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.

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