Monday, November 9, 2009

Western PA

Robert had a few extra days off this week, so we decided to take a family road trip. I researched western Pennsylvania, since it looked big, was full of state forests for letterboxing, and didn't seem too far from eastern Connecticut. Big it was, forested but nearly boxless, and 8 hours of straight driving is too far for a 4 year-old to sit in a car seat.

Perhaps there are different laws here in Connecticut regarding state forests, but the state forests in Pennsylvania are ugly. They are sprinkled with houses, railroads, dilapidated buildings, and mini oil derricks! It was also hunting season, so pickups with gun racks were in abundance on the side of the road. We picked up 4 boxes total, over three days, two of them in large towns. Only two, sad, little, lonely boxes out in the woods. I forget sometimes how spoiled we are in Connecticut. I did see some partridge berries on the ground, along with something my family calls princess pines. We used to gather them when I was a kid to make holiday wreaths.

If you ask Gillian, she will tell you she loved Pennsylvania. I carefully chose hotels with indoor pools and she got to try out her new inflatable child's travel bed. She was thrilled with the half-inch of snow that had fallen one night, and made the most of our stop at a park to find a box. There was a playscape, a pond, a beach, and geese, and she made a quick fairy house with buttercups that were confused by the unseasonably warm weekend. Robert and I lamented on the money and time we spent, feeling cheated, until we listened to Gillian recount how much fun she had, then we felt better.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Eeeewwww, that Ginkgo smell

This weekend we went out to Harkness Park in Waterford, CT to check on the Ginkgo(Ginkgo biloba) trees. There are 3, two males and one female, and our letterbox, Foraging Ginkgo. The ginkgo tree is unique, in that it is a living fossil. It was thought to be extinct, until some were discovered in China that had been tended by monks. Now it is a popular landscaping tree because of it's beauty, ability to thrive in urban environments, and deep-rooted strength. The leaves are fan shaped, and turn bright yellow in autumn. The shape of the tree is more like a conifer than a deciduous tree. Most nurseries and landscapers only want to plant the male trees, because it is the female tree that produces the fruit, and the fruit smells awful when it is ripe. Worse than awful, the best description I have read described it as "cheesy vomit", and I have to agree. Last year we encountered some Asian women gathering the smelly fruits, and we tried to ask what they were. The communication barrier prevented us from learning too much, and this was before our serious foraging hobby. This year, we hoped to beat the ladies to the trees and harvest some ginkgo nuts to eat, but the trees in Harkness Park were still not ready.

We headed out to Glastonbury, and there found another set of landscaped trees at a shopping plaza, with 3 males and one stinky female tree. Seriously, the entire area smelled bad before we even got to the tree. The ground was littered with the ripe fruits, and gathering was easy. We used gloves, since the fleshy part can cause rashes in some people, and discarded the smelly pulp as we gathered. Once the peachy-orange flesh is removed, the nuts were brought home and washed further. They can be boiled in the shell, or we roasted them at 275° for 30 minutes. Once cracked open, the green nut can be eaten or added to dishes like rice, congee, soups, or they are used as filling for Chinese moon cakes. There are reports of toxicity in children who eat more than 5 nuts per day, so Gillian has been only eating one at a time. The roasted, shelled nuts can be frozen for later use.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tea, or Tisane

Over the last year, we have been gathering leaves, flowers, and roots and drying them for teas to drink during the winter. One of Robert's favorites is linden(Tilia americana). He is familiar with another species of linden
(Tilia cordata) that grows in Europe. The leaf-like lighter green bract is collected in late spring when the flowers are open, and dried in a dark place to brew a tisane, or herbal tea. The tisane is light yellow-green with floral qualities, lovely sweetened with honey. The flowers contain antioxidants and mucilaginous properties which can reduce inflammation, sooth coughs and sore throats, and relieve anxiety related indigestion. The linden found in America has other medicinal properties found in the wood, leaves, flowers, the nutlets produced after the flowers and the charcoal from burned wood. I believe there is a European specimen at Harkness Park in Waterford, where we were gathering some bracts.

