The Yellow Pickle Adventure

Sully Historic Site


Richard Bland Lee and his family, the original owners of Sully Historic Site, left behind more than a place for tours of history. They left us some practical tips we can use – like recipes.

They’re practical tips if you have a little patience.

Having enjoyed canning and the reading of historic recipes since childhood, I decided to try making Mrs. Lee’s Yellow Pickle. I was intrigued by this spicy cabbage dish found in, to use the 18th century term, her receipt book. Just reading the ingredient list left an impression of the early 19th century — exotic locations of spices from China, India, Greece, and the spice islands of Indonesia; the global market economy that was in place; and the vast world-wide trade routes.

Reading through the recipe proved to be a “pickle” itself. Spice quantities in ounces? On the web I searched for modern day equivalents. I put the pickle in a glass jug and diligently followed the directions, leaving it outside for six weeks and shaking it every day. Family helped do the pickle shake dance daily, and the neighbors didn’t know what to make of my exploits. Prepping the cabbage and letting it dry outside was another mystery. What seemed like tons of cabbage gradually turned into dried out leaves of paper that fit into a lunch bag. Then there was the ambiguous “put [the cabbage] away until wanted for the soaking pot.” That was troublesome. What in the world was a soaking pot? How long would the cabbage need to be in the pot until ready for consumption? Would the cabbage be safe to eat after leaving everything outside all of this time?

Calls and emails to food historians were fruitless until I contacted Leni Sorenson at Monticello, the historic home of former president Thomas Jefferson, and turned to antique cookbooks. They led me to the next steps. I found that soaking pots were earthenware containers with tight fitting lids. As I did not have those on hand, I used some containers at home with tight lids, placed the cabbage in them, and poured the recipe’s yellow pickling concoction over the top. I never discovered how long to let the mixture rest, so I placed everything in the refrigerator to let the ingredients meld for about a month. Next, I tackled the safety issue. I tried the yellow pickle as a side with pork chops. What a surprise! The pickle was spicy, on the order of kimchee, and had a fantastic punch.

The next time you visit Sully or any historic site, stop at the dining room and consider the vast array of textures and foods that were on the Lee family dining room table. Think of the exotic places represented through food. My journey with the Yellow Pickle was quite an adventure, bringing me closer to the early 19th century world of the Lees.

The Yellow Pickle Adventure

Mrs. Lee’s Recipe as written in her receipt book:

Yellow Pickle– Put 6 quarts of best cider vinegar in a stone jar. Put in it 4 oz. mustard seed pounded fine, 4 oz of coriander seed, the white ginger 2 oz preferable bruised- bruised 6 oz of race ginger soaked in salt and water 24 hours, then pealed and sliced and put in the sun to dry, 5 oz of garlic, 1/2 oz of mace pounded, 1/2 oz of nutmeg pounded. Have a wooden stopper for the jar to fit tight, tie a cloth over it and put it in the sun for six weeks shaking it every day. In the mean while prepare the vegetables. Put Cabbage in salt and water after quartering it until it turns yellow. Then scald it in the last brine until a little tender, sprinkle salt over it and lay it in the hot sun in the morning the inside down- before night open the leaves and sprinkle salt through them turning them up on the dish, let them remain out that night in the dew- in two days if the sun is hot they will be quite white, and dry enough in two more to put away until wanted for the soaking pot—Prepare radish pods, Beans, Young corn, melons, Peppers &c in the same way. Radish pods will become white and dry in one night—and day Nothing should be dryer than to keep until the soaking pot is ready— E Lee

Sully Historic Site was the 1794 home of Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first representative to Congress.

Author Noreen C. McCann is the Visitor Services Manager at Sully.

Behind the Scenes: What’s Inside the Interpreter’s Thing Bag?

Thing BagForget raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. If you want to connect kids to nature, favorite things might include crayons, clipart and clues. Whether at a camp or a campfire, Thing Bags create learning.

