Saturday, July 23, 2016

Bear in the Orchard; Apricot Jam!

Harvest & Wildlife

Pretty in the cool of the morning, walking when the sky brightens but the sun is still behind the darkened mountains. I had hiked to an old bountiful orchard, which includes a cherry thicket along the road, perhaps bird-sown.

No one bothers with the few cherries, when there are mega-bushels of fruit in the larger orchard. But I do!

I'd just arrived. and popped delectable, purple-rich cherries into my mouth, when an official truck pulled up beside me. One of the outdoorsy agencies.

The guy nearest rolled down his window.

"Have you seen the bear?"

I turned to the side and spat cherry pits.


"Yeah, we saw it from the road above the valley. Can't be far."

Uh huh. No sh*t, Sherlock. Maybe thirty meters below me, a huge bear looked up from munching down green windfall apples.

(Neighbors and I had seen first bear scat this week, full of apricot pits. Bears don't spit out seed. Later in the season, we'll see scat full of chokecherry and blackberry seed.)

I squatted down to get a better look. The guys got out of the truck, at which point the bear went galumphing across the orchard and down toward thick undergrowth of the river.

Likely a male, of formidable dimensions. Standing upright, it would tower over this long-legged female. It still had dense brown pelt along its back which it will eventually rub against rough tree bark, standing on hind paws for a good up and down scratch.

It felt like a pretty morning turned spectacular, a massive bear, and a glimpse into wilder times, though much of this land remains intentionally wild.

A few weeks ago, a woman jogging on a mountain trail unknowingly got between a mama bear and her twin cubs. Mama bear attacked the interloper. The cubs are now being bottle fed. Animal control stalked the bear and shot it.

Huge uproar locally, as most people who live here have chosen to distance themselves from city traffic, cell towers, noise and pollution. 

We walk amazed within land still forcefully primeval, knowing we're not firstborn to this country. Bears and bison precede all two-footeds.

In my teens, I was shocked to explore a forest parkland in tidy Germany. There was NO undergrowth. None. 

I suddenly ached for the unpredictable mountains of New England, the Grand Tetons or the High Sierra, where one often meets bear, cougar, moose, skunk, elk, deer and raccoons. And plenty of wild fruits to share!

Strolling back to the adobe casita, my home toward the end of life, high in the Rocky Mts., I watched a kestrel overhead, a small falcon. A pair nests in the valley. Photo below with mouse prey:

I had a flat of ripe apricots waiting for me: first jam of the season, with a staggering number of peaches and plums, chokecherries and alpine currants to follow, despite late snows and frost.

Improv cooks are annoying to the methodical--apologies--but broad brushstrokes, I processed a big batch, 28 cups of apricots, 1 cup of soaked goji berries, a big peeled and sliced ginger root, all puree'd in a blender with dried rose hips and lemon juice. 

I stirred the biggest Le Creuset pot I've ever seen, doing yin/yang swirls in the fragrant thick jam and watched a mob scene of tiny hummingbirds at the outdoor feeder and flowers. 

The males, as usual, are wonderfully colorful, with iridescent throats of crimson, fuchsia or orange!

Three cups of added Sucanat make this batch a low sugar jam, possible by using Pomona's, a special non-GMO pectin: a calcium soultion enhances jelling, instead of the usual 1:1 proportion of fruit and sugar. 

In the case of this apricot jam, prepared as indeed my grandmother did, that would have required 28 cups of sugar!

I did note down a repeatable recipe when writing about my long ago organic farm in the Blue Ridge Mts. of Virginia. 

(I can still see Laurel and Hardy, holding their coat tails like skirts, doing a soft-shoe, and singing, In the Blue Ridge Mtds. of Virginia, at the Inn of the Lonesome Pine!

Apricot/goji/ginger root jam (also yum with peaches):

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Bone Soup in a Solar Oven + How-to When Done!
Hearty Broth
Cooked Outdoors

You may have heard about the strengthening, re-vivifying properties of an herb-rich, bone soup. 