Pine needle tea can be made at any time of year, and we don't bother to gather or dry the needles, they are better fresh. The younger, long needles from white or red pines work best. Grab a handful of the needles and coarsely chop them. Using a basic formula of one part needles to two parts water, add boiling water and steep 15-30 minutes to get a clear tisane that smells like a deep pine forest in winter, so clean and fresh. It can be sweetened. Pine needle tea provides vitamin C, is a cough soother, and can relieve heartburn. You can add the tea to a warm bath for a relaxing soak. Pine needles here in the Eastern US are all safe to make tea from, with the exception of yew.

Another tasty tisane can be made from sassafras(Sassafras albidum). The leaves make a nice tisane, but the roots need to be simmered 20 minutes to make an amber decoction. The roots can be gathered and dried for storage in the winter, when the ground is frozen and you can't dig fresh roots. Sassafras is easily identified by the 3 different leaf shapes that are present on each tree--a three lobed leaf, a two fingered "mitten" leaf, and an oval leaf. When scratched, the bark gives off a pleasant and distinct odor. Sassafras reproduces saplings from a parent tree, and usually there are large amounts of small trees surrounding the parent tree for easy gathering of roots. We just yank the whole sapling from the ground and bring home the root, then dry the shaved root bits in a dark place. The taste of the decoction is root beer-like. The tisane and decoction are used as a blood detoxifier and spring tonic. There are lots of sassafras trees located in Mohegan Park here in Norwich, and we planted a letterbox there, Foraging Sassafras.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

For Rubaduc

Out in Colchester today, enjoying the weather and doing a bit of foraging, we came across a double kissing tree. Our attention had been brought to this type of tree by a box planted by Rubaduc in Gay City State Park in Hebron, CT. Google the term, and you will not find what she had in mind. A kissing tree is two separate trees that have grown together then apart again, forming a bit of an X.

These trees had so much affection for each other, they grew together at two separate points in their lives.

Ramps Recipe - Cattail pollen and ramps biscuits

Earlier this spring, Robert and I went in search of some cattails. We were looking for a place to plant a letterbox, Foraging Cattails. We found a great area off of Route 2A, in Poquetanuck Cove. The cattails growing here are narrow-leaf cattails(Typha angustapholia) as opposed to the more commonly found common cattail(Typha latifolia). The difference is in the width of the leaf, and in the placement of the male and female parts of the plant. In the narrow-leaf cattails, there is a space between the female flower and male flower on the spike, where the common cattail has no space. The male flower produces the pollen for a few days in spring to fertilize the female flower, located directly below on the flower spike. This pollen can be collected and added to baked goods in place of flour for a source of minerals, enzymes, protein, and energy, plus a super yellow color. Even earlier in the spring, the hearts of the young shoots can be pulled up and peeled, eaten raw or added to soups. The taste is mild like cucumbers, with a fantastic crunch. The cattails spread through the root system, so no harm is done by harvesting the shoots or pollen. We eventually gathered and sifted about 8 cups of pollen from this stand of cattails, and keep it in the freezer.

Here's a good recipe for biscuits with cattail pollen, and I also added some chopped ramps leaves from early spring that we had gathered and frozen.

Cattail pollen and ramps biscuits                                 makes about 16

2 1/4 c. flour
4 Tbsp cattail pollen
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter
1 c. chopped ramps leaves
1 c. buttermilk

1. Mix the dry ingredients together.
2. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients, leaving some peas-sized bits. Toss with the chopped ramps.
3. Add the buttermilk, mix the dough as lightly as possible. Roll out onto a floured surface and cut into 2" rounds. Place on a sheetpan covered with parchment.
4. Bake at 425° for 12-15 minutes, until browned.

Foraging Report 10/25/2009, Autumn olive

The warm weather this week was welcome after last week's cold snap and frost. After a frost, many greens will mellow out their bitter qualities, like dandelion and garlic mustard.

The weather also encouraged some mushrooms to pop up. We had been keeping an eye on a cluster of honey mushrooms(Armillariella mellea) for a week, but the warm weather and rain encouraged a growth spurt and they were bad by the time we got back to them. Robert had gone for a walk in Pachaug Forest earlier in the week and found some gem-studded puffballs(Lycoperdon perlatum) and a beautiful Hen of the Woods(Grifola frondosa). The puffballs and the Hen of the Woods are the only mushrooms I feel safe eating right now with our current level of knowledge--which is almost nothing. We took a spore print of the Hen of the Woods, then made some risotto and a soup the next day.

