Or not to find ramps – that is the question. More accurately, since simply finding them is fine, should one or should one not harvest them and if the answer is “Yes, they’re delicious!” at what point, if any, does the answer become “No, they’re endangered!” or again more accurately (and the reason for all this dithering), “No, they’re in danger of becoming endangered if people keep picking them at the current rate.
Ramps (Allium tricoccum) at home in typical habitat
We regularly hunt for and pick them, trying to be responsible about it. We frequently cook and eat them in season, trying not to be too piggy about it. And I, at least, have two sub-questions:
- Is the worry about over-harvesting* justified? And
- Is it possible to formulate a general rule for the ethical enjoyment of foraged wild foods?
I probably should have titled this “Harvesting Wild Mushrooms;” there are all kinds of them just about everywhere (or at least everywhere in the Northeast). Our vegetable gardens may be soggy – even without Irene this has been a mighty rainy summer – but in the silver lining department there’s a bumper crop in the woods and fields.
Also an Eek of the Week: Fake Bakers, about the – many, according to story – people who bring purchased pastry to bake sales and cookie swaps and pass it off as home made. To enhance verisimilitude, they doctor the store-bought by roughing it up so it doesn’t look too perfect. Directions are provided. I am still trying to digest this.
And in the meantime of course baking cookies, including vanilla almond Moth Cookies and The Spritz Bill Really Likes. Links to more never-fail all-timers after the jump, but first:
Our favorite Pepparkakkor, crisp, spicy, better-than-gingerbread. The quintessential Christmas Cookie and if the Christmas part gives you trouble just use a bird cutter and call ‘em doves of peace.
The recipe makes approximately a zillion. The dough is easy to mix, easy to handle and perfectly happy to stay in the icebox for weeks while you slice off chunks of it to roll and cut and decorate. Or not; a lot of people like them best plain.
On right, fresh chestnuts. On left, one of the all-time convenience ingredients: peeled, skinned and ready to go, as easy to cook as dried beans.
Admittedly, dried chestnuts don’t have the mashed potato fluffiness of the fresh article. Somewhere between mealy and creamy is about the best they can do. But other than that they’re just shortcut chestnuts: great in soups and stews and stuffings, great with winter vegetables and great in holiday sweets and why they aren’t more widely adored is a mystery to me.
Sweet Snowballs (chestnut and white chocolate candy) recipe at the end of the post.
Last Saturday winter began in earnest: steel gray sky, cotton candy snow: very beautiful, very cold,
Then, after the mail came, very much time to be thinking about next year’s tomatoes.
Seed catalogs don’t wait for Christmas any more; they’ve been coming in for about a month. Now the pace is picking up and after last summer’s disastrous late blight, I’m looking through their offerings in a whole new way, because
In the summer of ’09, purely by accident, we had hybrid beefsteaks in the greenhouse.
They were the only tomatoes we got and although they weren’t as good as our favorite heirlooms they were better than anything we could buy locally, heirloom or hybrid.
While I’m in Maine getting the summer garden underway, husband Bill, aka Mr. Mushroom ( see his most recent morel hunting tips here) has been holding down the Hudson Valley end: feeding cats, cutting vast quantities of asparagus, mulching peonies, tending the bees , collecting morels – and being inspired by your responses to send another guest post:
Bears, Bees, Bacon and Morels
by Bill Bakaitis
Flash! My neighbor just informed me that the bears are back.
A few days ago he went out in early morning to feed his horse and discovered that the large bin which stored the sweet feed and biscuit treats was missing. Well, not quite missing as there were drag marks and when followed led to one of the neighborhood bears (last year there were five) having an early morning snack of the biscuits. After a brief encounter and short stand-off the bear beat a retreat.
End of that story, but Whoops, thought I, I sure better check the electric fence around our bees and rebait the hot wires with the Rancid Bacon Bear Bait stored in the freezer for just such occasions.
A spreading patch of bloodroot is now encroaching into our small fenced-in bee yard, and over the past few rainy days had grown tall enough to be in contact with the lowest hot wire of the electric fence.
The errant bloodroot leaves sizzled, snapped, crackled, popped and were draining the voltage of the wire. Good timing, I thought and went to the shed for a small sickle, to the freezer for the bear bait, and after disconnecting the solar charger trimmed all of the bloodroot and other vegetation under the fence. That’s when I found the morels. Read More…
As we were spooning in the eggs with asparagus and black morels I was just going on about yesterday, Bill mentioned that he should maybe say something about how to find the blacks – they’re a bit trickier than the main season blondes, but they have a special savor for being the first.
“Have at it! ” said I; and so here is some more from our resident guide to wild mushrooms:
THE FIRST MORELS OF THE SEASON
By Bill Bakaitis
The first morels of the season are the hardest to find. They are not Morchella esculenta, the blonde varieties standing tall under elm and apple but the Eastern Black Morel, M. elata/angusticeps/conica complex.
These early morels usually will begin to fruit near the end of April in the Mid Hudson area, just as the forsythia blossoms fall to earth, the maples begin to leaf out and the black flies begin to bite. I found my first of this season on Saturday, April 25, as the spreading heat wave pushed the thermometer to the record breaking 89 degree mark.
The Eastern Black Morel, typically the first morel of the season
I have a number of garden tools to which I am mightily attached, but none so precious as the Italian rototiller, my husband Bill, who has written this guest post about his favorite tool.
The Italian Rototiller
By Bill Bakaitis
It may not be what T. S. Elliot meant when he referred to April as being the cruelest month, but around here the breaking of spring ground also means breaking the sweet silence of winter. Motorcycles roar, dogs bark, the machinery of lawn maintenance springs into gear and out come the rototillers, churning and burning their way into the modern landscape. The ‘greening of exurbia’ is what they say. Consumer doublespeak is more like it.
The Grape Hoe, Mattock or Italian Rototiller, all oiled up and ready to go!
When I break ground I use Grandfather’s tool. Anglo types who hang out at the Agway probably call it a Mattock, and it is often listed in specialty garden supply outlets as an Italian Grape Hoe. I once heard it referred to disparagingly as an “Italian Rototiller” and in honor of my Calabrese Grandfather, that’s what I call it. Were he alive today he would chuckle and cherish the approbation. Leslie, of course, says it only works when used by an Italian (meaning me).
Why do I use and love it? Let me count the ways: Read More…
Or, Pruning spring-blooming shrubs that grow as thickets of svelte trunks and slender stems, because although they have their differences they all behave pretty much the same way.
Forsythia in thicket mode
Flower buds form during the summer, mostly on one and two year old wood, so the standard advice is “prune right after bloom.” That way there’s maximum time for next year’s show to get itself together.
But after years of following that advice I started doing something that’s more fun and just as good or better from the pruning standpoint: making big bouquets. Read More…
It was lunchtime. I was in the kitchen. Bill went out to empty the compost before making his umptigazillionth ham sandwich ( This is not a man who believes in varying the midday menu.)
“Hey Leslie, come see what’s in the trap!”
Full grown muskrat - they're smaller than you'd think.