It's hot by afternoon in Northern Hemisphere summer, even here at high elevation in the Rocky Mountains. Presto kazam: enter the solar oven.

It's my third solar oven over a couple decades; this one being the most user-friendly. Especially better than the one a friend and I built, though a waymarker adventure!

I've been experimenting with mineral rich broths for a friend who is ill.

Just started a beef marrow bone-soup in the Solar Sport Oven with whatever I had in the garden or dried from last year. It will be a scorcher of a day; let the cooking be outdoors!

The oven holds two black graniteware pots; recipe below fills one pot. I didn't even bother to brown the bones, which is tastier, but the adobe house is cool and am keeping it that way:

4 chunky grass-fed beef marrow bones

Scallions, half a bunch
Garlic, 4 cloves
Thyme, fresh bunch
Parsley, fresh bunch 

Celery stalks, the first young ones
1 bay leaf

Kombu or dulse, piece of (sea veggies)
Dried stinging nettles, a handful
Dried Italian sweet peppers, small handful
Black pepper, freshly ground
2 Qt. filtered water
Cider vinegar, a slosh, ~1/4 c.

When I strain it this evening, I'll add Himalayan salt. 

P.S. What to do when it's done, in 5-7 hours?

A solar oven does not burn food and on a sunny day will do its job between 200-250 degrees F. generally speaking. 

To minimize mess and clean up, have ready in the kitchen:
3 or 4 pint (1/4 liter) canning jars
(3 jars means enough left for supper!)
Lids for American style; rings for European
A wide-mouth funnel
A medium to large stainless strainer
A large bowl 
A small plate for the bones
Add 1/4 tsp Himalayan salt to each jar. Or to taste.

At this point it's sensible to pull on heavy-duty rubber gloves.

Pour part of the broth through the strainer into the bowl. Remove the bones, setting on the plate.

Hold each bone at the horizontal with funnel in place in a jar. Turn a bone vertical with wider end down; the marrow will plop out. Ladle broth into jars.

Wipe rims of jars with a cotton or paper towel; Screw on lids, or clamp down rings. Let cool. 

The American jars will make a popping sound as they seal. Set into fridge when they cool. Share with friends.

Before serving, you might want to moosh the marrow with the back of a spoon, aesthetically speaking! 

Wishing good health to us all, health and equanimity, in interesting times.

For more hearty & unusual recipes, 
your blogger writes books: 

Wayfaring Traveler: Earth-Whisperers: Organic Farm Stories and Recipes (Volume 3) 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Down-Home Good Sense on Independence Day

 New Moon 
Fourth of July

As start to a hearty breakfast, I nibbled my way through the garden at first light. All praise to the dewy cool of morning.

I pinch-pruned basil destined for pesto, savoring pungent leaflets; munched down the first Sugar Snap peas, a few celery leaves, sprigs of parsley. Also added savory thyme to the pot of beans simmering in the solar oven.

Fantasyland? Not really. Try common sense. Here's why:

This day in the US, freedom! is celebrated, freedom from 18th century super-power tyranny, the Fourth of July. 

For beautiful, for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesty
Above the fruited plain...

I grew up, hand on heart, singing "America the Beautiful." Even when three feet tall, the national anthem struck me as shrill, and a strange hymn to explosions. 

Mind you, I also grew up with duty/honor/country, and a deep respect for public service.

The amber waves of grain have morphed to GMO, to "Frankenfood." The breadbasket of the world of yore, lies poisoned. And, hand on heart, Tyranny-R-us. 

A political commentator, PCRoberts, not on board the globalist express, mentions that the USA has destroyed seven (resource-rich) countries in fifteen years.

Just in case of citizen disagreement or impudence or outrage, take note: Billions of hollow point bullets the government stockpiles? For domestic use. What?

So, where does a cool morning stroll through the garden come in, beneath apparent force fields of power über alles?!

Down-home, the "buck stops here" in community, family, and good neighbors. (Be one.)