We also picked some autumn olives(Elaeagnus umbellata) to freeze and make a batch of peasant wine. The autumn olives freeze well, when washed first and spread on a sheet pan in the freezer. After they are frozen, I bag them up and they stay unclumped. Two years ago we bought a small chest freezer to hold mostly foraged foods, berries, and pesto from the garden. It is currently filled to the top, and now we have 9 quart bags of frozen autumn olives, plus 3 pints of frozen purée that was left over from jam making. We ended up with 10 one-cup jars, and 12 half-cup jars of autumn olive jam. I think we will start the wine within a few days.

Autumn olive is a deciduous shrub that is an invasive species from eastern Asia. It grows along roadsides, open fields, and parking lots. It can fix nitrogen in the soil, so it can grow in areas with poor soil, and is spread easily by birds. The foliage is green with a silvery underside, and the ripe berry is red with silvery-gold specks. There is one soft seed in each berry. The flowers are clustered along the branches in the spring, as are the berries in autumn. The astringent berries start to ripen in September, but sweeten later in the autumn. Autumn olives can contain up to 17 times the amount of lycopene as tomatoes. They are easily Gillian's favorite wild edible. We have made jam, fruit leather, wine, and popsicles from the fruit purée.

We also installed a new shelf in the pantry, one dedicated to jellies and jams made this year. The shelf is 5" high, just enough to hold one one-cup jar, or two stacked half-cup jars. Unfortunately, we underestimated how much jelly we had, and it all did not fit. We crammed more than 65 jars onto the shelf, and still filled 4 mini-crates with the smaller jars. I think some family members will be getting jelly for Christmas this year!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ramps Recipe - Ramps Greens Stuffed Bread

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are an easy item for many foragers to start with. In the spring, areas of wet forest are blanketed with the green leaves that grow mostly in pairs. The leaves are lanceolate, 8-12 inches long, flat and wide. The leaves are smooth and have almost a rubbery feel, and lack veins. When bruised, they emit a distinct garlic smell. Many communities in Appalchia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania hold festivals in the spring to celebrate the ramps, featuring this foraged food in local specialties. The leaves are gathered and chopped up to add to dishes, imparting a oniony/garlicky flavor. Ramps can be found at farmer's markets and in fancy restaurants. We gather them to use immediately, and then clean and chop more leaves to freeze for use all year. We add the chopped leaves to soups and biscuits, and pretty much anything that you would add garlic or onion to, like scrambled eggs, potatoes, dips, and beans. Our first letterbox plant was Foraging Ramps, placed in the Salmon River State Forest in Colchester, after we discovered a patch of ramps one spring. Robert has some more fantastic pictures of ramps here:

In autumn, it is the bulbs that are dug up and used like onion bulbs. It may be a bit harder to find the bulbs, since all that is visible is the dried flower stalk, usually still bearing black seeds in clusters of three in an umbel. Push aside the leaf litter and you will see the tips of the bulbs. Sometimes there are clusters of bulbs to dig up. Last week I dug up a bunch and brought them home to cook with greens and stuff into bread. I brought the bread to a letterboxing gather, and people enjoyed it. I had some bulbs left over, and added them to soup like onions. The bulbs will keep about a month in a dark, dry place.

Ramps and Wild Greens Stuffed Bread
makes one 12" loaf

one ball of dough

20 ramp bulbs
1 c. packed garlic mustard greens
1 c. packed lamb's quarters greens
1 c. sheep sorrel greens
2 c. fresh spinach
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp garlic mustard seeds
egg wash

1. Clean and chop the ramp bulbs. Wash the greens and shake off excess water.
2. Sautée the ramp bulbs in oil until translucent, and add the wet greens, cooking quickly to wilt them.
3. Season the filling with salt and pepper.
4. Roll out the dough into a 8"x 12" rectangle. Spread the filling on the dough and roll it up or braid it. Allow the dough to rise 30 minutes.
5. Brush the bread with egg wash and sprinkle the garlic mustard seeds over the top.
6. Bake at 375° for 25-35 minutes, until browned.

