A garden in New France

A garden in New FrancePlanting a garden was one of the first things a settler would do upon arriving in New France. In a land that was still untamed, planting a garden was one way in which to appropriate the territory and ensure one’s survival.

Champlain founded Quebec City in 1608 and, as of the next year, his Habitation had a garden. Colonists at outposts founded following that planted their own gardens. From the early days of the French regime, the St. Lawrence valley was filled with country and town gardens where native plants grew side by side with those imported from Europe.

What grew in these first gardens? How did our ancestors get the resources they needed from the plants to feed and care for themselves, make clothes and build shelters? The answers to these very questions will be provided in this new series of chronicles. What a pleasant way to celebrate this beautiful season!

In addition to these chronicles, we will also provide recipes inspired by the gardens of days gone by. Bon appétit!

Click on a title to access an episode or to close the tab.

First episode
Town gardens country gardens

Town gardens country gardensIn New France, gardens decorated both towns and the countryside. Most of these gardens served a utilitarian purpose, but ornamental gardens also existed, on the properties owned by the country’s nobles.

Under the French regime, those who did not plant a garden in their yard were rare indeed. In fact, most settlers grew the vegetables, herbs and other plants they needed. In Ville-Marie (Montreal today), for example, there were 186 gardens in 1731.

Urban gardens were more diversified than their rural counterparts. In particular, the gardens owned by the nobles were designed in keeping with the French style.* They used geometric shapes, often employing a great deal of symmetry, with flower beds for borders. They contained a large quantity of sought-after ornamental plants as well as fruits and vegetables, such as asparagus and fruit trees. In Montreal, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the gardens of the Château Ramezay, the Château de Vaudreuil (which has since disappeared), and the gardens planted by the religious communities all used this style.

Rural gardens were less elaborate. The vegetable garden would generally be square in shape, with wooden borders. The plants grown there often grew in no particular order.

Above all, the country vegetable garden provided plants that complemented the crops grown in the fields, essentially grains. Utilitarian plants were grown in the garden: certain medical flowers and herbs used for medicinal purposes or cooking, as well as a few varieties of vegetables. Root vegetables, namely those that grow in the ground, such as carrots or turnips, were popular, since they could be stored for long periods of time.

At the outset, most of the seeds sown in the gardens in New France were imported from Europe. In this way, several types of flowers, vegetables and herbs were introduced to the country. These included several varieties of roses. For more about this floral emblem, we invite you to return on June 29, 2004.

* The French style of garden was developed during the time of Louis XIII and became official with the creation of the Versailles gardens, a true incarnation of this style. The basic principle is simple: man’s domination over nature. Man had to transform space into his image, namely the image of order and reason. This principle guided the standards for this form of landscaping: symmetry, geometry, infinite horizons...

  • TAIRRAZ, Monique. Jardins d’un autre temps. Deux jardins dans l’esprit de la Nouvelle-France, Montréal, musée du Château Ramezay et Maison Saint-Gabriel, 2001, 80 p.

A taste for gardening...

One of the most popular vegetables in New France was undeniably the cucumber. This vegetable, which was found in urban and rural gardens, was eaten with cream, raw with salt, or just as is, for refreshment in the fields. Here’s a recipe that highlights this vegetable.

Cold cucumber soup by Soeur Berthe*

3 cups of plain yogurt
1 1/2 cups of cottage cheese
3 cups of cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed, diced
1/2 tsp of dill
1/2 tsp of salt

1. Place the yogurt and cottage cheese in a blender.
2. Cover and blend thoroughly.
3. Add the cucumbers, dill, salt and pepper.
4. Cover and blend.
5. Store in refrigerator at least one hour before serving.
6. Garnish each bowl with fresh parsley.

Makes eight servings.

* This recipe comes from Soeur Berthe’s book Ma cuisine au yogourt, available at the Maison Saint-Gabriel boutique.

Second episode
Brief history of the rose

Brief history of the roseThroughout history, no flower has been so honoured by poets, artists and horticulturists as the rose. A symbol of love for the Romans and of royalty for the British, it was one of the first ornamental plants imported to New France.

