Monday, October 31, 2011

More Apples and a Wapato hunt

Fall was in the air today.  It was sunny and cold as Katrina and I walked over to Beacon Hill Park to meet Ryan for some Apple picking.  We thought we were already saturated with Apples, but we couldn’t turn down a harvesting adventure with a good friend.  The picking couldn’t have been better.  With the salt breeze in our hair and the sun warming our rosy cheeks we filled our bags with the free fruits of the earth.  The trees we picked from may possibly pre-date the park, and though they were partially obscured by a ring of Snowberry, they proved their fortitude by supporting me as I tested some of the highest and farthest reaching limbs.  I believe that Apples, like many other wild food plants, have co-evolved with bears and their strong wood is nature's design for supporting beasts with a larger belly than my own.  However, when limbs do break, instead of harming the tree, they stimulate new, more productive growth.  When we prune Apple trees, we are only making up for our dainty picking habits.

After lugging our Apples home Katrina and I walked over to the Royal BC Museum to visit Ken Marr, the curator of the Provincial Herbarium.  We wanted to find herbarium specimens for some food plants that we have been having a hard time finding like Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum edule) and Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia).  Herbarium specimens include information about where they were collected, which we hoped would give us clues for finding these food plants.  Many herbariums have all the herbarium data catalogued on an electronic database, but due to funding cuts, this herbarium hasn’t completed a database for the 218,000 specimens at their facility.  To my surprise, we found several Wapato collections from Vancouver Island—A few even from Thetis Lake.

We decided to run out to Thetis Lake to see if we could find some Wapato but I think the recent frosts have killed the above ground vegetation and the Wapato is happily hibernating in its tasty tubers.  I still hope to pick some Wapato from a few spots that I know on the Fraser River, but it looks like it might be too late to collect from all but the places that I know exactly where the plants are.  Our afternoon foraging mission was not a bust, we found two amazingly large Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius).
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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Results: Balsam Root Experiment

Members of the Capital Nut Tree Project had a meeting this evening not too far from our house so Katrina and I decided to check it out.  My motivation for attending was to try and meet someone that has a Davebilt Nutcracker in the hope that I could borrow it for a day to crack all of our acorns.  Nobody in attendance has one, but one member was very interested in getting one.  I also wanted to share the virtues of acorns to people that I felt would probably be receptive, so I cooked up the English Oak (Quercus robur) acorn meal that has been leaching for the last week and brought it along for everyone to sample.  It was my first batch of English Oak, and I thought it turned out well.  I sweetened it with maple syrup.  They enjoyed the totally tree bread and were very excited to learn more about acorns, so I arranged to lead an acorn workshop next weekend.  This group is working to plant more nut trees around Victoria and will likely host workshops on nut tree propagation and care.

My Balsam Root (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) experiment, like many others that don’t have the fortune of benefiting from very detailed traditional knowledge, has not turned out as well as I had hoped.  This afternoon the roots had a rich black-brown color that suggested to me that they might be done.  I decided to let the water boil down so that any sugars that leached out of the boiling roots might concentrate to the point of precipitating back onto the roots.  When all the water was finally gone I pulled a root out and sample it.  The cooked roots are incredibly fibrous.  They tasted like a hemp rope sweetened with molasses and flavored with Fir needles.  My conclusion is that I harvested them too late in the year.  A woman named Sandra Peacock did her PhD dissertation on Balsam Root, so I will try and get in touch with her, or her dissertation, to learn more. 
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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cider Pressing

Today we pressed the Apples that we picked on Thursday.  Kate rented a nice cider press for only $30/day.  A bunch of folks came over to use it and we all pitched in for the rental.  The press has an electric masher and a hand crank press and was very easy to operate with 2 or 3 people.  In less than an hour, Katrina and I made 6 gallons of cider from our 80 Kg of apples.

An even simpler cider press!
My little brother is fond of breaking apples with his bare hands, so I thought I would show him up by crushing apples with mine.

The Balsam Root  (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) continues to simmer in the slow cooker.  They are starting to turn brown which I think is an indication that the inulins are cracking.  Camas (Camassia spp.), another plant that stores its carbohydrates as inulin doesn't get sweet until the roots have been cooked long enough to turn black.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Balsam Roots

This morning was pretty soggy outside so I thought it would be a good time to finally work on the Balsam Roots (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) that I picked in North Central Washington last month.  While I was washing the dusty pine forest earth from the roots I was trying to figure out a good way to cook them.  They are traditionally cooked in earthen ovens for 24 to 48 hours at which point the indigestible inulin is converted into sweet tasting fructose.  I wanted to use my slow cooker to simulate the traditional method, but I unsure what to do about the bark on the roots.  The slow cooker, differs from the earth oven in that it boils the food instead of steam/bakes it.  My concern was that I might infuse the roots with extra phytochemicals by boiling them in a tea of the root bark, so I opted to remove the bark.  The bark is very thick, hard, and deeply fissured, so I was not looking forward to peeling them.  What I thought would be an irksome task turned out to satisfy my more manly needs.  A hammer was the perfect tool for pounding that bark to smithereens; it flaked off like the shell on a hard-boiled egg.  The roots are cooking now and they fill the room with a godly aroma of balsam.

Once the bark is removed the Balsam Root looks really strange
When the rain stopped Katrina and I biked up to UVic to harvest some more Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) rhizomes.  We dug one up that was much smaller than the one we got last week.  It was about 1 cm in diameter and was about 10 cm underground.  I also learned that, when wet, the brown, dead fronds make an excellent hand rag for scrubbing dirty hands.  Back home, I steamed the rhizomes but the pan went dry while I was on the phone and the roots burned (temporarily replacing the godly aroma with a god awful one), so that is strike two for Bracken Fern rhizomes.

