Today Jonathan and I had lunch at the Tea Garden in Concord. We usually eat there on Friday, and the staff has come to know us by name. Today Kari, saw us through the restaurant window coming up the sidewalk from afar and had our egg drop soup waiting at our table when we walked in. I was impressed! This is one of the reasons I like to eat there.

We took the long route back to the office. I wanted to see if the stand of Jerusalem artichokes that grow in the taxi cab parking lot were still in bloom. They were, but I didn’t stop to take any photos. We proceeded along the railroad tracks where we saw an engine busy moving “Ciment” cars from Quebec around on the sidings.

There were several bunches of Butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris) still in bloom:

Butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris)

Butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris)

I also saw a bit of Common Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) still hanging on.
Common Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)

Common Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)

There aren’t many flower still in bloom in these parts, but I was surprised to see so many downtown. I have nothing but asterids at my house.

The hawthorns (Crataegus spp) are heavy with fruit too.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp)

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp)

I grabbed a handful of berries and ate them, and they were far better than when I last tried them. Maybe they weren’t ripe back then. Though they tasted great, they were still pretty difficult to eat because of the many seeds. I sucked on them for a few minutes until I had as much of the pulp off the seeds as I thought I could manage, and then spit them out. I’ll have to consult Peterson to see how he recommends these be consumed – maybe jelly?

The other berry along the tracks that I thoroughly enjoyed was the autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata). I really need to get out and pick a bunch of this so I can make some jelly. We have several bushes growing at our church, and I have taught the kids to eat them there. That kinda freaks out their parents, but then the kids will all say in unison, “Mr. Thomas says they’re edible!” And they’re very good too, so how can they resist? I am always careful to instruct the kids to never eat any wild plants unless they know what they are and they know what part of it is edible.

If I don’t pick some for myself pretty soon, the kids will have all the bushes cleaned off.

I am thinking about having the Pathfinders over to my house next month as part of our annual Honor’s Week so they can earn the Edible Wild Plants honor. Because I have been very careful to not turn my yard into a monoculture, I have a wide variety of edible wild plants available here. Many should be available for eating next month too.

One of my favorite edible wild plants is pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum). It does not grow on my property, though it is abundant in other places I frequent. So today I pulled one up near my office thinking I’d sow the seeds somewhere at my house and see what happens. When I pulled it up, the root came with it, so instead of scattering the seed, I just replanted it:

Pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum)

Pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum)

I don’t need this plant in order to teach the honor here, as there are plenty of other plants to choose from. But it is highly flavorful, so I’d like ot have it here.

For the honor, we need to prepare and consume:

  • Three berries
  • Three beverages
  • Three salad plants
  • Three potherbs (cooked greens)
  • Two tubers

We need to prepare these items by boiling, frying, roasting, and baking. One of the plants has to be either milkweed or daylily, and since I have milkweed, but not daylily, milkweed gets the nod.

I plan to start with a short lecture covering the cardinal edibility rule (don’t eat anything unless you’ve positively identified it, and know what part of it is edible), and poisonous plants (with special attention given to poison ivy – which I do have here). The kids will be roaming around looking for plants, and I want them to know this stuff when they see it.

Then we will set out to do our field work, starting with a visit to the poison ivy patch. I think I will make up a couple of sheets with photos of the target plants and let the kids fan out to find them. They are also supposed to photograph the plants. Here’s what I plan to have them collect:

  • Three wild berries: wintergreen, elderberry, and blackberry, and optionally, partridge berry, dewberry, and autumn olive.
  • Three beverages: wintergreen, elderberry, sweetfern, and optionally aronia
  • Three salad plants: wood sorrel, plantain, violets, and optionally pepperweed, sheep sorrel, and oxeye daisy. Actually, I haven’t seen any sheep sorrel or oxeye daisy here this year, so that depends on whether or not it shows up).
  • Three greens: milkweed, dandelion, and white lettuce.
  • Two Tubers: Carrot (Queen Anne’s lace), Indian cucumber root, and optionally evening primrose, and ground nut.

We will also collect hazelnuts (they are heavy this year, and they should be ripe by Honors Week). Then back inside to begin cooking stuff up.

We will roast the hazels, fry up some dandelion fritters (from the flower heads), boil the milkweed (in several changes of water), and bake a blackberry pie. That should cover the four cooking methods.

