Loose Ends 2011

Here are some of the things I intended to write about last year, but which got heavily procrastinated and failed to make it past the event horizon. Until now…

1) – Holm Oaks. Also called Holly or Evergreen Oaks because they hold onto their tough, waxy leaves all through the year. A few weeks after writing about them in a comment on my Balanophagy post I was walking up a road I’d not been on for a while and bumped into this huge sucker:

He had lovely wrinkly-grey bark and was the largest of three, apparently of the same species, providing a hefty barrier to the road on the right and completely shading out the small houses on the left. A quick hunt around on the floor confirmed my suspicion – a thick layer of half-rotted leafmould, practically nothing growing and lots of small, pointy, shiny brown acorns:

Jackpot! I bent down and gathered a couple of pockets’ worth, earning the usual suspicious glances from people walking past. I noticed that many more of the nuts showed signs of nibbling by small mammals than I’ve found with regular acorns, perhaps confirming the lower tannin content I’d heard about. A quick taste test revealed only a slight astringency at the end, coupled with a lingering starchy sweetness which was in a different league to any other acorns I’d nibbled on. I’ve since noticed several more trees on my winter walkabouts – they’re much easier to spot when all the other trees have dropped their leaves.

Unfortunately it took longer to process a decent amount of the acorns, using the usual method of cracking, peeling, rubbing off the inner skin and roasting for around half an hour, but then I’d done Beechnuts earlier in the season, so couldn’t really complain…

Overnight soaking improved the raw flavour of the second batch (I had to do it because most of them had dried to stone-hardness by the time I got round to them), but I think I overdid the roasting in the end. The first lot came out better, approaching Ken Fern’s description of ‘a soft, floury texture and a sweet flavour that is rather like sweet chestnuts’ (Plants For A Future, p.36). I’ve put them into morning porridge, meat stews, lentil dishes and even a couple of fry-ups, and they seem to keep rather well in their glass jam jar – better than the regular acorns I kept in a paper bag which had to get washed and re-roasted to kill the mould that was growing on several of them.

2) – Linden Leaf Stew. As promised I finally got round to making a Creole-style ‘gumbo’ dish using the Lime leaves I dried and powdered previously. I loosely followed this recipe, frying ground beef and chunks of chicken with onions, carrots, garlic, spinach, misc. herbs and spices, then pouring boiling water over the top, adding the lime leaves, salt’n’pepper, some baking soda and, even though the idea seemed pretty strange to me, a dollop of peanut butter.

This then stewed away for about half an hour and eventually got served with plain rice:

Incredibly rich and flavourful, I was the only one who managed to finish their plate. Unfortunately I have to report that the meal gave me pretty terrible gas for the rest of the night 8O . Hopefully that was due to the baking soda and not the lime leaves or anything else essential to the recipe…

3) – Cattail Rhizomes. Ooh boy, this wasn’t successful! I maybe gave a false impression of abundance with my picture of two plastic bags full of rhizomes gathered from a local pond during a conservation task back in September. In reality my harvest wasn’t as substantial as it looked because the root material is very spongy with only a thin solid core going through the middle.

Well, I washed, scrubbed and cut them into manageable segments, keeping the tender young shoot separate. Then I tried boiling and roasting them like you would with potatoes, as recommended by several sources. The yellow outer skin remained tough and indigestible, but it was possible to tease out the inner fibres with my teeth and basically suck the pure starch off them – not the most satisfying culinary experience!

Then I spent a good long time peeling the outer skins off and chopping the white centers into smaller chunks. At first I tried drying these in the oven and whizzing in the food processor as a short-cut for flour, but the fibres just lumped together on the blade and didn’t show any signs of breaking up into smaller particles.

Then I decided to try and separate the starch by soaking them in tepid water, squashing by hand, boiling (after which they were vaguely edible in a chewy, fibrous kind of way), mashing and more squashing into several bowls of starch-water, which I then allowed to settle before pouring the water off the dirty white sludge at the bottom.

This then got poured into trays, dried out in the sun and the oven, then finally ground in my coffee grinder. I was NOT impressed by the amount of flour I ended up with.

