Sunday, June 17, 2018

Mamma Nature Scatters Her Gifts

With every season here at Farm Dover, my understanding of Mother Nature's gifts expands; and my heart swells with gratitude for her generosity. She scatters her gifts along our paths, creeks and meadows, challenging me to pay close attention to her offerings and to take only what is needed. Ed calls my foraging "free food" but I know that in exchange, we must be good stewards of all she offers.

Here's a look at what I've been foraging in the past few weeks...

This spring saw the beginnings of our slow, but steady, progress towards encouraging ramps to root along our creek bank. These wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) grow very slowly, taking up to four years to flower and reproduce. They make their appearance in early spring and we are careful to harvest only a few leaves at a time, leaving the bulbs to spread. We have tried (only somewhat successfully) planting ramp seeds and ramp sprouts, hoping to start other colonies along the creek's banks. Cooked into an omelet, or scattered in a risotto, they lend a pungent garlic taste that screams springtime.

On the opposite end of the scale of ease of grow-ability is burdock (Arctium lapa), which flourishes under the maple grove at the end of our driveway. It's the plant that bears burs; you know, the ones that stick to your pants and don't want to let go. In years past, we have harvested and roasted its root, which can be quite difficult to dig. This year we harvested stems, which I boiled and then baked in a bread-crumb covered casserole. They taste a bit like artichokes and will definitely be making a repeat appearance at our dinner table next spring.

Next up was the tender leaves of the tops of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), which I boiled (twice) and turned into poke salat, an early spring green (especially good when I add a bit of bacon grease to the skillet).

Last week, I harvested 75 elderflower (Sambucus nigra) blossoms to make elderflower cordial, which is basically a floral lemonade concentrate that I bottle and freeze to enjoy all year round.

Just last week I harvested the green blossoms from common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which I turned into a pretty green soup. Don't worry about my depleting this favorite food for Monarchs; we have hundreds and hundreds of milkweed plants growing in our fields. I took only one or two green blossoms from a dozen or so plants.

My latest foraging venture entails getting up early before the sun heats the day up and heading out to pick wild black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis). These are different from the millions of wild blackberries that grow along our paths and in large patches in our fields. These berries grow on thin arching canes that bend back toward the ground, rerooting where they settle. The thimble-shaped berries are ready to harvest only when the berries turn a dark purplish black, usually two or three weeks before the blackberries are ready to pick. The berries are sweet and tart – tasting slightly different from the domestic raspberries that grow in my garden – but I like them just as much. I took a quart to Maggie today and hope to pick enough in the next couple of days to make jam -- assuming I don't eat them as fast as I can pick them.

While out picking wild raspberries this morning, I noticed that the chicory flowers (Cichorium intybus) are starting to bloom. They bloom only in the mornings; by lunchtime they have closed up. We have been known to make chicory coffee from their roasted roots. I've got chicory on my list for next week.

I consider foraging to be the ultimate in seasonal, local, sustainable and healthy eating. Most of these plants can be collected only for a brief time. If I don't stay open-eyed to what is before me, I can miss the gifts that Mamma Nature is showering upon us. And what a shame that would be!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I left my heart in Central Europe, part 2

I left you last on top of a mountain in Bieszczady National Park in the Carpathian Mountains. Coming down was much easier! Now, it's on to Slovakia and Hungary. (For part 1, click here.)


We left Lutowiska and headed west toward Hungary, via Slovakia. We timed our trip for arrival in Košice at lunchtime. Turns out, even though I had never heard of it, Košice is the second largest city in Slovakia and was named the 2013 European Capital of Culture. It is a lovely town. We scouted out a nice place for lunch; afterwards Jack and Kasia raced to the top of the gothic Cathedral of St. Elisabeth while Ed and I ambled around the historical centre's pedestrian zone.

View from the top of Kosice's Cathedral of St. Elisabeth, photo courtesy of Jack.
Short and sweet. That was our time in Slovakia. Onward ho to Hungary.


We had two unplanned nights in our itinerary and Kasia suggested we consider stopping in Eger, a small town known for its wines, most notably the "Egri Bikavér"(Bull's Blood of Eger). It was a good call. We happily filled the two days with early-morning visits to the produce market, people watching in Dobo Square, climbs to the fortified castle, and wine tastings in wine caves of the Valley of the Beautiful Women.


Highlights of our time in Eger...
Hotel Romantik: We stayed at this old-fashioned family-run hotel, just a five-minutes walk from the central square. While the rooms were nothing to write home about, it did have a beautiful garden where we would take our breakfast. 
Restaurant Senator-Haz: Located on the main square. One of the best dinners of our trip. Wonderful food, good wine and friendly service. 
Wine Caves: We took a cheesy tourist train out of the city to visit the wine caves. Think pub crawl, but with wine. We only managed to get to four caves; in each we tasted a number of wines. Great fun.

And then we were on to Budapest...

What a beautiful city Budapest is. Truth be told, until 1873 it was two separate cities:  Buda and Pest. We stayed on the quieter Buda side, on the west bank of the Danube River, near the Buda Castle. But we fully explored the Pest side with its beautiful parks, thermal baths, Parliament, Opera House, Heroes' Square, covered market, and the lively ruin bars. 

Highlights of our time in Budapest...
Hotel Balthazar: We stayed at a hip boutique hotel, just minutes from a number of good restaurants and the impressive Matthias Church. 
21 Hungarian Kitchen: Located just around the corner from our hotel, we had a particularly nice dinner alfresco. Finished with a palinka, which is basically fruit-flavored Hungarian moonshine. 
Pierrot: Another fine restaurant within minutes of our hotel. We had dinner here to console ourselves after Jack and Kasia headed home. 
Gazebo along parkway: I don't even know the name of this tiny gazebo that serves drinks to mostly locals, but we found it one evening as the sun was going down. I had a most memorable lambic sour cherry beer. 

Jack and Kasia left to get back to their respective lives in Berlin and Krakow. We moped, and we began our journey homeward, leaving Budapest and heading to Slovenia and then onward to the Vienna airport. 


We had only an afternoon/evening to spend in Bled, which was not nearly enough time to take in the picture-postcard beauty of this tiny town located on the emerald-green Lake Bled. We will just need to come back to do it justice. No doubt about it.

Garni Hotel Berc: We stayed at this 15-room rustic-styled Bed and Breakfast. Perfect for the night. 
Ostarija Peglez'n: We dined outside at this cozy lakeside spot. Also perfect for the night!


On our final day, we made one last stop before heading to the Vienna airport. We drove through the Alps to the tiny town of Gaming, where we visited our friend Tilmon and three of his six children. We were entertained by his talented children (accordion and zither). After lunch, we hiked the mountain path up to a small chapel, accompanied along the way by the sound of cowbells ringing.

And then it was time to say so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye. We really did hate to say goodbye, but it was time for us to get back home to Farm Dover.