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.