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Archive for the ‘Foraging’ Category

I have invited and openly welcomed quite a few weeds into our yard over the past 5 years. A few of my friends shake their heads and can’t quite figure out why I would get so excited about weeds. You know, things like dandelions (taraxacum officinale) and lambsquarter (chenopodium album), or plantain (Plantago major) and purslane (Portulaca oleracea), and those are just a few of the edible and useable weeds I get excited about growing on purpose.

lambsquarter

lambsquarter

Then there is straggler daisy (calyptocarpus vialis). I did a post on it over on my personal blog this past week. There are a lot of mixed reviews on it in my area. Some LOVE it, others absolutely HATE it. That is one weed I wasn’t sure about when we moved here, but then again, it was spreading all through every garden and choking out other things. Once I got it out of the garden areas and started planting the herbs and natives I wanted I was much happier. It took a lot of work to get it out of the places I didn’t want it, but I do like it in my yard. It is a great ground cover.

Straggler Daisy

Straggler Daisy

One weed we struggle with is the Coastal Sandspur (Cenchrus spinifex Cav.) That is one weed I could do without completely.

Sandspur 1Some of the other “weeds” that make up our yard I have spent some time identifying… others, I have not taken the time to figure out yet.

An assortment of "weeds"

An assortment of “weeds” – lambsquarter, henbit, larkspur, thistle and poppy

It is always interesting to see what pops up each year. It is amazing how much it can vary. One year we may have a particularly pesky weed and some very pretty flowering ones and the year after there are new things out there.

Some years I have to pick my battles with things I really don’t want out there. I haven’t come up with a great way to get rid of the coastal sandspurs, other than hand digging them.

Where do you draw the line? What weeds do you embrace?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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It’s filbert season here in the Willamette valley, and i am just pleased as punch about it! What’s a filbert, you say? Otherwise known as hazelnuts (ah, that’s a name you recognize), filberts are small nuts hidden inside fuzzy/stabby packages that are pretty much delicious anyway you crack ‘em. I was sad to leave the wonderland of pecans back in Texas, but can console myself with handfuls of hazelnuts and wheelbarrows full of walnuts.

I picked up a 5 pound back of filberts from a local farm this Wednesday at the farmer’s market. They used a nifty contraption to crack them in bulk, which mostly worked. I sorted a little over half of them to get 2 cups of shelled nuts for a batch of delicious spiced nuts (seriously: click over because you NEED that recipe) and put the rest in the fridge. I think i’ll try a batch of apple/nut bread this weekend. A friend of ours is hosting an apple pressing party this weekend, so we’ll come home with a bushel of apples for eating/drying/baking, i still have a package of local cranberries from last year in the freezer and a blogger posted this tasty looking Autumn Harvest bread recipe at this week’s Eat, Make, Grow blog hop that i’m hankering to try. It’s fate, i tell ya! I’ll be sure and post the recipe i come up with soon.

Do nuts grow locally in your neck of the woods? What do you like to do with them?

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It seems jamming plums is a popular thing to do with us Dabblers. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a heavily laden plum tree at the edge of a neighbor’s yard. Since they weren’t picking the plums, i picked a pretty peck for myself! Over 15 pounds! I dried the first batch, but as we’re out of jam i felt the need to get the canning supplies out and make some jam!

I am not a fastidious person. This laziness makes canning difficult for me. Once i get going, i’m fine – but i’m frequently daunted by all the cleaning and preparing that is necessary for safe canned goods and often end up just freezing my work instead of processing it – which is really lame when you have a small freezer but plenty of cupboard space. I wasn’t a chicken this time, and put up 10 half pints of plum/blackberry (last year’s frozen berries) jam and half a dozen jars of spicy plum sauce which i think will accompany the rabbits i have in the freezer quite nicely.

I got the plum sauce recipe right out of the Ball Blue Book and scrimcoached the jam recipe. As i cooked down the fruit i perchanced to notice that the coupon found in my pectin box was dated 2008…. finding that odd i looked more closely at the expiration date on the pectin itself: April 2010! Woopsy! I only bought this pectin last year, though i did buy it from the bare and no de-funct grocery store here in Philomath……   Note my lack of fastidiousness. Luckily, the jam tastes and jelled just fine- so i think i’m in the clear. I used about 2 cups sugar to 5 pounds chopped plums and berries with a splash of lemon juice and a package of pectin. I can’t wait for toast this Winter spread on homemade bread and raw butter. No baking this time of year, it’s too darned hot!

What’s been filling your canning jars so far this Summer?

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Have you ever grown anything specifically with wild birds in mind? Many people plant things like thistle, cone flower, rose and various berries specifically to invite their feathered friends to grab a snack as they’re passing through. Even if you’re not a bird watcher (or “birder”) it is definitely nice to have the flit of movement across your vision in the dead cold of winter. We are often seasonally visited by juncos, ceder waxwings and Boreal chickadees, and the cardinals, gold finches and blue jays rarely leave for the winter.