I mentioned a solar oven. It's sunny and bright today. Cooking beans could take several hot hours indoors. I set the pot in the oven and will move the structure once or twice to catch the rays. That's it. 

I have no financial interest in any of the simple at-home can-do which follows. It's just good sense, and bottom line, we're all in this together.

A government devoted to itself, to wars, to crushing of dissent may not maintain bridges, roads, or any sense of humanity. It's up to us.

Just supposin'...

If the power grid were to go down by whatever means, a solar oven cares not; just does its job. I once made one with a friend, a useful exercise though a rickety end-product. This is worth a look:

Water: Consider a gravity-filter which requires no power or water pressure, and can safely purify river and lake water. Long used by the Red Cross in disaster areas. 

Some feel that the black filters yield a better tasting, spring-like water than the ceramic. Here's a useful review:

How about hot showers? We, the spoiled, who've forgotten the bowl and pitcher sponge baths of centuries? Some folks never bathed, considering it unhealthy. The homeless and those in war zones rarely bathe.

A solar shower is fun on camping trips and may be a public service if things should ever go wonky and bodies grow stinky. It's one item easy to find locally, at outdoor stores.

Food? arrgghh. This might be a savvy time to get to know your local farmers and farmers markets and grow what you can. Learn from an old-timer, a gift to you both. 

My neighbor has hired a WWOOFer. The young woman gets room and board and helps with gardening and property maintenance.

You might be surprised how many eager-beaver young folks are indignant about worthless college degrees, debt and the grand finale of flipping burgers

Many long to learn useful skills, and especially how to form community and local self-sufficiency. 

Gardens, including tomato and flower pots on a balcony, are magic. We two-footeds draw closer to sustaining-life when we walk among butterflies, hummingbirds and honeybees. And when we plant for them.

It's a new moon today, in the sign of Cancer the crab. New moons favor new beginnings, and this new moon is in the sign which loves hearth and home, family, food, and old skills.

There's hope for us, one by one, family by family, hearth to hearth, idiosyncracies and skills yet unknown! 

Happy Fourth of July.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Vibrant Elders

Seed, Bud, Flower 

"Are you a gardener?"


The cute girl loading freshly-made ruby kraut onto the cart eyed my flowered sun hat, bibs and linen shirt, all rosy-peach and gold.

"Do you love flowers?"


"You're going to become a flower!"

"Um!... When I'm buried, you betcha."

I gave her a soft smile, remembering myself at eighteen. So near my beginning, that its ending seemed way too far-fetched to ruminate.

But I had known a few grand-hearted elders, some more full of life than my own strutting vitality! It gave me youthful pause.

What an adventure that could be! And how does it happen---chortles and kindness into great old age?

Inveterate snoop, I looked for commonalities among vibrant elders. A big one would be lithe legs, and lymph kept moving by adventures in the out-of-doors.

Not much TV, plastic or polyester figured in that demographic. Broad brush strokes as a group, they seemed to honor craftsmanship, farms with old walls and orchards, and to celebrate the wild fecund world.

John Muir, iconoclast and earth-steward, still alive in their old, penetrating eyes.

Yosemite's Half-Dome 
Saved by John Muir &
Teddy Roosevelt, 
President of the US

If I were to happen on such an extraordinary Mensch in present time, I made a decision to try to make contact.

I have been plumbed and mentored in stunning conversations... often of small time frame but life-long impact.

The bud of a girl with the ruby kraut watched me meander on. I grinned over my shoulder and sent her a bright all's-well-Lovie-you'll do-fine thought-ball. Which burst into piñata sparkles above her head.

I laughed; she sent me a goofy, puzzled smile.

I went on about my errands, wondering: What finally matters? And is it even worth asking?

...With such a  precarious feeling to status quo, pensions and EBT/SNAP card funding in doubt. All the 10,000 things that define us seeming to teeter seismically of a sudden.