So either people are talking bollocks when they say, for instance, that ‘Yields of 8 tonnes of flour per hectare have been recorded’ (Plants For a Future, p.135) or one way or another I’m not doin’ it right. Maybe I went for them at the wrong time of year, or perhaps I needed to go for the main root matter at the base of the stem rather than the creeping rhizomes. Either way I’m thoroughly sick of the plant by now, so probably won’t be revisiting it (at least for its roots) for a good long while. Sorry Cattails!

4) – Angelica & Sweet Cicely. Dug up a bunch of these on a gardening job and decided to save them. Both got washed, scrubbed and fine-sliced in the food processor (a grating attempt on the Cicely didn’t work too well). Angelica got tinctured in vodka and also dried in the oven for tea

…while Cicely got dried in the same way and simply ground to a fine powder, the idea being to use it as some kind of sweetener, as well as for a nice aniseedy tea.

Both gave the house a really strong aromatic smell (somewhat like gin!) during the various processing stages.

5) – Rosehips. Went out and made my usual harvest and my usual laborious attempts at making jam (too runny this time).

My main thought recently was about wildcrafting. Reading Kat Anderson’s Tending The Wild over the summer and going on a gardening course that touched on the principles & practices of pruning for trees, shrubs, hedges and, yes, roses made me start thinking about actively managing wild plants for an increased harvest, rather than passively taking what they had to offer come fruiting season. Perhaps I should be bringing secateurs/loppers or a pruning saw with me along with the hooked stick (useful for pulling down long rambling rose stems) and plastic bag? I would like to get my eye in with cultivated roses first, but maybe next year I’ll start on the wild specimens. I’m guessing it would be the same approach as pruning for an abundance of flowers, except you would leave them on through the winter as they swelled up to form the hips. A mindful approach would do miles better than insensitive hedge-trimmers cutting them back to the same height each time.

Still need to figure out how to make flour from the seeds…

6) – Sloe Gin. My camera ran out of battery so I couldn’t take a picture of my harvesting technique. Basically I find a nice overhanging branch with bare ground or relatively short grass underneath (sometimes I bring a tarp or just lay out my jacket), then I thwack at it with a stick until most of the berries have fallen and finally just pick them up from where they’ve landed. This year I seemed to have the timing right, as the berries tasted almost sweet right off the bush, with just a hint of the normally face-shrivelling astringency after a couple of frosts had caused the tannins to retreat back into the body of the plant (I’ve heard the recommended practice of simulating frosts by putting the picked berries in the freezer doesn’t work because the tannins have nowhere to go to. Also it’s a pain handling frozen fruit, especially if you have to pick bits of iced mud, grass and wood off them.) Last year’s batch of sloe gin was too acidic for my taste, so this year I wanted to put more sugar in, as well as trying some nice warming spices – ginger, ground cloves & cinnamon. I used an old fondue fork to stab 3-4 holes into each berry and thus ease percolation of the juices and the supposedly almond-like flavour of the inner seed. One 75cl bottle of cheap gin became two 75cl bottles half full of sloes with the spices and sugar stirred into the gin and then poured over the top. I had just enough berries to plop in and raise the level of the liquid to the top of both bottles.

(It may have been a mistake to use dark brown sugar, as for the moment it looks rather like poo-water… (!) Hopefully that will change as the dark purple-redness of the berries seeps out in the coming weeks & months.)

Also, on a tip-off from R, I re-used last year’s sloes to make sloe cider with my last bottle of home-brew from 2010. Should have quite a kick to it!

7) Acorn germination! I planted nine fatties from tree d) of the Autumn harvests.

Still don’t know where I’m going to plant them…

That about covers it for plant happenings. Otherwise I’ve got posts brewing on food vs. population, cultivation & the production imperative, disturbance revisited, plus various summer reports and perhaps even the long-awaited ‘Coming Down From the Mountain #2′. Plenty of time & no rush to get into all of that :)

Enjoy the predicted cold snap in the next couple of days. It might be the only winter we get this year!

