Just a Little Afternoon Walk

Sure was a pretty day.  Lucky for me I work at a Nature Center and can make up excuses to go outside.  Like today… had to see if the gas company really put seed on the section of property they had to brushhog for a recent project… and well, while we’re out here, might as well go clean out the bluebird boxes (and evict any mice that may have taken up residence).

I wish I could show you a picture of the most awesome harrier ever.  No!  Wish I could show you video.  It was amazing the way he turned on the wind so that the light came through his tail feathers…  Gorgeous.  No pictures of him, though.  Here’s what I did get:

There were billions of these meadowhawks out today… many in tandem, some in wheels, some ovipositing – in tandem.

Lots of these grasshoppers, too… such pretty red legs… which you can’t see very well here…

Wood Sorrel
I experimented with exposure on this Wood Sorrel blossom in bright afternoon sun.  I liked the way this dark one turned out best.

What a cute little bunny… He let us get fairly close before dashing into the shrubs.

(There’s no such thing as) Free Food – Part III

Picking ApplesMy muscles ache a bit today, but it is a satisfying ache.  The result was a taste so fresh and crisp – it was certainly worth the effort and the resulting stiff muscles.

Farmer Dave had picked all the apples he wanted for winter.  He told my friend Terry that he could have the rest for cider.  I agreed to help.  I had never made apple cider before and was willing to learn.  We started by picking apples.  I love the clawed basket tool that allowed us to reach the tops of the trees without a ladder.  Who comes up with these clever ideas?

These will be cider soon...We had no idea how many to pick… how many apples does it take to make a gallon of cider?  We wanted to make apple sauce, too, so just keep picking… We didn’t fill the wagon. What would you say this looks like? A couple of bushels maybe?  Perhaps a little more?

We hauled the equipment out of the barn and got it cleaned up and ready to go.  Already, the bees were buzzing around the wagon.  Dave had warned us that they would really start coming when we began pulverizing the apples.


Making mashI’m not sure what this piece of equipment is called.  One of the websites I found referred to it as a “scratcher” and the name was in quotes.  Maybe there is a more official name?  You put apples in the hopper on top and turn the crank.  The apples are crushed and drop into a 5 gallon bucket underneath.


Pressing the mashThe crushed apple mash is transferred to a burlap sack and placed in this bucket-shaped frame.  A block of wood on top of the burlap sack allows us to press the sack, squeezing the juice out of the mash.  This juice is filtered through several layers of cheesecloth and then bottled.  (I forgot to take a picture of our filtering system… but basically , it was a stainless steel colander of sorts that we lined with cheesecloth and placed over a stainless steel milking bucket.)

I think we figured it took about a 5 gallon bucket of mash to make 1 gallon of cider.  We never did figure out how many apples it took to make the 5 gallon bucket of mash, though.  Maybe we’ll figure that out next year?

By the way… Dave wasn’t joking about the bees.  They were everywhere, making me just a little nervous.  They seemed to have no interest in us, though… just wanted the apples and juice!

We had glasses of fresh cider with lunch.  Terry will probably drink the rest of his cider over the next few days.  I put the rest of mine in the freezer to pull out for Thanksgiving dinner.  We saved out some of the rounder apples to make applesauce.  I’ll serve that on Thanksgiving, too.

Pam (Nature Woman) remembers making cider with her family as a kid.  Read about it here.  What do you think, Pam?  Is this pretty much the same process you remember?  Do you have any tips for us for next year?

Many thanks to Dave who gave us the apples and taught us how to make cider.  You can visit Dave and stay at his Country House Bed and BreakfastClick here to learn more.

(There’s no such thing as) Free Food – Part II

Hickory Woods in SpringWhen I was a kid, I remember racing the squirrels for hickory nuts, butternuts, and beechnuts – all of which grew in our neighborhood.  We learned, as the squirrels know, to distinguish the tasty, meaty nuts from the “duds” by cracking a lot of both.  Eventually, we could tell by the look of a nut if it would provide us with a tasty treat and we tossed aside the duds before wasting our energy cracking them.

Shagbark Hicorky in WinterThe beechnuts were easy to open – especially if one the girls had let her fingernails grow out a bit.  The shells of beechnuts are soft enough; you can slip your thumbnail behind one of the triangular sides and peel it back to extract the nut.

The hickories and butternuts required tools:  one flat rock to place the nut on and another rounder rock that we could use to smash the nuts open.  There was some learning involved there, too.  If you smashed the nut too hard, your nut meats would be crushed and it would require patience to separate them from the shells.  If you didn’t smash it enough, you might end up with perfect nut meats – but they would be stuck in the shell whose contours match the nut making extraction difficult, indeed sometimes impossible.

While walking the dog in the hickory woods behind Bergman Park one fine fall day, I was struck by the sound of falling hickory nuts.  It was raining nuts.  I decided right then that I would return with a bucket or bag so I could gather some.  I felt a little silly passing the other dog-walkers with my blue bucket, but no one asked what I intended to put in there.  It took almost no time at all to fill the bucket to the top.

Shagbark Hickory Nuts in the FallI spread the nuts out on trays in the sun to dry the thick green husks so that they would pop off easily.  I’m still going through the nuts, cracking them one by one with channel locks!  The sad truth is, I’ve forgotten since childhood how to tell the good ones from the duds… so I’m having to re-learn that!  Another sad truth is that from that 3 or 4 gallon bucket of nuts, I will probably only have enough meats to make one batch of cookies.  I don’t care though… It’s still fun to say – “Yeah!  I gathered the nuts for these cookies…”

(There’s no such thing as) Free Food – Part I

ElderberriesA few weeks ago, a friend introduced me to Elderberries.  Oh, I knew what they were… but I had never harvested them, or prepared them for the freezer, or made them into jam, or baked them in a pie.  Now, in case you are reading this thinking, “Ooh, I’m going to do that, too,” let me just warn you:  Gathering and preparing elderberries ain’t for sissies!