Thing Bags are my favorite interpretive tool. What’s a Thing Bag? It’s a bag. Full of things. Stuff. But this is cool stuff.

A Thing Bag is a collection of objects that represent an aspect of whatever we’re talking about in a park. If we’re talking about owls, our bag may include swim goggles to represent the nictitating membrane of an owl’s eye, a toy tiger to explain owls as tigers of the night, and a slip wrench to depict how an owl’s beak opens wide. We encourage each child at a class to blindly pull something out of the bag and think about how it is similar to what we’re talking about.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center keeps 13 Thing Bags at the ready. We also have additional lists and items that are ready to assemble so that we can create up to 20 interpretive bags. We’ve learned to be flexible with bag contents, and we’ve learned that we can learn along with the kids in a class.

Thing Bags inspire curiosity, anticipation, wonder, and excitement in children, and there are never any wrong answers. A prepared interpreter can spin any answer into an appropriate response. A child may select a neck-tickling party blower from a Frog Thing Bag and then state that a group of frogs is like a noisy birthday party. That works! The interpreter could add that, when blown, the party blower rolls out like a frog’s tongue zipping out to catch a fly. The children may have additional ideas. When pulling out a model T-Rex from a Snake Thing Bag, answers range from “Snakes are scary!” and “Snakes are reptiles,” to “Snakes are carnivores.” Asking everyone to wait for the child whose turn it is to answer first can be a challenge. By inviting each child to have their own turn to speak first, the activity becomes collaborative rather than a test.

During a summer camp on dinosaurs, a Thing Bag can recap an entire Mesozoic era! A Thing Bag can be taken out on a trail. A tip for parents – we often use thing bags as a calming device because they’re instantly popular. Children are willing to join a circle just to see what pops out next as they wait their turn.

Prior to a park program, Thing Bags are great planning tools. Our naturalists like brainstorming items for the bags. Surprisingly, having an actual thing is not critically important. Children love to pull out an envelope and slowly unfold the enwrapped paper containing a graphic. For an earthworm Thing Bag, we use the “No” symbol of a circle with a diagonal line over a cartoon of a hairy leg. Even preschoolers can guess that this means, “No Legs”.

By the time an interpreter has loaded a Thing Bag with clues, the salient points to make about the objects is loaded into memory. Since there is no particular order in which things may be drawn, the program leader needs to be ready with the relevance of the object and ready for different interpretations.

Thing Bag

At Hidden Oaks Nature Center, we have successfully used Thing Bags with children as young as four.   As children get older, at about six, they become worried about sticking their hand in a bag. Maybe it is because we have live snakes in the building! We find that by assuring everyone at the outset that no one will get hurt or surprised by reaching into the bag, we quell trepidations. We take volunteers first. The more gregarious children demonstrate the high success and low worry of plunging into a Thing Bag for the cautious who are risk averse. Typically, every child will join in by the end of the activity, and many beg for a second turn. We’ve seen returning campers cheer at the announcement of Thing Bag Time and proudly describe the process to new campers.

In preparing a Thing Bag, we let creativity run wild! We start with a list of characteristics we wish to review and unleash stream-of-consciousness. Once we start connecting meaning to objects, it is hard to stop. It is just the right thing to connect a visitor to a resource.

Here’s an example — our list of 12 items for a Snake Thing Bag:

  • Toy globe: Snakes live in most of the world, especially warmer climates
  • Fondue fork: Snake have forked tongues, but soft ones
  • Medal of Honor (clipart): Snakes are heroes for eating mice and rats
  • Plastic egg: Snakes typically hatch from eggs, which are not as brittle as chicken eggs
  • Inside-out sock: When snakes shed, the molt is turned inside out
  • T-Rex toy: Snakes are carnivores
  • Lizard toy or picture: Lizards and snakes are both reptiles
  • Baby’s rattle: Timber rattlesnakes. Discuss native species and the difference between neurotoxin and hemotoxin
  • Tuning fork: Snakes sense vibrations. Review senses as experienced by snakes
  • Balloon: Snakes have no breastbone, so ribs expand and the body can expand it eats
  • Small child’s jacket: The jacket would purposely be too small for a class participant. When a snake grows, the skin is too tight and is removed through a shed. Review how the growth of a reptile differs from the growth of a child
  • Sign: Fragile. Snakes’ ribs are thin and, even though surrounded by muscle and skin, can break easily under pressure

These are a few of our favorite things.