 After dinner we put yesterday’s Haw through the fruit mill.  I steamed the fruit to soften it first and both Katrina and I agreed that the flavor is really improved with cooking.  The mush that comes out of the fruit mill looks like pumpkin pie filling.  Evidently, the Chinese make pies out of Haw, so we are going to try a bake one with ours, but no time for that tonight.
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Urban Foraging, making the most of non-native street trees!

After hearing about the Chinese Hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida), Kate really wanted to try some out, so today her, Katrina and I went to pick some on McClure Street.  I hadn’t realized how many are planted along that street: for a block on either side of Cook Street and on both sides of the road are large Chinese Hawthorns.  There have been several frosts this fall and a fairly hard frost last night, which has softened the fruit and makes picking them much easier than last time.  Katrina and I picked about a gallon in a half hour.  A ladder would make the picking much faster because the trees are tall and the branches don’t bend down enough to easily pick while standing on the ground.

Afterwards, we biked down to Superior Street to check on the English Oak (Quercus robur) acorns.  Once again we spent most of our time collecting from the same sprawling oak.  This time the acorns were very brown and loose in their caps; some have fallen on the ground.  I tried out a new technique for picking acorns that I found really fun.  I found a “go fetch” sized stick and hucked it into the branches to knock the acorns down.  When a laden branch was struck they came raining down like a piñata spilling candy.  We actually thought that there might be some connection to harvesting Pinyon Pine (piñon) nuts by knocking the cones to the ground, but evidently the etymology is from the Italian pignata, which is a fat bellied pot.  I also learned that the tradition of breaking a piñata was brought to Mexico by the Spanish, who in turn got it from the Chinese.  In any case, I felt like a child filling my pockets with loot as I scampered around pawing at the ground picking up acorns.  I know, the acorn addiction worsens....

From there we biked up to Fernwood to help Kate pick an Apple tree as part of the Victoria Fruit Tree Project.  From a Spartan variety tree on semi-dwarf rootstock we picked 230 Kg, which was divided up between the land owner, the pickers, and the food bank.  On Saturday we are going to make some more apple cider from our share.
On the way home we stopped by a Chestnut (Castanea dentata) tree in Fernwood that we have been watching for about a month.  Last week when we checked on the tree, only unfertilized nuts had fallen, but today we found a few excellent looking nuts.  I think more good ones will fall, but in general, it looks like it was a very bad year for pollination.  Considering that they aren’t native and throughout most of their native range they have been devastated by Chestnut blight, I was happy to get what I did.  I think Chestnuts might be like oaks in that they drop the nonviable nuts first.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Crabapple Butter

A rainy day has at last allowed me to spend some guiltless time indoors.  I spent most of the day publishing my blog.  The Crab Apple (Malus fusca) butter simmered all day until it was thick enough to stand a chopstick up in.  I sweetened it with maple syrup, but even after 2 cups of syrup to my 8 cups of apple butter, it was still very sour, so I just canned it hoping it would mellow with age the same way that canned whole Crab Apples do.  I left the dregs out to dehydrate further for fruit leather.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rose Hips for Tea

Another morning spent bending metal.  I fabricated another berry rake out of the remaining copper and fashioned handles and spill guards for both of them.  Now all I have to do is solder them together.  I tried once again with the soldering iron, the stove, and even a clothes iron, but none of the tools can deliver precise heat with enough intensity to solder sheets of copper together.  I delight at how little copper remains from the original sheet but loathe recycling such a useful metal.  Surely I can put it to good use at another time.  As Ric would say, I’ll put it in a neatly labelled box next to the one that reads “pieces of string that are too short to save.”

This evening’s foraging began as the shadows lengthened across Cook St.  Katrina and I walked along the periphery of Beacon Hill Park and collected Rose Hips (Rosa sp.) to dry for tea.  The hips are very large, some about 1” in diameter and a beautiful red that give them the appearance of cherry tomatoes.  Many have insect holes or soft, discoloured spots, making the picking slow despite the abundance of hips.  The smaller hips appear to be less damaged by insects.  We picked until the sun set, and I actually skipped out a little before Katrina to enjoy the golden glow over the Strait of Juan de Fuca and mysterious veil of shadow and clouds obscuring the steep Olympic foothills on the opposing shore.  The water was tranquil, and my thoughts drifted to kayaking alone in the still darkness on the silent Salish Sea.

We ran the Crab Apples (Malus fusca) through the fruit mill and put the sauce in the slow cooker to thicken for either fruit leather or apple butter.  I have been changing the acorn water three times a day and the water hasn’t been very dark on the last few decants.  I noticed an unpleasant odour in the acorns this evening, and I fear that they are starting to ferment.  I think that the thick layer of fine flour in this batch has been fully leached for some time now and bad things are starting to happen to it and it smells of burnt Styrofoam, but the larger acorn meal still has to be further leached.  What to do....  More stirring and leaving the container top open to the air might help.
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Monday, October 24, 2011

More Cattails

Despite the beautiful weather, I was so excited to work on the berry rake that I delayed wild food adventuring until the afternoon.  I managed to cut and bend the copper to the appropriate shape, but I still have to solder the joins, install a handle, and figure out what I am going to use for the wire bottom tray.  The rake is roughly 3 inches tall, 11 inches long and 6 inches wide.