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13 Responses to “Loose Ends 2011”

  1. annie Says:

    Nice.
    On a personal note, if i had angelica I would try it with rhubarb, which usually requires so much sweetening.
    Happy New Year.

  2. Sarah Head Says:

    Great post, Ian – some really interesting stuff you’ve been trying! Not sure I agree with Annie above – it’s the sweet cecily you want to try with rhubarb and other fruit to reduce sugar addition, not angelica root. Don’t know if you chewed the root before drying – it’s a bit like chewing scent! Good for fibroid pain (which thankfully you’ll never know about!) and warming for cold icky coughs and it’s the second year stems you need to candy for cake decoration. The leaves are a bitter and make horrible tea. I was really interested in your cattail story – I think this is the plant the Native American guide was talking about being used to make silk-like fibres at Plimouth Plantation. I didn’t know they grew over here. I’ve also been thinking about managing wild roses to increase production, so if you have any tips about the pruning, please share – I’ll need to prune several bushes in the next two months.

  3. Ian M Says:

    Thanks Annie & Sarah – happy new year to you both too :)

    Cicely & Rhubarb… noted. I’ve been slightly disappointed with the sweetening properties of the powder so far. As with the tea you do get a strong, pleasant aniseedy flavour coming through, but this is mixed in with the woody, slightly bitter taste of dried root. Maybe the thing to do would be to make a decoction first before using in cooking? Or darkening/deepening the flavour with a double roast as with Dandelion root coffee? Any suggestions welcome…

    @Sarah – you never came across Cattails (aka Reedmace, Typha) over here? It’s pretty ubiquitous in swampy areas like ponds or riverbanks. Yes, I guess you could separate off thin strands of the leaf fiber to make cordage of some kind. I think they’re more commonly used whole & woven to make durable baskets, thatching etc.

    re: ‘chewing the root’ – you mean with Angelica? Well, a had a quick nibble on both actually – powerful stuff! I’ve got A entering its second year in the neighbour’s garden, so will try candying the stems if they come up later in the year.

    As for roses, I think it depends whether it’s a Bush or a Shrub variety (I’m assuming wild dog roses would come under the latter, as all the old ornamental roses are shrubs – bushes only got introduced fairly recently). Pruning would depend on whether it flowered on the current or 2nd year growth. With the former I think the general rule is to cut the one year growth back to 2-3 buds (“growth follows the knife” so hard prune = more subsequent growth than soft prune), whereas the latter may only require soft pruning for best shape – e.g. pruning to an outward facing bud so the stems don’t all tangle up in the middle of the bush – as well as cutting out dead, damaged, & diseased growth. This page looks like a good general guide. Hope that helps!

    I

  4. christine Says:

    Hi Ian –
    I make a habit of plucking a few young leaves of sweet cicely at the same time as I pull rhubarb for stewing. The effect is subtle but it does lessen the need for sugar. The leaves just sort of melt into the fruit, although sometimes I have to fish out a stem or two.
    For use of the root, may I suggest simply slicing it next time and skip the grinding? It will retain its flavour better, you can simply steep slices for a tea or even pop them in stews & remove them at the end of cooking. Thinly sliced it will air-dry nicely, just turn it daily, no need for the oven. I find I can dry any roots quite easily in a matter of a few days if they are near a heat source but not too close, with good air circulation being key. Also, washing is usually not a good idea – just let the roots dry whole for 24 hrs until the earth can be brushed off, then proceed. Both sweet cicely and Linden are known to settle the tummy as they are both mucilagenous(sp?). I suspect over processing would have negated that, linden is often made as a cold water infusion, for example, much like the mallows. The rule of thumb is the more intact the leaf/root, the better the flavour and medicinal qualities are retained.
    As for the cattail experience, I can sympathize! Having heard tales from friends that are similar, I have yet to try it, although it is plentiful here. Is the flour not made from the tops though? I believe it to be a case of many hands/light work, as the folk who really made use of such things would band together for harvest & prep. I have a book called “Edible Wild” written by a Canadian woodsman with a write-up on it but that darn book has a habit of disappearing. When I track it down I’ll send you the info. I’m pretty sure, though, that harvest of the roots/rhizomes happens in early summer, and they are roasted in the coals of a firepit for quite a long time. The young shoots, I think, are used as pot-herb. I find books “about” wild food are often written on second or third hand information so that by the time it gets to us it’s pretty far from accurate. That ticks me off no end.
    I am in envy of your sloes, no such thing here!
    Happy new year
    C.

