Appalachian Thursday – Foraged Food

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Found this beauty last weekend and brushed the leaves back for someone who will be delighted by a fresh morel.

Spring is prime foraging time in the woods where we hike. We often see folks out with baskets or net bags and I know they’re looking for tasty tidbits to add to dinner.

Personally, I’m more of a catch and release forager. I love finding things I could eat, but I’m not really all that interested in actually consuming them. Plus, I know just enough about wild mushrooms to realize there’s a fair chance I might poison myself. I just take a picture and move on.

But I often think about my ancestors eating these plants not because it was cool or trendy, but because they were hungry. Especially for something green after a long winter of preserved foods.

Wild foods are so popular these days that there’s actually a company here in Asheville, NC, called No Taste Like Home Wild Food Adventures. You can call them up and book a guided foraging trip. I haven’t had any dealings with them (although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen their groups in the national forest where we hike), but I like the disclaimer on their website, “You can’t learn to forage from a website. Always learn from an expert, preferably, your parents.”

Which is a little bit ironic, because while my great-grandmother knew all about foraged foods and remedies, she would have taken pride in having children and grandchildren who didn’t need such knowledge.

Last weekend, I called Dad and asked him if he ate that stuff when he was a kid. Not really, he said, although there was a great aunt who did. Folks ate poke sallat, creasy greens, and ramps, but they didn’t brag about it. As a matter of fact, if they ate ramps, they’d skip church that week for fear of being too stinky.

As a seventh-generation Appalachian, I’m glad to have some idea about the sorts of things I can eat in a pinch, but mostly I’ll be sticking with the farmer’s market and grocery store.

Appalachian Thursday – Allium tricoccum

GE DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier this week I was cutting through the woods on the mountain back of the house when I saw a lush patch of green off through the trees. I recognized it right away.

It’s ramp season in Appalachia.

I found an on-line article that said, “Ramps are a spring ephemeral of deciduous forests in eastern North America.” Man, I like the sound of that.

I pulled up just two, chopped them in butter and made a cheese omelette that evening. I’ve long felt ramps should be more of a seasoning or garnish than a main dish. It also saves others from having to smell me as my body processes the stinky plant.

Ramps were a spring tonic back in the day–and I suppose they still are. The first wild, fresh green of the season packed with nutrients. But now–NOW–ramps are trendy. Plenty of downright ritzy restaurants are weaving ramps into their spring menus.

My chef friend Dale Hawkins in Buckhannon, WV, posts his daily special for a full month at a time. On April 10 he’s offering: Pork Roast w/ Sauerkraut, Fried Potatoes & Ramps. I’d eat that. The Marketplace here in Asheville, NC, is offering a lamb dish with ramp pesto.

My theory is that trained chefs have hit on the right formula for cooking ramps. They really ought to be treated as a condiment–a flavoring or seasoning. Sure you can blanch them then fry them in a little bacon grease and sprinkle on the vinegar, but if you don’t regret that dish your close friends will.

It might be better to chop a few and add them to a potato and bacon hash or mix them with scrambled eggs. Or better yet, find some outstanding chefs somewhere in Appalachia and see how they’re working their magic on the legendarily stinky first fruit of the season.

Love it or hate, you just LOST an hour

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The sun will STILL rise and set on its own schedule.

We’re now on Daylight Saving Time–or “fast time” as my grandmother called it (since that first day just flies by!). Blech. My circadian clock is firmly meshed in a standard 24-hour cycle. Yesterday, someone robbed me of an hour (hmmm, I think that was an hour of writing time!).

Some helpful folks out there offer tips for dealing with the lag created by the time change, but I’m not sure they’re all that practical.

The first is to set your clock ahead in 15 minute increments for four days prior to the change. I have a hard enough time keeping up with my schedule without changing a standing 10 a.m. appointment to 10:15, then 10:30 . . .

Another tip is to go to bed an hour early the night before. Done. But it’s DARK when I get up now, so I’m not fooling myself at all. I’m just well rested AND grumpy about how dark it still is when I take Thistle for her morning constitutional.

Studies even show that the incidence of heart attacks rise the day after we “spring forward” and decrease after we “fall back.” Can’t we leave the clock alone for the good of our collective health?!?

I know, soon enough I’ll be adjusted and will enjoy more daylight each evening for dog walking, writing, hiking, or just sitting on the porch. But I still don’t like the time change. Hopefully, one day I’ll live like my great-grandma Jane. She got up when it was light and went to bed when it was dark, letting her body tell her what was needed.

