The weather has been unbearably hot this past week in the Northeast. We spent plenty of time indoors and at the beach. We only dared to go outside for a bit in the late evenings or early mornings. The hot weather and early spring has forced some wild foods to ripen earlier than expected, so we have been out scouting a lot these two weeks.
While searching for a place to put a new letterboxing series, I suggested an area I was only partially familiar with in Colchester. We did not plant the series since we became totally distracted by the old farm apple trees and American chestnut trees we found. Robert climbed one tree and picked a few green apples to juice, and we will return later in the autumn to gather apples and chestnuts. The American chestnut trees were in bloom, and I noticed the trees by noticing the the old chestnut burrs from last year on the ground. We have a letterbox planted in Waterford for an American chestnut, Foraging American Chestnut.
We observed some staghorn sumacs that were ripening, along with smooth sumacs in flower, and some dwarf sumacs without either. The three varieties in this area have very distinct ripening seasons. Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) has a narrow cluster of berries that ripen in early summer, and a very hairy stem. Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) ripens next, with looser clusters of berries, along with a smooth, hairless stem. The dwarf sumac (Rhus copallina) has the smallest berry cluster, and the midribs between the leaflets are winged. They also ripen later than the other species, usually in August. The only blue diamond letterbox we have so far is the Foraging Sumac box planted in Lebanon near a small stand of smooth sumac.
The hot weather has ripened berries about 2 weeks earlier than expected this year. Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) have mostly finished for the season. Wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) are exploding in abundance right now. Early this morning before it got too hot, we went out to a new area I ran across last year to pick, and I suppose we came away with 2 gallons easily. This area is completely taken over by the berry canes, and we had to bushwack through the thicket. Even then, I suppose we only picked in 20% of the area, and we will return in a couple more days for some more berries. These ones are destined for jam! One of the latest berries of the season, blackberries (Rubus alllegheniensis) is also pinking up, and we were able to pick a few tart, black berries. Our usual patch had been cut down early this spring, so we need to find a new spot to gather the bucketloads we usually pick.You can look for two of our berry letterboxes, Foraging Black Raspberry in Norwich, and Foraging Wineberry in Moodus.
Milkweed pods are starting to grow, although most are still only 1/4" long. We will pick them when they reach about and inch or two, and try them boiled. We also went "city foraging" by looking for plums from the ornamental plum trees the city plants along sidewalks and in parking lots. We found our first chokecherry tree, and will keep an eye on it to gather cherries later this summer. We also spied a few wapato plants, although the location is less than ideal to pick from. I suppose we will just observe the plants, watch for blooms, and do some more searching to find a better source. Robert also gathered up some more garlic mustard seeds to use as a spice.
We have no wine fermenting at the moment. The Japanese knotweed wine was filtered into a smaller jug, and I wonder if time will improve it. I thought it had a vegetal quality, and was an odd tasting wine. The dandelion wine is also bottled, and is very strong. The black locust wine was made in a much larger quantity (three gallons vs. our normal one gallon), and about half of it has been bottled for longer term storage. The remaining wine has been chilled and imbibed at a young age, and I thought it was not too bad. Hopefully, we can try a few small batches of berry wines, cherry wines, and soon apple wine.
P.S. World Cup is over, back to foraging! Tomorrow: making wineberry jam!