The recent early spring cold snap has been great for prolonging the maple syrup season. The sap runs well as long as the nights are below freezing and the days warm up to 40°F, up until the trees start making buds. Robert tapped another tree, and we have managed to get about a gallon and a half of sap a day. We are drinking this sap straight from the tree, lightly filtered through a coffe filter to remove bits of bark and dirt. The taste is like slightly viscous, sweet water, and the sap is clear. As long as the weather stays cool, we will continue to collect sap for drinking and making tea.
We ventured out this weekend to a favorite nettle patch (Urtica dioica) to check them, but were dissapointed. The cold weather has really slowed their growth. Robert picked about 2 cups worth of tiny plants, just enough to cook into a small batch of Persian Lentil and Nettle soup. It was almost a tease, since Gillian has been asking for nettle soup for a few weeks now. This year we plan on harvesting lots of nettles for drying, freezing, and cooking fresh, along with the prettier dead nettles (Lamium purpureum) growing in the same area. The dead nettles have no sting, hence the "dead" designation. The young greens are full of iron, vitamins, and fiber. Dead nettles are in the mint family, but the flavor is more grassy than minty. We'll use them dried in teas and fresh in smoothies.
dandelion coffee substitute
Robert dug up more dandelion roots (Taraxacum officinale) to try the coffee substitute again. This time he baked the roots less, leading us to believe they were actually burned last time we tried. The smell when the dried roots were ground in the coffee grinder was of dark chocolate, and the taste was much better when the drink was mixed with sugar and chai spiced soy milk. Success!
We have been trying for a few weeks to sprout some garlic mustard seeds (Alliaria petiolata), with poor results. Actually, no results. Robert decided to try making actual mustard with the black, comma shaped seeds. He ground them into a coarse powder with the coffee grinder and added water, vinegar, a touch of honey, and salt. The color is darker than a brown mustard, but the flavor is much more like wasabi or horseradish than a traditional mustard. Very strong, but very good, I have some plans for some sandwiches and dips.
We are so happy spring is here. It seemed like such a long, hard winter with all the snow. Over the cold months we have been using us lots of our dried, frozen, and pickled edibles. Our supply of linden flowers is very low, we have a couple months before they bloom again. We had frozen, chiffonade ramps greens, but only have one container left. They should be up next month. I have been cooking soups, gravies, pot pies, and stir fries with the frozen chunks of chicken mushrooms. We still have lots of jellies and jams left, probably about 150 jars of assorted flavors. We hope to make more, and try some new flavor combinations this year. I think we have a few quart sized bags left of wineberries and autumn olives left.
Even though the season is just starting, we are already outside looking around. Robert was tapping some maple trees in the area for sap. He collected enough to boil down to a pint of syrup. Spring onions are up in the lawns. We snip off the tops and chop them into salads and soup, and the cloves in the bulbs are small but tasty.
Robert noticed some brave dandelions in the Yantic River Park meadow, and dug the roots and collected the greens. He steeped the fresh greens and drank the water as a spring tonic, ate the wilted greens, and roasted the roots to attempt to make dandelion coffee substitute. After the roots are roasted in the oven, they are ground in a spice grinder until powdered. The smell was nice, but I thought the "coffee" was bitter and tasted burnt. Robert thought it was OK.
Wintergreen leaves and berry
Today, the first day of spring, we went out hiking in the Salmon River State Forest. We picked a bunch of wintergreen leaves (Gaultheria procumbens) and their red berries to make tea with. Gillian found some red partridge berries (Mitchella repens) to add to her oatmeal tomorrow morning, too. We also picked a bagful of garlic mustard greens (Alliaria petiola). These are the second year growth, peeking up from the leaf litter with their head start on all the other plants. This super-early growth is the reason they are invasive, and so successful. The seeds that fell to the ground last year put up some leaves, then go dormant over the winter. As soon as the ground thaws, those young roots send up leaves. We chopped the tender, young leaves into a tatziki to go with some felafels for dinner. It is also nice to end such a great day with a glass of beach plum and black cherry wine made last autumn. We are looking forward to the season!