I'd just read about a people apart from modernity's consensual madness. Interesting book indeed: Shepherd's, New Self, New World:

" the language of the Penan tribe of Borneo---one of the last nomadic rain-forest societies on earth---there are no words to distinguish between he, she or it, but there are six words for we, the pronoun that discloses relationship.

"(The anthropologist) also noted that 'they measure wealth not by the extent of their possessions, but by the strength of their relationships.' "

Now, mentors come in all shapes and sizes. cozy, sleek or lumpy. The smiling charisma of sociopaths, life in the raw, also can represent a life teaching.

(Politics might be a broad hint!)

I once "learned" about astonishing life-choices from a fellow who had invested in a classic gold Lamborghini. Hm!

Amazing design, including his plan: to use it as a hot-chick-lure! On the back, he'd pasted a bumper sticker,

 Adventures, as if story matters:

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Planting Time


I lean against the cool side of the adobe gateway; cross my ankles and arms. 

"Think I'll go back to holding up this wall."

"Well, it pays good," opines the old rancher.

"If you work for the gubmint."

The rancher in cowboy boots and I in bib overalls are waiting for a nursery truck to finish dis-gorging its plants. And move the heck out of the way.

The truck driver offers to guide me through a three-point turn (that being, what?!... in a tight space.)

"Nuh unh. Thanks for the offer, but I'm a female not stoopid about my backing-up skills." 

So we wait and watch the show. Long line of people stand with their treasures, pay and leave.

Interesting: Folks with still lots of "discretionary" moolah are buying numerous hanging baskets of petunias at $35 a pop.... 

When a 6-pack of petunia plants would have done a comparable display pretty soon, set in last year's pot, for five bucks.

Do the math; have we lost our minds?

I've been reading and thinking about Venezuela, the empty store shelves, dumpster-diving for edible garbage, and monster inflation. If you can find anything.

Doesn't take long for hungry to morph to ugly. We don't seem to "get it" yet, but I guess we will.

Am remembering my Southern grandmama answering knocks at the back door of men out of work/looking for work, lean and hungry.

A fellow would ask if there were a chore he might do?  Splitting firewood, maybe?

Meaning: I'm near starving, ma'am, but no freeloader. Will you feed me from your good cooking and garden?

And she did, bringing a plate heaped with food to the back stoop, unlatching the screen door, and wishing him better days, and home with his family.

Of course, that was the Great Depression, long time ago.

Meanwhile, standing in the high noon sun, the rancher and I load up our "plunder" and head out. Free at last!

By the time I get home, I'll be pulling on a sweater for the sudden temperature drop of an afternoon storm in the Rockies. We get big dark cumulus, showers and down-shrieks of lightning. Wild iris are in bloom.

But for now I've found some Brandwines and am happy. 

"Heirloom" tomatoes... Not something you'd include in your Will, but yummy-flavored; seed saved from the best plants each year, and for generations.

No en-venomed "love-apple" from the artifice of biotech... Just hearty, nourishing taste and seed to save for generations to come.

Eat your heart out, Monsanto.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Elderberry in Permaculture, Remedies

Home Remedies
European Elderberry in bloom, 
by a lake in Ulm

Elderberry growing in the wild is lost to most of us. An ancient medicinal and a tree revered in olden times, it's easy to grow at home. Plant it in moist good soil, and jump back! 

Does it seem a bit precious, a cottage garden of Grandmother lore, when we've grown accustomed to 6-packs of petunias?

Why bother planting a shrubby tree, a rambling blossomer with edible fruit, a more usual target for suburban bulldozing?

"Permaculture" would be one answer, landscaping for fruit, berries and nuts, instead of topiary! We can save the fruitful wildings as asphalt encroaches.

An edible landscape can also be a beautiful one, generally more curvaceous and nook-ish than monocrop straight lines, or lawn and clipped hedge.

Think: Secret Garden. Fragrance and fruitfulness are possible small-scale, in tiny urban yards, on rooftops, or hidden country gardens

Some communities actually protect wild fruitful land. I used to love a camping adventure--to pick wild blackberries on the Mendocino Village Commons, with the Pacific crashing on the cliffs below and sea fog at dawn. 

