Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Freezer Foraging Time

Freezer foraging time has arrived. Cold, snow and generally harsh winter conditions have put an end to foraging. The season, though, was extraordinarily long this year, with such goodies as dandelions and dame’s rocket remaining available until well into December.

But now is time to break out those frozen, canned and dried wild foods and enjoy. My freezer brims with frozen goosetongue, lamb’s quarters, fiddleheads, dandelions and even a container of black trumpet mushrooms. And the bottom section of one of my bookshelf houses lots of home-canned goodies. In short, I could, if need be, eat well for several months without visiting a grocery store.

Some may call such as this hoarding. I don’t. Put simply, stores do not offer the same stuff that I pick in the wild or grow myself. Even in the case of domestic vegetables, I find that homegrown and preserved food beats all.

For instance, I recently broke open a jar of full-length, peeled carrots that I canned this fall. Even though coming from a Mason jar, these were far superior in flavor to the insipid, anemic offerings found fresh on greengrocer’s shelves.

So kick back, whip up a meal of those wild goodies you so diligently saved and enjoy. It’s time to reap the benefits of our labors.

By the way, my seminar which was scheduled for 4 p.m. on Feb. 4 at the Country Store in Bowdoinham is cancelled. However, my class at Merryspring on Feb. 14 is still on.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tom Tries New Plants

What a fall season we have had. Foragers, gardeners and fishermen were able to get out and glean from nature at a time when, in years past, extreme cold and snow would have surely ended our outdoor pursuits.

As for me, some late-season Swiss chard, kale and even dandelions, have kept me in fresh, green vegetables. And the two early-season snowstorms melted quickly, leaving plants and even lawns, looking green and lush. And it doesn’t look as though any major change is due any time soon.

While thinking on plants and such, I wish to mention that my publisher from Just Write Books, Nancy Randolph, has asked me to revise my book, Wild Plants of Maine, A Useful Guide. This should, hopefully, be accomplished in time for a spring, 2012, release.

An upcoming meeting between we two will determine just which new chapters we will feature in the revision. I expect to offer at least a few common plants that should elicit comments such as, “I can’t believe it,” or perhaps, “Those are edible?”

My summer, at least part of it, was spent sampling new plants and trying new or different ideas. Some of it was rewarding, but two were big letdowns. Specifically, I had long read that northern white cedar, Thuja occidentalis, makes a vitamin-filled tea, a tea that tastes like “evergreen.” The leaves of this common tree are said to be edible as well.

And so on supposed good authority, I brewed up a big pot of cedar tea. The resulting aroma had a pronounced pungency, something that got me wondering if the stuff was going to taste the same as it smelled. Much to my dismay, it tasted far worse than it smelled, and it didn’t smell very good. My overall feeling regarding white cedar tea is that it tastes something like a mixture of turpentine and skunk essence. After that initial sip, I simply could not choke any more down.

While I’m sure that white cedar contains all kinds of wonderful vitamins, I can’t think of any palatable way to ingest them. The aftertaste of the infusion, or tea, lasted for a very, very long time. Most unpleasant, as my English friend Malcolm would say. Other plants, though, excelled and those will appear in my book revision.

The other failed experiment, at least to my mind, involved the winged fruits of red maple, Acer rubrum, also called “Keys,” or “gyros.” Various authorities list these as edible out-of-hand, as “trail nibbles.” So back in early summer, when trees hung heavy with these fruit/seeds, I had at them.

The words, “pucker,” and “astringent” come immediately to mind. And as with northern white cedar tea, the taste of maple gyros lingered far longer than I would have wished. I understand that boiling in several waters can reduce the astringency. After contemplating this, it seemed to me that such trouble was simply not worth the while. In a case of starvation and extreme need, boiled maple keys would probably make a nourishing food. But the end verdict, at least as far as my experience goes, is “Yeccc!” Don’t bother. It’s not worth it.

None of these failed tries will appear in my book revision, space being limited and it being reserved for useful, not offensive, plants. But I mention them here for the benefit of anyone reading this blog who had ever wished to try the plants mentioned here. Hopefully, I have saved someone out there from an unpleasant experience.

At the least, you can be assured that everything listed in my book is something that I personally value and most certainly, eat or have eaten, myself. And I think that is vitally important for any book on edible plants.

Meanwhile, if I don’t get another post out before than, let me wish all my readers a merry and blessed Christmas and a happy, healthy and productive new year.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Lingering Leaves, Late-Season Trout

Deciduous trees shed their leaves in fall. Well, that’s sort of true but not quite. Some trees, beech for instance, hold their leaves until spring. Others, such as some oaks and to my surprise, certain apples, hang on to their leaves a lot longer than seems natural.

The reason for this, I’m told, is that trees that hold their leaves until spring have a need for spring mulch and if the leaves all fell in fall, as in October, they would suffer for it. This sounds to me like a reasonable explanation, especially since I cannot think of a better one.

Another thing that had not come to my attention until this past Wednesday is this. Some trees shed their leaves all at once rather than piecemeal.

An apple tree in front of my house held its leaves until Tuesday night. This, in fact, made it difficult for me to get a good view of the sky and caused me to walk just a bit further when setting up my telescope at night.

Anyway, I went to bed Tuesday and the leaves were all there. Wednesday morning they were gone. And yes, it was windy. But that wasn’t the cause, since instead of being scattered about, all the leaves were, and remain, directly beneath tree. It was as if someone had pulled a lever and “presto,” the leaves all dropped off en masse.

In other news, I took advantage of the lingering warm weather and went trout fishing Friday afternoon. Sure, my fingers got a little chilly, but the trout bit well, making any minor discomfort more than worth the effort.

This is the absolute latest that I have ever taken trout in open water. All of this thanks to new and more liberal regulations on open-water fishing, thanks to the Maine Department Of Inland Fisheries And Wildlife.

And if push came to shove, I could probably have gathered a mess of some kind of wild greens. This warmer winter weather may have serious consequences but for right now, it saves on wood and allows outdoor folks to get out and enjoy themselves even into the last month of the year. For me, that’s a good thing.