Shin finally roused me from the house and Katrina, he and I went to collect more Narrow Leaf Cattail (Typha angustifolia) rhizomes.  I dressed in shorts with sandals and neoprene socks.  Had I had gloves I think I would have been warm enough, but the water was very cold and I was only able to pick for about an hour.  We cleaned our cattails on site, which I think is the best way to do it, because nobody wants to deal with a bag that smells of swamp when they get home hungry and tired.  My technique for peeling the sponge layer has evolved recently.  After cutting the tips off the rhizome, I used to use my thumb as a blunt scrapping tool to push the sponge layer off of the dense core.  Now I cut through the sponge layer all the way around the rhizome at a point a few inches from the end with the most abundant rhizoids (usually the sprouting end).  Then I use the back of my knife to scrape away the sponge layer between my cut and the end.  Then I turn the rhizome around and either use my thumb as previously, or continue using the back of my knife.  If the rhizome is loose enough, and has few rhizoids, I can pull the core out from the sponge layer with one hard yank.

There was still a little daylight after our rhizome picking, so we drove out to Island View Beach and collected more Crab Apples (Malus fusca).  Almost all of the apples are soft and pinkish red; only a few are still yellow.  They pick much easier in this state and frequently detach at the apple, leaving the stem on the tree, which makes them much easier to process.  The leaves are also falling, and I often stripped an entire branch with my cupped hands, getting fruit and leaves together.  I wonder if leaves mixed with the fruit would help preserve the apples longer in the same way that wrapping domesticate apples in paper helps preserve them.
Back home I decided to remove the leaves from the Crab Apples and put them outside for the night (no room in the refrigerator).  Then I rinsed and chopped the cattail rhizomes.  Despite a late start I feel we still got a full day’s foraging in—here it is almost 10:00pm.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bracken Fern

Today I experimented with some Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) rhizomes that I collected in the Cowichan Valley last week.  It appears from the ethnographic literature that the rhizomes were used variously in the fall after the fronds die, or in the spring just as the fronds emerged.  The frond was dead on the specimen I harvested, but it was intact enough for me to stand it up to its full height of seven feet.  I dug into the ground with my small digging stick and found the ground to be difficult to dig even though there were only sporadic cobbles in the loamy soil.  I imagine that annual harvest of rhizomes would keep the soil aerated enough for easy harvesting.  The rhizome was as thick as my thumb and longer than I could unearth to see.  It was very smooth with black bark.  There were a few branches and at the end of smaller branches I found the dead growing tip of a previous year’s frond.  I read that only the rhizomes that were juicy were eaten, and I could easily see that the dead portion of the rhizome was not good to eat; the live portions were indeed juicy.  Shin tasted the milky juice and found it mildly sweet.  After harvesting the rhizome I left it in the car until today and it dried out considerably making the bark wrinkle longitudinally.  I read that the rhizomes were roasted on coals, or steamed in earth ovens, but I didn’t have a good way of doing either, so I boiled some and baked some.  The baking quickly rendered a very hard and brittle product that I couldn’t remove the bark from.  I should have tried pounding it, but didn’t have a hammer handy.  The boiled rhizome rehydrated considerably, which enabled me to slice off the black skin.  I was also able to slice along the fibrous layers inside the rhizome, but the amount of starch between the layers was so thin that I couldn’t imagine this technique being very practical.  Next time I want to try and pound or sear and pound the fresh rhizome.
Cross section of Bracken Fern rhizome showing a matrix of starch (white) surrounding tough fibrous material (brown).

I purchased some copper (in the form of a firewood rack) at the second hand store in the hopes of making a berry rake.
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

BBQ Clams, Smoked Salmon, Elderberry Jelly, and Acorns

Shin, Katrina and I went out to the Sea Change and 100th Anniversary of BC Parks Celebration at SNITCEL (Todd Inlet).  JB and Earl Claxton Jr. were leading several events: JB lead an ethnobotany hike which I missed because I was helping with the fires.  Earl was BBQing salmon and manila clams.  The clams tasted amazing!  He had steamed them before he came, and then put them on skewers next to the fire.  He said that his grandmother used to use snowberry twigs for clam skewers and spreaders to keep the salmon from curling as it cooked.  Earl also brought along some hard smoked Chum and some dried clams.  He dries the clams by steaming them, then laying them on a cookie sheet and putting them in the oven at low heat.
I finally got around to making jelly out of the elderberry (Sambucus caerulea) juice.  I started with about 15 cups of juice and brought it to a boil.  It actually simmered for about half an hour while I biked to the store to get some pectin.  Then I added 4 cups of sugar and two packets of no sugar needed pectin.  It set weakly on a cold plate and on the bottom of the pot after I emptied the jelly into the jars.  I don’t want it to set as strongly as last time that I made elderberry jelly—it was like cheese!
I also ground up some Quercus robur acorns.  I let the blender work for longer to try and attain a finer acorn meal.  Then I ran it through my 2 mm kitchen sieve.  It all passed through the sieve after a second blending, but there are still some small chunks that I think a 1 mm sieve would catch.  I am leaching enough for several meals since I would rather not have multiple jars leaching at a time.  I think I can refrigerate the finished product for a few days while I use it.  The fully dried acorns grind much better than the partially dried ones (unless the difference has to do with the species of oak—they were Garry Oak last week).  There was not nearly as much clumping, due—I think—to less moisture.  However, the hard dry acorns are very loud.  We found refuge from the clatter by sticking the English Oak acorns in our ears.  They are perfectly sized for earplugs!
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Mushroom Workshop

