Saturday, April 28, 2012

A scythe, antique razors, and a wild salad

Well, we had a very busy but productive weekend. Our good friend Tyler showed up for a house show- he's th' mastermind of th' band Insomniac Folklore. As we had some folk request a wild salad for th' potluck, me and Tyler went on a foraging trip to see what we could find. I knew it was linden leaf season, so we planned on these as th' base.

Tyler under th' Linden Leaves...
You wanna get these while they're still young and waxy looking... they have a very mild flavor that slightly resembles th' flowers that will appear a bit later. Few people will object to them in a salad.  You've got about two weeks of good harvest time here, so that's a pretty small window... thus th' two very happy campers you see.


With th' base gathered, we set off to see what else we can find...

Is that? Is that? Yep, asparagus. A bit early for around here, but this spring has been so hot and dry that timing based on previous years means next to nothing. Just to prove that, we also found milkweed popping up already, which is usually a few weeks to a month later than asparagus.

young milkweed with flower bud.

It'll be an interesting year for foraging. Which is fine by me, it keeps us guessing... hunting, searching, ever learning, never thinking we know it all, or have it all figured out, which is the enemy of adventure. Here's some nice young asparagus close up, and next to it is a young horsetail, or scouring rush... these make excellent sandpaper.

horsetail and asparagus

We ate a bunch of asparagus in th' field, and also saved some for th' salad. After that we gathered up a bunch of young lamb's quarters, aka, wild spinach.

didn't bring a bag, had to use my shirt

Then we came across a nice patch of Bull-rush. These were traditionally eaten similar to cattail, th' roots are starchy, but lack th' itch that cattail has. We pulled up a bunch for th' tender core at th' base. This is a very mild vegetable with little flavor and a lot of water, kinda like a water chestnut, but softer.

Young Bullrush stand
Here's th' bullrush with th' part you want to eat on th' right. Native americans also made boats and houses from these plants, as they are filled with a spongy type core that floats and makes very good insulation. 

Now i've found that th' best way to store most wild greens is to put them in a container of cool water. This way they'll last for several days, and they don't dry out like they do in our fridge. We change th' water every day and that's all it takes.  Here's our salad...linden, lamb's quarters, asparagus, bullrush, milkweed, and catmint. Turned out pretty well, and it's always nice foraging with a friend.

wild salad soaking

Also, while Tyler was here he showed us his new found treasure, old razors.

antique shaving razors
He decided he was done throwing away razors, and sought these out. Being a knife lover, i was very impressed, these are high quality steel, with a really nice hollow grind bevel on them. They are friction folders, and th' one on th' left has a handle of cow horn, with the inscription "King of Whiskers" on it. I think he said he paid three dollars for these. I imagine finding one and with a little work on a grinder to change th' shape just a bit, making a really nice sloyd knife.

He'd been looking for someone to sharpen them for him, and kept being met with a nope, can't do it. I can do it i told him, better yet, you can do it. I made him a strop, and in th' morning we got out th' stones to put a razors edge on a razor. It's a very empowering thing to know how to really sharpen a knife... and Tyler was smiling throughout th' learning process. Like any skill, it takes more than a day to learn, but it is nice to get your feet on th' path.

Sharpening tools

We got out th' stone collection, strop, and magnifying glass. Here's Tyler having a go at it.

coarse grit.
ceramic, extra fine

stropping, look at that smile.

After putting a good edge on these, Tyler went to try them out. He came out a few minutes later looking quite pleased, and a bit more clean cut...He put a razors edge on his razor, and shaved with it. All after being told repeatedly, even by barbers, that you can't sharpen razors and have to throw them away and buy new ones... What's th' world come to? These things are old enough to be his grandparents, and he just shaved with them.

lookin good Ty!

And, to top off th' whole weekend, we got a package in th' mail from Peter Vido of Scythe Connection, two blades. I've had a couple of old american scythes for a few months now, and they are stout, heavy beasts. Th' first thing that struck me about these new blades was how light they are. Both of them together weigh less than one of my american scythes. Th' next thing i felt was their great balance. These are really fine instruments, swords that you cut grass with. In comparison to our old blades, it's like riding around on a Huffy Bicycle, then getting on a really nice road bike.

austrian and italian made scythe blades.

So then i was faced with th' challenge of making my own snath (scythe handle). It may seem simple, but there's so many variables and subtleties that it can be overwhelming. For some great reasons to make your own snath, look here. I studied and studied th' pics on scythe connections website, and figured out a few things, then set about making one. Following th' Vido's advice, i foraged my own wood and used only hand tools for construction. Th' main wood is Alder, with a willow handle. I carved it with a knife, and sanded it with some locally found sandstone. Th' handle has a locust thorn in it to keep it from twisting or coming loose.

scythe with wild wood snath

 I made some mistakes, and will make another one right away, (snath that is, hopefully,) with improvements, and another handle at th' top. But, i did mow our lawn with it. I've never been so excited to mow th' lawn. It was relaxing, a bit like slow dancing, and our answer to th' exhaust and noise and destruction caused by lawn mowers. And, i was easily able to mow around th' Salsify growing in th' yard. Here's me and Beth trying it out.

This really surprised me with how well it cut, not sure why considering it used to be the only way to cut grass. But needless to say, i'm hooked on scything, and if you're interested in this fascinating tool, check out th' links on our sidebar that have to do with scything.

look out grass, here i come!
And to finish th' weekend, Fynn was very excited about th' spring pole lathe, and asked me if he could try it too. This is made entirely of local wood, with only two metal parts to it, I'll write more about this on our crafts blog later. Adios.

