Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Foraging - 12 July 2011

Looking at my blog stats it appears that my posts on foraging are some of the most popular.  Maybe foraging appeals to the adventurer in all of us or maybe it is just the thought of being to obtain food basically for free.  For me, it is the ability to use old skills to utilize something that most people overlook.

Yesterday evening, after supper (part of which came out of my garden), I went for a walk around the edge of my village.  My intent was to take some pictures around the village for a personal blog that I write for my family.  But I can't just turn off my normal instincts to look for stuff that I can use.  My eye is always seeking valuable resources and I continually categorize and log the locations of resources that I might be able to use at a later date.

As I finished my intended task and was heading back to my house, I took a detour down a dirt road that went in the general direction I needed to go.  It wasn't the most direct path but I haven't been on this road for quite a while so I took it.  I always scan the edges of roads and trails and have found cash, bicycle parts, tools, hardware, and other stuff that has been accidently dropped.
Last evening I noticed squashed cherries so I looked up and I was standing under a large domestic cherry tree that had somehow grown in the hedgerow along the road.  It was loaded with ripening fruit.  Now that surprised me a little because the cherry season is pretty much over in this area.  Just before I went on leave in late June, I had picked a quart of delicious, sweet, dark cherries on the edge of a pasture near my village.  I didn't have the time to process any large amounts for juice or jelly but I had fresh cherries with my lunch and for snacks for five days.  I think this tree is a little late because it is heavily shaded and this is a dry spot.  We have only recently had normal rain and so now the tree is playing catch-up.  Good for the birds and good for me.  I'll go back in a couple days and pick some fruit.  The cherries on this tree are a brighter red than the ones I picked in June; those were dark maroon-almost black. 

The cherries are a near-term resource but I also have to look for things I can use further down the road.  As I walked on this road I also saw plenty of Elder trees and bushes.  Elder used to be very common where I come from in PA but they are increasingly hard to find.  They grow like weeds here in South Limburg.  Last year I picked a five gallon bucket of Elderberries and squeezed a little more than a gallon and a half of juice.  I put up six pint jars of jelly (one of my absolute favorites) and have a gallon or so of juice in my freezer.  I'll make some more jelly when I need to.  I don't eat pancakes or waffles but for those that do, elderberries make a great syrup to put on them.  Elderberries have all sorts of positive medicinal uses and I might pick some for juice to mix with and fortify my grape juice.  But I don't need any more for jelly since I will move back to the states next year.  Elderberry jelly is no harder to make than any other jelly.  The most difficult and time consuming part is getting the tiny berries off the stem.  My trick is to use a large serving fork and basically rake the berries off the stems into a large bucket.  Caution: the juice will stain so do it outside and use a clean five gallon bucket because the berries will sometimes fly. The recipe I used is similar to this one: Elderberry Jelly Recipe

If you have never tried Elderberry jelly and want to taste it before you go through the effort of making your own, you can order some online.  If you live near a good farmers market or an Amish Market, you might be able to pick up a jar there.  Otherwise it is somewhat hard to find.

I also saw quite a few blackberry bushes along this road.  Blackberries make great wine, jelly, syrup and baked goods (cobbler); they are also good to eat fresh. Here, blackberries are still about 2-3 weeks in the future but you will find a few that ripened prematurely.  I ate a small handful on Saturday when I took my weekend hike.  For fresh eating I prefer raspberries to blackberries because there is an internal stem in the blackberry and raspberries are just the fruit when you pick them.  But I really like the taste of blackberries so I deal with it.  I think I might have missed the wild raspberry season here.  
While I was home on leave my raspberries came in and my family picked buckets full.  My wife made three Raspberry Buckle cakes while I was home and let me tell you they never go stale.  Those would be $10-12 cakes if you bought them in a store. One time we had it with ice cream and that is a refreshing, cool treat.

I'm not teaching survival skills on this blog but one thing I couldn't help but notice was the large number of thistle plants growing along this road.  Some thistles are not edible, some are toxic, but many others are edible (peeled stems and the roots).  I have made string from thistle but have never eaten them so I don't know much about it.  But, if they grow heavily in your area, like they do here, it might be worth your while to study the types that grow there and see if they are a  resource you can use.

Now I'm coming to some long term observations.  Once the road came out from what is called a "holle weg" or sunken road configuration I was then walking between three different cultivated fields.  In these fields was corn, potatoes, and wheat.  I grew up on a farm and I am strongly warning against stealing from farmers; they have a hard enough time earning a living.  But what you can do, in the late fall, is go "gleaning".  Modern farm machinery is designed to be efficient and low labor.  Because of this, the machine does not pick everything and imperfect crops are often left behind.  Let's talk about corn.

Corn is an intensely planted row crop.  Right now corn is selling at an all-time high price and so many additional acres have been planted.  Corn harvestors go down each row and pull the cob off the stalk, husk it, and then shuck the kernels off the cob.  This is done at high speed.  A farmer is doing good if he gets 96-98 percent of the corn.  He could get more if he went slower or the corn was not growing so close together but then time is money.  Losing a little grain for the sake of time is acceptable in most cases.  What is a small amount of corn in the farmer's eye is a valuable resource for you.  When I was a teenager I would glean corn fields to collect what the farmer had left behind.  "Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest." -Wikipedia.  In my case we used the corn to feed our livestock but it is perfectly edible for humans.  All you need is a grinder and you can produce corn flour for bread, muffins, tortillas, etc.  If you are raising a couple chickens for eggs and meat it is a good way to get free feed.  Why will farmers let you glean their fields?  Well truthfully, some won't.  But many will because they are going to grow something else in this field next year and they don't want "volunteer corn" growing from the left behind seeds. You could always offer half of what you glean.  The best places to find corn is where the harvester had to turn and where the corn was off-loader from the harvestor to the truck. Back when I did it it was common to glean 2-3 bushels per acre.  It was a nice day outside, I got some exercise, I found arrowheads and other interesting rocks, and I collected a considerable amount of corn for free.

The next item for gleaning is the potato field.  Nobody eats more potatos than the Belgians and the Dutch; it is served with every meal.  There are thousands of acres of potato fields in my area.  Potato harvesting is difficult business because potatoes grow under ground.  It the old days you used a potato plow to unearth the spuds and then people walked along and picked them up.  Nowadays, there are automated harvestors that do it all.  The problem is, how does a harvester separate potatoes from the plant, dirt and rocks?  They use screens and shakers. The result is that some potatoes are cut and small potatoes pass through the machine.  These are left behind, often in piles at the ends of fields where the harvester off-loads.  Last fall I picked up a few while hiking to eat raw (yep, raw, salted potato slices were a treat in my house when I was growing up.  Try it sometime.).  I could easily have gleaned hundreds of pounds of potatoes from the local fields but I was on a low carb diet at the time so I passed on the opportunity.  This year I will go out and get some.

ok, that's it for now.

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