Wednesday, September 22, 2010

gathering food like little squirrels...

We've been having a very busy couple of weeks. Change is in the air, and we've been experiencing our share of it lately. i have started new projects, and finished a few old ones. We are still waiting for rain, so my garden is dry and sad. i am still getting tomatoes, purple beans, peppers, several types of squash and some chard. My second planting of cucs fell victim to sudden wilt. It has been too hot and dry to grow any cold crops, so all the seeds i planted just withered away. i'll wait for it to rain and cool down and try again later in the season.

We have been incredibly blessed this year with wild food. Living where we do, in the mountain where the land is still wild there is almost always an abundance of wild food. In the past we have gathered apple and blackberries. This year we have been gathering much more. i'm begining to feel like a little squirrel gathering food for the winter.

Although this year has not been the best for our garden, it has been a good year for fruit and nuts. Every where i drive i see apples. So many wild trees completely loaded with fruit and dropping all over the ground.

Right on the edge of our property we found an abundance of these peculiar looking pods. This isn't the first time we've seen them, the kids use the dried hulls as 'ant boats' or cradles for fairy babies. This is the first time we have seen so many of them with the nut still intact. After doing a bit of research, i was thrilled to find that they are hickory nuts, and are edible! A half cup serving provides 394 calories, 39g fat, 7g protein, 11g total carbohydrates. Contains vitamins A, E, K, and B6, and the minerals zinc, folate, riboflavin, iron, niacin and calcium. So we gathered them up. Kenan went for a hike in our woods to seek out other hickory trees and found a large grove of shagbark hickory trees. What an exciting find!

i spent an afternoon sitting around removing the nuts from the hulls. The hull can go straight into the compost and then the nuts are set out in the sun to dry for a few days. Cracking the nuts is another story. The shells are really hard, and it's almost impossible to remove the shells without destroying the nut meat. i found a good tutorial on Mother Earth News about how to extract the meat from a hickory nut. It requires a hammer, a brick and a bit of time. A nut pick will also come in handy. The nuts flavor is really good, sweet and nutty and mild. It reminds me of banana nut pudding. It will be quite a process to crack/retrieve the nuts, but i know we will enjoy them this winter, baked into cakes and cookie recipes.

Another fabulous find are these chestnuts, growing on a neighbors land. They told us to pick as many as we wanted. When i first looked at them, i wanted to make sure that they were indeed Chestnuts and not Horse Chestnuts/Buckeyes which look very similar...but are poisonous. The easiest way to tell them apart is by the pods/burrs. The American Chestnut and Chinapin are both edible and their pods/burrs have thin needle like spikes that point out in all directions. They look like large soft, furry burrs. The Buckeyes/horse chestnuts have short bumpy spikes on a smooth ball shaped fruit. This site has great pictures to show the difference. Another difference is that edible chestnuts have a pointed tip, while the buckeyes are round and smooth. Chestnuts spoil quickly and should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

Wild apples everywhere!! Kenan came home with more apples, free organic apples! These are smaller and prettier that the ones i had before. i'm hoping they'll store a little better than then the others. The last apples we had were not keeping well at all, so i turned them all into apple sauce.

i also made a batch of apple butter, and will be making more this week.
Apple butter is easy to make and so good on hot biscuits. The recipe i used came from the Blue book guide to preserving.

4 pounds of apples (about 16 med)
4 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

For the Apple Pulp. Wash, core, peel and quarter apples. Combine apples and water in saucepan, simmer until apples are soft. You can puree' them or put them through a food mill...i never do, i just cook them until they are saucey. Measure two quarts apple pulp.
To make butter combine the apple pulp, sugar and spices into a large pot. Cook slowly until thick enough to round up on spoon. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.

Ladle hot butter into hot jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Remove air bubbles, Adjust two piece lids and process for 10 minutes in boiling water canner. Mine thickened quite a bit after processing, so don't worry too much if your apple butter seems thin. Very easy to make and so good!

There are many way to acquire food, although people don't always realize it. You can forage if you have a place available to do so. Many cities are starting food sharing programs, where public fruit trees are registered and folks can register and share their garden bounty and fruit locally. You can check this site to see if there are any registered near you. Many large cities have their own programs, so you may have to do a google search for food sharing and your cities name. You can also check freecycle. This year especially, i have seen a lot of people offering free fruit on freecycle. You can ask for any excess fruit or garden produce. Craigslist is a another good place to look. You can ask for free fruit, barter for fruit, offer to pick in exchange for some of the harvest. Ask around, many folks with fruit trees have more fruit than they know what to do with it and would be happy to share with someone who will use it.

My second attempt at making goat cheese was a success! i'll post all about it in my next blog! :)


  1. I absolutely love making apple butter....thanks for posting your recipe. I think I am going to try
    making some. I have about a bushel of apples that need to be processed into something! :)

  2. I chose your blog for a bloggy award! Stop on over at my blog to claim it!!! :)

  3. Loving all that wild food! Nothing beats wild foods.

  4. I love seeing all the harvest you are bringing in! I wish we had hickory nuts here. We have big, fat acorns, and I love them, but I always imagine hickory nuts being so tasty!