Fynn on th' spring pole lathe.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Letter from th' Lorax

I’m sorry to upset you, but I’m about to burst! I’ve seen a lot in this land, but
you modern humans are th’ worst! You could learn a few things from th’ natives, you were
here last, but they were here first. I don’t have time for these rhymes, you should pay more attention. You could learn a lot from nature that schools will never mention. Like these hills here, that you’ve covered with concrete and tar. All our insects and animals are dying so you can drive around in that car. Do think this world is just here to entertain you? To increase your monetary gain? Well all that increase causes th’ rest of us a lot of pain. We, th’ grasses and trees, the animals insects and bees, are all at your mercy now. Th’ great Creator allowed it to be this way, for a time, somehow. So prove to us that you are not hopelessly lost. Stop all th’ violence, please stop it at all costs. I know it won’t be easy, I know you’ve been born into this mess, but instead of moving forward, let’s take a moment to regress. Go outside. Pay attention to th’ grasses, and th’ trees. They tell th’ way it should be. There was a time, and not too long ago, when th’ people and creatures of this land took everything they needed from the earth, and when they no longer needed a thing, the earth took it back. Just try if you can, just imagine a world without trash. Why, people survived without plastic for thousands of years, so why should we need it now. 
I found, as I was walking around, a little poem scrawled in a childs' script, on th’ bark of a birch tree. I will read it to you now. And then, for a while, I will let you be.

When all th’ land is gone-
When all th’ fields and th’ forests
Are gone-
When all th’ plants and
The animals are gone-
When all th’ clean water is gone-
When even th’ sky is gone-
Then can we stop building?

So long,
~ The Lorax

Really? Would you want to live there?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Wild Horseradish Sacrifice

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”
~Wendell Berry

Sometimes, you have to break your own rules. Rules, after all, are meant to be guidelines to keep us on th' right path, not chains forged against our own free will. And one of my rules i broke was digging up the only specimen of a sought after plant. Wild Horseradish. There's others growing around town, but this solitary horseradish simply had to go. Why? It's all in th' name of progress you see.

I had this idea a few years ago- pick a spot of nature undisturbed, be it however small, and simply watch it. Observe it's life. Plants, animals, bugs, weather... get to know it. After a while it will become like a friend- there will be things you immediately like, some things you may not like, and things that can only reveal themselves over time. So it was with this horseradish plant. It grew on the edge of an abandoned orchard... th' one i wrote about in th' preserving apples post. I've been watching the orchard for almost ten years now, and i just discovered this little beauty a few years ago. Horseradish likes to grow in colonies, so i'm not sure how this one got here, but one day there it was, with no kin anywhere that i could discern.

But alas, someone has decided, once again, that's it's more important to have concrete and tar and plastic and automobiles here than a bit of wilderness. I wonder how long we can keep this up.

So i got in there and dug up my ole friend th' horse. I knew there was going to be a sacrifice here, and i wanted my killing this plant to be worth something. So we waited till Passover, and i went out and harvested this for th' horseradish bit. It was very special, and we got to share it with our family in a close, intimate setting. As i was riding my bike to th' harvest, i kept thinking of a line in a Wendell Berry book i read many years ago...“To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.”

Plum Blossoms

I arrived at th' scene of th' crime, it's early spring and i knew th' leaves would be very small, if they had grown at all. I walked amongst th' dew, th' smell of plum blossoms, musk mustard, dandelion, and apple blossoms. I searched and searched, and then!

Musk Mustard Blossoms

Dandelion, perfect conditions for harvesting leaves

There they were! The old, dead leaves of last years' growth, buried in th' grass. I walked past them a few times, and was about to give them over to progress and head to another patch.

Dead Horseradish leaves
I stooped to examine them more closely- took a moment to consider what i was about to do... found th' young leaves just emerging from th' taproot- i took a bite...gave thanks...

Young Horseradish leaves

Very tasty
When mature, the leaves look very much like dock leaves, only they're usually full of bug holes, where as dock leaves rarely are. Indeed, i think this close resemblance has aided th' survival of this species greatly. I bet you've looked upon it many times and chocked it up to Dock.

I grabbed a fallen plum branch and proceeded to dig. Slowly, all th' way around th' root, careful not to harm it. Deeper. Deeper. Alternating between hands and stick. Th' smell of th' young earth and th' taste of th' fresh leaves in my mouth.

horseradish root

almost there
 Once i had gone about a foot into the earth, a sudden hope sprang upon me, and i snapped th' root off, leaving about four inches of it still in th' ground. Who knows but that it may grow again, between th' cracks in a sidewalk, at the edge of a fence, a house, and a little child may taste th' leaves, dig th' root. A new forager is born.

delicious wild horseradish

I was careful to leave th' place looking exactly like i'd found it. No one will ever know i was here.
(except you of course)
aint nobody been here
 I placed th' root upon the earth, it's home, one last time. To say good-bye.

I wanted to leave a bit of tobacco here as a thank offering- i had no tobacco, so i left a dandelion. A sacred herb in it's own right.

Back home i delivered th' sacrificial lamb up to Beth for processing. She cleaned it. Grated it. Mixed it with a small amount of apple cider vinegar to preserve it's spice, it's essence, it's life.

grated wild horseradish root
She set up th' seder plate, and th' meal was eaten with thanksgiving by all. We will do this again, and i still have hope for that little root.

passover table in waiting
note: Horseradish has been cultivated and eaten by peoples around th' world since time immemorial. We have records of it's use as food and medicine in the earliest of books, records and mythology. This often overlooked plant can be much more than a mere condiment to our lives. Enjoy.