The rose, which is found in numerous locations and varieties today, can trace its roots back to the earliest times. It was found, growing wild, in Central Asia forty million years ago. The Asians first started growing these primitive rose bushes, 5,000 years ago.

From the East the rose spread to the West,* where the first Christians believed it had a sacred value and the white rose became the symbol for the Virgin Mary. The rose continued to grow in importance through the Middle Ages, unlike other ornamental plants which were no longer very popular at that time, essentially because it was used abundantly in medieval medicines.

Under the French Regime, the rose continued to be used for its medicinal virtues. Its leaves, applied as a poultice, were known for their healing power, and rosewater, obtained through distillation, was used to purify the air. Finally, its fruit, rose hips, were used to treat scurvy and fatigue, because they are rich in Vitamin C.

In North America, rose bushes grew in the wild state long before the Europeans arrived. The settlers here started introducing new breeds as of the 17th century. In 1613, for example, Champlain mentioned planting rose bushes around the Habitation, in Quebec City. Although we don’t know for certain that these were French rose bushes, we do know that the rose was one of the ornamental plants transplanted here, along with the carnation, the Madonna lily, and the delphinium.**

Grown in most gardens in the time of the French Regime, the rose was still to be found in gardens during the Victorian era. Today as well, this floral emblem is admired and grown on a large scale, and there are several hundred varieties.

In the time of the French Regime, in addition to the rose, other plants were also grown for their healing purposes, such as comfrey. To learn more about this plant, which had both therapeutic and culinary properties, we invite you to return on July 13, 2004.

* It should be noted that the various varieties of roses grow naturally only in the Northern hemisphere.
** 17th contemporaries, such as Pierre Boucher, mentioned growing these flowers in North America from specimens imported from Europe.

  • FORTIN, Daniel. Rose et rosiers pour le Québec et l’Est du Canada, Saint-Laurent, Éditions du Trécarré, 1991, 256 p.

A taste for gardening...

For a long time, the rose has been used in cooking in many countries. Rose water, jellies, vinegars and syrups were all used to prepare delicious dishes. Here’s a recipe inspired by this flower... a dandy treat!

Mushrooms and bocconcini with rose vinegar*

1/2 cup diced onion
24 bocconcini (Italian cheese)
4 tablespoons fresh tarragon, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, cut in half
1/3 cup rose vinegar
2 tablespoons rose honey
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices cantaloupe

1. Place the mushrooms, cheese and all of the other ingredients, except for the cantaloupe, in a bowl. Mix well.
2. Allow to marinate for 30-60 minutes at room temperature.
3. Serve each portion on a slice of cantaloupe.

Makes four servings

* This recipe was taken from Écuellée la rose. Gastronomie à base de rose by Mélanie Gagnon from the Auberge Sainte-Catherine-de-Hatley. This document is available in the museum shop.

You can also purchase rose vinegar and honey, as well as several other rose-based products there. Prepared by the Quebec firm Rose de Nel, these small delights, which are of a very high quality, will grace even the finest palate!

Third episode

People living at the time of the French Regime were thoroughly familiar with the therapeutic values of the plants they used abundantly to treat a wide variety of ills. At a time when professional medicine basically used purges and bleeding, herbal medicine was gentler and.... without a doubt more effective.

When they immigrated to North America, the first colonists brought their knowledge in this area with them. Their “plant” pharmacopoeia was quickly enhanced with Amerindian remedies. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale L.) was one of the plants valued for their medicinal virtues that grew both in North America and Europe.

Even in Antiquity, this plant was used for its healing virtues. The very name, comfrey, is a corruption of con firma, in allusion to the uniting of bones it was thought to effect, and the botanical name, Symphytum, is derived from the Greek symphyo (to unite). In the 17th and 18th centuries, its leaves or roots were used in poultices to relieve all kinds of cutaneous problems (contusions, cuts, irritations, etc.) and even to heal fractures. It was believed to be such a powerful healing agent that a poultice was enough to cause bones to knit together. In fact, Pliny the Elder (23-79 Common Era), a Roman naturalist, stated that when the root of this plant was boiled with pieces of meat, they would combine into a solid block! Although this claim would appear to be exaggerated, the therapeutic virtues of comfrey have been thoroughly demonstrated and this plant still holds an important place in modern medicine.

