The kitchen garden of New France is very diversified and creatively planted. The first colonists tried to acclimate European species and to domesticate indigenous plants. This was not always easy, for many of them were soldiers made into farmers by their circumstances. This grand adventure eventually led to the use of a host of species, many of which no longer exist or which have been hybridized.

The kitchen garden had to insure the survival of the inhabitants in winter, so the emphasis is placed on vegetables which can easily be preserved such as cabbages, carrots, beets, peas, beans and onions. Jerusalem artichokes and cucumbers are also very popular: Pehr Kalm noted that Canadiens are quite fond of eating them with cream and fine herbs. In the kitchen gardens of the nobility, refinement is indicated by certain vegetables such as artichokes and asparagus. Salad is also much enjoyed: it is eaten with herbs and edible flowers (such as those of the chive, borrage, souci, monarde or nasturtium plants.)

Compagnonnage is a technique often used in kitchen gardens. It consists of growing different plant species near one another in order for one species to benefit from the properties of another. Thus vegetables, flowers, rose bushes and aromatic plants are made to grow together. For example, garlic grows well next to roses and strawberries, borrage with strawberries and squash, rosemary and sage with cabbage and carrots, or savory with beans.

 The red onion is the most common plant in kitchen gardens. Next come the pumpkin, carrots and lettuce. The country folk also plant red currants, sometimes phaseoli (Phaesolus vulgaris) (peas),and a good quantity of cucumbers.

– Pehr Kalm

Growing the three sisters

The Three Sisters refers both to an agricultural practice of the Iroquoian Amerindians and to one of their most important legends. The Iroquoians considered corn, beans and squash to be sacred plants responsible for their physical and spiritual survival. They planted the corn on a small pile of dirt along with the beans which used the cornstalk as a support. The squash grew at the foot of these plants and, because they take up quite a bit of space, they watered the two other plants by keeping humidity in the ground. The Iroquoians knew some 15 different varieties of corn, 60 types of beans and eight different types of squash, including the pumpkin.

Plant your own Three Sisters garden. 

Planting the Three Sisters is easy. You begin at the end of May or the beginning of June by making piles of dirt in your garden, about 30 centimetres (1 foot) high and 20 centimetres (8 inches) wide. Pat down the dirt a little bit to make the top of each dirt pile flat.

Plant 6 corn kernels in a small circle at the top of each pile of dirt.

Wait a week or two for the corn to grow about 12 centimetres high. Now plant 6 bean plants (or peas if you prefer) in a circle about 15 centimetres away from the corn plants.

Wait another week and plant 6 squash seeds (or pumpkin if you prefer) around the bottom of your pile of dirt.

When the plants are all growing you must take out all the weak plants and leave only a few of the strongest. Do this for the corn, the beans (or peas) and the squash (or pumpkin).

As the bean plants (or peas) grow, make sure they warp themselves around the cornstalks for support. The squash (or pumpkin) will grow around the bottom of the pile of dirt. Because the squash (or pumpkins) grow to be quite big and cover quite a bit of ground, they will keep moisture in the ground so the other plants have water to drink.

Cabbage is the dean of our vegetables: it was present in Europe during prehistoric times. Roman gastronomes argued over it, some finding it fine, others common. It was popular during the Middle Ages for, in addition to its culinary properties, it was used in poultices to treat sciatica and varicose ulcers. It long remained the poor man’s doctor. Not surprisingly, it was one of the first vegetables planted by the people of New France. It comes in more than 100 varieties.

Classified along with melons as a  légume-fruit, it has been grown in North America for a very long time. It was introduced into Europe after the Conquest and today it is grown on every continent. It was part of the Amerindians’ basic diet, along with beans and corn. They dried the pulp in the sun in strips which they ate in winter.

Beans were common from Peru all the way to the Saint Lawrence valley. Traces of them have been found in archaeological sites dating back 12,000 years. It is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the Americas. Brought back from Cuba by Christopher Columbus, it spread throughout Europe and comes in hundreds of varieties.

Chinese doctors recommended rhubarb 5,000 years ago. It found its way to Europe via Siberia and was included in the King’s Kitchen Garden. It has adapted well to Québec. The Chinese used its rhizome, but we eat its shoots which make for delicious compotes or preserves.

The origin of this plant is unknown: some say it is North American, others believe it comes from Brazil. Grown during the French Régime for its tubercles, it was later replaced by the potato.