  5. Ian M Says:

    Hey Christine,

    Thanks for that tip about slicing the roots and minimising processing, which makes lots of intuitive sense. I definitely got the feeling about halfway through grinding the S Cicely that this wasn’t really the best way to go about it. You don’t wash your roots at all then? I find it usually takes a toothbrush to get the dirt out from in between all the cracks and folds, but I suppose this could work dry too… Maybe I’m overly squeamish about eating soil or having it ‘contaminate’ the pure essence of the root. Anyway I’ll try your method next time.

    re: Cattails – yes, I think they make a flour adulterant from the pollen too, although it apparently takes a keen eye coupled with local knowledge to spot the window for gathering – ie: when it’s ripe enough to shake off into containers, but before the wind has blown it all away. I liked the flavour & texture of the young shoots (the pointy white things you can see bottom-right in my first pic), which were even good to nibble on raw after washing off the pond mud. I felt confident enough to do that with that particular body of water, but wouldn’t recommend making a habit of it… apparently some people have used the plant to treat toxic waste, which might mean it’s good at absorbing toxins into its flesh – which might then get absorbed into YOUR flesh! [::paranoid shudder::] Anyway, early summer you say? Maybe I’ll have to try that, although isn’t that usually the time when all the plant’s energy is going up into the stem & flowering parts?

    I hear you on the 2nd hand info. I only really trust people who have obviously tried these things for themselves and have their own stories to tell. It’s like music – sure, you’re free to borrow heavily from contemporaries and others who have come before you, but if you don’t then add your own thing to the mix you’re just a covers band parasitising off someone else’s hard-earned success.

    best,
    Ian

  6. christine Says:

    Found the following re cattails in Grace Firth’s “A Natural Year”. She is describing digging for roots/tubers with her grandfather in March. “When a group of frowzy looking cattail heads was selected, my grandfather would feel for the main roots with his fork. He said the clue to digging cattail roots was finding plants that grew in water because the root was often as long as a man’s forearm…he separated the surface entanglements by hand, then followed the larger ropes to their knobby ends…he drew out handfuls of stringy fibres with bulbous ends and I would help him snap off the cattail tubers…bulbous tubers from the shoots of cattail roots may be peeled and boiled in salted water for ten to twenty minutes and drenched in butter, salt and pepper. With crispy fried fish they are terrific! The gaskets, or pulpy connecting joints of the rootstalks cooked after being peeled, were used in stews by my family…most root plants are better tasting in the spring because frosts seem to sweeten and tenderize them.”

    So, March in the Northeastern US, I still believe it’s early summer up here (we’re considerably further north), but still can’t find that darn book… The fish she refers to is, of course, catfish, which is fantastic when freshly caught…yum

    It’s true, I never wash the roots of anything I’ve collected :) There are a few reasons for this; once they’re wet from washing, they are more prone to go soft and moldy, the intact skin is where much the good stuff is, and lastly (and maybe the one that will creep you out a wee bit,), a smidgeon of soil is very good for you and is in fact part of the “essence of the root” as you put it so aptly. The bacteria in healthy soil is very similar to that in a healthy human being, in fact it’s available in capsule form for healing leaky gut et al. Of course I’d rather get mine from my garden!

    Many plants that absorb toxins from the soil will also absorb toxins from your body and escort them safely out. You wouldn’t gather them willynilly from questionable areas of course … you might like this book: Invasive Plant Medicine – The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives by Timothy Lee Scott

    Sorry I got long-winded again!

