To Grow and Forage One’s Own Food

home 4Soon.  Soon now the dark greens of earth will peek through the moistened soil and seek the sun.  Dandelions will unexpectedly be dancing through the grasses.  The mulberries, black and velvet, will stain my fingers as I gather them.  Perhaps the squirrels will leave some walnuts for me.  And this is the year for the plum tree to fruit.

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To forage for food gives a great satisfaction to the spirit but to forage amongst one’s own gardens and land is spectacular.  I can already taste the cleansing lamb’s quarters, the tangy purslane, the scrumptious dandelions interspersed with sweet butter lettuce fresh from the garden.  Just dressed with good olive oil and sea salt, the tastes of spring come forth and fill my body with nutrients after winter’s rest.  Soon.  Soon now.

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I am reading a beautiful book called, “A Year in the Village of Eternity” by Tracey Lawson.  It takes place in Italy, in the village of Campodimele, one of the Blue Zones, where the most active and healthy elders live.

Cibo genuino. Real Food.  Roba nostra.  Our own things.  I let the many Italian words roll off my tongue and take their lessons.  Real food.  Our own things.  Grow an orto, a garden.  In this village they forage or grow nearly everything they consume.  Is it possible?  Last year on our own little third of an acre in town, in soil fit for a driveway, we grew all of our own produce for the summer.  Our first season here with little time or money.  Now we have eggs from our chickens.  We have planted many fruit and nut trees (if I can just keep the puppy from thinking they are sticks to play with!), we are recognizing more and more wild foods, and are growing many more vegetables this year in better soil.  Contadino.  Farmer or gardener who produces their own food.

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I cannot wait to feel the soil in my fingers.  Soon.  Soon.  The season comes earlier where we live now and in three short weeks I will be folding spring crops into the cool ground.  What preserves shall we do this year?  I imagine lilac and lavender jam, stewed tomatoes, crisp fire roasted corn.  We are enjoying our larder these winter months.

To live like this is to be ready at all times, for what you seek or what you want to “put up” may not be there tomorrow.  Herbs must be harvested when ready.  Fruit may be eaten by birds at dawn.  Piles of corn need shucking.  Ah, but I enjoy the work.  I love our evening walks after dinner in the sunlight.  I love the sound of water covering plants and the crisp sound of the pea pod being opened.  Ogni cosa ha il sua momento.  Everything has its moment.

For now I have winter preserving to do so that it is done once the busy season starts.  In my cucina this week dozens and dozens of jars of beans will be put up.  Vegetable broth too.  I still have beans from the garden to shell.  I will check on my vinegars and my kombucha.  I have been resting and a tad neglectful.  But now as each day falls closer to spring, I awaken, don my apron, and get to work.  In campagna, c’ e sempre da fare! In the countryside (or city as the case may be) there is always something to do!

 

 

Stinging Nettles (wild food and medicine)

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You might view your weeds a little differently if I told you that they contain ten times more nutrition, vitamins, and minerals than conventional greens, or that you might never have to buy spinach again, or that you can heal all sorts of things from cancer to hay fever with wild greens.  You might think twice about getting the weed killer out!  Those weeds, Friends, are food and medicine.

Yesterday when I arrived at my shop a beautiful box was waiting for me.  A gift beyond measure.  A new dress?  A cup of coffee?  Candies?  No, stinging nettles.  A whole box of discarded weeds.  She was only too happy to drop them off at my shop.  Gold, people, gold.

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Stinging nettles are used widely in Europe as a wild green.  Once they are cooked or dried the stingers are inactive.  In pasta or soup, they add a powerful supply of minerals and are a free source of greens.  If you don’t have any growing in the pasture you can go to Tagawa, or other garden store, and order a plant.  For $4 I have one growing on my third floor balcony.  A great supply of allergy medicine.  Yes, allergy medicine.  Nothing stops allergies faster than stinging nettles.

The other reason I have it in a pot is because it will spread like a runaway toddler.  It does have stingers, bitty fiberglass barbs that irritate the skin, so wear gloves when harvesting.  Dry a good part in a paper bag with holes in it for three weeks.  This will provide tea to stop allergies quickly and keep you in nettles over the winter.

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Fresh nettles can be eaten.  I use a sandwich bag or the like to protect my fingers as I cut up the greens.  Today they will join the beans that were cooking all night in the crock pot.  Beans, bacon, cream, onions, and nettles with homemade bread.  A delicious lunch, I must say.

And friends, don’t forget to eat curly dock, yellow dock, sunflower leaves, dandelions, lamb’s quarters, and purslane.  Delicious and healthy!

The Apple Harvest (and the sweetness of family)

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Aunt Donna invited us over to pick up firewood and to pick apples.  She could have invited a hundred people over for apples.  Her tree was so heavy laden with gloriously delicious apples that I rather fear a good many up high will go to waste.  After biting into the scrumptious orb I realized that the wonderful three boxes gifted to us from friends almost two months ago were not ripe.  I spent hours and hours in the kitchen prepping and canning and making apple sauce all to realize that they came out rather sour.  Healthy and still good, but I should have been patient.  Apples are to be picked in the latter part of September and into October.

Emily, Maryjane, Grandma, Me, and Grandma's sister, Donna last year at the grape harvest.

Emily, Maryjane, Grandma, Me, and Grandma’s sister, Donna last year at the grape harvest.

You have been to Aunt Donna’s with me before.  We went last year to join in the harvest of her bountiful grapes which we made jugs of delicious juice from. This year the vines hold little and the little apple tree that was average last year has outdone itself with bounty.  Next year we shouldn’t expect apples.  There is an ebb and flow to everything, I realize.  Droughts, rains, snows….heat, cool….last year the tomatoes were plentiful, this year the cold crops did exceptionally well.  It is a good representation of life.  Our lives are a constant ebb and flow of births, deaths, good times, sad times, memories, and moments.  Each day precious.  And what a glorious day to be at my beautiful aunt’s house, the one who helped inspire my farming and has answered questions over the years.

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Maryjane is an excellent harvester.  She at times surprises me with how intelligent she is.  She is so tiny but if you give her instructions she will follow them.  She is also the cutest forager I have ever seen!  Her mother is pretty cute too.

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Emily and I split a box of apples.  She was turning hers into caramel apples.  I may try to store mine.  We feel blessed to have access to fresh, nutritious food that didn’t cost us anything and for generations of fabulous men and women to teach and love us.  Such a sweet life.

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