In addition to their healing powers, the leaves of the comfrey plant have also been used in cooking for a long time. They are known for their high protein content. In New France, they were prepared much as spinach, either in a salad or cooked in water.

Under the French Regime, in addition to the plants they grew for their medicinal and culinary properties, the colonists also grew various plants for their scent. One of these was lavender, an excellent flower from the Provence region in France, which was also found in the gardens of New France. To learn more about this flower with a thousand virtues, we invite you to return on July 27, 2004.

  • TAIRRAZ, Monique. Jardins d’un autre temps. Deux jardins dans l’esprit de la Nouvelle-France, Montréal, musée du Château Ramezay et Maison Saint-Gabriel, 2001, 80 p.
  • VOLÀK, Jan et Jiri Stodola. Plantes médicinales, Prague, Gründ, 1994, 319 p.

A taste for gardening...

Spinach was found on the dining table in New France, as was its cousin the Swiss chard. Here’s a delicious recipe in which comfrey can easily be used to replace half of the spinach.

Spinach pie*

2 bags of spinach
3 onions, diced
Butter and oil
5 eggs
1 cup of plain yogurt
2 tbsp cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp allspice
6 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
1 9-inch pie plate


Trim the spinach, wash it and blanch with steam for a few minutes. Rinse with cold water, wring dry by hand and cut.

  1. Heat oil and fry onion.
  2. In a bowl, beat the eggs with the yogurt and cornstarch.
  3. Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper and allspice.
  4. Place half of the cheese, followed by half of the onions and spinach in the pie plate.
  5. Repeat with the remainder of the ingredients.
  6. Pour the egg mixture into the pie plate.
  7. Cook on the bottom rack in the oven at 425o for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375o and cook for 25-30 minutes.
  8. Serve hot.

Makes six servings

* This recipe is taken from Ma cuisine au yogurt, by Soeur Berthe, which is available in the gift shop at Maison Saint-Gabriel.

Fourth episode
Lavander in all its forms

Lavander in all its formsLavender, which originated in Persia, was spread throughout the Mediterranean basin, primarily by the Romans. It owes its popularity to its characteristic perfume. The Romans, who were great fans of hot baths, used lavender to wash as well as to perfume their bodies and clothing. The famous Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder (23-72 Common Era) ranked this flower among the most valuable.

In the Middle Ages, the flower received its Latin name lavendula from the verb lavare which means “to wash”. At that time, lavender was used primarily for medicinal purposes. It was grown with other aromatic and medicinal herbs in the gardens of monasteries and abbeys.

Passed down from Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the pharmacopoeia of the French Regime was limited almost exclusively to plants. Lavender played an important role in the fight against all kinds of problems. For this reason, it was imported to North America in the 17th century. It was used to treat rheumatism, cutaneous problems, intestinal worms, nervous problems, insomnia and... even the plague! Lavender was all the more popular since physicians at the time were convinced that bad odors caused disease. They claimed that the air had to be purified with perfume in order to reduce the risk of contamination. With its persistent scent, lavender headed the list of agents used to fight epidemics.

It should be noted that the 17th and 18th centuries were among the worst when it came to bodily hygiene. For this reason, lavender was used to make perfumes, which were very popular with the nobles, in order to chase away undesirable odors. Dried lavender was used to perfume houses and clothing and chase away harmful insects, including mites, flies and mosquitoes.

The perfume industry, which reached its peak at the start of the 20th century, caused the lavender industry to boom. In France, people switched from picking wild lavender to growing it on a large scale, for which the Provence region became renowned.

Today, lavender is not used much for medicinal purposes. On the other hand, it is very popular in aromatherapy. When its essential oils are spread through the air they encourage relaxation and prevent insomnia. In cooking, it is one of the components in the famous Provençal herbs and is used in several dishes, including sweets and dressings. And, last but not least, there is lavender honey, which is supposed to be one of the finest in the world.

We invite you to come back on August 10, 2004, to continue with this culinary theme, when we’ll learn a little about the history of small fruits in New France.