    Cheers C

  7. Ian M Says:

    Thanks for digging that up for me Christine – a great quote, again showing how much wild plant knowledge has been lost even from non-indigenous traditions (although I don’t know the background of Grace Firth’s knowledge and am just guessing from her name that it comes from white farmer/settler stock).

    I’m not really as squeamish as I made out – I don’t mind eating a little dirt, honest! Just these particular roots had a few wormy sections and some spots of ‘rust’ that looked distinctly unappetising…

    Interesting point about toxin-absorbing plants, which again makes intuitive sense. Reminds me of old ladies growing radioactive cabbages near Chernobyl, having refused to leave after the explosion. They didn’t report any sicknesses to the people doing the documentary – maybe a similar thing was going on of the plant actually pulling the nasties out of the people rather than piling them on? That invasive plant book looks fascinating from the g**gle preview. Damn them for blocking out the Japanese Knotweed pages! I’ll have to see if I can find a copy on the cheap somewhere…

    BTW: anybody else still reading this should go to Christine’s site by clicking her name above, read the content and order her to keep on writing. I don’t think she should be allowed to stop after what she’s done there.

  8. christine Says:

    Radioactive cabbages, I love it! That would make a great name for a band. Thing is, though, all the brassicas do have a reputation as anti-cancer foods. I believe it is the sulfur content (??). So the old ladies are probably on to something. Bio-remediation is fascinating isn’t it? If memory serves, Starhawk has quite a bit of info on her site, she and her permaculture cronies did a lot of work in New Orleans after Katrina. It’s always the most common plants that are the real heroes, too. Just warms the cockles of my heart to think how nature is so willing to lend a hand even when we screw things up so badly.

    We have a lot of Japanese Knotweed moving in to our area, and I’m looking forward to working with it, seemingly the shoots are quite tasty. The relationship between it and lyme disease bearing ticks is a hot topic. There are those who believe it harbours the ticks – and others who point out that the plant is the most effective treatment-and possibly a preventative- for lyme. Eradicating the plants is very, very difficult, but eradicating the ticks is impossible. You can guess which side of the debate I stand on :)

    Re Grace Firth, yes, her background is settler stock. What many don’t realize is that throughout N. America, most farmers/settlers have at least one branch of the family that’s Native. Here in the Pontiac that’s especially true. So I’m starting to think there may be a lot more traditional knowledge stil around than we are led to believe. It’s a matter of knowing who to ask – and how to ask, as well. As I worm my way into this community I find you have to prove that you’ll use what they teach you. They’d rather show than tell.

    Which brings me to the dilemma I’m in with my blog. I get discouraged by the idea that any information I pass on is just filed away in the back of people’s heads and quickly replaced by some inanity or other they read 10 minutes later. Yet I’m…driven. So rest easy, I’m not going to quit after all. Hearing from you, and others, that it is of some use really, really helps. Thanks for that.

  9. Ian M Says:

    Interesting stuff on Knotweed. Yes, apparently the stems make a good rhubarb substitute, though I’m yet to try it because of a lack of certainty that specimens I come across haven’t been doused with every chemical under the sun… Wasn’t aware of the medicinal aspects. Ticks, eh? I pick up dozens of the little blighters in the Italian mountains during the summers if I walk anywhere beyond my uncle’s house there. The locals are massively paranoid about them to the extent that some are practically housebound for all the time they spend there (usually only weekends and the summer months), and some have stopped coming altogether. Cases of Lyme disease have touched a number of people in the valley and the word spreads like wildfire. Bafflingly it turned out that some of these people hadn’t learned the importance of regular body inspections or even how to safely remove them when embedded. The bites start to itch pretty quickly, and I’m told there’s no danger of Lyme infection if the ticks are removed within 48 hours. Seems to me (and my uncle, who’s probably been bitten more times than the rest of the village combined, and with no signs of trouble) like another case of keeping healthy enough for your immune system to deal with the problem. Not heard of any populations of Knotweed helpfully making themselves available – maybe I should introduce a few of them to one of the garden there? :p

    What many don’t realize is that throughout N. America, most farmers/settlers have at least one branch of the family that’s Native [...] there may be a lot more traditional knowledge stil around than we are led to believe