Hannah with Chanterelles.  Photo courtesy of Trevor.
Hannah asked me to lead an edible mushroom workshop today for several of her friends.  I started with a 45 minute presentation on how to ID mushrooms and several other intro topics, and then took the 6 participants to the Hundred  Acre Woods to pick mushrooms.  We found several Matte Jacks and Fat Jacks, some nice Shaggy Parasols, a few Shrimp Russulas, some small Hedgehog Mushrooms and Amethyst Laccarius, a nice Boletus mirabilis, and a large Oyster Mushroom, and then just when we started dragging our heals, Trevor spotted a massive clump of White Chanterelles.  Several more clumps surrounded the first one, and we all ended up with large baskets full.  They were growing in fairly open terrain toward the top of the hill.  Some were under salal, many growing out of moss.  A few of the Chanterelles were exceptionally large and there were a couple doubles.  Some had maggots in them, which I don’t often see in chanterelles around here because most places always get thoroughly picked.  We cooked up three pounds of mushrooms for some Chanterelle pasta.
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Acorn Bread

Full days pass quickly, and I have a hard time believing how much foraging there is to do.  I feel like a farmer that always has chores to do, except Nature does all the tedious work and leaves me with only the most enjoyable tasks.  I scouted out the English Oak (Quercus robur) trees along Superior Street today and found that the acorns are starting to brown, but for the most part, are still hanging on to the tree.  I suspect they will start to fall in large quantities soon.  The ones that I picked are much larger than those Katrina and I picked from the tree a couple weeks ago. 

My acorn meal finished leaching and I drained the water to make some flat bread.  I added maple syrup and fried it on low heat for about 10 minutes on each side.  The final product was very tasty!  As we were cooking the rest of dinner, Shin and Andra came over with a large basket of mushrooms.  They had been picking at Durrance Lake and had some nice young Fat Jacks, Milk Caps, a Short Stem Russula and a few Shrimp Russula to show for their labour.  We fried the milk caps and Shrimp Russulas, which were tasty.  Then we tried the Short Stem Russula, which was rather tasteless, but was improved (like everything in this world) with soy sauce.  I made some wild rice and the entire meal—save the onion—was all free, farmed or wild.  Shin and Andra helped us shell a bunch of English Oak acorns which I will leach next.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cooking Mushroom and Collecting Acorns

I cooked several of the Fat and Matte Jacks for breakfast.  My intention was to mix them with eggs, but we didn’t have any eggs, so I just ate them with a side of porcelain.  They are a moist mushroom and require thorough cooking in order to attain the fried mushroom texture that I am accustomed to eating.  Nevertheless, I found their flavour pleasing.  Shin invited us over for lunch and he cooked a fried rice dish with Chanterelles, Russulas, and Fat Jacks.  He also made a miso soup with the Gomphidous mushrooms that I enjoyed, and didn’t notice that the mushrooms were slimy.  Shin said that the Japanese enjoy many slimy foods, and he is accustomed to eating miso soup with a Pholiota sp. that is very slimy.

After lunch we processed the Sambucus caerulea by removing the large stems and leaves, steaming the fruit until it became soft, and running it through the fruit strainer that I purchased at a thrift store last week.  The fruit strainer is poorly designed and would be improved with a larger hopper, and higher pulp and refuse ports to allow larger receptacles to be place under them.  We came home with a little better than a gallon of juice, and Shin had about twice that much.

Just before dinner Katrina and I went to Playfair Park to gather Quercus garryana acorns.  In an hour we harvested 3 gallons.  There are definitely still acorns at the park, but we have picked over the best spots.  I heard a couple acorns fall while I was there, but I think most of them are on the ground now.  I find great joy in hearing the acorns fall.  As one hits leaves on the way down I can’t help but try and predict where it will fall, a spark of trepidation fills me, will it strike me?  Will it fall in an area that I already picked, will I miss it?  I was amazed to see how many new acorns had fallen in the places that I had collected from last Friday.  Someday I aspire to collect all the acorns—both good and bad—from a particular tree so that I can extrapolate the food value of an oak forest and compare it with those that produce more mundane fruits of civilization.  Generally, I don’t think this was a good year for Garry Oak production—very few are producing in Victoria.  We examined several trees in a school lot at Cook and Hillside on the way home: all but one had no acorns and the one that did only had a few small acorns.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blue Elderberries and Mushrooms in the Cowichan Valley

Today Katrina, Shin and I went on a trip up to the Cowichan Valley to collect Blue Elderberry (Sambucus caerulea) and hunt for White Chanterelles.  We stopped at the granary in Duncan and harvested some Blue Elderberries.  The crop wasn’t excellent as many of the berries had fallen or were eaten by birds, but we managed to get several gallons worth.  Many of the bushes were under power lines and they had been coppiced back to keep the branches out of the lines and the bushes had 4-6 food suckers on them.  The berry clusters on the suckers were vastly larger than the older branches.  If I were managing a blue elderberry bush I would cut it way back every couple years to stimulate better production and to keep the berries low enough to reach.  We put our berry hooks to good use, but I frequently had to climb into the bushes to get the upper berries.  We drove west on Trunk Road and around to the highway to Cowichan Lake hunting for more bushes, but mostly just found bushes that were finished fruiting.  Then we drove to Mt. Tzouhalem and hiked through the municipal forest and collected mushrooms.  There were several Fat Jacks, and a few Shrimp Russulas.  Shin collected numerous Hideous Gomphidious and Rosy Gomphidious.  Then we drove up to Shawnigan Lake to look for white chanterelles.  We didn’t find any white ones, but we found a few Yellow Chanterelles and many Fat Jacks and Matte Jacks.
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Cleaning Berries