Through all of human history, plants which produce food grow family/community wealth and well-being. Children can grow up amidst the wonder of seasons, flower to fruit. 

Bees love the fragrant flower heads of elderberry, and humans love the delicious berries as juice or country wine. 

The healing syrup is pricey in pharmacies and health food stores; we could make our own.
Commercial elderberry syrups often are named with a derivation of the botanical genus, Sambucus.

Syrups are selling very well in flu season, efficacy rewarded by business niche! Elderberry syrup is medically documented as anti-inflammatory and anti-viral. 

The more usually prescribed antibiotics are not anti-viral, though expected/demanded by patients.
North American elderberry grows from Canada to northern Mexico. If gathering in the wild, learn from an outdoorsperson, Native American, or botany field trip leader. 

Enticing dark purple berries do not suggest: "Eat-me"... Alice.

In the photo below, a poisonous American medicinal, pokeweed, on the left also has purple fruit, a stalk of them. Elderberry on the right has sprawling berries from a flat blossom head, and opposite leaves, a further clue

Pokeweed is just one confuser. Walk with a foraging pro, plant your own elderberry or use dried berries. Live long and well.

Have you ever sipped elderberry fruit juice? Or the country wine? Delectable, though a mess to make, with harvest-purple fingers and mouth, but deeply rewarding!
The flowers of elderberry are an old remedy included in formulae to reduce fevers, to bring on sweating and healing sleep.

A classic formula would be 1 Tbs each of the following herbs steeped five minutes in a liter of water:

Elderflowers  (Sambucus canadensis or S. nigra)
Yarrow  (Achillea millefolium)
Peppermint  (Mentha piperita)

In the case of high fever, a liter is drunk hot, perhaps sweetened with honey, and the covers piled on. Profuse sweating is likely to follow.

Yarrow in the febrifuge is stunningly bitter and made more palatable by the mint which helps calm a likely upset tummy.

This protocol can be effective though bold. A cup could also be sipped at hourly intervals for less dramatic intervention.

I first experienced elderflowers as a confection in Sweden. In high summer in the profusion of wild  blossoming, elderflowers are gathered, tea made and a syrup conserved. 

Ice cream made with the syrup is ambrosial, a sensory astonishment, as though able to taste an olfaction.

Elderflower water from the tea is a skin tonic, yellow and fragrant after a period of aging: Gathering and Using Elderflowers to Make Lotions for Beautiful Skin ...

So, what if we just are not able to wander wild creek bottoms, or stroll a European lake path, or plant the small tree to gather fresh berrries in autumn? 

Good news: The dried berries do very well.

And for those of us struggling with the imposed uniformity of towns-against-gardens or nutsi Homeowners Associations, you can abide by outer regimentation, and still be kitchen-creative with the dried berries.

Here's a lovely and easy recipe from Wellness Mama:

Serves: 1 quart
  1. Pour water into medium saucepan and add elderberries, ginger, cinnamon and cloves (do not add honey!)
  2. Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour until the liquid has reduced by almost half. At that point, remove from heat and let cool enough to be handled. Mash the berries carefully using a spoon or other flat utensil. Pour through a strainer into a glass jar or bowl.
  3. Discard the elderberries (or compost them!) and let the liquid cool to lukewarm. When it is no longer hot, add 1 cup of honey and stir well.
  4. When honey is well mixed into the elderberry mixture, pour the syrup into a pint sized mason jar or 16 ounce glass bottle of some kind.
  5. Ta Da! You just made homemade elderberry syrup! Store in the fridge and take daily for its immune boosting properties. Some sources recommend taking only during the week and not on the weekends to boost immunity.
  6. Standard dose is ½ tsp to 1 tsp for kids and ½ Tbsp to 1 Tbsp for adults. If the flu does strike, take the normal dose every 2-3 hours instead of once a day until symptoms disappear.

 See also
Organic Farm Stories
& Recipes