    Yes, this is an important thing I’ve been gradually coming round to – that the people of the dominator culture most often haven’t got a clue what to do in the lands they’ve conquered, so at least some of the indigenous knowledge gets readily absorbed into and carried forward that way. I used to cringe when I’d read in a herbal that such-and-such a remedy was first employed by Roman soldiers – I don’t want to partake in a tradition whose purpose is to ease the functioning of a military empire! Then I remembered the point Derrick Jensen’s mum made about abusers having no personality of their own (they must destroy these aspects of themselves before they can export this violence onto the people around them) thus being forced to steal it from others in order to keep up an appearance of functioning sanity. I thought the same probably applied to whole cultures, and that a lot of their proudest accomplishments originally sprang from persecuted outsiders or internal underclasses which the very same culture was trying to eliminate. Just think of Christianity. Or the blues, for that matter. So maybe the way to go is back through that appropriated heritage, respecting it on its own merits, but honouring those who originally practiced the knowledge in their own circumstances prior to contact with the empire culture…

    Glad to hear you still feel ‘driven’, and happy to play my part in keeping your online efforts going. I recognise your frustrations, I think, having felt the same optimism when coming up with something new or something I considered as important, only to feel rejected when the online ‘community’ reacted to my precious gift with bored silence. You want your words to count for something, to have some observable effect in the real world, and to have this come back to you in interesting, new forms to challenge & provoke your own growth all over again. Yes? The internet only provides a mimic of these essential social dynamics. I think I’d probably dump this blog (expect maybe as a propaganda tool to spread the word) if I found a community of real people who were ready & able to metabolise the changes I’m going through in a considered, meaningful way – a group that was ready to be changed by its members and not merely to act unilaterally to bend their lives to its dictates… In the meantime it works as a prosthetic to help me feel sane and not alone. Which has undeniable value because it has basically kept me alive in an otherwise totally hostile environment, but then it can also act as a false friend if it holds me back from seeking out the real thing (or getting the hell out of here?)

    Anyway, that’s more than I was originally intending to say, so I’ll stop now. Hope it was helpful!

    I

  10. christine Says:

    Hey!!

    Who are you callin’ prosthetic??

    Ok. I take your point. Perhaps my loathing of all things “group” gives me a different perspective. Despite my depression over the resounding silence from most readers I believe this is still a useful way to find and interact with people I would never have found otherwise. To be able to come together – however briefly- on the basis of interests, not just because you work together or are related by blood, is something I really appreciate. I would like more challenge & exchange in the comments of my blog, (yes!) but one or two readers have come to me by email and we now have some great exchanges going on.

    There is, in a way,*more* depth to those relationships than in so-called real life. Circles, communities, groups…call me jaded but I find they degrade to the lowest common denominator, there’s always struggles over dynamics etc. So I like it here and like being able to bogg off if someone/thing bores me :)

    The ‘real thing’ comes when it comes. Friends, lovers, they come when we least expect and from unexpected quarters. IME, anyway.
    My, aren’t I philosophical today…

    Now, to Lyme – is it a case of an over-reactive immune system perhaps? Most people have little exposure to anything that would give their immune systems something to do- except react to vaccines for this and that. Could that disturb the body’s ability to react appropriately?
    I’m a little shy of eating any Knotweed too, not for fear of toxins, no one here sprays it (yet) but it seems to be very attractive for dogs to lift their legs on. I’d LOVE to grow some in the back yard but I think my co-gardener/husband, although usually very indulgent of me, would object.
    And to go back to the post above :) I’m curious about sloes. Are they slow growing? Could one start from seed do you think and have fruits within a decade? I just caught an episode of “Edwardian Farm” and watched her piercing the fruits – gorgeous.
    How long does your gin have to sit?

    Best
    C

  11. Ian M Says:

    Hey Christine,

    Who are you callin’ prosthetic??