  • FUTURA-SCIENCES.COM Région PACA: Découverte de la lavande!, [En ligne], 2003.
    [ ] (8 août 2003).
  • VOLÀK, Jan et Jiri Stodola. Plantes médicinales, Prague, Gründ, 1994, 319 p.

A taste for gardening...

Cabbage was very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries since it could be stored for a long time and was very nutritional. In addition to its culinary virtues, it was also used in poultices to treat abscesses and varicose ulcers. It was called “the medicine of the poor”.

Chou blanc au yogourt *

1/4 cup butter
1 onion, chopped finely
1 small cabbage cut into strips
1/3 cup raisins
1 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp softened butter
1 cup plain yogurt


  1. Heat butter and fry onion and cabbage until tender.
  2. Add raisins and broth.
  3. Salt, pepper, add sugar and bring liquid to a vigorous boil.
  4. Reduce heat, cook over gentle heat for about 10 minutes.
  5. Add softened butter and cook for 3 minutes until the sauce is smooth and thick.
  6. Remove from heat and add yogurt.
  7. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately.

Makes six servings.

* This recipe is taken from Ma cuisine au yogourt, by Soeur Berthe, which is available in the gift shop at Maison Saint-Gabriel.

Fifth episode
Small fruits used for food in New France

Small fruits used for food in New France“[The strawberry and raspberry bushes] produce such a large quantity of fruit that we are unable to use it all up during the season.” - - Pierre Boucher

In the 17th century, the daily menu essentially included bread, lard or game, root vegetables and legumes. Fruit played a negligible role in this diet since the supply was limited to picking wild fruits. It was only in the 18th century that fruit farming was developed in the St. Lawrence Valley. Before that, forced to survive and adapt to the country, the colonist had no opportunity to grow anything other than items that were strictly necessary: wheat, peas and other legumes, as well as several varieties of radishes. Moreover, apart from a few varieties of apple and prune trees, efforts to grow fruit trees imported from France failed as a result of the harsh climate.

Fortunately, small wild fruits grew abundantly in North America. Well before the arrival of the first Europeans, the Amerindians picked wild fruit. They ate it fresh or sun-dried, to complement their meals, which consisted primarily of sagamite and pemmican*.

When they arrived in the country, the French were surprised by this abundance of wild fruit. Very soon, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, cranberries, grapes, acorns, hazelnuts, sweet cherries, blackberries, crowberries, mooseberries and other berries broke the monotony of daily meals. Initially, the settlers picked the berries found in the wooded areas; then they started growing these fruit bushes in their fields and vegetable gardens.

Since sugar continued to be excessively costly until the 19th century, fruit preserves, jams, fruit paste and candied fruits continued to be reserved for the elite. Everybody else ate small fresh fruits when they were in season, for desert, with cream or maple sugar. Moreover, it was during this period that fruit took its place as we know it today, at the end of the meal. From the time of the French Regime to the 19th century, it was believed, in fact, that sugar aided digestion.

In addition to small fruits, the settlers also ate plums and apples (domesticated or wild) as well as melons and cucumbers, which were considered vegetable fruits.

In a similar manner, squash was also considered a vegetable fruit in the 17th and 18th century. To learn more about these vegetables, we invite you to return on August 24, 2004.

* Sagamite is a corn-based stew and pemmican is a mixture of dried meat, animal fat and dried fruits

  • AUDET, Bernard. Se nourrir au quotidien en Nouvelle-France, Sainte-Foy, Les Éditions GID, 2001, 367 p.
  • MARTIN, Paul-Louis. Les fruits du Québec. Histoire et traditions des douceurs de la table, Sillery, Septentrion, 2002, 219 p.
  • TAIRRAZ, Monique. Jardins d’un autre temps. Deux jardins dans l’esprit de la Nouvelle-France, Montréal, musée du Château Ramezay et Maison Saint-Gabriel, 2001, 80 p.

A taste for gardening...

Bannock is Inuit bread, traditionally cooked on a branch above a campfire. It is served plain as a leavened bread or seasoned with small fruits or nuts.