Letterboxing and Leaf Peeping Gather

What a great day and a fantastic location. Letterboxing and Leaf Peeping took place Saturday, October 17 at Dennis Hill State Park in Norfolk, CT, hosted by Jonah's Whalers. The weathermen were all doom and gloom with rain, snow and flood watches, but the day was dry, if windy, and even sunny! The pavilion had a fireplace which was toasty and always surrounded by chilled boxers. The potlock table was filled with snacks, apples, hot chocolate fixings, cake, and we contributed a wild greens and ramps stuffed bread. We set up a small tent for the kids to take shelter in from the wind, but they were mostly content to play with a golf set and tackle each other on the lawn, much to many mothers' dismay. I only worried about the grass stains on Gillian's jacket, she behaved well all day.

Upon arrival, Robert headed out to hike the trails with Hez and Grumpy, and they did a great job finding 28 boxes, some I cannot find listed to log. I stayed behind at the pavilion to do exchanges, PTs, tabletop boxes, and the easy, fun Five Green and Speckled Frogs with Gillian and another girl. I contributed another road sign to International Road Signs, got the Boch's Circus stamps, was able to contribute to the HH Hostel, and added the Multi-tool parts to the body that Robert had found on the trail. We won a mini log book at the raffle. We had brought a bag with 4 different jellies made from foraged fruits and a foraging book, which was won by Sally O and her daughter Happy Penguin. At one surreal point, a bunch of motorcycles pulled up with Santa in a convertible, and he gave the kids some popcorn balls. It appeared they were on a charity toy ride around town. Another inky-fingered event, but fun!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


We took a tour with Steve Brill this past weekend, October 11, at Putnam State Park in Redding, CT. We had been here before, almost one year ago, so we knew what we would find--mushrooms! Our knowledge of mushrooms is almost nothing, so we decided that we should start learning, join some discussion groups, take some tours, buy some books, and take some pictures.

Someone spotted rotten logs covered with pear-shaped puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme), enough for the whole group to pick a bag full. They are edible when young, when they are still white inside. The pear-shaped puffballs grow on dead stumps and logs, most often in great clusters, and usually year after year in the same place. When easily pulled from the rotting log, you can observe that the mushroom is pear-shaped, there is no "stem", and there is a white thready growth on the bottom to anchor the mushroom to the log. We brought them home, washed them up, sliced them in half, and cooked them into a mushroom cream sauce for millet.

Then some honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) were found, and we grabbed a few choice caps and stems, which Robert made into a vegetarian soup with carrots, potatoes, cream and chestnuts. Honey mushrooms have gills that will extend a bit down the stem, and a ring around the upper stem. The color can range from yellow to brown, and there may be scales on the top of the cap. The mushrooms are found on or near dead trees, usually being the cause of the tree's death.

Robert was scouting around ahead of the group and came across a bear's head tooth (Hericium americanum) growing on a fallen tree. I (Karen) had never seen a mushroom like this before! It was a large mass of white, icicle-like fingers hanging down from the tree. This specimen was a bit old, since it was not pure white anymore, it was turning light brown, so we left it. It is supposed to be delicious cooked slowly. I thought it was surprisingly durable, it is not as soft as it looks. You can rub the fingers and they will not break or turn mushy.

There were other mushroom finds, but many were too tough to eat, old, or deadly!! It is incredibly important to go mushroom hunting with someone who knows exactly what they are doing. A common saying is "There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters".

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Foraging Report 10/11/2009

Quite an active week for hearty autumn foraging. Nuts are ready, and we have picked up some black walnuts (Juglans nigra) which are drying in the window. There was a surprise drive-by find of chestnuts--Chinese species (castanea mollissima)--but still roasted and delicious, hoping to head back this week. Hickory nuts are also ready and dropping fast, it is almost difficult to get them before the squirrels do. Shagbark hickories (Carya ovata) tend to have bigger, meatier nuts than shellbark (Carya laciniosa) and pignut (Carya glabra) hickory.

