Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September Farewell

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

Cobbling together a meal from what I can harvest, catch or grow appeals to my innermost being. From April through September, nature provides plenty of fixings for my wild meals. September’s bounty, although fleeting, has a special charm.

Today serves as a good example of that. My noontime meal consisted of skull-shaped puffballs (wild mushrooms from my woodlot), fillet of lake trout (caught yesterday in a nearby lake) and tender, young green beans from my garden.

These puffballs, like all wild mushrooms, present harvesters with only a short window of opportunity. Pick and enjoy them today, for tomorrow they are gone. Transients on my dinner plate, these mushrooms are.

Togue, or lake trout, bite best in September, given that cool weather arrives sometime in mid-month. That didn’t happen this year, so the fish I caught yesterday was a bonus. Besides that, the lake closes for the season on the first of October. Another year must pass before my next late-season togue-fishing trip.

And green beans, well they have a few weeks left, given that a hard frost doesn’t kill them. A note regarding these beans might prove valuable to others who enjoy green beans. Most varieties (Tendergreen comes immediately to mind) produce well, but after the first few pickings, become fat and generally misshapen. I bought my beans from a place called Vermont Seed Company, located, oddly enough, in Randolph, Wisconsin.

Anyway, these French fillet-style beans are called Straight ‘N Narrow and the name describes them quite well. No matter what, they remain straight and relatively narrow. And, of course, they retain their sweet, mild flavor. A helping of these culinary delights, freshly-picked, has to stand as one of September’s finest treats.

Oh, the ninth month has more going for it than what I have mentioned here. Earlier on, wild cranberries come around. Winter squash become ready for eating and white perch congregate in huge schools, a boon to those who relish their sweet, flaky flesh.

So as September winds down to pave the way for October, I bid it a fond farewell.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Fish, Some Mushrooms And A Late-September Day

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

The last week of September means much to me. Trout and salmon fishing on most lakes and ponds ends this month, so the last week is a now-or-never situation. So I go to lengths to take advantage of that last, fleeting opportunity.

This year saw me scheduled for a two-day stint at a remote sporting camp in Northern Maine’s 100-Mile wilderness. Two ponds within walking distance of the cabins hold lots of native brook trout. So as September approached, my thoughts more and more turned to my trip upcountry.

But the weather didn’t cooperate. All reports predicted rain by sometime during the first afternoon, just about the time I was scheduled to arrive. And wind was supposed to pick up too, bad news for someone fly-fishing out of a canoe. So I cancelled my trip.

I woke up this morning crestfallen. But since it wasn’t yet raining, I decided to take my boat to a local lake and try my luck on togue, or lake trout.

I arrived at the place where fish usually congregate this time of year and found the bottom bereft of fish. My fish locator/depth finder failed to indicate even one togue. The wind picked up slightly and it seemed only reasonable to pack it in, to wind in my lines and go, top speed, for the boat landing. But something told me to wait, don’t be hasty. One spot on the west side of the lake sometimes produces fish.

Okay. I zipped over to the last-chance spot and within five minutes of letting out line, my rod tip bounced and I lifted the rod out of the holder and reeled like crazy.

Then the fight began. I knew it was a good fish, from the way it hugged bottom and from how the rod slowly pulsated. After what seemed an eternity, I saw a silvery sheen heading my way. Soon, I made out that it was a lake trout. But then it saw the boat and gained renewed energy, taking off, stripping my reel of line in short, powerful bursts.

But in time the fish tired and I slid the net under it and lifted it in the boat. I was overjoyed. It wasn’t the biggest togue in the world but it was my precious, last-of-the-season fish. I reckoned that it weighed about five pounds, the perfect size for eating.

After arriving home and taking care of my prize, I got a call from a friend who lives on Verona Island at the head of Penobscot Bay. He wanted me to assure him that the mushrooms he had found were indeed puffballs. From his description, I was sure that he had some good, edible fungi.

Later, it occurred to me to go out in my own woods and hunt for puffballs. That variety of mushrooms had been scarce thus far and I wondered if it wasn’t just a case of them being somewhat late. And so it was.

I picked enough puffballs to make two, good meals and headed home, happy and content.

A fish, a few mushrooms and a late-September day in Maine. That’s what it takes to make me happy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dandelions and Asters

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

Soon, the first frost will change our landscape dramatically. But the change won’t just be visual. Plenty of other subtle shifts will occur as a result of freezing temperatures. Among these, dandelions will lose their bitterness. Foragers can then go out, dig the crowns and leaves and have a last fling, as it were, with wild potherbs.

Even better, dandelions appear much larger now than at the same time last year, understandable, given that our season has kept from two to three weeks ahead of itself.

At my place, dandelions grow along the edge of my gravel driveway. Here, I dig them every spring and by fall, new, young plants take their place. Leaving most of the root in place when digging guarantees is all it takes to maintain the crop.

On a melancholy note, a killing frost will signal an end to the incredible flush of color from New England asters. These violet – pink wildflowers were much in evidence this year, more so than in previous seasons.

So go, dig dandelions. Pick a bouquet of asters. And enjoy the glorious fall.