3 cups flour
3 tbsp. leavening agent (baking powder)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups water

Here are several ingredients that can be used to season bannock:

1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup raisins or dates (pitted and chopped)
1/4 cup pitted prunes (cut in quarters)
1/4 cup chopped nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, etc.)


  1. In a bowl, mix the leavening agent, salt and flour together.
  2. If desired, add the raisins or other optional ingredients, then mix with a fork.
  3. Add water and mix with a fork to obtain a smooth dough.
  4. Do not knead dough needlessly.
  5. Sprinkle dough with a little flour and shape into a long loaf.
  6. Place dough on a well-greased cookie sheet
  7. Bake in oven at 400o F, for 30-35 minutes, until bread is golden.
  8. When you remove the bread from the oven, shake off excess flower and brush with melted butter, if desired.
  9. Cool on a rack.

Makes eight servings.

* This recipe is taken from Cuisine amérindienne. Un nouveau regard (p.50), written by André Michel and Françoise Kayler and published by Les Éditions de l’Homme.

Sixth episode
The gourd/squash family

The gourd/squash familyWith the discovery of the New World, new garden plants were introduced into the international diet, plants which can no longer be separated from gastronomy now. What would Mediterranean cuisine be like today without the tomato or the pepper, for example? One of these numerous foods was the gourd (cucurbita pepo). Before it was introduced into Europe, there was only one variety of gourd (cucurbita lagenaria vulgaris). Today, there are several varieties including the pumpkin, the winter squash, the butternut squash, and the zucchini (a variety of summer squash). This last type of squash is picked before it is fully developed.

Along with corn and beans, members of the squash family – particularly pumpkins – were a staple in the diet of the Iroquois populations in the St. Lawrence valley. In North America, the Amerindians had been cultivating pumpkins for at least 5,000 years. Considered one of their finest foods, the Amerindians ate them in several manners: boiled, cooked over coals, or cut into quarters and dried in the sun (so they could be stored a very long time).

When the first colonists immigrated to North America in the 17th century, they soon included certain Native garden plants in their diet. In addition to the wheat bread, salted pork and peas, that made up the basic menu under the French Regime, the settlers also ate squash. Gourds, which were appreciated for the ease with which they could be grown, their durability and their good taste, were among the most commonly grown vegetables in the 18th century, along with purple onions, carrots, lettuce and cucumbers.

The French settlers used Amerindian techniques when cooking them. They boiled them or, more often, cooked them over coals as described by Pehr Kalm* during his trip to Canada in 1749:

“The pumpkin is cut in two. It is placed near the fire, with the cut surfaces facing the fire and left there until grilled (...) The outer skin is removed and the remainder is eaten; some people sprinkle the pumpkin with sugar, which makes it taste even better (...)”

The settlers would dry the squash in the sun, in the Amerindian style, and store them in their dwellings, in order to preserve them and protect them from freezing in the winter. They would also preserve them with sugar. Since squash could be stored for a very long time, this vegetable ensured subsistence during the long winter months.

In addition to squash, the settlers also grew durable plants in their gardens. Root vegetables and herbs headed this list. Herbs were particularly valuable in a country where access to spices was limited. To learn more about growing one of the most popular herbs in New France, thyme, we invite you to return on September 7, 2004.

* Pehr Kalm was a naturalist of Swedish origin. In 1749, he visited Canada, recording his botanical and social observations in a journal. This journal, entitled Voyage de Pehr Kalm au Canada en 1749 provides a wealth of information about the daily life of people living in Canada under the French Regime. This rare volume is available at the Maison Saint-Gabriel boutique.

  • AUDET, Bernard. Se nourrir au quotidien en Nouvelle-France, Sainte-Foy, Les Éditions GID, 2001, 367 p.
  • ROUSSEAU, Jacques et Guy BÉTHUNE. Voyage de Pehr Kalm au Canada en 1749. Traduction annotée du journal de route par Jacques Rousseau et Guy Béthune, Montréal, Pierre Tisseyre, 1977, 674 p.
  • TAIRRAZ, Monique. Jardins d’un autre temps. Deux jardins dans l’esprit de la Nouvelle-France, Montréal, musée du Château Ramezay et Maison Saint-Gabriel, 2001, 80 p.

