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.