Author Suzanne Holland is the Visitor Services Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale.

A version of this story was originally published in the NAI Region 2 publication Chesapeake Chat.

Learn, Play, Discover! Discovery Trail Map 2015!


Discovery Trail MapWe love nothing better than exploring and learning about the great outdoors.

Gwendy Cheek agrees, and her children were the first Fairfax County residents to discover parks on The Discovery Trail this summer.

What’s Discovery Trail? Family adventures in 12 distinct parks. A garden. A farm. An historic mill. A wetlands. Three lakes. A river. Historic houses. Wooded paths. Nature centers.

Green Spring Gardens

Green Spring Gardens

We’ve picked a dozen distinct parks out of the more than 400 sites overseen by the Fairfax County Park Authority, and youth under age 18 who visit eight of them before September will walk away with a pocketful of freebies.

Gwendy is an adventure-loving mom who took her two sons to eight parks in just two weekends. She knows her parks and all they offer, and said among the favorite activities are “the great trails, the nature centers, and the playgrounds for my boys to play on. There were activities for both my sons and I.” She took note of Burke Lake’s many activities, listing the playgrounds, train, carousel, picnic area, boat area and more. Her family enjoys going to parks several times a week because her sons enjoy playing outside, and she gets her exercise. She said Frying Pan is close to their home and has “lots of activities for my young sons. They love the playground, carousel, and animals, and I enjoy the Farmers Market.”

Frying Pan Park

Frying Pan Park

Gwendy learned about Discovery Trail at the Chantilly Library and saw that further exploration of Fairfax County parks would be a great way to get her boys interested in the great outdoors. They headed to Sully Historic Site, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Burke Lake, Huntley Meadows, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Green Spring Gardens, Frying Pan Farm Park and Hidden Pond Nature Center. She timed her Frying Pan visit to the site’s Farmers Market schedule. That means not only did her sons hit the playground, ride the carousel, and pet the animals, but she enjoyed eating fresh produce from the market.

Discovery TrailDiscover Discovery Trail

Just for visiting eight parks this summer, we’ll give youngsters 17 and under a prize package that includes a free round of mini-golf, a carousel ride, a wagon ride, a train ride, a tour boat ride, a boat rental, a pedal boat use, a camping site, and a RECenter visit. All free. In addition, you’ll be entered into a drawing in which we’re giving away three bicycles and helmets courtesy of Spokes, etc. and the Fairfax County Park Foundation.

Here’s how it works.

Drop by a county library, community center, or a staffed Fairfax County Park Authority park and pick up a 2015 Discovery Trail Map. You also can download the map online. Then visit the parks. While you’re there, get a stamp or a stamp code that you will enter on your map. When you visit your eighth park, hand in your map at the park or submit it, with the codes, online. You’ll receive your amusement prize package via U.S mail.

The 12 parks that are part of the Discovery Trail are Green Spring Gardens, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Hidden Pond Nature Center, Huntley Meadows, Lake Accotink, Lake Fairfax, Burke Lake, Riverbend, Sully Historic Site, Colvin Run Mill, Frying Pan Farm Park, and Ellanor C. Lawrence Park.

Lake Accotink Park

Lake Accotink Park

Twelve parks that will have you saying, “I didn’t know Fairfax County had that!” Yeah, Fairfax County does have that. There’s a reason the Fairfax County Park Authority has been named the nation’s best park agency three times. Great parks.