A taste for gardening...

The pumpkin is one of the most popular members of the squash family in New France. In the 18th and 19th centuries, in addition to being served as a side dish or in a soup, it was used to make puddings and pies. Here is a recipe for pumpkin pie from the Sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame.

Pumpkin pie*

1 cup pumpkin
1/3 cup sugar
Orange or lemon peel
1 pinch ginger
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup cream


  1. Cook the pumpkin in a very little amount of water or by steam, pass through a sieve, add sugar, peel and ginger.
  2. Cook in a double boiler for 15 minutes.
  3. Mix cornstarch with milk, add to pumpkin mixture; as soon as this mixture becomes very hot, let cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Stir occasionally. Pour cream slowly into the liquid. Stir and remove from heat. Allow to cool before pouring into a baked pie shell. May be decorated with sweetened meringue.

Makes eight servings.

* This recipe is taken from La cuisine raisonnée. Nouvelle version abrégée, published by Fides and is available at the Maison Saint-Gabriel boutique.

Seventh episode
Thyme and other fine herbs

Thyme and other fine herbsIn the 17th and 18th centuries, the inhabitants of the New World had no access to spices. Spices, which came from Asia for the most part, were very costly and, as a general rule, only members of the bourgeoisie could afford to buy any. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and caraway were the most popular spices. Yet both salt, which was essential for preserving food, and pepper were found on all tables in New France, even those of the habitants.

Since the settlers did not have access to a variety of spices, they cooked a great deal with the herbs they grew in their vegetable gardens. They seasoned their food with a wide variety of herbs, which they also used for medicinal purposes. Pierre Boucher provides an overview of the large range of herbs used and indicated that herbs such as garlic, borage, chervil, chives, shallots, hyssop, marjory, parsley and, of course, thyme were grown locally.

Did you know that...
The word thyme comes from the Greek word thumos, which means courage. The Greeks believed, in fact, that thyme gave people strength and courage and helped them overcome their timidity. For this reason, it was used to make perfumes.

The association of thyme with courage continued until the Middle Ages when young ladies used to embroider a sprig of thyme in the scarves of their knights, before they went off on a mission.

Along with marjory, thyme was widespread in the Quebec region. It was used to season sauces and meat dishes as well as to treat various ailments. It was thought to aid digestion. It was also thought to have antiseptic properties, which had been known since the ancient times by, among others, the Egyptians, who included thyme in preparations that were used to embalm the dead. Finally, the settlers here used it to treat coughs and even as a vermifuge (treatment for intestinal parasites).

After being forgotten for some time, herbs are returning to tables in Quebec. And thyme is one of the most popular. More than 350 different varieties are grown and it has many uses, both as a scented plant (to scent candles, clothing, etc.) and as a curative plant.

This is the last chronicle on gardens in New France.

  • AUDET, Bernard. Se nourrir au quotidien en Nouvelle-France, Sainte-Foy, Les Éditions GID, 2001, 367 p.
  • SMALL, Ernest et Grace DEUTSCH. Herbes culinaires pour nos jardins de pays froid, Ottawa, Presses scientifiques du CNRS, 2001, 193 p.
  • TAIRRAZ, Monique. Jardins d’un autre temps. Deux jardins dans l’esprit de la Nouvelle-France, Montréal, musée du Château Ramezay et Maison Saint-Gabriel, 2001, 80 p.

A taste for gardening...

Under the French Regime, on fast days, the settlers would eat toasted bread with butter that had been flavoured with garlic sprouts. Here is a variation on this theme.

Beurre aux trois herbes *

1 pound of salted butter, at room temperature
1 large bunch of thyme, (leaves only) chopped
1 large bunch of chopped sage
1 large bunch of chopped basil
Lemon juice (optional)


  1. Cream butter with a fork.
  2. Add herbs and lemon juice.
  3. Mix until smooth.
  4. This butter can be stored for several weeks in the refrigerator. It is excellent on croutons or bread. It can be used instead of garlic butter.

* Source: La Mère Michel. Le grand livre des fines herbes, Laval, Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur inc., 1987, 230 p. This book is available at the Maison Saint-Gabriel boutique.