We also need to identify five edible trees and five edible shrubs. For this, I plan to use oak, cherry, beech, white pine, and maple trees, and wintergreen, blackberry, elderberry, hazel, and aronia shrubs.

All of this except the elderberry grows on my property, and the elderberry grows on my neighbor’s place. We’ll use that with permission, of course!

While the stuff is cooking (or while we are eating it), I will lecture a little more on some of the other requirements. That should wrap up the whole honor. I’m trying to decided if I want to do this during a weekday evening (when we will have three hours or so), or save it for Saturday afternoon (we don’t usually have an honor on Saturday during Honors Week).

While I was writing this, I was also finishing off the maple syrup I tapped last spring. I had previously boiled it down by about 15:1, and I needed to get that down to 30:1. I forgot that it was critical to keep a close eye on it in the last stages, and burned the whole batch. Actually, I guess I carmelized most of it. It tastes very much like Sugar Daddies (the candy), but the house smells more liked burned sugar. I added some water back into it to thin it up again, but unfortunately, I don’t think there is a way to unburn it. 😦

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius), including the tuber

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius), including the tuber

A little more than a year ago, I happened to notice that dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) had a listing in Peterson’s Field Guides, Edible Wild Plants. Since that stuff grows in abundance in my wood lot, I went out to find some and try it out. But I was too late! This plant dies back pretty quickly after it flowers, and I couldn’t find any trace of it when I went looking. But there’s always next year, right?

Well that would be now. They are finished flowering now, and many have gone to seed, so I figured if I wanted to try this edible wild food, I’d better strike while the iron was hot. I dug up these six tubers after about five minutes worth of effort.

Six P. trifolius tubers

Six P. trifolius tubers

The first one I pulled up didn’t seem to have a bulbous tuber, so I went to the next one and dug a little more carefully. I wasn’t sure if it was too early for the plant to put its energy into the tuber, or if I had just lost it in the dirt. I struck gold with the second plant, and after digging up the third, I went back to the first and probed around in the soil – and found the tuber.

The part of an edible plant that you eat, depends on where the plant is storing its energy. In late fall through early spring, the food energy is stored in the roots. Then as the plant sprouts, the energy goes from the root to the shoot, then to the flower, and then to the seeds. Finally, the energy returns to the roots (for perennials, anyhow).

I brought my catch into the house, washed it off, and then got out my copy of Peterson to make sure I remembered how to prepare these for consumption. There are two options – eat them raw (as a nibble), or boil them for 5-10 minutes. Half a dozen tiny tubers hardly seemed to justify the energy necessary to bring even a cup of water to a boil, so I opted for the former.

I thought they were pretty good! They have the texture of radish, and are quite reminiscent of that domestic tuber – but with a hint of carrot. I don’t think I’ll plow up my woods in search of a bushel, but I will take another nibble next spring for sure.

More and more species of flowering plants are blooming every day now. It’s hard to keep up with them. Today it was tulips, periwinkle, birch trees, sugar maples, and a couple I have not yet identified. I went for a quick walk after lunch today and took several pictures. But I didn’t have a lot of time to dally around, because we have a lot to do in the office. I went for my walk anyhow because it helps to clear my head and keep me awake after lunch.

When I got home I took Penny outside and looked around the property for more blooms. Comptonia peregrina (sweetfern) is blooming right now. That’s not a fern at all, actually, which is why is can bloom in the first place. Ferns do not have flowers, nor do they have seeds. Rather, they produce spores. They also have a pretty interesting (i.e., non-traditional) life cycle. They produce male and female gametes which grow large enough to easily see with the naked eye. In humans (et al), gametes are the sperm and egg cells. But with ferns, these can exist independently for some time. Eventually, they get together and form a new plant. I don’t remember how exactly they do this, but I do recall that it involves water.

Anyhow, sweetfern is not a fern at all. The leaves are very fragrant and can be used as the basis for an herbal tea. If you are so inclined. In my study of edible wild plants, I found that MOST of them are great for making herbal teas. So if you’re ever stranded in the wilderness and want a tea-like drink, you’re in luck. Wintergreen, yarrow, goldenrod, and a whole slew of other plants fall into this category. You might still be hungry, but your tea cravings are sure to be satisfied.