Make this the summer you discover your parks.



Where Have All The Monarchs Gone?


Come to Hidden Oaks to watch the amazing growth of recently hatched monarch caterpillars.

Monarchs munching milkweed at Hidden Oaks

Monarchs munching milkweed at Hidden Oaks

The caterpillars are approximately 3-5 days old and range in size from .25 to .50 inches. They are feasting on native common milkweed leaves and are on public display at the front desk. As they mature they will be in a six foot tent in the classroom.

We are too early in summer for monarchs to be developing from eggs laid on our milkweeds. These caterpillars were purchased from Monarch Watch. These caterpillars are in their first of five instars. For each instar, the caterpillar molts, and usually eats the molted layer. Caterpillars, as in all insects, have their skeletons on the outside. These caterpillars will each eat about eighteen inches of milkweed over two weeks and then will metamorphose into a chrysalis. After about ten days a monarch butterfly will emerge and within a day be ready to fly.

Encourage monarchs to visit your yard, office or school by planting native milkweeds. To find out more about the challenges monarch butterflies are facing go to

You can be part of the solution! Ask at the front desk at Hidden Oaks Nature Center for your complimentary native swamp milkweed seed packet.


What you plant makes a big difference

Revel in a flower’s color and shape or in the twitter and flight of birds. at beauty of sight and sound in our gardens depends on something very small.

Insects. Bugs that move pollen from plant to plant.

Asclepias tuberosaThe common milkweed boasts the largest leaves, but other species may be more welcome in your garden. The common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, grows into a gangly, five foot stalk. The more compact swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnate, tops out at 2-4 feet and displays crowns of rosy purple flowers. The commonly-known butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is even smaller at the mature height of 1-3 feet. Thomas Jefferson favored this species, which sports orange or yellow flowers, for Monticello’s garden. All these native species support monarch butterflies, but the larger plants display more surface area for the caterpillars.


One of those insects is in trouble. The population of the monarch butterfly, an insect that is itself a work of art, is in steep decline because there aren’t enough of the right plants growing in the right places.

Many butterflies can sip nectar from a variety of flowers, and their caterpillars happily munch different plants; not so with the monarch butterfly. This iconic black and orange beauty is monophagus — as a caterpillar, the larvae can eat only milkweed. That means the female monarch has to find milkweed leaves on which to deposit her eggs. No milkweed, no monarchs.

And it takes a village full of milkweed. A monarch can lay about 700 eggs over a few weeks, but each caterpillar needs more than six inches of plant to develop properly. That’s 350 feet of plant growth needed for a single butterfly’s egg-laying efforts.

That much milkweed isn’t out there anymore. Unfortunately, many gardeners consider milkweeds mere “weeds” unfit for a proper garden.

What is a weed?  A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic, 1878

This is where you come in.

The main reason for the decline of the monarch butterfly is loss of habitat. You can make a natural difference by just planting milkweed seeds, and the Fairfax County Park Authority is working with conservation groups to make that easy for you. This spring, these park sites will be distributing free swamp milkweed seeds to visitors on request while supplies last:

Directions: Place your seeds in moist paper towels and refrigerate for four weeks. Check the bag regularly for signs of sprouting. Plant the newly-spouted seeds under ¼-inch of soil in full sun and water regularly. The milkweed should mature to its full size within a few years. It is well-behaved since it does not spread as dramatically as common milkweed.

MonarchThere are 110 species of milkweed native to North America, however relatively few are native to Fairfax County. The name implies milk, but it actually derives from the leaves’ latex sap, which is distasteful to other animals because it contains toxic cardiac glycosides, compounds that can interfere with the workings of the heart. Monarchs store this compound in their wings and exoskeletons, which makes the insect noxious to predators.

Once established, milkweed can spread through its roots as well as seeds while sporting surprisingly beautiful flowers of orange, purple, pink or white that attract many other pollinators.

