more to do with my skills or lack of them. Since Monday I have been working very hard on the watercolour leaves for the course.
So far I get one done a day. I am trying to be disciplined and make a colour note sketch first, which is, I admit very helpful.. or would be if I could then stick to those colours. I have had problems with all of them..there are 4 more to go.

The two main problems are my lighting set up and, I think, the paper I am working on which is Arches HP.
The lighting is a nightmare. Rooms in these apartments here in Florida tend to be darker, dark is cool! I chose the lightest room to work in and it has a strong side light during daylight hours which can all change in an instant if it is cloudy (often). My model is propped, clipped, taped and balanced on various supports and stuck in wet oasis to get it into the right position to work from, but when the light changes it could be a different plant. The basil was a particular problem. I decided to get an extra lamp with a daylight bulb to get a constant directional light but that conflicts with the light over my drawing board and is a completely different colour from real daylight. The leaf or whatever it is I am drawing completely changes its colour and shadows, so I am still pondering this problem.
As to paper, one of the eternal questions of watercolourists is “which paper??”, they are all so different, and a surface and weight that works for a small subject and fine detail is then difficult to work with on large bold subject. Every artist seems to work on something different. I am a big fan of Arches for loose watercolour, but I am finding this surface somewhat spongy. It may be because I work back into the paper too soon before allowing the paint to dry properly, (impatience is another failing of mine) because I am finding problems keeping sharp edges and have worked over too much in some areas trying to achieve them.

I know I should have practiced working in such fine detail on different papers before wading in to the final assignment piece, but it is the nature of this particular beast to be a deadline worker. I pay for this of course by making mistakes but on the other hand there is a rush of adrenaline which sharpens up the senses and galvanises me into action.

Here are the leaves so far with their colour note sketches. I will be looking at lighting again tomorrow. Some leaves I redrew, as the initial drawings were not quite what I wanted or the leaves had died, (as the basil did!). The ginger leaf was the only one I had, so I needed to work quickly and, bless it, it did manage to stay alive for a couple of day… in the fridge, out of the fridge, in the fridge, out of the fridge…. at the moment there are more plants in there than food.


4 Coloured Leaves

Leaf of the Day: Peacock Ginger

Thursday is my first outing on the bike to Leu gardens since I returned. It didn’t get off to a very auspicious start as my tyres were flat, my bottle of water leaked all down my backpack and all down me and the ped xing at one of the main junctions was not working.
A ped xing I should explain for those who are not familiar with the term is of course a pedestrian crossing…and essential for the poor ped who is trying to X the horrors of Fairbanks… but those were my three misfortunes for the day.

After that all was well. I met with my good friend Pedro and in the time honoured fashion of meeting up after a journey, we exchanged gifts; me to him, medieval coin and English crows feather .. him to me, a whole beautiful small sloughed snake skin which he just happened to have with him… very fair wampum!
As I said things have changed a bit and the most noticeable is the appearance of the Resurrection Lily or Peacock Ginger, which is the prettiest of plants. Before I left I had noticed their beautiful stripy leaves pushing up and unfurling in between the fallen leaves under the trees in the shady parts of the garden, but had no idea they would have such lovely flowers. These Kaempferia are members of the ginger family and called the Resurrection Lily because of their rewarding habit of springing up every year or Peacock Ginger from the beautiful markings on the leaves.

Image from Toptropicals.com

They make tubers which are used in cooking not unlike the regular ginger root. The genus Kaempferia is named after the German botanist Engelbert Kaempfer (1651–1716). Another brave and venturesome man who was instrumental in bringing ginkgo seeds to Europe. I hope to find a ginkgo soon. They have such pretty leaves.

This drawing is another candidate for the leaf submission but by the time I get round to painting it I will have to find another, which is a shame as the chocolate coloured markings on this one are just beautiful.


Peacock Ginger

Leaf of the Day: Variegated Ginger

This weekend summer arrived as the clocks went forward and the temperatures slipped backwards. The weather at the moment yo-yos from stuffy, hot and humid to very cold. We had some torrential rain on Friday and now I see that all the deciduous trees are beginning to get new and bright green leaves, catkins and new flowers.. I will not be able to keep up with them.
I made myself go back to the coloured pencils today and so here is the top 12 inches of a very large variegated ginger leaf. I liked the patterning so concentrated on that. They are another municipal plant seen in the Mall borders and office block gardens. This is the Alpinia zerumbet a member of the edible ginger family the catchily named Zingiberaceae. It can grow to a tall and exuberant 6ft as do many things here in Florida. If only I too could add a couple of inches here in this luxuriant climate. (upwards, hard ..outwards, all too easy)

I still am not happy with how the pencils feel. I sharpened them religiously but still miss having the point of a nice springy brush to draw fine lines with.. these feel terribly clumsy in comparison. It also seemed to take an age to just get some basic colour down. However I will persevere. Left to my own devices I would use then quite differently but the constraints of the course require accuracy rather than flamboyant approximation.
There are some artists who do produce exquisite work in coloured pencils..so it’s not the medium it’s just me.

Variegated Ginger