I spent most of the day today cleaning Vaccinium ovatum berries.  Yesterday I separated the green berries, dead flowers, and leaves from the good berries by floating them in water and today I was left with the irksome task of sorting through the layer of material that floated to get the ripe berries that had floated because they were attached to unripe berries.  I tried a ¼ inch screen and found that the ripe fruit didn’t fall through it, so I went to the hardware store and purchased enough screen to make a tumbling wheel.  Then I purchased an old cookie tin from a thrift store and riveted the hardware cloth between the lid and the base of the tine and perforated the entire cylinder with a threaded rod.  When I filled the cylinder with fruit and spun it, the small unripe berries, pine needles, and other chaff fell through the mesh and the ripe berries tumbled to the low side and out into a bowl that I placed there to catch them.  I put a blow dryer, set to blow cool air, on the bowl to blow away the leaves that were too large to fall through the mesh.  This process worked well, though it made a mess in the kitchen.  This would be a good thing to do while still in the field collecting before coming home.  Just plug your blow dryer in to a currant bush!  The most troublesome part was loading the berries in to the sieve, because I couldn’t lean it over to poor them in, or they would all tumble out the other side.  A custom designed funnel that fit between the spokes on my end piece would be perfect for the job.  I also should have left the tin on all but one portion of the lower end piece so that I could load the berries in with sieve tipped up and the bottom end piece in a position so that the open part is the 12 o’clock position.  After the sieve was full of fruit, I could centre the fruit, and begin spinning it in a nearly level manner.  A future version of this apparatus should also use stainless steel mesh instead of galvanized steel.

I am also seeing the advantage of having a screen built into your picking basket or berry rake so that the small unripe berries and chaff fall out as you pick.  This evening Andra mentioned that Lee Valley carries a very nice berry rake that I might look at before making my next one.  Perhaps I will bend my next rake out of tin. Pin It submit to reddit

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Evergreen Huckleberries

The plump blue variety of Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
Today Katrina, Stacy, Becky, Fiona, her two boys, and I went up to “blueberry flats” near Jordan River to pick Evergreen Huckleberries (Vaccinium ovatum).  Two weeks ago, when I last picked Evergreen Huckleberries, I noticed that some of the bushes on the NW side of the clear-cut, just before going down the hill towards Jordan River, looked heavily laden, so we started picking there.  The fruit was in the peak of ripeness with some of the bushes fully ripe, and some that will probably be perfect in another week.  Katrina and I picked about 5 gallons in 2.5 hours.  At this particular spot there was a good mix of both the blue and the black varieties in about a 1:3 ratio favouring the black.  The blue variety has larger berries, and when I measured 10 at home, found them to be on average 9 mm in diameter compared to the black variety which had an average diameter of 6 mm.  I also found the blue berries to be less acidic, and more firm.  As the day progressed and the sun’s heat warmed the berries, I started targeting the blue variety because the black variety seemed to be getting soft and squishy from the heat whereas the blue berries remained firm.  I always marvel at the diversity of Evergreen Huckleberries and would wager that they are among the more genetically diverse fruit around.  Besides having fruit of two colors, I notice that some bushes have berries that all ripen at the same time, others that ripen first on the tips; some bushes have berries that are all clustered together, others that are spread out along the branches; some bushes that have berries mixed with leaves, and other that have only stalks of berries.  A plant breeder would do well to try and select for bushes with not only large firm fruit, but also berries that were densely clumped on stalks without leaves.  However, I also suspect that these bushes may be prone to disease, and perhaps it is precisely the genetic diversity of the stand we picked from that kept them so healthy.

Sunlight opening disturbance also helps these bushes fruit well.  We primarily picked along the roadside and in a clear-cut that must be about 5 years old.  The bushes in the clear-cut were 2-4 feet tall.  I felt that the berries produced best in areas with a little more shade than the clear-cut, but berry production definitely declines with a closed canopy.  The berry bushes also get strange mistletoe-like growth called Witches Broom Rust (Pucciniastrum goeppertianum) on them when they get to be more than about 5 feet tall.  You can read more about this disease here. This bush, though it grows in areas of high rainfall, probably fruits best in a patchwork mosaic fire regime.  I wonder how it responds to pruning.

The black variety
There are many more questions I would like to answer about Evergreen Huckleberries.  Fruit production is boom or bust, but why?  Does it flower in a time when pollination success is not very reliable each year, or maybe rain knocks the flowers off?  Are dry summers costly to berry production?  Does berry size change with bush age?
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Saturday, October 15, 2011


Shin has been after me for a few days to take him cattail harvesting, so today he, Katrina, and I headed out to a large patch of Cattails to harvest the rhizomes.  We started by collecting a rhizome from a plant that was on mostly dry land, but quickly discovered that they were much easier to extract from completely saturated, submerged soils.  We picked for about an hour and then sat around in the sun and cleaned the spongy outer layer off from the hard starchy cores.  Just as we were finishing up, Kenn Marr, a Botanist for the Royal BC Museum stopped by to collect a specimen of the Cattails for the herbarium.  They are Typha angustifolia, an invasive species.  They are the tallest cattails I have ever seen and some were more than 3 meters tall.  The female spikes are also unusually long.
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Friday, October 14, 2011

Acorn Workshop

I have become an acorn addict, and today I did my best to share the affliction.  Amanda from the University of Victoria Ecological Restoration Club contacted me about leading an acorn workshop.  We went to Playfair Park, where there is an abundance of Garry Oaks (Quercus garryana) that are actually producing acorns this year.  I started by reading a nice passage from Wild Fruits that captures Thoreau’s fascination with acorns:

“How munificent is Nature to create this profusion of wild fruits, as it were, merely to gratify our eyes!  Though inedible they are more wholesome to my nobler part, and stand by me longer than the fruits which I eat.  If they had been plums or chestnuts I should have eaten them on the spot and probably forgotten them; they would have afforded me only a momentary gratification, but, being acorns, I remember and as it were feed on them still.  Yet as it respects their peculiar and final flavour, they are untasted fruits, forever in store for use, and I know not of their flavours as yet.  That is postponed to some yet unimagined winter evening.  These which we admire but do not eat are the real ambrosia—nuts of the gods.  When time is no more, we shall crack them."