For mushrooms, we needed some advice and went on a tour with Wildman Steve Brill. We found some adorable pear-shaped puffballs, honey mushrooms, and something he refers to as a Reishi mushroom.

One of our favorite wild edibles is at top gathering quality right now, the autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). It grows at the edges of open areas, abundantly along roadways. The silvery foliage is dropping, and the red berries are heavy on the branches. We have made two batches of jam, fruit leather, and purée for the freezer, and will pick more for wine and to freeze whole.

We used our shovels for some ramps (Allium tricoccum) bulbs for cooking, and some sassafras (Sassafras albidum) root for teas. We gathered some garlic mustard (Alliaria petiola) seeds for seasoning, and Lambs quarters (Chenopodium album) greens are still tender enough to eat.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Someone had recently posted a question on AtlasQuest on a discussion board about chestnuts, about what they look like and if horse chestnuts were edible. I referenced a few books and answered the question, and then decided to go out and get some nuts.

First up, we will look at edible chestnuts. American chestnut (Castanea dentata) is native to North America. Unfortunately, many were devastated by a fungus introduced in the late 1800's from Chinese chestnut trees being imported. It is thought that three billion trees were killed. American chestnut still grows in the northwest, some pockets in Michigan and New Jersey, and throughout Appalachia. Another name for native American chestnuts is chinquapin. It is very difficult to distinguish American chestnut from Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima), and they often hybridize with each other. Both trees have green, sharply toothed leaves, the C. dentata more so than the C. mollissima. The flowers are produced in yellow-white catkins in spring, with a somewhat offensive odor. The nuts are encased in an incredibly spiny burr, that will open to drop the nuts soon before the first frost. Nuts from both trees are edible, although C. dentata is said to be sweeter. One of the few distinguishing characteristics is the twig buds. On C. dentata, the buds are smooth, on C. mollissima the buds are downy. It apppears we found a Chinese tree. The nuts had already released from the burrs, and we could see the ponty end with a hairy tuft and the oblong lighter spot on the other side of the nut. We grabbed a few nuts and brought them home to roast. Before roasting them in a very hot oven at 400°, I scored an "X" on the bottom of each nut to prevent them from exploding. The nut is covered by two skins, the leathery, brown outer hull, and a papery skin under the brown hull. Chestnuts contain very little fat compared to other nuts, and almost have a starchy taste and texture from their high carbohydrate content. You may have had them in stuffing during Thanksgiving. American chestnuts were an important food source for early settlers before the blight. The wood was good for houses and barns. Many animals like deer and turkey also relied on the chestnut. New, blight resistant American chestnuts are being developed, in hopes to re-establish the species, and fill a demand for the nuts.

Next is the horse chestnut (Aesculus). There are some North American species, referred to as "buckeyes", and European species referred to as "horse chestnuts". The leaves are large and palmately divided into 5-7 leaflets. The flowers are showy in spring, arranged in a panicle. They mature into a round, sometimes spiky hull with 1-3 nuts inside, each nut having a large, white scar--the "eye" of a buckeye. There is no hair or tuft on these nuts like the edible nuts. I think we found a European tree(Aesculus hippocastanum), with the spiky hull. This late into October, it was nearly impossible to find any nuts on the ground. Aesculus nuts are poisonous to consume, containing alkaloid saponins and glucosides, although deer can eat them safely. In Europe, the nuts (which are botanically seeds) were used for whitening hemp, flax, silk, and wool. We have heard of an unsporting method of crushing the nuts and placing them in a pond to slightly poison fish into a state of paralysis for easy gathering. The nuts are pretty, but do not eat these! There are several trees at Harkness Park in Waterford, Connecticut, probably planted as ornamentals. The nuts are used to play a game called "Conkers" which involves stringing the nut and swinging at your opponent's nut with the objective of breaking it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stamp Out Homelessness Gather, Sumac Recipe - SumacAde

Today we all headed to Rocky Neck State Park for the Stamp Out Homelessness gather hosted by Maire's Facets. The gather also was for Malta Inc. Malta provides food, clothing and toiletries to the homeless as well as providing housing at a transitional living facility consisting of four apartments. The Malta house has assisted multiple families and single men in the past 8 years, including a family of 8, from New Orleans, after the hurricane. Donations were accepted, and additional stamps representing the possible donations were available.

