Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What's The Difference ... Blackberries or Black Raspberries?!

Today, while continuing my arduously slow pace down my MooseBoots trail, I was excited to realize that I can tell the difference between a black raspberry flower and a blackberry flower.  While this may not sound terribly thrilling to most, it is very satisfying for me.  This is not something I learned by reading or researching.  This is knowledge acquired solely by observation.

Wendy and I have been trying to stay on track with our foraging efforts.  This is increasingly difficult this time of year ... dance recitals, gathering wood for the coming winter, birthdays, anniversaries, and such.  It has been a few weeks since we have gone out.  In the foraging world, this is not recommended because things change so quickly.

Over the past long weekend, I made an effort to get into the woods.  I ran out of stinging nettles for tea and had to get more from the large nearby patch.  Wendy was working and the girls didn't want to play, so I headed out alone.  It provided the opportunity for me to meander along and stop and look at things more closely.  I found many plants just coming to life ... some that I have been awaiting but could not find in their younger states (bunchberries, sarsaparilla, etc.)  I found a huge patch of bunchberries that I knew were there but could not see before this.  I stopped and picked a "mess" of nettles.  These I am dehydrating for tea.  I sang as I picked and thanked them.  As I picked, I watched the butterflies playing on the newly forming seed head.  I also found a few lady bugs.

After I picked the nettles, I wandered around the field where they grow.  Wendy and I have been here many times this year.  The changes are incredible.  Many of the plants were first saw are now larger and developing, but other are just starting.  It is amazing to see the new things that I hadn't seen before.  As I walked, I found many, many blackberry plants, flowering and preparing to start growing their fruit.  They are everywhere.  I also located a third large stand of stinging nettles.

As I wended my way home, I was surprised to find moose tracks along the path.  The stride length and size of the tracks were clearly not deer.  Now, I know there are moose around, but they are not terribly common where I live, they are also not unheard of.  But, to think that I was following a moose, my heart skipped a beat for a second.  Don't get me wrong ... the tracks were easily days old, but ... I was able to follow its trail for a hundred yards or so.

The culmination of this whole experience came today, when I found our black raspberries are beginning to flower.  They are clearly different.  And, the whole scene pulled together for me ... I have been seeing blackberries everywhere.  I count myself very fortunate to have been able to build my awareness to this point.  I wonder where my MooseBoots path will take me next.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jerusalem Artichokes And Friends

The past few weeks have been very busy.  We've had dance competitions, yard work, and assorted other things to fill our time.  As such, my MooseBoots journey took a brief respite.  Today, however, I took another step forward with my amazing family.

A few weeks back, we harvested 25 pounds (12 kilograms) of Jerusalem Artichoke.  They do not store very well, so the options are to eat them all quickly or dehydrate them.  We did a little of the first and more of the latter.  We experimented with a few different techniques.  Some we sliced and put into the dehydrator.  Some we shredded and left in the sun to dry on cookie sheets.  Finally, we left some whole and placed them in the sun to dry.  The goal was to turn them into flour.

Unfortunately, the whole ones have simply rotted because they did not dry fast enough.  The sliced ones in the dehydrator were dried overnight.  These were crushed into bits with a mortar and pestle, but did not powder very well.  I had a back up plan, however.  I had gathered a large flat-ish rock and a small round rock.  These worked really well at grinding the small chunks to flour.  It was very demanding for effort, but I was happy.  Each small batch was sifted, with the larger chunks being ground more.  For this method to be truly effective, I need a larger rock for the base ... so I am looking for a piece of granite approximately 1 foot (300 millimeters) square and an inch (25 millimeters) thick.

The shredded root, dried fairly well, but never got dry enough.  I tried our hand grinder.  It simply got gummed up.  So, I dehydrated the rest with the dehydrator overnight.  This morning, Precious and I ground it up with the grinder.  It worked very quickly and very well.  We even ran it through twice to ensure a nice powdery flour.

This afternoon, after music practice for Little Fire Faery, we took a stroll together as a family to a nearby waterfall.  We have not been there for a long time.  Since the last time, a nice easy network of trails and parking lot have been built, making the area way more crowded than we remembered it.  While there, we ran into some old friends - partridge berry, blackberry, and chaga.  We also met some new ones - false solomon seal, clintonia, orpine, and ostrich ferns.  To aid us, we brought The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants, Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants, and Wild Plants of Maine: A Useful Guide to help us to make positive identification of our new friends.

The ferns are past, but we were able to see, first hand, the difference between the ostrich fern and the cinnamon and interrupted ferns, which are both furry.  We have all heard about fiddleheads, but until today we never knew what to seek.  We also never before found a suitable patch to harvest.  We now know where to find then next year.  We will just have to look earlier next year.

Our goal was to find ramps, or wild leeks.  As we wandered along a less traveled trail, we found what we hoped was a leek.  But upon breaking one of the stems and finding a distinct lack of that familiar onion-y smell, we opened the books.  We incorrectly decided that it was False Solomon Seal, which is edible but without a second positive ID we did not eat.  It turns out that this is the toxic False Hellebore.  Continuing on, we ran across orpine.  Contrary to the above stated wisdom, I tried a small nibble of this.

As we moved further, the girls stopped because they heard something.  With a little further investigation and searching, we found what we believe is a spring, running with clear water from under the roots of a tree over a clean clay deposit.  We will likely return at some point to collect a sample for testing.  Of course, we have also located a source of clay should we decide to try our hand at making clay pots or a cob-oven of sorts.  This is an important step forward to finding what is available in the near-by area, being aware.

We reached the end of our time, and trail.  So, we turned back.  On the way back, Wendy climbed a hill to see where we were relative to the roads.  When she came back down, we also found a stand of clintonia.  These, like the orpine, I tasted.  Our reference stated that they taste like cucumber, so I tasted first.  I was delighted with the lovely cooling cucumber flavor.

It was a fantastic day, and an incredibly beautiful way to continue on with my learning and growing, while happily treading my MooseBoots path.  And, please, do not eat anything, even a nibble, without positively identifying a plant.