Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fall, Acorns and Traditional Crafts

Ok friends, we've decided to merge our foraging and crafts blogs into one, which will be this one. After all, it's all traditonal, old world activity, so why th' dichotomy? If you're unfamiliar with our crafts blog i'll just tell you that all th' work i do is done without power tools, i don't even own any. I don't say this to brag but to clarify that it's more about th' process than the end result, more about that later...Now we can do posts like this one...
spoon rack

This past week has been rife with activity- Acorn processing and wood carving and turning to name a few. The above picture is a spoon rack i carved from a split elm sapling. Wooden spoons are beautiful on their own, but displayed in a nice rack they are outstanding, why hide them in a drawer?  All th' spoons were carved by me except th' two in th' middle with th' white and blue handles, which were carved by Jarrod Stonedahl, another journeyman of traditional living.

But lets talk about fall, and food gathering for a bit... anyone for some acorns?

burr oak acorns, big.
Anyone in Fort Collins reading this blog? If so, you wanna do me, or yourself rather, a favor and go out gather up some oak nuts? We're really running out of room to store them, and it's hard for me to pass them by. There's still a lot out there. I'll even help you eat them if you want. But seriously, my neighbors are starting to think that Ishi lives in my garage... help us out why don'tcha. Just look at this tree, it's covered with large acorns, half an hours worth of picking supplied us with over ten pounds. And there's a lot of half-hours in a persons life.

And don't think this is unusual around here, there's trees all over like this. You'll see. 

Let's get crackin shall we...

Look at th' inside of th' shell, how beautiful it is...
Here's a Burr Oak acorn on th' left, and an average size, unidentified as of now, acorn on th' right.

Th' Burr Oak acorns are enormous, so be carefull while drying them out, as they take a very long time.  Sometimes you'll come across ones with sunken in centers like in th' picture below.

Don't waste your time gathering these, as this is what you'll find inside.

We crack and pound all our acorns by hand. I've used blenders and coffee grinders before, but they don't work as well as pounding with a hammerstone. And more importantly, they don't work th' same way on me. And this is also why i don't use power tools, th' real reason. When i'm pounding acorns, in th' sun, with a rock, it does something to me. It takes a long time, but it's time well spent. My mind is fee to wander, while my hands perform th' task at hand. I smell the acorn, i breathe it in along with th' scent of dry leaves. (Do you know how good pounded acorns smell?) If affects me in a subtle, yet powerful way. It's th' same with carving wood with hand tools. Th' time spent changes you, makes you, builds you into a more patient, more thoughtful person. The end result becomes less important than th' way you get there. Th' native americans, and traditional people all over th' world, spent thousands of years pounding acorns with rocks, who are we to say we've come up with a better way. Have we really counted th' cost of what we've given up? Have we counted th' cost of th' tools that we now depend upon, that we consider necessary for life? It's hard, because we are so disconnected from th' price we pay, to even realize that a toll is being extracted. We don't remember what it's like to be able to drink water from our rivers and streams, or that there used to be mountains in Wyoming and West Virginia that no longer exist due to coal mining. Or that there were no landfills here a few hundred years ago. Me cracking acorns with a rock, or hewing out a piece of wood with an axe isn't going to change all that, but me and you doing it, and you, and you too, well then, things might start to look different. Or at least we'll be different, and that's worth it.

acorn pounding

Here's Beth and Fynn partaking of some fall activities, as i was hewing some bowl blanks one day.

axe hewn bowl blank
This is black locust wood, which has a relatively easy to work yellow sapwood and a seriously hard and pretty brown heartwood. It makes really pretty bowls and bows. 

pole lathe turned bowls
Before I made these two i was really turning in th' dark. I was so focused on getting a bowl that i didn't pay enough attention to how i got one. Then i was forced to spend two weeks away from my shop. I got craftsmans withdrawal. But something happened. I learned (again) to slow down. When i got back home i took my time, went slower, focused more on making nice clean cuts and keeping my tools sharp. I slowed down and my bowls and spoons came out better and in half th' time or less. Here's th' rest of what came of that locust log, as well as a couple of Aspen spoons.

This one got cold, so i had to carve a hat for it.

 Here's a couple made from opposite sides of th' log, th' one on th' left has th' sapwood on th' bottom, heartwood on top, and th' one on th' right has th' heartwood on th' bottom, making a different, and in my opinion nicer looking bowl, though it takes longer to hew because of th' greater amount of heartwood you're chopping. These are fresh off th' lathe, where as th' darker ones have been oiled already.