Elderberries grow in places where the ground is wet.  Sometimes Very Wet.  We got wet gatherng elderberries.  Elderberries are a very dark purplish blue.  Our fingers got purple separating the berries from the stems.  Elderberries are little.  It takes a long time to clean enough of them for a pie.

I’ve experimented with a few recipes with mixed results.

First, my failures:  I tried an Elderberry Jam recipe I found on the Internet.  It involved cooking berries and sugar until it got to a particular temperature and then pouring into jelly jars, etc.  I don’t have a candy thermometer, so I just guessed.  Hahahaha…  I REALLY overcooked it.  If you can even get it out of the jar with a jackhammer, you may break your tooth trying to eat it.  I gave it to my friend.  He calls it Elderberry Crunch.  If I try jam again, I think I’ll add pectin instead of guessing the right temperature…

Another on-line recipe was for Elderberry Crunch Bread.  (Surprisingly, it did not call for overcooked “jam.”)  It was a very healthy recipe:  no sugar, whole grain flour, etc.  I’m sure it’s very good for me.  But it has no flavor.  I’m still baffled.  How can you put strong-flavored elderberries in a recipe and end up with something that has no flavor?  There’s another loaf of it in the freezer.  I can’t get motivated to thaw it out… 

My first Elderberry Pie was tasty, though my mom recommended a bit of lemon juice to bring out the flavor of the berries even more.  My second pie, this time with lemon juice (and I think slightly riper berries) was delicious.

Elderberry BlossomsApparently, you can also eat the blossoms in June or July.  Dip them in batter and fry them in oil, so says the Peterson guide to Edible Wild Plants.  Sounds like a lot less work.  I don’t know though… flowers turn into berries.  The berries are so incredibly delicious… I would hate to forego berries in favor of flowers.  Maybe next summer I’ll try just one cluster.

I titled this post “(There’s no such thing as) Free Food – Part I”.  There was no exchange of money for the berries.  A little gasoline was burned looking for bushes on back roads.  A lot of time was spent cleaning the berries… but what else was I going to do?  Watch TV?  Some people knit or crochet or embroider or sew.  I like to have something to do with my hands, too.  Since I love food way more than hand-knit socks (nothing personal, Suzzles or Nature Knitter!) using my hands to prepare food is satisfying to me.  I found cleaning the berries on the front porch to be rather meditative and relaxing.  Plus, there is great satisfaction in knowing where your food comes from.  It was worth the “price.”

Elderberry NotecardElderberries also make for great art!  I am making a series of notecards on the theme of “native berries.”  I turned the above image into this.

You should Google “elderberry.”  It’s a pretty interesting plant.  It has many reported health benefits.  It has been used for jams, jellies, wine, pies, and other recipes.  Berries can be frozen or dried for long term storage.  The wood has been used to make flutes and arrows.  Oh and there is so much more!

Part II – coming soon – Hickory Nuts!

Hike at Timbercrest

Keyser Lake“Butterfly” is home from college for the weekend.  She has the same passion for Camp Timbercrest that I have.  I had just been there Sunday to gather beaver sticks for a program we’re doing at Audubon.  I posted about that hike at the Camp Timbercrest blog.  I didn’t mind going out again today, even though it was a little hot for hiking.  Bird (a.k.a. “Freckles”) joined us.  It was great to get caught up with them about their experiences at college.

As we wandered around camp, it made me very sad to think that we were the only ones exploring.  There was a time when the camp was full of troops camping every weekend in the fall.  It is such a beautiful time of year to be outside.  Where are the girls?  Why don’t their leaders bring them here?

Near the ChapelButterfly showed us a place that she and Spoot have named “The Chapel.”  It’s a very nice spot with large rocks that could serve as an alter.  When I was a girl, camp sessions were two weeks long.  We would always have a worship service someplace out in the woods on the Sunday between weeks.  I can’t honestly remember where it was.  The place Butterfly and Spoot now call The Chapel will serve the purpose well.  I would love to worship there.

I made a new banner from a photo I took today…  It was time to become AutumnWoman for a few weeks.

Enjoy the incredible beauty of fall!

Just Been Busy…

My Audubon friend Linda O asked about my blog today.  She was concerned because I hadn’t posted anything for October yet.  It was nice… flattering even… to think I had been missed.

It’s been a busy time.  I’m still trying to get the new computer working the way the old one did before the crash.  Plus, I decided to try to set up a little wireless network so that when my daughter is chatting with friends, someone else can still get on the Internet.  I finally got that figured out last night…

Red Osier Dogwood - one of my Photoshop CreationsPlus I got Photoshop… and let me tell you… I thought I was addicted to my photos and technology before… now… it’s all I can think about.

Plus, stuff is ripening in the garden that needs to be taken care of…  I’ve made more pesto, borscht, potato soup for the freezer.  And I have lots of hickory nuts that I’m working on cracking… boy is that hard work!  Makes my hands ache.

This sunrise didn't happen until 20 minutes to 8 in the morning!Add to all of that the fact that these shorter days are affecting my sleep patterns!  I don’t seem to wake up at 4:30 in the morning any more.  That is REALLY cutting in on my blogging time!

Anyway… I’m still out here.  Still taking pictures… and there will be more blog postings…  maybe not as frequently as before… I do pop in and read my blogger-friends whenever I can, but I’m miserably behind on those, too.

Just been busy…