The weather was sunny, but cool in the shade. Robert managed to collect the limited time series--The Twilight Series and the bonuses, too. He also managed to find some boxes that are not located on AQ or Gillian and I (Karen) stayed behind at the event, to do PTs, exchanges, event boxes, play and eat from the potluck table. There was a wonderful array of food, I think the potluck is always a good idea. We brought some autumn olive shortbread bars and sumac-ade. I made the bars with some autumn olive jam. I even picked a branch from a nearby bush to show some people what an autumn olive was. After the gather wound up, we drove to Niantic to grab a few boxes at Book Barn, and a few more along the way. We were all tired and hungry again by the time we got home. It was a long, wonderful day.

Sumac grows in the Northeast in large amounts. There are 3 varieties we see most often--staghorn, smooth and dwarf sumac (Rhus typhina, Rhus glabra, and Rhus copallina). They grow as tall shrubs in cleared areas, along highways, and old fields. They are botanically related to cashews and mangoes. The shrubs grow in dense stands and have alternate, feather-compound leaves divided into leaflets. The berry heads ripen to red in July through August. It is best to pick the berry clusters before rain, since rain will wash the lemony ascorbic acid away. Ascorbic acid is just a fancy way of saying vitamin C! Another way to enjoy sumac is eating the shoots. If you can, find a stand that has been cut down and is growing back, or just use the spring growth from older trees. The shoot is cut and if no woody pith is visible, it is tender enough to be peeled and eaten raw. We planted a box in Lebanon called Foraging Sumac, near a stand of smooth sumac. For some photos of sumacs, see Robert's website .


Sumac-Ade makes about 1 gallon

1 gallon room temperature water
about 12 sumac berry clusters
paper coffee filters
1 c. sugar

1. Pour the gallon of water into a large bowl.
2. Add the sumac berry clusters to the water, breaking up the clusters a bit. Mix.
3. Allow the sumac berries to steep for 8 hours, to overnight.
4. Filter the juice through paper coffee filters into a jug to remove the berries, debris, and hairs.
5. Pour about 4 cups of the filtered juice into a saucepan, add the sugar, and bring to a boil. Boil 5 minutes. Cool.
6. Return the sweetened juice to the gallon, and shake it up. Serve chilled.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some frustration, some success

Robert went out this morning for a bit of boxing in the Kinne Preserve in Canterbury, but did not have much luck.

I (Karen) went out after Gillian went off to school for some more boxing in Bozrah. It was a great autumn day. My first clue was wrong--steps, not paces--but found the box. Second and third clues were just a mess, no boxes found. Fourth set of clues were OK, box was less than spectacular. Fifth and final set of clues took me to a place I had never been before, but inspired me to plant a new box: Foraging Dandelion. I had been hiking all day with two complete and ready boxes in my backpack just in case I found a good spot for them. Yantic River Park is nothing fancy, but it has a nice, often-mowed lawn with dandelions in it. It is difficult to find dandelions in the deep woods or overgrown fields, so I was ideally looking for an isolated lawn. Yantic River Park has some benches for sitting with a book, picnic tables for lunch, and a grassy area for lounging or tossing a ball. I could not plant too close to the river, since I could see debris in the trees along the river from when the water level gets high from rain or snow melt. This is a very easy walk, short and sweet.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Not too far from home

I (Karen) was busy running errands all morning so I didn't get out until Gillian was home from school. We drove over to the Wequonnoc School in Taftville, not too far from home. There is a box there I wanted to pick up, and we spent some time on the playscape. It is a super stamp from the GAQLBE08. I sent a stamp out this year, but have not heard back from the folks I sent it to in Texas. I carved a crayfish, since they can be foraged in the area from wet places, even from peoples' backyard. I hope they are just a bit busy with life at the moment, and will place it and send me a stamp soon.

