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8/21/2006

Betty Wold and the Disappearing Muffins

Down to Earth column for The Herb Companion magazine, summer, 2005
Copyright© Jim Long, 2006

For seven years in the late'80s and early '90s, I held an annual herb festival at my farm in the Ozarks. I dubbed it, "Herb Day in May," and the one day affair was filled with herb experts speaking about growing and using herbs.

My intention back then was to have an event which brought herb-minded people together to learn and exchange information. In those days there was little in the way of publications, not a lot of books and herb nurseries were not easy to find.

I featured herb foods for the luncheon and afternoon refreshments, had musicians and plant sellers, and generally made the occasion one of fun, education, food and festivities. One year we held a "Shakespearmint Players" play on the roof of the herb shop, with the audience seated in the herb garden. Another year we had soap makers, herbal fortune tellers, jugglers, butter churning (to make rose petal butter) and lots of elaborate herbal foods which I prepared.

To attend, you had to be on my mailing list for the little herb publication I wrote and published, reserve in advance and pay a fee. Each year the number of people coming grew larger and each year I had to turn more people away due to lack of space. Every year I increased the fee for the day, eventually charging $35 per person and every year, people complained that I didn't charge enough because of all the food and entertainment I furnished them.

Visitors came from many states. and the speakers, too, were from as far away as Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and beyond. One year my good friend and herbalist from Oklahoma, Betty Wold, presented a fascinating program on cooking with herbs. (She had actually been to the very first Herb Day in May, the one that was rained out. Having come prepared to give her program, she dressed in her garden hat, flowery dress and garden gloves and gave her program to 5 people in my living room, entertaining all of us and making us feel that we hadn't been rained on at all).

Betty began her lecture by telling us about Benje, the bisinge dog she had recently acquired. Bisinges, if you don't recall, are the Australian dog that never, ever barks, a quality that Betty liked very much.

According to Betty, she had invited several guests from New Zealand to stay with her for a few days. They were to tour her herb garden, then she would lead them on tours of some nearby botanical gardens and art galleries. On the day of the guests' arrival, Betty had made some stunningly good orange muffins with chamomile and sage. "It was a new recipe," Betty said, "something I'd dreamed up one night when I couldn't sleep and I was certain they would be delicious."

Betty set the freshly baked muffins on the kitchen counter to cool, covered by a tea towel, and went about fluffing up the house and readying it for visitors.

The guests arrived in early afternoon and everyone was enjoying visiting. Betty put on the tea kettle to make a pot of tea to serve with the muffins. She put out the napkins then went to fill a napkin lined basket with the orange chamomile muffins.

"The muffins weren't there!" Betty said. "Not a muffin remained, only the crumbs. I thought I had lost my mind. I looked in the oven. I looked in the pantry. What could I have done with those muffins? I really thought I had lost it!" Betty said with a laugh at herself.

With no muffins to serve, Betty brought out some store bought cookies and went on about hosting her guests, explaining with a laugh and some embarrassment, that she really did bake muffins for her guests. After dinner that night everyone said their good evenings and went off to their beds. As Betty described it, "All at once I began hearing giggles. Then laughter and now and then a shriek. One guest said,'Betty, we've found the missing muffins."

Betty went to look as the guests came out of their rooms, each carrying a muffin. Benje, the bisinge dog, had carefully carried each muffin and tucked one under each pillow of all of the guests' beds. Betty laughingly told us in her lecture that bisinge dogs other trait, besides not barking, is that they hoard food. Benje had put a muffin under every pillow for some future time when there were no muffins to be had, and since Betty's orange chamomile muffins were the best thing around, he thought he'd hit the jackpot.

"Benje thought he had found a hiding place where he could go get a muffin a day for days and days," Betty said.

Betty concluded her lecture by telling us that not to be afraid to use herbs in new and unusual ways. "You just never know how a recipe is going to turn out, or where your muffins are going to turn up," she said.

If you would like some recipes for using your herbs in interesting ways, check out my Recipe Blog. Happy gardening! Questions and comments welcome at Lcherbs@interlinc.net and at www.Longcreekherbs.com.

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