Thursday, October 27, 2011

Late-Season Foraging

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

The woodstove makes comfortable heat now, as long as it only feeds on lightweight wood such as poplar and birch. A big plus in favor of running a stove this early is that it also affords free hot water for washing dishes. A kettle of water simmering on the stovetop helps canny homeowners to cut down on energy costs.

And burning wood reminds me that the time draws near for us to get last-minute chores done outside and if any garden vegetables remain, to either freeze or can them. This week was my week to pressure can the last of my cabbages and carrots. I’ve enough canned vegetables now to last for at least two months if everything else went south. A good feeling it is, to know that my needs are thus supplied.

Open-water fishing has become a hit-or-miss proposition. Cold water and a change in fish habits make finding such usually cooperative panfish such as white perch and black crappies problematic at best. Some trout fishing still remains in selected waters. Last week, I fished several places in the Moosehead Region and also, went on an extended bird-hunting trip with my buddy Bob Lawrence of Lawrence’s Lakeside Cabins in Rockwood.

Bob took me around to places in the North Country that I had never seen, long, winding roads that opened to stunning vistas of Moosehead Lake, Seboomook Lake and beyond. One road led up the steep face of a small mountain. The place is called “The Stairway To Heaven,” and for good reason. The view was breathtaking.

Returning home with several partridge and a brace of hefty brook trout, it seemed to me that if winter hit us early it would make little difference. I had already had my outdoor fun.

Foraging for green plants has essentially ended, since a killing frost has long since killed most herbaceous perennials. Dandelions remain, however, and it may surprise some people to learn that after being hit with two or three frosts, the usually bitter plants become sweet again, the same as in springtime. So if the mood strikes, do try and get out and find some dandelions for a late-season, wild treat.

Certain apple trees hold their fruit, especially the wild trees found on long-vacant farmland. While it’s usually impossible to figure out the pedigree of these apples, the fact remains that many of them are winter types, the kind that attain their highest degree of sweetness only after a long stretch of cold weather. Some of these can even accept freezing with little or no obvious damage.

Wild root crops, if you can find them, remain available right up until snow covers the ground, making digging for them difficult if not impossible. Groundnuts and Jerusalem artichokes taste sweet now and it makes sense to go out and gather some of these too. Both keep well in the refrigerator, so take home as many as you care to harvest. You won’t hurt next year’s crop, either. Instead, taking a good portion of these tubers amounts to much-needed cultivation. Next year will see more and bigger tubers.

So get out while the getting is good. Do those last-minute chores and make sure to look around for some end-of-the-year wild edible plants. It’s a long time until next spring.

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