After the playing, we drove over to Lowethorpe Meadows in Norwichtown. It is an 18 acre, somewhat secret place we go to for so many edibles. It is right next to The Old Norwichtown Burial Ground, and there are several boxes here placed by Celtic Roots, ampmtmsm, Team New Hampshire, Nomad Indian Saint, and one from us, Foraging Black Raspberry. Lowethorpe Meadows was gifted in 1907 "to be kept as a free open space for the public good, to be unencumbered by dwelling houses, barns, or any nuisance whatever". We come to this place so often, that we just refer to it as "your park", as in "Have you been down to your park to check on the milkweed yet this week?".

Upon first entering the meadow from the UCFS building parking lot on East Town Street, I noticed the garlic mustard had dried and was rapidly dropping seeds. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a biennial, and it's first season low growth of heart shaped, scalloped dark green leaves makes a zesty spring green for salads and cooking. Crush the leaves to get a wonderful whiff of garlic. The second year, it grows very tall and the greens are too bitter to eat without lots of boiling and water changing, but it produces small black seeds that can be used as a seasoning, and a seed topping for breads and crackers. The seeds are quite pungent when crushed, peppery and mustardy. Some plants with exceptionally large leaves will produce a white taproot that can be dug up and grated like horseradish. Garlic mustard is an invasive species, but it is everywhere, and would be nearly impossible to eradicate. To gather some, grasp the dry stems near the bottom and pull along the main stem upwards, pulling off the branches into your hand. Then rub the branches with your hands, and now you have a handful of seeds and broken dry branches. Then I gently blow the dry stuff away, leaving a small bit of seeds in my hand.

Walking just a few steps farther into the meadow, I spied what I came for--grapes. I am not sure exactly what variety of grapes these are, many grow in the area. Grapes grow abundantly along the edges of woodlands where they can climb trees and grow along the open areas to absorb plenty of sun. Some years are better grape years than others, and I think this happens to be a good year. The leaves are also edible, picked young in the spring they can be stuffed Greek-style. As a child, we also picked the forked tendrils from the vines to suck on, since kids love tangy, sour things. We called those monkey tails. Grapes contain potassium, beta carotene, fructose, tartaric acid, and resveratrol. I got a small pail of them, but could not quite reach the ones higher up, that is a job for Robert.

I wanted to check out an old apple tree growing in the meadow, so Gillian and I walked on. I could see some apples from the path, but would have to bushwack through high grass and blackberry brambles to get to the tree. In the high grass I did happen to spy some orpine (Sedum purpureum) and picked a stem for Gillian to munch on. The leaves are succulent, making a great salad green with a mild taste and crunchy texture. Orpine is closely related to sedums that are cultivated for your garden. The tubers are also edible, with the texture of water chestnuts. Other names for orpine are live-forever, evergreen, everlasting, witch's money bags, and frog's belly. Gillian just calls it good.

Overall, a great day, and I didn't put more than 5 miles on the Jeep. What will we do with these grapes? I don't know yet, there is not really enough for another batch of jelly, yet. Besides, we need sugar and jars! I think we have gone through six cases of jars so far this season with the jellies. These grapes are in great shape, so perhaps wine. We have another source to pick from later this week to add to the bucket. Tomorrow I will make a bread, stuffed with potatoes and vegetarian gravy, topped with garlic mustard seeds. The orpine did not make it home, it was eaten in the car.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wild Grape Recipe - Grape Jam

After a bit of morning boxing, Karen (that's me) returned home to the smell of wild grapes. We had picked a bag full on Friday, and left the bag sitting on the floor in the kitchen. The bag sat for 2 days, and I think they were starting to ferment. The question was: jelly or wine? I thought they were a bit too buggy for wine, since the fruit is usually not washed before we make a peasant wine. We rely on the natural yeasts present in and on the fruit to sustain fermentation. We add some water and sugar, crush the fruit, and let it sit in the sun for 8 days. Then the fruit pulp is filtered out, and the bubbly juice sits another week or so with an airlock to ferment further. After the airlock stops bubbling, we chill the wine in the refrigerator. We don't cork or bottle it, we drink it up young. So there were lots of spider webs, wormy grapes, dried up grapes, and just plain not nice grapes in the bag. I decided to make jelly.