"I cannot help liking them better than horse chestnuts, which are of similar color, not only because they are of a much handsomer form, but because they are indigenous.  What hale, plump fellows they are!  They can afford not to be useful to me—not know me or be known by me.  They go their way and I go mine.  Yet sometimes, I go after them.”  (October 28, 1858 HDT)

And go after them we did as well.  I started by having everyone collect 5 acorns and we examined them together pointing out the various signs of insect damaged acorns.  Then I talked through the process of drying, cracking, grinding, and leaching the acorns.  I brought some acorn meal that I had started leaching that morning to show what it looked like.  Then we collected acorns.  Most people stayed for longer than I expected, but even after the last left, I couldn’t stop myself and picked until my bike bucket was completely full.
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Berry Hooks, Plums, and Black Hawthorn

Katrina and I biked out the Galloping Goose trail to scout out Black Hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) bushes and see if the fruit crop was worth harvesting.  We passed several on the Goose just north of McKenzie, but the day was so beautiful we couldn’t stop ourselves from biking all the way to Langford.  On the way back I noticed all the nice Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor) suckers along the trail, and decided to cut a few to make berry hooks for pulling down high branches.  We also made some detours to look for acorns, but didn’t find any, however, we found a Plum tree that still had plums on it. They were very small and really high up, so we got to put our berry hooks to good use and collected enough to enjoy fresh for the next few days.  They are sweet and juicy, but unfortunately, lacked the fruit stone trait that makes Italian Plums so easy to pit and dry.  I took some photos of the Black Hawthorne, but the fruits are too dried and shrivelled to bother picking. Pin It submit to reddit

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Acorns and a fun new Hawthorn

Collecting acorns straight from the tree is so much fun we had to go back for more.  Our English Oak (Quercus robur) of choice is overshadowed by a large Atlas Cedar and forced to sprawl out for light.  I climbed up into the tree and had fun balancing on the low spreading branches while picking acorns.  On our bike ride home I spotted some ornamental hawthorns growing next to the Parliament Building with large red fruit.  A few days ago I tasted the fruit of the same species planted next to Leigh’s house and was immediately reminded of haw, a dried fruit snack that I had when I was in China.  I looked up haw and discovered that the tree has large red fruit and leaves that look just like those planted here in Victoria, so I am going to call it Chinese Hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida).  We collected a bag full from limbs that were low enough to reach, and took them home to mash, strain the seeds out of, and freeze so that I can make my own haw when I finish drying acorns and have free baking sheets again. Pin It submit to reddit

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Road Trip

Fraser River Wapatoe (Sagittaria latifolia)
Inspecting Wild Rice on the Pitt River
Katrina and I just got back from a road trip from Victoria through Washington, Alberta, and British Columbia.  Our goals were to see some places we haven’t seen, harvest new wild foods, and hike as much as possible.  Our first stop was a conference in Vancouver on the state of the North Pacific Herring.  It was a neat conference because Aboriginal People, academics, and government resource managers were all present.  After the conference we drove up to Pitt River, which drains into the Fraser and rented a canoe to go on a rice reconnaissance mission.  We went to the same spot that I had found rice two years earlier and found some more that was almost all still in the floating leaf stage.  We paddled around a small island called Siwash Island (Siwash is an old term for Native Americans) and found an extensive patch of upright flowering rice.  I took a video of us paddling through it that I am going to try and figure out some way to post.  I collected several rice specimens that I want to send to a new Northland prof that is doing genetic work on Zizania palustris.  I am now convinced it is northern wild rice.  It was growing out of 1 to 5 feet of water and some of the nascent grains were about an inch long.  We also scouted out some new Wapato (Sagitaria latifolia) patches, but none of the Wapato had developed tubers that were big enough to harvest.

From there we drove to Bellingham and met my little brother, Christian, for a short hike in the Chuckanut Mountains to a place called the Bat Caves and the Oyster Dome view point, which are places I went to frequently while growing up.  It was fun to see how a section of the trial that used to be clear cut is now a young forest!  The next day we continued south to Seattle to stay with Katrina’s parents for a couple days.  Katrina’s dad (Jeff) is a big marathon runner, and at 60, he moves along pretty well.  He invited us to run a half marathon in Woodinville with him the next day.  I decided to run with Jeff since I wasn’t sure what kind of shape I was in.  We ran about 8 minute miles for the first 8 miles.  I was feeling pretty good, so I decided to run ahead and once I left him, I couldn’t restrain myself and pounded out 7 minute miles for the last 5 miles.  It was fun course along the Samammish River with only one large hill.  After the race I was crossing a bridge over the river and was surprised to see what may be more Wild Rice growing in the slow moving water.  It was also still in the floating leaf stage.

Erythronium montanum
After the race we went to Mt. Rainier.  We drove to the northwest side of the park and set up a base camp at around 4900 feet next to Mowich Lake.  The next day we did a pretty epic 18 mile hike through Spray Park- an alpine section of the trial that goes up over 6000 feet and has a nice view of Mt. Rainier and its colossal glaciers.  I took some great photos of Erythronium montanum that I was surprised to see flowering so late in the year.  Then again, we also ate some Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis)!  Gaining elevation is like going back in time (we also have had a very late summer).  I have been thinking a lot about how meaningful watersheds are as discreet food production units, or food sheds.  For example, many of the traditional territories here on the coast follow watershed boundaries that benefit people looking for a diversity of ecosystems (e.g. from maritime to alpine), as well as the ability to travel forward or backward through the phenology of a particular food resource by going up or down in elevation.  Here on the Northwest Coast where the watersheds are so topographically defined, time travel is really apparent.