I have always made sure there were plenty of prickly seeds and squishy berries for the little guys, but it wasn’t until this year that I decided to try growing so of my own birdseed to put up for winter.Of course, I’ve grown sunflowers in the past, but the chickadees and finches always managed to pluck all of the tiny morsels from their seats before I was able to bring them in to dry for the winter (this year I did manage to get a few, though!)

Millet. It’s a humble grain, often forgotten, and it has to be one of the easiest things I’ve ever grown. In fact, prior to this year I had been pulling it out of the flower beds in a futile and tangled war between myself and those-things-I-used-to-call-weeds. This year I decided that as long as it wasn’t killing anything else with it’s unruly sprawl, I would leave the volunteer army of millet in various places in the garden.

It isn’t a small plant, mind you. The one I have out front is more than six feet tall and sprawls roughly four feet in diameter, but it is a beautiful plant to see nodding it’s heavy, sleepy seed heads in the late summer breeze. This morning I began cutting the largest of the seed heads and drying them. For now I’ll be drying them in our kitchen, but as the season progresses I’ll be moving the millet and sunflowers to the barn to hang where they will season until the birds need them most: the dead of winter.

Millet is not a particularly palatable grain for birds, but it does provide protein and vital energy for them in the cold shivery months. The way I have always fed it is mixed with a bit of sunflower seed to encourage them to try it. Once they realize that it’s a source of food, despite not being terribly tasty, they are on the feeders regularly as soon as the wild sources of food run out.

The one thing I try to do above all else is keep the feeders full during the winter. The birds that come to your feeders are there specifically because there is a food source. If the food source stops, they move on, but they don’t always make it to the next food source, especially in some of the nasty Michigan weather we get up here.

I’m sure I’ll be buying birdseed from the store this winter (many stores sell it in bulk and you can bring your own containers!) but I’ll also be supplementing with what I’ve grown. If you have the space for it, give it a shot. This year my millet required absolutely no extra effort at all, except to cut it and hang it to dry. Planting it was simple – in most cases the birds took care of that for me. If I really wanted to plant a patch, I’d just scratch up the dirt a bit and sprinkle it with millet seeds. It’s a pretty intense little booger, so  once you grow it plan to have it around for years to come.

Next year I plan to try a few other bird seeds as well as some millet for our own personal use. I did plant some sorghum this spring, but its long season requirements might mean it doesn’t finish developing before it conks out for the year. Ah well. The point is, while you’re putting up food for yourself this fall, considering putting some up for the feathered folk as well!

Have you ever grown your own wild bird seed? Which varieties have you grown?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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“People simply fall in love with wild foods. Lord knows these wild things swept me away. Folks want to be seduced by their mystery, their freedom from the bonds of agriculture. Our human civilization, based on agriculture, has struggled for millennia to no longer depend on foraging in the wild. But here at the start of the twenty-first century, the old hunter-gatherer luring in all of us just won’t let go.”

Connie Green
(The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes)

I’m really enjoying reading through this book right now. Every year I try to learn a little more about wild edible food that I can forage for, they’re delicious and super healthy, and not to mention free.

We hunt for morels every spring and enjoy those thoroughly. I’d love to learn about more edible mushrooms in my area, from what I’ve been reading there are a few varieties I should be able to find. I’m looking for someone local that can teach me, as mushroom hunting from photos in a book can be difficult. I also harvest wild plants like plantain for salves along with dandelions, garlic mustard and wild violets for salads. We have a plentiful supply of wild blackberries and black raspberries close by that we freeze and enjoy all winter long.

Winter time is when I focus on learning about more wild foods that I can find in the woods around our home. I haven’t decided what new wild foods I’m going to be searching for this year, any suggestions?

Do you eat any wild foods? Where do you learn about them?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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Several years ago I read about the wonders of Broad Leaved Plantain, a “weed” that grows everywhere. It’s also known as: Bird’s Meat, Common Plantain, Great Plantain, Rat-tail Plantain, White Man’s Foot.

I have it growing all over the gardens here at Chiot’s Run and I’m quite happy about it. It comes in very handy when I’m out working late and get bit by mosquitoes or if I get stung by a bee.

All you have to do for a quick salve is grab a leaf or two, chew them up and apply them to the bug bite. I often do this while I’m out working if I need to, but I prefer to make a poultice with some baking soda as it stays on better and I think it works better. (as with all wild plants, make sure you know exactly what you’re picking & using!)

What I usually do is take a few leaves, cut them finely, add a pinch or two of baking soda and a little water. Then I grind them to a wet paste in my mortar & pestle and apply to the bug bite. It instantly works to get rid of the itch or sting and keeps it coming back.

This salve is also very beneficial for using on cuts and scrapes, I often add some turmeric and comfrey when I’m using it for this purpose as turmeric helps with inflammation and pain and comfrey speeds healing.

Plantain has medicinal uses of all sorts: bites, cuts, scrapes, rashes, skin problems, intestinal pain & issues, worms, boils, bronchitis, coughs, colitis, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, dysentery, vomiting, bed wetting and incontinence and many other things (for more info read this and this). I have yet to use it internally, but I use it often for bug bites, stings and cuts. I’m trying to make plantain oil for using medicinally. Since it’s an herb with no known side-effects I definitely want to try using it more often.