If you plant milkweed or butterfly weed, native pollinators will join the monarch butterflies in thanking you for protecting the monarch migration phenomenon across the eastern United States.

There’s more information on monarch butterflies on the Park Authority website

Author Suzanne Holland is the Visitor Services Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale, Va.





One Perspective: The Personal Benefits of Volunteer Service

Olivia Richardson Author Olivia Richardson is a Youth Volunteer at Sully Historic Site. She will be attending Princeton University in fall 2015, and she used her volunteer experience at Sully as part of her university application process. 

Princeton requests that applicants write an essay of about 500 words constructed around a theme selected from a list the school suggests to the applicant. Using the theme as a starting point, the applicant is instructed to “write about a person, event, or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world.” This is the theme Olivia selected:

“’Princeton in the Nation’s Service’ was the title of a speech given by Woodrow Wilson on the 150th anniversary of the University. It became the unofficial Princeton motto and was expanded for the University’s 250th anniversary to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” Woodrow Wilson, Princeton Class of 1879, served on the faculty and was Princeton’s president from 1902–1910.”

The Park Authority is grateful to Olivia for sharing her application essay with us.

I was taught about service by my parents, who both strongly believe in the value of giving your time to a cause. Both came from humble beginnings, and they have always instilled in me a sense of compassion, a strong work ethic, and a sense of responsibility to my community. More importantly, they taught me through example the power of service and the impact I can have through small acts. But an old historic house represents a place where I learned first-hand the importance of giving back to my community.

I first started volunteering when I was nine, teaching 18th century games to young children at Sully Historic Site, a historic house museum in Fairfax County, Virginia. I was awkward, shy, timid, and above all, completely unsure of myself. Uncomfortable period dress made me stand out when I was so used to blending in. But the excitement I saw when other children learned about a new game or activity made it worthwhile. It was during this time that I realized how much service truly meant to me, and I was determined to serve in any way possible.

An opportunity arose a couple years later to interpret slave life at the museum. The damp slave quarter was very different from the warm fields I was used to, and I seemed to be the only young person talking about slave life at Sully. I spent many hours memorizing my information, which opened my eyes to the importance of telling the story of the enslaved. I was giving a voice to the slaves who had been neglected because it is a history that is uncomfortable and difficult for some people. I then took it upon myself to educate as many people as I could on the subject. Sometimes the slave quarter would become packed with adults, nerve-racking but exciting at the same time. I became more comfortable with talking in front of crowds as I realized that presenting was a skill that came naturally to me. Slave interpretation led to the opportunity to learn and teach visitors about slave medicine. After receiving a few new packets of information, I got straight to work, reading up on all of these fascinating medical procedures. I was hooked.

My presentation on slave medicine went so well I was able to do more programs about home remedies and general historical medical interpretation. My presentation went from being about a minute with assistance, to full-fledged discussions where I led a section of the program, something I would have previously never thought possible. I became more confident in my ability to teach, and my 18th century clothes were becoming a lot more comfortable. No longer was I a timid, shy person, rather a strong, confident historical interpreter.

Even as I served long hours, Sully gave me so much more than I could ever give. I was able to learn how to speak in public, with people of all ages and backgrounds. Where I used to be timid, I would actively go up to people and engage them. I was able to share my love of history and medicine, and I started to carry myself better. With my newfound self-confidence, I found myself succeeding more in school, becoming more confident in my academic abilities and able to take on more leadership roles.

Sully for me has been a place where I could grow and become a more confident young adult. Many of my hours have gone undocumented, because I wanted to give without receiving anything in return. I enjoyed that experience so much I found myself helping others in many other ways, from tutoring to mission work through my church. Service for me has become something that I do every day, almost without realizing it. Service can be volunteering at a 1794 historic site, but it can also be simply extending a hand to someone who needs it that day.