Spray Park with Mt. Rainier in the background
The last section of our loop was on the wonderland trail, which traces a 75 mile loop all the way around Mt Rainier.  We went by the Carbon Glacier, which is the longest Glacier in the Lower 48.  Someday I would like to try and do the entire wonderland trail in one day.  Our legs were pretty tired when we got back to camp so we went for a swim in Mowich Lake to refresh ourselves.  There were other “swimmers” hooting and hollering over how cold they thought the water was, but Katrina and I felt it was warmer than the ocean.  However, the water clarity was worthy of hooting and hollering.  There was probably 40 feet of visibility; I swam down as deep as I could and enjoyed the clear blue depths.  That night I played with an extremely bright laser that Christian brought back from China for me.  It is really useful for pointing out stars as the water in the atmosphere reflects the light and makes a green light sabre that leads the way to the star.  I think it will also be useful for pointing out birds and distant plants to people on nature hikes.  On our trip back from Mt. Rainier, we took a circuitous route through the mountains to Mt. St. Helens and then through some nice rural areas with a lot of Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) and Oregon Ash (Fraxinus latifolia).

We only left the mountains briefly to pick up Christian in Seattle and then headed east to Levenworth and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area.  My sister, Monica, and her partner, Bryan, met us at a public campground just outside of the park, which served as our base camp for the next few days.  Monica had planned three progressively more painful days of trail running in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area but a road closure made it necessary to change her plans a bit.  We ended up doing a 12 mile hike the first day, and a gruelling 18 mile hike with 4300 feet of elevation gain the second day.  I actually did about 22 miles that day because I ran a couple miles back up the trail to meet my brother and Katrina and hiked back to the car with them.  We bailed out on the third day of trail running and went for a nice swim in the Wenatchee River and ate ice-cream instead.  The highlight of the Alpine Lakes trip was seeing mountain goats.  They are evidently well acquainted with people, because we got to within 20 feet of them on a couple occasions.

A heavily laden Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) bush
Balsam Roots
After that trip I spent a few days with my dad fishing and smoking pink salmon, picking blueberries, and making apple butter.  Then Katrina and I set out eastward on yet another adventure to the dry forests of the Rockies.  I wanted to get a better grasp of the vegetation of this biome and harvest as many wild foods as possible.  As soon as we crossed the Cascade Mountains, our pace slowed considerably and we found ourselves frequently screeching to a halt to scamper over to a Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) or Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) to test its fruit.  The Serviceberries were totally dry on the bush, though it looks like it was a good year for them, we were just too late.  I had sampled a few on the coast, but they are never very good on the coast.  The Chokecherry crop was really good, but in most places, they were very astringent.  I think it might still be a little early for them in the lower elevations.  As we were leaving a little town called Twisp on Hwy 20 and climbing into the mountains I found a chokecherry bush that was LOADED with of very good quality fruit.  I feasted for a while and longed to harvest for the larder, but we just couldn’t managed much fresh fruit while traveling.  As we continued to climb up Loup Loup Pass I started to see the dried leaves of Balsam Root.  We turned onto a forest road to find a place to camp and also found a nice spot for harvesting Balsam Root.  I didn’t have a digging stick with me, but managed to extract one from the dry powdery earth.  It was so dry I probably could have used an air compressor and just blown the dirt out around the root (not that I think pneumatoforaging is sustainable).  That evening I made a couple small digging sticks out of some cut up sections of shovel handles that I found in a burn pile at the campground we slept at, and the next day used them to harvest more roots.  The roots have a spade shape that anchors them into the ground; the top inch of the root is about the size of my thumb and two inches long, then it swell dramatically to 3-4 inches and tapers gradually over the course of the remaining 24-30 inches to what I suspect is a fine tip, though I have never actually seen it because it always breaks off.  The root bark is fissured like fir bark and has a nice smell.  We haven’t cooked them yet.  I have a slow cooker that will hopefully allow me to reduce the complex carbohydrates of the balsam root into something digestible, although I suspect that they are easier to cook when they are harvested earlier in the year.

Our next stop was a little town called Ione in the very NE corner of Washington.  My mother’s grandparents lived in Ione.  They moved to Ione because it was a booming town with the world’s largest crosscut saw mill that I think my Great Grandpa worked at.  I had hoped to go to the Ione historical archives but they were closed for the day, so we just drove around town, checked out the riverside park, and then continued on to a campsite.