Tomorrow promises to be busy. Va and Jonathan are heading to Vermont to take four seminars towards their Master Guide class (that’s a Pathfinder thing). I’m going to teach one of the seminars, but I have duties at church, so I won’t show up there until the afternoon. I’ll take Beth with me, but leave David at home to tend the dog. I have asked Cheryl to take my Juniors Sabbath School class, and I’m going to teach Va’s kindergarten class. I’ve never taught that age group, so this should be fun.

Today was the first birthday for Capital Christian School. To celebrate, we had a birthday party. A few weeks ago, Va put an apple tree on the bulletin board at church with several “apples” on it. On the back of each apple was the name of a book the school wanted for its library. Several people took apples and either wrote checks or bought the books and donated them.

At the party, we had some egg races, a three-legged race, and a balloon sitting race (I dunno what else to call it – the kids ran across the yard, grabbed a balloon, sat on it until it popped, and then ran back). We also had some face painting. The kids seemed to enjoy it, and I know I enjoyed talking with the adults there.

At one point David walked up to Ken, Brian, and I, and said “Par-tay!” Ken responded, “butter.” Brian and I got a huge kick out of that, but David didn’t get it – not nearly old enough to have seen that commercial!

Beth found me a patch of slime mold, so I took a few pictures of that. She showed several kids too, and they were all pretty amazed by it.

Ken brought a post for a basketball goal, and we unloaded that. We plan to meet there Tuesday evening to strip it and paint it. We’ll prolly meet again to set it in the ground. He also has a basketball goal that we’ll clean up and mount. I pushed for this because one of the Pathfinders asked if we could work on the Basketball honor. Once that’s in place, we’ll be able to do just that!

Before we went to the party we ate Jonathan’s birthday dinner at Tia Margarita’s in downtown Concord. We hardly ever go there because it’s downtown. I’d go there for lunch sometimes, but they never open until 4:00pm.

And before we ate, I spent some time outside picking berries. I got maybe a pint of blackberries, and perhaps a half pint of blueberries. They are in the freezer now. We’re going to get a lot more blackberries soon though, because there are a ton of unripe ones still on the canes.

I did cut several canes down around the log cabin I started for Beth three or four years ago. That project would progress a lot quicker if I had a chainsaw. There were almost no berries on those canes anyhow, though I suppose there would have been next year (blackberry canes live for two years – they make fruit only during the second). I ought to go berry picking at the church. I saw several bushes with ripe berries when I was at the party tonight. Who know – I might!

My poor wife got almost no sleep lat night because of he sinuses. She rolled out of bed sometime between one and two I think and went downstairs. She didn’t sleep a wink. We bought her some four-hour Sudafed while we were in Concord.

Tomorrow and Tuesday I will be backpacking in the White Mountains with Beth. Jonathan will be taking some finals so he can’t go, and David still has a ton of school work so he can’t go either. So it’ll just be the two of us. I’m looking forward to this. My plan is to hike until Beth is tired, then rest for a bit. Then hike until she’s tired again, and rest again. Then we’ll start looking for a camp site. I don’t want to push her too far, or she’ll have a hard time making the return trip.

Today is virtual Monday for me. Since I took a couple of vacation days Monday and Tuesday, I had a long weekend. Today I went back to work, so it feels just like a Monday to me. But I will have a short week, so that’s nice.

It has been raining almost the whole day. There have been periods of no rain, but not very many, and not very long. On the way to work this morning I swung by the church to return the Pathfinder camping gear we borrowed for our trip. It was raining then. I got to work, and was the first one to park in the garage. Rainy days like this make me very happy to park in a garage. Snowy days make me even happier about having a garage both at home and at work.

I was the first one upstairs at the office today, so all the lights were out. I usually just leave them off, because I don’t need them. My office has a motion sensor to turn the lights on and off. I requested one because when they remodeled, the “only” place they could put the switch was way on the wrong side of the office. I suggested the motion sensor, and the landlord leaped at the idea. But last week I figured, “why not turn that off?” I have a window overlooking Main Street, and it provides plenty of light. So I turned it off, and worked happily for a couple of days. But today it was so dark and rainy I decided to turn it on again. When the weather clears up, I’ll turn it off again.

Not only am I thankful for having a garage to park in, I am also glad that my camping trip ended before this rain came in. I managed to dry the tent off yesterday afternoon. Cheryl and Dirk borrowed it for their camping trip this morning – I don’t know where they are going, but if it’s anywhere local, they are going to have a wet trip!

