Thursday, July 27, 2017 This Week's Paper

Workplace Gardens: Fort Nisqually’s kitchen and herb workplace gardens grow the past

If William Fraser Tolmie did not have it in his workplace garden, Tracy Berryman, Mike McGuire and Chris Erlich will have none of it in theirs.

Tolmie was the factor at Fort Nisqually in the mid-1800s, when the Husdon’s Bay Company fur trading outpost was truly on the Nisqually.

Berryman, McGuire and Erlich are members of the crew who keep the replica of the old fort authentic at Point Defiance Park. To do that, they have made themselves experts in grafted fruit trees, heritage chickens and seeds that stretch the definition of heirloom across centuries.

Over 15 years, they have developed the gardens behind the factor’s house, planted a display of barley and wheat and repelled the deer from a young orchard.

Their task has required winters of research, summers of sweat, and rows of compost, manure and passion. Still, they yearn for proper sources of fertilizer - a small herd of cattle, perhaps, or a meadow of sheep and a sty of pigs. They, like Factor Tolmie, want to expand.

For now, they have Speckled Sussex hens and a rooster protected from sun and wildlife by wattle walls of scrub maple.

“Chickens and man have coexisted forever,” said McGuire while Erlich cuddled an agreeable young hen.

Ah, but mustard from greens to seeds, made those eggs and potatoes palatable, said Berryman, who grinds the seeds to show visiting school children where a hot dog’s best friend comes from.

Berryman scouts vegetable sources the way Tolmie’s trappers might have tracked mink and beaver.

“We are hoping to get a heritage breed of shallot from Fort Vancouver,” she said, then lamented the Great Canadian Marrow Embargo.

Their Canadian source for the squash seed has dried up. This year, Berryman planted six seeds saved from last year’s harvest of the hardy squash bred to keep well.

“You can see the advantage to keeper crops – potatoes, beets, turnips, onions, rutabagas,” McGuire said.

That last root went by a more enticing name in 1854, Berryman said. In the cookbooks, diaries and fort records she reads it goes by “orange jelly turnip.”

Anticipating many fine orange jelly turnips, McGuire is digging a root cellar.

By 1854, this branch of Hudson’s Bay Company, begun in 1833 to trade in furs, was going agrarian, doing business as Puget Sound Agriculture Co. That’s the period the gardens recreate, said McGuire, but on a small scale. The original business raised thousands of sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens and fields of wheat and barley on a 160,000-acre land claim.

“There was a lot of plowing and hauling of dung,” Berryman said. “I only wish we had 160,000 acres. As it is, we’re excited to have five chickens.”

Berryman dresses in long skirts, leggings and a broad hat, as one of the Metis women who worked that farm.

“The backbone of the labor force was Native American women,” McGuire said.

“They hired local help to pick the bugs off,” Berryman added.

She, too, picks bugs, pulls weeds and waters.

She also researches what grew where in the original fort, and plants accordingly. She has put medicinal plants by the bunk houses, herbs around the kitchen building and flowers around the factor’s home.

There are records of roses and, surprisingly, dahlias, she said. She has tracked them to ships coming from Hawaii, and suspects they started out in Mexico.

“You can see dahlia seeds moving around the world,” she said.

In the same records and recipes, you can see lady finger and kidney potatoes, mangle wurzel beets, Bramley, Cox and Gravenstein apples and Prince Albert peas arriving and becoming part of life at Fort Nisqually.

It is their pleasure, the volunteers say, to recreate Dr. Tolmie’s workplace garden, and to give us a taste of the past.

“What’s Cooking?” At Fort Nisqually

What: Re-enactors will compete with authentic recipes to prepare meals eaten in the mid-1800s. KPLU jazzmeister and “Food for Thought” host Dick Stein will dine as celebrity judge.

“I look forward to once more tasting the foods of my youth,” Stein quipped.

When: Saturday, June 15, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, Point Defiance Park.

Admission: Adult: $7.50. Active military and spouse, student, seniors 65 and older: $6. Youth 4-17: $5. Family: $25. Ages 3 and under: Free.

For more information: Call (253) 591-5339 or log onto