Have you ever used plantain? Do you use herbs/weeds for medicinal purposes?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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possum grapes

And just like that Elderberry season is gone! It’s time to move onward in our winemaking extravaganza, for it’s now the season for Possum Grapes. These tiny, buckshot-sized, purple grapes are mostly seed. They grow wild and can engulf entire trees in a season. Most people will cut them back before they have the chance to produce fruit, but if you’re like me you can’t resist any chance to harvest something wild (or free!).  Many people confuse Muscadines (larger and bronze when ripe) with Possum grapes (small and purple when ripe), but one you identify one, the difference will be obvious.

possum grapes

If you’ve read any of my other winemaking posts, feel free to scroll down to the actual recipe. If you’re new to winemaking be sure to read over some of these helpful hints and explanations before moving forward.

Country Wine: Equipment and Ingredients

It is possible to make wine with minimum equipment and purchases. The bare necessities (in my humble experience) that you’ll want include:

  • Food-grade bucket, preferably 5-gallon. Check with a local bakery or deli.
  • A large strainer or sieve plus some cheesecloth.
  • About 4-5 feet of food-grade tubing. Look in the plumbing section of a hardware store.
  • Gallon-sized glass carboys or 5-gallon collapsible water cubes. Carboys can be saved from juice purchases. The water cubes are fantastic for making odd-sized batches of wine and can be found at camping supply stores.
  • Balloons and cotton balls, or  airlocks.
  • Yeast. You can use regular baking yeast, but if you want a better flavor you can opt for different “wine” strains of yeast found at winemaking/brewing stores. I’ve used Montrachet as it’s recommended to balance the flavors of berry wines.
  • Bottles and Corks. I save all my bottles from other purchases like wine, vinegar, juice, and so on. I purchased “mushroom” corks since they don’t require a tool to insert them into the bottles.

Optional:

  • Campden tablets to sterilize equipment, remove stray yeast and bacteria (highly recommended unless you have problems with sulfites).
  • Tannin, citric acid, or Earle Grey tea for flavor balance in sweeter wines.
  • Extra sugar or wine conditioner to sweeten and brighten finished wine.
  • Pectic acid for removing extra pectin and “clarify” wine.
  • Yeast nutrient to feed yeast. Recipes without nutrient require extra sugar.

You can purchase all of these items from a wine and beer making supplier or spend a little more energy and locate many things locally. I purchased my airlock, water cube, yeast, campden tablets, and corks from E.C. Kraus. for less than $50. The rest I found locally or did without.

Possum Grape (Wild Grape) Wine

I altered this recipe based on my purposes, though it’s roughly based on one I found at Wildfoods.info. I highly recommend that you read that entire article before proceeding here. I honestly could not give anywhere near the amount of fabulous information that is offered.

  • 1 gallon wild grapes with vine will make about 1 bottle of wine. Multiply recipe as needed.
  • 1 gallon Possum Grapes
  • 1/3 lb granulated sugar
  • 1 campden tablet (1 tablet is good for up to 1 gallon of liquid. One tablet should be enough for up to 3 gallons of grapes)
  • 1 tsp yeast
  1. Wash grapes. Wrap fruit in cheesecloth or muslin and squeeze as much juice as possible. Alternately you could crush them in a china cap with a dowel, but avoid crushing the seeds. Strain fruit overnight. Add one campden tablet before completing this portion.
  2. The next day, add sugar and yeast and mix well. Cap holding container (glass bottle, carboy, watercube) with airlock. *We are very prone to mold and mildews thanks to our humidity. If you have a drier season and desire a more natural wine, you can omit the campden tablet and yeast altogether. Prior to airlocking your wine, allow it to capture a wild yeast. You’ll know you’ve captured one when you see your wine bubbling and have no signs of bacteria. When it begins to bubble you can close your container with your airlock.
  3. When the wine stops bubbling you can siphon off the liquid from any sediment with your tubing. Siphon the wine into your sterile bottles and cork. Allow to rest about 6 months before consuming.

Possum grapes

Possum Grape (Wild Grape) Jelly

  • 1 gallon fruit, stemmed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 5-1/2 cup sugar
  • Pectin if desired
  1. Wash grapes. Pour 1 quart boiling water over fruit. Wrap fruit in cheesecloth or muslin and squeeze as much juice as possible. Alternately you could crush them in a china cap with a dowel, but avoid crushing the seeds. Strain fruit overnight.
  2. Take four cups of grape juice and mix with remaining ingredients. Bring quickly to soft-ball stage and skim any foam before pouring into sterilized canning jars.
  3. Let boil in hot water bath for 15 minutes.
  4. Check seals on lids before putting jars in storage. 

Possum grapes

Ta daa! You have scrumdillyumptious homemade grape jelly and wine for the price of sugar and some easy pickin’.

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