    Well, in my defense I just started reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (aka Bladerunner) for the first time and I’m beginning to wonder if a lot of the people around me aren’t just very well designed robots ;)

    I agree on the value of shared interest, and yes, the internet admittedly provides me with much of my interaction on those fronts (ie: the disturbing stuff that people round these parts still won’t go anywhere near), and has stimulated my growth in that regard. Still, I feel like it’s a cop-out if this doesn’t in some way connect back to relationships I have in the world of flesh, blood, senses, emotions, faces etc. (unless they’re androids of course…) What if it just functions as another escapist addiction to pacify & redirect my anger away from efforts that might constructively (or destructively) engage with its realworld causes?

    As a hi-tech, high-energy ‘solution’ I don’t believe the internet has much of a future and will soon outlive its relative usefulness. I think we’ll have to come back to that ‘struggle’ for group cohesiveness that, after all, has been the hallmark of our species’ success, and in fact forms a crucial part of our evolved expectations. Recent efforts like open space and the conflict resolution aspects of NVC for me point the way forward. If you like to ‘bogg off’ then I’m sure you’ll appreciate the ‘law of two feet’ from the former:

    If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.

    :)

    re: Lyme/immune system – ooh boy, I’ve no idea! I think most often people’s immune systems are struggling to deal with all the crap in the western diet (eg: lectins in grains and other seed-foods which set off autoimmune reactions when they get into the bloodstream – see the ‘nutritional vegetarians’ chapter in L. Keith’s Vegetarian Myth), but yes, I’m sure the attempt at creating a sterile environment to live in doesn’t help the immune system’s development or overall resilience.

    re: sloes – no, I think they get shrubby pretty quickly and spread by suckers to form dense thickets, so you might want to keep an eye on them if you do decide to grow some. I was talking to another conservationist the other day about his struggles cutting back a whole load of self-seeded blackthorn to encourage the typical English preference for grassland/hay meadow (thanks a lot, livestock-biased land management traditions…) Over here, I tend to find them lining riverbanks or next to other bodies of water.

    I should probably re-stress the astringency if you never tried them before: if you don’t get them after just the right amount of frost they will suck your face off! Why not plant a nice & polite cultivated Damson or Bullace instead? You could make a similar liqueur with their (significantly larger) fruits, I’m sure.

    Wait a minute, who am I talking to…

    Ideally the sloes sit in the bottle for 6 months to a year while you eke out last year’s batch. Eatweeds Robin suggests a ‘minimum of 3 months’, shaking occasionally. Hope that helps!

    toodle oo
    I

  12. christine Says:

    Hi Ian,

    as a matter of fact, I did plant a nice polite damson last year (and some other plum like thing – really should start keeping those tags!) The island near us where I do much of my foraging was settled by Scots and we seem to have bullaces and blackthorne and for all I know some sloes, too, as well as huge numbers and varieties of hawthornes. Recently the island was studied by some botanical anthropologists (not sure I have that right but you know what I mean) They tell me it is a perfect example of a food forest, beginning with the Natives who cleared trees to encourage fruiting shrubs like raspberries and a fruiting viburnum called nannyberry, chokecherries, blueberries and other wild fruits, followed by the settlers who brought their own favourites. All happily growing together for the last century or so.

    I have an overwhelming urge at times to plant all manner of ‘invasives’ of the fruiting variety along the bicycle trails near my house. They may come in handy to future generations of foragers. Food is food, right? I suspect it may be needed as it all blows sky high. I’m a wee bit of a prepper that way – my own small food foresty/garden thingy is for my grandkids, lord knows it won’t be mature til I’m gone.

    Um…keep in mind that at the other end of this internet thingy are people – flesh, blood, senses, emotions and faces. They are just far away sometimes. I find comfort in the knowledge that there are permies, for example, all over the world. Yes, I wish there were some in my town, but hey, I can still plant what I plant and maybe some day I’ll infect someone else that way. And I’m lucky enough to be at the back half of life with my own wee plot of land – thank god for that. Nor do I live in the city of androids any more – thank god for that also…so I feel for you.

    You should read _Shikasta_ by Doris Lessing. I won’t say why :)

    Love the “law of two feet”. thanks for that! Very “me”.

    cheers C.

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