Image: Green Briar
Vincent Dewitt  /  AP
Billie Morrill, from Nyantic, Conn., stoops to get a close-up view of a three-toed box turtle in Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen in Sandwich, Mass.
updated 10/4/2007 6:03:58 PM ET 2007-10-04T22:03:58

The spirit of Peter Cottontail resides at a Cape Cod cottage filled with enchanting aromas of fresh jams and jellies cooking in the same old-fashioned kitchen that children's book author Thornton W. Burgess enjoyed as a young man.

The Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen nestles amid the magical landscape Burgess explored as a child. The "smiling pool" he wrote about — which is actually a pond shaped like a smile — and what he called the "dear old briar patch" inspired his beloved stories about Unc' Billy Possum, Little Joe Otter, Longlegs the Heron and, of course, Peter Cottontail, a character also known as Peter Rabbit.

Burgess and his widowed mother were boarders in numerous houses in Sandwich in the late 19th century, but never actually lived in the house at Green Briar. However, Burgess was friendly with its owner, Ida Putnam, who began making jams and jellies on a single wood stove as a commercial venture in 1903. Her delicacies were so popular that she soon added a long kitchen to the side of the house.

That very kitchen, with its 20 cast iron burners, is visited today by sweet-tooths and nature-lovers alike. On one wall is a framed notation, handwritten by Burgess in 1939: "It is a wonderful thing to Sweeten the world which is in a Jam and needs Preserving."

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Preservation of nature was a concern for Burgess throughout his life. His stories featured animals that wore human clothes and spoke to one another, but their activities were strictly of the animal world. They did not play cards or ride bicycles like characters in other fairy tales. Burgess wanted his books to teach children about nature and its inhabitants.

Green Briar visitors can easily experience their habitat by walking a few steps behind the kitchen to the pond, so named because it is shaped like a smile, and through the adjacent briar patch, which is protected on 57 acres of town conservation land.

A new 1,600-square-foot education center opened this past summer across from the Green Briar's wildflower garden. The center provides classroom space for events for members, for school groups from around Cape Cod and elsewhere, and for a few small animals on display. There is an African pygmy hedgehog named "Mrs. Prickles," a corn snake named "Mr. Slithers," a Mediterranean tortoise named "Sir Speedy."

In 1979, the Thornton W. Burgess Society bought the Green Briar house from the estate of Martha Blake, who had purchased it from Putnam after more than 30 years of working for her in the jam kitchen.

The jam kitchen remains a great place to learn about Putnam's "sun-cooking" methods. In addition to cooking on a stove, Putnam perfected the method of "cooking" strawberries - mixed with sugar and spread in flat enamel pans - in glass compartments exposed to direct sun at the back of her kitchen. She would leave the pans there for several days and let the hot summer sun do its work. Eventually Putnam prepared cherries and brandied peaches in the same manner.

A Christmas crafts fair is scheduled for Nov. 17 at the Green Briar, and a "Country Christmas" will take place there Dec. 8-9.

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