Sully Historic Site, located at 3650 Historic Sully Way,  Chantilly, Virginia,  is the 1794 home of Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first representative to Congress. 

National Kids to Parks Day: K2PD is May 16

IMHO, PPL, YOLO, so avoid FOMO and enjoy K2PD! *

Kids to Parks DayBy now you know. We don’t have to cite the numerous studies and the statistics. Kids need more time outdoors.

Okay, parents, here’s your call to action. Thousands of folks are committing to head outdoors on May 16, Kids to Parks Day (K2PD). The Fairfax County Park Authority will have a weekend full of family events then, and if you make an online pledge to head out that day, you might have a chance to win a Nikon COOLPIX L830 camera from the National Park Trust.

There are a couple of ways to find out what’s going on in local parks that weekend. Fairfax County Park Authority activities are listed on the K2PD website and in the FCPA Calendar. Either spot will get you where you need to be.

Here’s a start – 10 things to do in the parks on May 15-16-17:

There are also 12 county parks with fishing, 59 with tennis courts, 125 with bike trails, 238 with hiking trails, 130 with picnic facilities, 165 with playgrounds, eight golf courses, five nature centers, four skate parks, three boating facilities, two campgrounds, and a screech owl in an oak tree.

See you in a park on May 16.

* It means: In my humble opinion, people, you only live once, so avoid fear of missing out and enjoy Kids To Parks Day. If you knew this, you probably need less time on social media and more in a park.

Stewardship of Vernal Pools

Anybody ever say to you, “Look, but don’t touch?”

A lot of Fairfax County Park Authority programs are look-and-touch programs, but there are times that the no-touch guideline is critical.

There’s a new wayside information sign at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (ECLP) with information on it about salamanders and frogs. The sign, along the south side of the gas line that runs through the north end of the park, includes life-size photos of salamanders and frogs and QR codes that link to frog calls.

ECLP has been working closely with the Virginia Herpetological Society (VHS) to design and install the sign, which also has information about the best ways to interact with vernal pools and to protect those pools.

So, what’s a vernal pool, and what do they have to do with signs about frogs and salamanders and the no-touch guideline?

Vernal pools are temporary puddles and ponds of water that are large in the spring and dry later in the year. When the water is there, they teem with life. Spotted salamanders, wood frogs, American and fowler toads breed in them. There are also small insects – dragonfly larvae, water bugs, fairy shrimp and plants. Because there’s so much going on in these pools, protection of them is part of good natural resource stewardship.

ECLP Naturalist and Historian Tony Bulmer has monitored vernal pools for the past 14 years. “The best way for the public to interact with vernal pools is to stay out of them,” Bulmer said. “If they sit quietly and just watch, they will see frogs, tadpoles and salamander larvae.”

That’s the “look” part of “look but don’t touch.” Everything is working as it should.

“Many people think they are doing a good thing by catching tadpoles and relocating them,” Bulmer said. “They are afraid the pool is going to dry up. But relocating them can hurt the tadpoles, especially if they are relocated to an area that has fish.” This has been an issue in large parks like Burke Lake and unstaffed parks, where people have removed tadpoles and salamanders and taken them home. Remember, removing anything from a park violates park rules and can impact the park’s natural resources.

Bulmer says people sometimes move tadpoles to deeper water that may have pollution that the human eye cannot detect. That’s why he suggests sitting quietly and watching the magic of the vernal pools. If that desire to help is overwhelming, volunteer to be an egg mass counter or sign up for park programs about amphibians.

Habitats like vernal pools are avenues to learning about amphibians living in our forests. So are signs like the one at ECLP that grew out of the partnership between VHS and the Park Authority. It’s a terrific partnership, and VHS is an information source for FCPA employees on the front lines of stewardship in the parks. The VHS website can be a go-to place for information about reptiles and amphibians.

There’s more information online about Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and the Virginia Herpetological Society, and the Park Authority has a video on the Hidden Pond web page about frogs and their calls.