Firebrand Pass in Glacier National Park
Large juicy Serviceberries (Amelanchier alnifolia)
From there we drove through Idaho and into Montana.  We continued to make little wild food stops, but the only one of much interest was a place we saw called Bitter Root Lake that we wanted to investigate for Bitter Roots.  I didn’t bring a plant book with information on Bitter Root, and couldn’t exactly remember what they looked like, but got pretty excited by a plant that looked kind of like balsam root and also had a long tap root.  We harvested a few but they turned out to be an invasive member of the Boraginaceae.  When we got to Glacier we found out that the Going to the Sun road was closed and we didn’t want to pay the exorbitant entrance fee so we stayed on HWY 2 and camped in a less expensive National Forest campground on the Continental Divide.  The Serviceberries (Amelanchier alnifolia) in the campground were enormous, juicy, and sweet without very big or strong tasting seeds.  I could have eaten them for hours without stopping, but it got dark and we had dinner to cook.  The next day we found a trail entrance to the park without a toll booth and packed our lunches for a small looking loop trail we could see on the Montana page of our US atlas.  The trail started in aspen and pine savannah that eventually became a thick pine forest with some Black Huckleberry understory.  I was convinced that the forest was a product of fire suppression and that the Blackfoot or Kalispell burned the area for hunting and berry production and maintained a much more open landscape.  In areas without a closed canopy, the Black Huckleberries (Vaccinium membranaceum) were delicious and moderately abundant.  We continued up into the subalpine and started to see Soapberry (Shepherdia canadensis), which is a culturally important berry that the coastal people traded their prized eulachon grease to obtain.  It does grow in a few placed on the coast, but not nearly as abundantly as we were seeing it.  The Soapberry and Black Huckleberry range extended into the alpine where we found plants that looked more like mats than bushes.  After a little less than 5 miles of hiking, we crossed the Continental Divide (heading west) at a place called Firebrand Pass, and learned from a hiker with a map that we probably had 10 more miles in our loop.  As we descended gently into the completely wild watershed on the other side, we settled into a brisk but comfortable pace.  Several hours later, we came to our first trail sign, and figured out that our loop was going to be about 22 miles.  Thankfully, the terrain was easy and the primitive trail necessitated some leg refreshing river fords.  An hour before sunset, we made it to the trail head and hiked another 1.5 to the highway and hitch hiked back to our car.  I guess picking day hike trails from the National Road Atlas can lead to some unexpected adventures; at least we were in shape for it!

Katrina putting Thimbelberries (Rubus parviflorus) to good use
Our next stop was Waterton National Park, which is directly north of Glacier and has been formally linked to Glacier as an International Peace Park since 1932.  Once again, we were faced with what I felt was an expensive entrance fee, but it was cheaper than Glacier and so we decided to pay it.  We drove to Red Rock Canyon and decided to backpack on a 16 mile loop trail with an overnight at Twin Lakes wilderness camp.  Shortly after leaving we got a nice look at a family of Mt. Goats playing on a boulder field.  I sampled some False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries; the leaves were mostly dead and dry and the berries were completely red, juicy, and surprisingly sweet.  I bet they would make really nice syrup.  We got to our camp late in the afternoon and quickly jumped in the lake before the sun went behind the mountains.  The next day we leisurely hiked down the mountain and picked Thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus...  in the last week of September!

A young Big Horn Sheep
Driving north in Alberta, we followed the continental divide on some small scenic highways without much traffic.  I really wanted to see Big Horn Sheep and we stopped frequently to scan the mountains with binoculars.  In true safari fashion, we ended up seeing one right on the side of the road.  It was a young male with horns that hadn’t started to curve down yet.  We also got a nice look at a Moose that was feeding on the roadside grass.  I needed to get back to Vancouver Island for a Traditional Foods Conference at the end of September so we drove pretty hard after crossing the continental divide and entering into BC.  We camped on Arrow Lake, which is a reservoir of the Columbia River, and then the Harrison River, which is a tributary of the Fraser.  My dad met us on the Harrison and we spent the day fishing for Pink Salmon in heavy rain.  At least the fishing was pretty good, we each landed a dozen or more.  There were some guys fishing for Sturgeon near us and we watched them land three.  The biggest was 86 inches long.  Occasionally the sturgeon would surge out of the water making dolphin like splashes (as in, they sounded as large as a dolphin), but when they were hooked they didn’t jump at all.  They are pretty amazing creatures.
The Traditional Foods Conference on Vancouver Island was a success again this year.  It is the 4th year of the event and it is hosted by the Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities Indigenous Foods Network, which I am an active member of.  For me the best part is eating wonderful food and networking with people.  Let me try and list some of the food that I ate at just one of the feasts over the course of the two day event: Crab, Butter Clams, Elk, Halibut, Prawns, Little Neck Clams, BBQ salmon, Candied Salmon, Octopus, Rock Cod, Herring Roe, Smoked Eulachon, and Eulachon Grease.  Soapberry “icecream” and wild berry jams were also available at the event, but for the most part, seafood is the focus.  I did a bentwood box cooking demonstration and boiled some potatoes in a 5 gallon bentwood box that I made.  It usually takes about 30 rocks to get the water boiling and then a rock every 3-5 minutes to keep it boiling.  Some of the other workshops were basket weaving, fish smoking, soapberry spoon making, and pit cooking.  I met a woman named Elise Krohn that is doing some interesting work for Northwest Indian College and a number of tribes in western Washington.  She might hire me to lead some workshops with her later this year.  

A good days harvest of Crabapples (Malus fusca)
Katrina and I are finally back in our apartment after 3 months on Calvert Island and then a month traveling.  It is really nice to have a kitchen and access to my all my stuff again.  We have been processing a lot of food this last week.  We picked about 6 gallons of Blue Elderberry and made syrup, juice, jam, and froze a bunch whole.  Elderberries seem to be a pretty reliable crop, but the crab apples, which don’t often produce very well, were prolific this year.  We picked 8 gallons in about an hour, and canned some of them whole and juiced the rest.  Katrina wants to mix the juice in with apple juice for cider making.  Yesterday we picked some English Oak (Quercus robur) acorns which are fruiting more abundantly than the Gary Oaks this year.  We found a tree with long spreading branches that were close enough to the ground to allow us to pick the acorns off of the tree.  I never done that before I found it more fun than stooping around a tree for nuts.  I made a little drying box with a hair dryer, a metal grill, and a cardboard box for drying the acorns out, and it seems to be working well.

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