Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Industrious Forager's Reward

Back last spring and summer it seemed like an awful lot of work to find, harvest and preserve wild edible plants. Many days when my favorite plants were ready for picking, I was so busy with a myriad of other things that it was a chore to go afield. It would have been oh-so-easy to tell myself that this can wait, the plants will be there tomorrow.

But fortunately for me, reality always took the upper hand and I went about the business of gathering my plants.

In many cases, picking the plants was the easy part. After that came cleaning and inspecting for foreign debris and in the case of dandelions, trimming the brown band of dirt from the crowns. Who could blame me for allowing fresh-picked dandelions to languish in the refrigerator until they were no longer fresh, but wilted and perhaps even dried?

Here again, although it would have been so much easier to forget the dandelions and instead, sit down and sip a cup of tea and play music. Now, however, I’m so glad for having not succumbed to temptation.

Home-grown vegetables go hand-and-hand with the wild variety and I depend upon both. My shelves brim with jars of home-canned green beans, the French fillet variety, sweet corn, carrots, tomatoes and cabbage. These sit alongside canned dandelions and goosetongue.

Scattered about my house in selected, protected areas, are different kinds of “keeper,” or winter squash. And in one cabinet, I have stored my home-grown Scottish potatoes, red-and-pink varieties brought back from Scotland years ago and kept up ever since.

And in the freezer, packages of lamb’s quarters, dandelions (I preserve dandelions by both freezing and canning), Swiss chard and several different kinds of wild mushrooms await my pleasure.

And then there are fish. Vacuum-sealed, frozen packages of rainbow trout from my farm pond, smelt from the Kennebec River and black crappies from local ponds and lakes provide plenty of protein.

Add to this, woodcock and partridge, lovingly cared for and securely packaged to prevent freezer burn. These are treats, items for special occasions. In fact, one of my favorite wintertime meals is a woodcock soup made following my grandmother’s recipe. This calls for two woodcock per person, barley, parsley, finely-chopped or minced carrots and onion. After bringing to a boil, the soup should simmer for a half hour or more in order for the flavors to meld into one hearty blend.

In the refrigerator are jars of fermented bell peppers, green tomatoes and green beans. These pro-biotic treats serve as snacks, and healthful ones at that.

Also in the refrigerator are carrots from my garden, healthy as ever and already sprouting new top growth. These were the carrots that were just a little too small to put up in jars. But for fresh carrots, they excel, beating any commercially-grown and sold carrots by several magnitudes.

All these things taken together make up the well-deserved reward for the industrious forager.

So now, when winter gales drive pelting snow and temperatures hover well below zero, I can sit inside my wood-heated home and feast upon the bounty of last growing season. It was hard, but rewarding work. And for sure, these special, chemical-free foods beat anything available from the supermarket. Think about this next season when it comes time to do the hard work. But for now, enjoy the well-earned benefits of your labor.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Dark Days Of Early Winter

This is my least favorite time of year, with frozen ground but yet no snow cover. Signs of the growing season abound, with green plants such as dandelions and evening primrose visible. Some new shoots of peppermint have sprouted in a bed along the sunny south side of my house.

And yet, we can’t forage for plants because those we do find are only vestigial remnants of summer’s glory. Besides that, even though they look fresh and green, they are frozen stiff. A good snowstorm would end this “not summer, but not winter” season once and for all. But every time it looks like snow, we get rain instead.

This indecisive nature to our weather extends to ponds and lakes, too. It’s time for small ponds to get locked in with ice. That has happened, too, several times. And each time a good, solid inch of clear, black ice forms, a warm spell comes and melts it.

Gravel roads don’t escape, either. We have already endured one genuine mud season. The worst of it is, the grader did a fairly good job this fall. Then we had a cold spell, which froze the road and prevented it from deteriorating. But off-and-on warm spells and accompanying rains, heavy at times, have turned roads to mire and also, allowed speeding cars and truck to create new potholes and re-open old ones.

It’s maddening. We wear sweaters one day, parka and gloves the next. “It ain’t right,” as my grandpa would have said. Blame what you want, but my money goes on the crazy jet stream. The jet stream brings us our weather, good and bad, warm and cold. And when it’s time for cold, the jet stream takes a dip south, bringing us balmy weather. And when we yearn for warmth, the jet stream loops north, bringing us arctic and sometimes even polar air.

Besides all this unsettled weather, the lack of light due to short days and days on end without a trace of sun, makes us all a little lethargic. In my case, it’s hard to concentrate on writing. What would take me two hours now takes a whole day. Someone mentioned buying a special light bulb that duplicates sunlight. Perhaps that’s the answer. But a few sunny days would be even better.

Top it all off with a string of cloudy nights, precluding any astronomical observations, and we have a recipe for the blues.

It’ll end soon, no doubt. This happens every year and it’s to be expected. But while this drab and colorless dark time persists, it’s hard to deal with.