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Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Tuckerman’

Three apples from “Apples of New York,” by Spencer Ambrose Beach.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association summer conference takes place this weekend at Hampshire College.  One of the first seminars was “The Full Skinny on Healthy Orcharding” with Michael Phillips from Lost Nation Farm in New Hampshire.  Yours truly was there, learning about fungal duff management and other good things .

As it happens, the seminar was held right down the street from the site of Professor Edward Tuckerman’s little home orchard, which he called Applestead.  Tuckerman and his wife, Eliza, built Applestead over the period of a few years in the 1850s, beginning not long after they moved to Amherst from Boston.  The house was of stone – built to last, Eliza said in a letter to her sister Mattie.   Eliza’s letter also suggested that the house was designed by Edward Clarke Cabot, a well-known architect and, again according to Eliza, an old friend of Edward’s.

It was a beautiful house, and Edward put a lot of effort into designing the grounds, for in addition to his many interests, including botany, religion, history, and genealogy, he was also a zealous gardener.  After he scoured the seed catalogs and planned the garden beds for beans and potatoes and peas, he envisioned many fruit trees.  The modest plan for his orchard — “Preserve carefully” he wrote on the front — is now in the Cushing-Tuckerman-Esty Papers at Amherst College.  There, among the pears and cherries, an observant orchardist will see that he has planned for several fine apple varieties, namely Rhode Island Greening, Baldwin, Northern Spy, Red Astrachan, Sops of Wine, Porter, and Gravenstein, shown in a detail here:

Most of these apples are still available to plant today – I have a few (okay, most) of these myself.  Part of the lure of heirloom apples is the names, and for some budding apple growers it’s hard to resist buying an example of every curiously-named apple.  It’s nice — probably very wise — to have a selection in your orchard of modern, disease-resistant apples such as Liberty, Enterprise, or Freedom (what bloody boring names, though), but it’s far more addictive to track down heirloom varieties such as (to list a very few) Razor Russet, Cornish Gilliflower, Hubbardston Nonesuch, or Westfield-Seek-No-Further.  How can you resist?  The Tuckermans didn’t resist.  They planted their orchard.

 

Detail from a larger photo, showing the Tuckerman orchard in early spring.

 

The Tuckerman’s mature orchard in 1921, when Applestead was a fraternity. Note the train running past the house — the track was added only a few decades after the Tuckermans built Applestead.

Detail from map of Amherst, 1873, by F. Beers. “G.F. Tuckerman” should read “E. Tuckerman.”

The property and the orchard only lasted about 70 years.  In the 1920s Amherst College administrators decided that the athletic facilities should be improved, and that the Tuckerman property would be the site of the “Amherst College Base Ball Cage.”  The map at left shows the three properties along “Broadway” (now South Pleasant Street) that would be torn down in order to erect the Cage.  In a few pages devoted to this project in Stanley King’s “Consecrated Eminence,” the destruction of Applestead received only one sentence: “The stone house, known as the Tuckerman house, then standing at the site, was taken down.”  The orchard is long gone, but somewhere — even as pieces or pebbles or dust — that indestructible stone is brooding over the razing of Applestead.

Detail from a photograph in the Buildings and Grounds Collection showing the Cage and its grounds. The Tuckermans’ property would have been to the right of the train tracks.

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Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, Sonnet V: XVI

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, Sonnet V: XVI

Between March 15 and May 17, 1857, there were thirteen births recorded in Greenfield, Massachusetts. In the same two months, there were four maternal deaths from puerperal fever (or “childbed fever”), a highly contagious infection. Those were not good odds for a pregnant woman.¹

The third of those four deaths, on May 12, was that of Anna (formally Hannah) Tuckerman, beautiful and deeply beloved wife of poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (1821-1873). Anna was 29 and had already borne three children, one of whom had died shortly after birth, while the other two, Edward and Anna, were now, in 1857, children of 7 and 4 respectively. The fourth birth – that of her son Frederick – went well enough at first; that is, the child was born on May 7 and lived. But shortly after his birth, Anna began to suffer the effects of the infection. Letters in the archives from shocked relatives – her husband’s aunt, her sister- and brothers-in-law – reveal that she “suffered fifty convulsion fits & seemed to suffer intensely” and that her illness lasted five days. Her husband, who was probably with her all through the birth and subsequent illness, was “all but frantick [sic] with grief…” “What will poor Frederick do!” wrote his sister-in-law, Sarah Tuckerman, ” and those poor children too, left without a mother!  How short is life, how near is death to us.  I feel so sad that I can hardly write.”

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“Vinnie says the dear friend would like the rule. We have no statutes here, but each does as it will, which is the sweetest jurisprudence.  With it, I enclose Love’s ‘remainder biscuit,’…”   (-Emily Dickinson)

Sarah Tuckerman, c. 1855

Sometime in March of 1878 Emily Dickinson sent a note with a “rule” (a recipe) and a sample of some slightly scorched caramels (the “biscuit” mentioned above) to Sarah Tuckerman, wife of Amherst College Professor of Botany Edward Tuckerman.  Sarah (known as Lizzie to her friends and family) lived less than a mile south of Dickinson in a large house she and her husband called “Applestead,” pleasantly located where the Amherst College Cage now stands.  Dickinson’s note to Sarah was published in early volumes of her letters, and repeated as Thomas Johnson’s letter 545, but the original manuscript seems to be lost, or is perhaps in private hands.  Although Dickinson doesn’t mention “caramel” in her note, Johnson observed that Amherst College possesses an associated Photostat of a letter from Dickinson cousin Fanny Norcross to Lavinia Dickinson that says “Now I will give you the caramel rule.”  Jay Leyda transcribed the Photostat at more length in his Years and Hours, although he omits the rule itself.  Eventually, the rule made its way from the Photostat in the Archives to publication in the booklet Emily Dickinson: Profile of the Poet as Cook (1976; 2010).

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