I used a recipe from Billy Joe Tatum's Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook. I washed and stemmed the grapes, them smushed them up and added about a cup of water to the pot. Then I cooked them for 10 minutes, until they were nice and juicy. Then Robert came home from kayaking and helped me run the juicy pulp through our Roma sauce maker and food strainer contraption to get a dark purple, pulpy juice. Then it was jelly making time, and we got 8-1 cup jars. There was a bit of juicy pulp left over, so that is being dried into fruit leather. These wild grape jellies are incredible!


Wild Grape jelly/jam makes about 8-1c. jars

5 c. pulpy grape juice

1 box powdered pectin

6 1/2c. sugar

1. Place juice in a large pot, and whisk in pectin. Bring to a boil, stirring often.

2. Add all of the sugar at once, bring back to a rollong boil and cook 1 full minute, stirring constantly.

3. Remove the pot from the heat and skim off the foam.

4. Ladle into sterile jelly jars and seal.


So far the tally for this year's wild food jelly marathon:

Wineberry 6-1c. jars 2-1/2c. jars

Blackberry 15-1c. jars 8-1/2c. jars

Wild black cherry 7-1 c. jars 5-1/2c. jars

Mint 10-1c. jars 7-1/2c. jars

Rosehip jelly 4-1c. jars 3-1/2c. jars

Rosehip marmalade 8-1c. jars 2-1/2c. jars

Beach plum 5-1c. jars 4-1/2c. jars

Autumn olive 8-1c. jars 12-1/2c. jars

Tomato juice 6 pints

Wild grape 8-1c. jars


For the Letterboxing and Leafpeeping gather on October 17, we are adding a giftbag of a small assortment of homemade jellies and a foraging book to the raffle. I hope it is popular!


Machimoodus State Park

Karen went out this early morning alone for a bit of letterboxing. I came here about a month ago, found a few boxes, and planted Foraging Wineberry at the vista. I returned today to find a few more boxes, taking a different trail.

This is a fantastic place for letterboxing and foraging alike. It appears to be an old farmstead, with fields, outbuildings, ponds, and plenty of stone walls. For boxers, this presents lots of great hiding places, like old gnarled trees, random boulders, and of course, stone walls. Personally, I don't like stone walls as hiding places for boxes. I don't like moving rocks, and am scared of the bugs that are hiding in the dark spots. This is a good place to bring a dog. The trails are pretty easy--old farm roads along mostly level areas. The exceptions are the trails to the vista. The upper vista trail is easier, taking a slower, more gradual uphill way to the vista. The lower vista trail offers two viewing areas, but the trail to the higher viewing area is pretty hairy for that last couple hundred feet. The view is still a bit obscured by leaves, perhaps we'll come back later in autumn. Several boxers have hidden their treasures here--Mojo612, Flutterby, Donutz716, Hez and Grumpy, Bicko and Sniggles, Butterfly, and now The 3 Foragers.

For foraging, old farms present great environments. Represented are often clear fields, overgrown fields, ponds, roadsides, disturbed areas, deep woods, and possibly old fruit trees still bearing fruit. Machimoodus has an abundance of overgrown fields, ponds, and woods. Right at the driveway entrance is one pond ringed by autumn olive bushes, their berry laden branches bent over and touching the ground. I picked a few, they were pretty good. Along the trail in an overgrown field, I saw milkweed, wild carrots, sweet fern and grapes. There are cattails growing in another pond. There are plenty of white oaks producing acorns, and a few hickory trees, along with a lot of beech. At the vista and along the way on the lower vista are wineberry and black raspberry canes.

I did not gather anything this morning, I was focused on the boxing. It was a gloriously chilly morning, the ponds at Machimoodus misty and the grass quite wet with dew. Overall, a good boxing day, with a nice walk along with the chipmunks and chickadees.

On another note, I stopped at Babcock Pond on my way home to check on the Foraging Water Lily box we had planted there. I had noticed the water level was very low, probably due to the lack of rain lately. I ended up moving the box from the root ball in the water to a 3 sister tree right near to where it was. I removed the "extreme" designation, as the box is now easy to walk to with no watercraft needed.
Here you can see pictures of wild edible plants.