Fairy Gardening: Making Mud Pies and More

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Liza Gardner Walsh is a children’s librarian in Rockport, Maine. She has been a high school English teacher, writing tutor, museum educator and holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College. Through it all, she has made tiny houses for mice, fairies, trolls, snails and other little creatures. She lives in Camden with her family. Check out her book Fairy House Handbook, published by Downeast.

In Maine it often rains during early summer, and we are faced with an abundance of mud. Luckily, mud is “nature’s glue,” as one of my fairy-minded friends have said, and so creating mud projects is the perfect antidote to sludging through a muddy pathway.

Despite the rain, my children always seem to make their own mud, even during the recent hot July days, and they delight in concocting their own mud-based recipes. To do this yourselves, simply gather a bowl of dirt from the garden and pour the garden hose right over it. My mother gave us a wonderful book called Mud Pies and Other Recipes by Marjorie Winslow. This lovely book was originally published in 1961 and republished by the New York Review of Books in 1989. It is delightful. The contents include appetizers, soups, salads and sandwiches, main dishes, pastries and desserts, beverages, and suggested menus.

One of my favorite recipes is for Boiled Buttons–“A hot soup that is simple but simply delicious. Place a handful of buttons in a saucepan half filled with water. Add a pinch of white sand and dust, 2 fruit tree leaves, and a blade of grass for each button. Simmer on a hot rock for a few minutes to bring out flavor. Ladle into bowls.”

And it goes on and on: Gravel en Casserole, Left-Handed Mudloaf, Pine Needle Upside-Down Cake and the infamous Pencil-Sharpener Pudding. This is exactly what my younger daughter made a few weeks ago featured in the picture below. But she added a rolled-up ball of mud on the top for a bit of flourish.

The beauty of a mud pie is more than the preparation of a play feast. There is, as I have learned lately, a practical use for the mud pie. It is the easiest way to determine if you have good soil for your garden. Dig down in your garden for at least six or so inches and grab a handful of soil. Squeeze that bit of dirt as hard as you can. If it stays together, you have clay soil; if it falls apart, you have sand; if it stays together until you touch it, then you have loam. This is called the mud-pie approach to soil identification.

Photos by Liza Gardner Walsh

Right now, the sun is out and it seems like a perfect day to create a rather less mud oriented recipe from our delicious cookbook. Perhaps, we will have some Honeysuckle Wine (pictured) to go with our Roast Rocks. Bon appetit! 

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