Here's that bow i was carving in th' last post, it's almost finished, and pulling about eighty pounds right now. Just needs to be CAREFULLY tillered down to about fifty-five, and it's ready for th' hunt. 

Ash bow, ancient European style

And two Aspen spoons.

Well, i hope you've had some good food for thought, even if you can't eat the acorns. Drop us a line and let us know what you think. I'll leave you with a few more scenes of fall.

Bag full of acorns. Now that's some whole foods.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ground Cherries, Watercress, Stinging nettle.

Got some greens in before th' frost.
Watercress, which has been ripe and delicious all summer long here.
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

watercress, wet with th' morning dew

Watercress is a very spicy-mustardy green. As it's name implies it grows in the water-
which means you have to be careful with it. Now if th' rivers were pure like they were for thousands of years when the natives were th' caretakers of this land, it'd be a different story- but that's history.
Today, let's not drink that water, or eat th' plants that are in it. But luckily for us, watercress grows from it's top, so if it aint in th' water, chances are good that it never was in th' water.
But hey, let's not take chances- pay attention to the area, know if th' creek rises or has recently, if so, you may want to be a little more careful in your harvesting.
When you get it home, wash it good, and if you're worried about Ecoli or some such, cook your greens thoroughly- but if you know what you're doing that is not necessary. They are good raw and cooked, so it's best to know your source, then you can enjoy them how you like.
Use them as a garnish to your meal, mix them with a salad to spice it up, or cook up a soup with cress greens in it.
Here's a picture of a potato soup with watercress and some late season, new growth stinging nettle.

watercress, nettle and potato soup
Now, nettle is usually a spring green, but a little bit of cool weather and heavy rains gave us a second round of new growth this year, and we took advantage of it.

late season, new growth stinging nettle

Th' seeds of nettle are highly nutritious, and said to be good for your kidneys. They have also been shown to promote endurance and heightened awareness, similar to ginseng. They help th' body restore and rejuvenate, something very useful indeed in this toxic world we live in. 
 Bear Medicine Herbals has some more good info on nettles.
nettle stalk covered in seeds
stinging nettle seeds

bowl full of nettle greens
Just before th' first frost is also th' time of year to gather in ground cherries.
Last year we harvested a bunch of them just as they were ripening, as they ripen well if left in th' husks. This year we waited til they got good and yeller.

Ground Cherries are in th' nightshade family, and look very much like miniature tomatillos.
They are extraordinarily sweet, and peppery when ripe. We made some serious salsa with them, and mixed them with crab apples to make pie. This year we're sun drying some. It's taking a long time, but they smell really good.

ground cherries, at best time for pickin
Here's what they looked like when we started sun drying them, now they look like raisins, but it's taken about a week so far.
Sun drying ground cherries.
Well, fall is here now, so that's all of th' greens for awhile, enjoy.


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Oyster Roots

Western Salsify roots (T. dubius) on a bed of acorns

Well it's officially autumn here in northern colorado- and not because th' calender says so, but th' trees, th' ash leaves, th' raining locust leaves, th' returning of th' geese, they tell me these things.
It's also th' time to head out to th' fields and collect Salsify roots.
Salsify, or Oyster root, is a substantial forage, being both numerous and hardy, like a carrot, and indeed, you can use them in any way you'd use a carrot, though cooking them greatly enhances their flavor. Our favorite way to eat them is to roast them till they're almost crispy on the outside, nice and tender inside. The aroma is tantalizing, th' taste unlike any other, yet very agreeable.
 Th' first thing to do is to find you plants-
This is what they look like in their flowering stage- around here we have two species that i know of, this is western salsify (Tragopogon dubius), we also have meadow salsify, and hybrids of th' two- and though there are differences in size and appearance they really look th' same and can be eaten in th' same way.

 It helps to know them well, for then you'll be able to find them in a fall field of grass such as this one. Can you see all th' salsify in there?

While traveling through th' fields look for the old stalks or seedheads.

Salsify seed

Salsify is a biennial and roots should be eaten from first year plants, so once you've found the old ones, look around for th' first year rossettes. They will have a gray green hue to them that makes them stand out from th' grass around them. The leaves also grow in a noticable V- shape. 

Salsify rossettes
Once you find one you'll get "salsify eyes" and start seeing other ones. Take a look. Do you see them?

The two in the above photo were rather large, and hid roots that were enormous for salsify, but it just shows what ideal conditions can do. Once you've found them just dig 'em up. I usually just use a stick i find in th' field, even though i did make myself a fancy digging stick this summer.

 These can be kept for a long time in a cold cellar or wrapped up in th' fridge, so during th' fall months you can stock up on them, being careful of course not to overharvest.