Sunday, August 17, 2014

Foraging Sundays - Weeks 11 and 12

This week has been an incredibly abundant week, but I need to fill you in on the very short story of last week first.

Last week, I cancelled Foraging Sunday.  It was with a very heavy heart and considerable self-flagellation.  It seems that on Week 10 ... rather after foraging on Week 10 ... I found a new friend ... poison sumac.  It was not during my forays into the woods for food, but while cutting vines to make a basket for gathering the hazelnuts I have been anticipating.

The new neighbor was tucked neatly into the vines.  Now, I can not honestly say that I didn't see it ... I did ... I just didn't really pay it too much mind.  I tend to be a little cavalier about nature ... if I am respectful and open about my activities, no bad will come.  I saw the plant ... I didn't recognize it ... I didn't research it ... I IGNORED it!

I did not know I came in contact with anything until the next afternoon when the contact dermatitis rash started to appear.  Of course, by then it was too late to really assess the full extent of the exposure.  I do not like taking medicine and turned, as I often do, first to herbal remedies.  I started vigorously scouring jewelweed into the rash.  I broke open all of the now obvious blisters, rubbing my skin raw.  I tried to relieve the itch and rash for a few days to no avail.  By day 3 or 4, I stopped treating at all, figuring that the worst was past.  By day 5, the swelling started.  By day 7, Wendy was panicked enough that I reluctantly agreed to visit the local quick care clinic.  I had a hard time arguing while unable to bend my right arm or leg, yellow crusty streaks coursing down my legs.

I do strive to impress.  The nurse noted that normally people do not show up with cases as bad as mine.  Really, I thought 15% coverage was a small number.  Normal people come in when the rashes are the size of a computer mice.  Did I mention that I don't really like to go to the doctor?

Regardless, the next stop was the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions for Prednisone and antibiotics.  I started the Prednisone immediately.  The antibiotics ... not so much.  Instead, I used garlic.  I ate 4 raw cloves of garlic a day for the next 5 days, after which point I didn't really think I had any sort of infection.

After the trip to the clinic and Wendy's apparently convincing argument to give me a note to stay home for the next two work days, I conceded defeat and cancelled Foraging Sunday Week 11.  I am so sorry to disappoint you all.

Yesterday, 7 days into the 12 days of Prednisone, feeling good and much less swollen, although just as itchy, I started looking for food for this week.  I started with the hazelnuts.  I noticed the husks were starting to turn yellow and decided to pick.  In all of the rest of years of my life, I have probably gathered a total of 25 hazelnuts ... small, little, tiny nuts.  The squirrels, chipmunks, and others always seemed to beat me to them.  Yesterday, I gathered 5 pounds of hazelnuts, and I have not even visited all of the 50 bushes I identified this spring.  Call me silly, but I was reluctant to go dashing off in the woods willy-nilly in shorts and a tee-shirt while still battling the current itchy affliction.  I will visit them next week, most likely cautiously clad in full length pants and shirt that will be removed and placed in the washier immediately upon my return.

In the afternoon, the girls and I took our bikes and went out to see what we could find.  I told them to be on the look out for hazelnuts, berries, mushrooms, and such.  We did manage to find a small number of chanterelle mushrooms, thanks to the recent rains.  We also discovered (about 1 week late) a nice patch of black trumpet mushrooms that were too old to eat, but worth noting for later in the year.

Upon returning home, I suggested the girls gather some of the feral apples that were dropping in the neighbors yard.  Hey, it's my sandbox ... I make the rules ... feral apple trees are forage!  They left without so much as a grumble and returned a short while later with 8.5 pounds of small, gnarly, splotchy apples.

This brings us to Week 11.  Today, we started out with a lovely applesauce.  I took 1/3 of the apples and cut them into small pieces.  These pieces, still sporting bits of peel, were boiled in water to mush.  I was worried that I had placed too much water in the pan (maybe I did, but it boiled off quickly enough).  The contents were then strained through a food mill, which took all of the peels out and let through a nicely textured sauce.  I returned it to the pan ... remember, too much water.  Then, I added a bit of sugar and some cinnamon.  I would have used maple syrup, but I fear we will not have enough for the coming winter.

Voila!  Breakfast!

After breakfast, I needed to run the girls to the dance school.  I figured I would stop at a few stops along the way home afterwards in between the errands I needed to run.  That all changed when ....

On the way, I noticed a roadkill Whistle Pig (it's just another name for a groundhog).  It was fresh within 24 hours.  It was not there yesterday and it was now.  Marmots (I am full of names for them), are diurnal, so it was hit late in the afternoon yesterday or this morning.

I immediately picked up the phone.  It would seem that I am truly a DOG person ... I tend to bring home dead things.  I asked, "how would you feel about me bringing home a roadkill woodchuck?"  Wendy was hesitant, but, after admonishing me several times about not eating(or bringing it in the house) it if it smelled bad, agreed.  Funny, she sniffed it after I was done cleaning it!

With a new focus, I finished running the days chores and even stopped to look for more chanterelle.  Instead, I found a handful of milkweed pods small enough to eat this week as a lasagna (right, Wendy?).

Dinner was a lovely soup made with Whistle Pig, chanterelle mushrooms, dehydrated wild greens, feral apples, jerusalem artichoke flour, mint and chives.  Oh, and we had some of the 1.5 pints of applesauce left over from breakfast.

I still have 1 quart of soup and 1 pint of applesauce for lunch tomorrow.  By now, I think my co-workers expect strange foods to be in my lunch bag.  I just wonder what they'll think tomorrow.

The weekend has been filled with such an abundance of food.  We are blessed to be able to learn the  things and to grow.  This has been our most successful week yet!  Here is to more to come.

As for the Sumac, I take this as a lesson.  Be aware!  Pay attention and be curious!

Poison sumac, for the reminder, I am honored that you chose to be my teacher in this.  Please, accept my humblest (and itchiest) apologies for slighting you.  I  recognize your power and your right to be.  You are truly a unique, unassuming being.


  1. An excellent lesson, for sure - and one the rest of us will (hopefully!) remember thanks to you.

    I couldn't help but chuckle about your dog person comment too. :)

    Thank you, Eric, and to Wendy as well, for the inspiration and insights you take the time to share. Glad you are feeling better and finding such a bounty around you!


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