Friday, April 18, 2014

Birds, boules and bruschetta

On Thursday the housefinches sat unafraid in the sour cherry in the sun.

Inside, two boules rose.

And dock (Rumex) and nettles were cleaned, for this evening's bruschetta, with friends.

The loaves baked at 500'F and sang as they cooled. 

Around them the humans tried not to break, and then had supper: bread with cheese.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A wild spring walk, after snow

I crunched to the subway on a layer of ice. It had rained, then snowed, then frozen in the night. In the woods the snow still lay in the lee of trees and logs, where it melted fast when the sun touched it.

The Dicentra cucullaria had opened and were just lightly battered by the unusual weather.

Below. This is my year of learning (more) trees: buck eye?

Horse chestnut?

Lovely spicebush (Lindera benzoin), everywhere.

The sky above was clear blue.

Precisely one violet had opened.

Robins sang and a woodpecker worked. I saw two joggers and two walkers. And one man, planting things. I wondered about that, for a bit. He did not want to be disturbed.

More day liles than anyone could ever eat, below. They have taken over. No indigenous spring ephemerals up here. 

I braked hard: nettles! And yes, they do sting. A lot.

My old friend jewel weed (the fat seedlings, below) really did help with the stinging. I rubbed my hands till they were green. And then it stopped. Placebo?

I rounded the wide corner and there was the mighty Hudson. It was much colder on this side.

My collection, unpacked at home. To be worked on, today.

Clockwise from L: field garlic (Allium vineale), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), 1 lurking dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum/Fallopia japonica), dock (Rumex sp), and nettles (Urtica dioica). The flowers are lesser celandine (Ficaria verna).

All invasive plants, bar the nettles.

The menu for a dinner tomorrow night will employ all of these vegetables, bar the lesser celendine. It is still evolving (the menu, I mean), starting with today's batch of sourdough boules, which will contribute to some wild greens bruschetta, tomorrow. I suppose a field garlic boule is a bit much?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April thinks it's March

127th Street. Just before the SNOW of last night. 

If you're looking for me today, I'll be in the woods. Dressed warmly.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Life and death on the Harlem terrace

It's official.

It is no more.

After seven years of New York winters the fig must have gasped its last sometime in January or February. At one point, in the snow that buried the Harlem terrace this winter, it was alive. I know, because I scratched its bark and it was green. But then I discovered a split at its base, and perhaps that is what did it in. I can't be sure how that happened. I know a massive icicle dislodged from the darn leaking gutter two floors up, and hit it, but I am not certain that that would have caused this low split. And this winter was the coldest I can remember.


I am sad, of course. But not as sad as I had expected to be. The fig seemed to symbolize what was special about the tiny Brooklyn  terrace. When we moved here everything was suddenly off balance, and not quite what we had expected, and maybe it seemed fitting that the poor fig tree died.

The cut wood smelled like fresh fig leaves. That was a bit difficult. I saved the wood for a fire, to perfume something for a supper.

(Of the fig cuttings I took, one seems to have survived. We shall see.)

There has been another loss: the Iceberg. Also trapped underneath that leaking gutter, and entombed in ice. I think I bought it from the Texas Rose Emporium in about 2004.

The end of an era.

In better news, I planted lily bulbs from the wonderful Lily Garden, who included two free bonus bulbs in their order (it was a bonus Silk Road, years ago, that led to me ordering so many more, subsequently), and hand written warnings on labels to warn of the tender shoots emerging inside (you break them and you lose your flowers for the year). And this despite the fact that I had not paid them! I had forgotten to call in my credit card number. The Lily Garden is a small but impeccable outfit in the Pacific Northwest and does things the old school way - one can't order online (even though their catalogue is very good, online), and I don't fax. So I email my orders with a promise to call in the payment details. And I forgot. They just included a hand written note to say what I owed.

Their bulbs are very healthy and large, and the care excellent.

Not so, Brent and Becky's. Less wonderful. $15 for a lily bulb smaller than a quarter (Lilium canadense - hard to find, anywhere). Not impressed. And several of my Lilium longiflorum had lost their shoots in transit. The Uvullaria seemed healthy, as did the Gloriosa lilies. But I will never order lilies from them again. This happened some years ago, with Formosa lilies (tiny!) and I should not have tried again.

Also: the fava beans have emerged, the chives look green and juicy, and the blueberry is covered with buds.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Edible weeds - fugitive cuisine

It is prime day lily time - the "wild," orange-flowered kind. I know these have orange flowers, because I have seen this patch in bloom, before. Hemerocallis fulva. This weekend will be spent cleaning and prepping them.

I will save them for our personal consumption. There are stories of some people being sensitive to day lilies, and so I don't like to feed them to others who have never tasted them, before.

The best practise is to sample a few (one or two), wait a day, and then make some decisions based on the outcome. I like them, and have experienced no ill effects. Then again, I don't stuff myself. I find the cooked tuber to be a little like a cross between a Jerusalem artichoke and a potato. Raw, similar to the raw Jerusalem artichoke (which, interestingly, also gives some people gastric problems).

Day lilies are garden escapees, and originally from Asia. In dense colonies, like the one I found myself visiting recently, no other plant stands a chance. Even the field garlic (Allium vineale) another invasive plant, (southern Europe, Mediterranean) had been squeezed out.

Native spring ephemerals - Cucullaria dicentra, or Dutchman's breeches, below. Their flowers will be open in a few days. They are ill-equipped to withstand the assault of the mad, bad day lilies and field garlic. Another Cucullaria species C. canadensis, called squirrel corn, is occasionally referenced as edible (they grow from corms...or bulbs?). I'd be curious to hear if anyone reading this has tried it, or knows of its being eaten. And no, for the record, I avoid wildflowers altogether when foraging, but I am curious.

Ta-raa! I curse myself when collecting field garlic. It will mean a lot of work, back home, if one hurries, in the field. Much cleaning, sorting, peeling of outer skins, and discarding of tiny bulblets. Better to be very selective on site. The results are worth it, a hundredfold. These are destined to be: field garlic butter, field garlic oil and pickled field garlic. To come? Confit of field garlic (bottled), and plenty of fresh field garlic for a tart I have in mind...

Japanese knotweed. Curse of governments, home owners, gardeners, farmers, developers, railway companies and airports. Have I left anyone out? Polygonatum cuspidatum. It is a crime to plant it in England. So why don't we get environmental credits when we lop off the wonderfully lemony shoots, at ground height?

Questions, questions.

It will be at least a week before the knotweed is ready to collect. The shoot above was a freak amongst its brethren, which mostly look like this (the red tips in the middle and lower left - see the old, dead canes lying about):

Who will win? The invasive Japanese knotweed or the indigenous Erythronium americanum (USA! USA!),  aka trout lily - another spring ephemeral.

I'll be watching this spot.

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