When I got home, it was not raining, so I went out and walked the trail. I found a lot of blueberries, so I picked them. It was just over 60 degrees, so I had borrowed Jonathan’s jacket. When my hand was too full to easily hold any more blueberries, I emptied it into his pocket. Then I picked two more hands full. I think I doubled my blueberry harvest today. I also found about ten blackberries. I put the blackberries in a freezer bag and chucked the blueberries in the plastic container with the rest. Then I put them both in the freezer. If all the blackberries I have growing wild here ripen, I might get as much as a gallon of them. We’ll see.

The squash is doing nicely. All the seeds I replanted came up except one, so now I have twenty-four plants. I hope they can make something before the first frost. I’m thinking about surrounding them with clear plastic later this fall to make a mini-greenhouse (a four foot cube). Maybe that will extend the growing season long enough for me to get a squash or two.

I read several Internet comic strips each day. Today, I really liked this one In Which a Dog is Sneaky. You might wanna take a look before reading further, or I’ll spoil it for you. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

It always amazes me when dogs engage in scatophagy. Penny does that every now and then, particularly when I find a pile of deer scat on the trail. I was trying to get a photograph of some once for the Animal Tracking honor when she saw what I was doing, scooped up my subject, and ran off with it in her mouth. Ew! Don’t say she was trying to prevent me from taking a picture of that which should not have its picture taken! She’s done the same thing even when I was not taking a picture. She is not the only dog that will do that either.

Great. That’s two days in a row I’ve posted about scat. Sorry.

I have been reading about Scrabulous, a Scrabble-like game that has up to now been available on Facebook. I don’t do Facebook, so I haven’t played it, but the game has gotten rave reviews. Unfortunately, they did not have permission from Hasbro to make a Scrabble-like game, and were taken down in the US and Canada today. I had an idea back when I was in college that might save their butts though, and being the nice kind of guy I am, I gave it to them. The idea is to make a 3D version of the game played on a 9x9x9 cube. They got back to me with this:

Alright, lets see! Will try out a demo 🙂

So… if you see this happen, remember you heard it here first. You’re welcome. I do have to admit that my main reason for giving them the idea is because I want to play it, but I do not want to develop the game. I have had the idea for over 20 years, but have not written a single line of code to make it happen, so it’s safe to assume that I will prolly never write a line of code to that end. But I still want to play it. Good luck Scrabulous guys!

Beth and I counted 11 Rana clamitans (green frog) specimens in the storm water pond tonight. I have been taking their pictures for pretty much the same reason I take pictures of flowers – such as the one in my banner up there – Sisyrinchium montanum (Blue-eyed Grass). The NH Department of Fish and Game runs a program they call “Reptile and Amphibian Reporting Program” or RAARP. They want to know when and where citizens have spotted any species of reptile or amphibian. So I said “Hey! I’m a citizen!” I have been keeping the data they want, and I will send it in this fall. I wish they would implement a program more like the Bloom Clock, because it’s a lot easier to participate in, and it lets the other users interact with one another. Kinda like Facebook I guess.

After our frog spotting concluded, we went along the trail in the woods behind the house. I started picking some of the wild blueberries growing there, and pretty soon, I had about more than I could hold in one hand.

One handfull of blueberries

One handfull of blueberries

Now that’s not really a lot of blueberries, but you have to remember that I did not plant any of them, fertilize them, or in any other way provide them with care. Beth insisted that we save them for this fall and winter “like squirrels do” and I thought that was a fine idea. She ran to the house and got a plastic container and we collected a little more. Then I chucked them in the freezer. I will add to it as I can, and maybe by this fall we will have a quart.

Afterwards, I cut the grass. I think it was the third time this year. I don’t have what most people would consider a great lawn, but it suits me pretty well. Instead of a grass monoculture, I have all sorts of plants (most would say weeds) growing there, and I enjoy them all. I hate cutting them down! I mowed around a couple of my friends (i.e., more weeds), but here’s a list of the fallen:

  • Trifolium pratens
  • Trifolium repens
  • Potentilla arguta
  • Prunella vulgaris
  • Ranunculus spp.
  • Oxalis stricta
  • Vicia cracca

Sniff! I’ll miss you little guys!