Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
– Nursery Rhyme by Mother Goose
Containers to hold and haul the garden’s bounty have been employed since long before Peter Piper filled his peck basket. It appears that the ancient crafts of pottery and basketry rose up in human practice almost simultaneously.
From the first harvest when baskets made lighter work of the hauling and storing, gardeners have relied on sturdy, lightweight and portable containers to help them bring home the crops. Since the 19th century, British wooden trugs have carted flowers and herbs; soft, collapsible bins have served orchard workers for a century or more; and lately, heavy-duty plastic is proving to be very practical for harvesting garden produce.
As with all cool tools, function dictates form. Gardeners transport everything from herbs and flowers, vegetables and fruit, to gloves, hats and hand tools — and their choice of containers is as varied as the jobs they perform.
The word trug originates from ‘trog’, the Old English word meaning boat-shaped. The modern trug basket appeared sometime around the middle 1800s in the small town of Herstmonceux in East Sussex, UK. Chestnut is the material of choice for Sussex trugs, which are still handmade (see www.GardenTalk.com/ trugs.htm for more information).
Trugs are shallow, long and slender to keep delicate flowers in one or two layers, protecting them from being crushed by their own weight. The deep handle is crafted to sit comfortably in the crook of the arm, allowing both hands to snip herbs, flowers and salad greens. North American trugs are made of lightweight ash slats, or woven from sturdy reeds, leather, fabric, plastic, wire or steel mesh.
Heirloom Gathering Basket; Hourglass Flower Baskets; and Swing Handled Garden Basket, all from Basketville (see Sources below). Of the dozens of baskets offered by this company, these three work best for gathering tender sprigs and sprays. All are hand-woven of ash.
Maine Garden Hod from Lee Valley. My personal favorite, these sturdy, trug-like containers are well made of wood and vinyl-coated steel mesh. Handsome and versatile, they allow air to circulate and water to clean the produce. The only drawback might be their weight — pretty hefty if used for anything other than plant material.
The peck that Peter Piper picked equals 8 quarts, or one quarter of a bushel. My guess is that he filled a peck farm basket, because these baskets have been in use for 100 years or more.
Collapsible canvas fruit-picker’s baskets are handy for small amounts of hard fruit such as apples and pears, even plums, and slip over the arm to leave both hands free for the task. Strength and durability are the key qualities in containers meant for hauling and storing produce — wood and plastic are the materials most often used, although there are some exceptionally strong woven willow baskets that are workhorses in the orchard or vegetable garden. Berry baskets, once made of thin wood slats and designed to hold the perfect amount of berries to fill a 9- or 10-inch pie, are being replaced by smaller, lightweight, lidded plastic boxes.
Farm bushel baskets from either Peach Ridge Orchard Supply or Texas Basket Company are made mostly of gumwood, if available, or cottonwood, hackberry, elm, birch or magnolia woods. They are bent into the classic bushel or peck shape, then held together with slats. Some have ear handles, some a wooden or wire-and-wood swing handle. Bushel baskets serve for transporting and storing fruit and vegetables.
Apple baskets are similar to bushel baskets but have a rounder shape and usually have a swing handle. Many basket companies carry apple baskets, including Basketville, Peach Ridge Orchard Supply, and Texas Basket Company .
Berry boxes come in pint and quart sizes, square or rectangular and are usually sold by the case (five or six hundred). Peach Ridge Orchard Supply makes handleless wood and fiber berry boxes. Texas Basket Company has a large selection of square and rectangle berry boxes, with and without handles.
Plastic flexible tubs are amazingly tough, lightweight and dent-proof all-purpose containers that perform a variety of garden tasks from moving compost, toting garden waste and mixing soil and fertilizer to bringing in the harvest. They are easy to clean and great for pouring because the handles come together and form a large spout. Plastic doesn’t breathe so produce should not be left in these containers for extended periods of time.
They’re available in three sizes from Lee Valley and Gardeners Supply Company.
Pat Crocker is a culinary herbalist, photographer, writer and lecturer. Among her books are Oregano — 2005 Herb of the Year and The Smoothies Bible available online at www.HerbCompanion.com. Her latest book, Tastes of the Kasbah, is available from Riversong Press, 536 Mill Street, Neustadt, ON, N0G 2M0. E-mail Pat at pcrocker@RiversongHerbals.com.
636-G Long Point Road #128
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464
Gardeners Supply Company
128 Intervale Road
Burlington, VT 05401
Lee Valley Tools
P.O. Box 6295, Station J
Ottawa, ON, K2A 1T4 Canada
Texas Basket Company Inc.
P.O. Box 1110,
Jacksonville, TX 75766