Because our bodies are smart. Waaaay smarter than whoever came up with Daylight Saving Time. And now, my body is suggesting that one of those peanut butter Easter eggs in the pantry would help me adjust–or at least distract me from the need to adjust.

Appalachian Thursday–7 Spring Favorites

Spring is technically still a ways off, but we have daffodils, forsythia peeking out, warmer days (followed by COLD ones), and last night I heard the first peepers of the season. So I’m indulging my spring fever with seven things I love about this time of year.

1) Snow on daffodils. In spite of warmer days, we’ll occasionally wake to a fluffy dusting of snow that clings to branches and flower petals without making a mess of the roads. Pretty then gone. Just the way I like my snow! Growing up, snows like that were called “poor man’s fertilize” and farmers would hurry to plow it under in the garden before it melted.

2) Peepers. I love to wake to the song of the little frogs singing and then walk with them at dusk. It’s the music of spring!

3) Fresh asparagus. I think it’s kind of a shame that you can get just about any produce any time of year these days. I remember how Mom treasured those first asparagus shoots poking up through the warming soil. Thank goodness for farmer’s markets where you can still find the real thing! Of course, my great-grandmother wouldn’t have had such fancy fixins–she would probably have enjoyed poke sallat or dandelion greens.

4) Fiddleheads. There’s just something about those tightly furled fronds that’s gorgeous to me. When hiking with my husband year round, I love to point out flowers and plants. He calls them ALL “fiddleheads.”

5) Lambs. When I was a kid, spring was all about the new calves. Dad and would walk out to check on the mothers about to give birth. Now I get to drive past a local farm college’s lambing pasture every morning and evening. And yes, I will pull over to watch lambs frolic. I mean, how can you not?!?

6) Seed catalogs. I don’t grow many vegetables anymore (even when I try, I don’t grow many!), but I still love flipping through the pages of those colorful catalogs. Giant tomatoes, golden corn, plump strawberries, crookneck squash, new potatoes, baby lettuces . . . Oh, shoot. Maybe I will plant something this year!

7) Open windows. It’s a bit early yet, but any time the temperature creeps upwards of 65 I sneak a window open at least for a little while. The day I can leave them open all night listening to the peepers will be perfection!

What do you love about spring?

Appalachian Thursday–Signs of Spring?

GE DIGITAL CAMERAEvery year a few hardy daffodils jump the gun and bloom in February.

Every year we act surprised.

Somehow it seems too soon, but I’ve looked back at notes from five years ago and this is nothing new. Every February the daffodils unfurl seemingly fragile yellow petals. My hostas send tightly furled leaves poking up through the soil and sometimes there’s even a buttercup  or dandelion smiling up at me from the dead lawn. I can’t help but think about how we often have at least one snow in April and I want to warn my flowers to take a steadying breath and wait.

At the same time, I love seeing signs of spring. I love getting hints that soft, warm days are right around the corner. Soon enough, I’ll be getting my daily dose of Vitamin D from the sun again. Of course, there can still be icy, wintry, northern days as well. More than once I’ve seen apple blossom bitten back by a late frost. The old timers look at the daffodils and shake their heads. “We’ll have winter, yet,” they say.

I have a terrible habit of looking for “signs” in every area of my life. All green lights on my way downtown? Good sign. A rainbow as I’m on my way home to the farm? Great sign! Dead bird in the road when I walk Thistle? Bad sign.

The catch is, I spend too much time looking for signs and not nearly enough living in the moment. I’m too busy trying to guess what comes next. Planning and anticipating can be good things, but they can also become debilitating. Spring and the future will both come when they’re ready.

In God’s own, good time.

Appalachian Thursday – 2016

I’m not a fan of looking at the turning of the calendar as any kind of clean slate. I figure most every day is the perfect time to begin doing whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. But in the spirit of the New Year, I took a moment to look back over 2016 in Appalachia. Whether at the house in North Carolina or the Farm in West Virginia, I don’t like to stray too far from my mountains. And flipping through a year’s worth of images reminds me why.

Appalachian Thursday – The Swimmin’ Hole

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It’s getting HOT in Western NC. Oh, not like out west with temperatures over 100, but we have been in the 90s and we are NOT used to that. Of course, we have the perfect antidote to hot, summer days in the mountains of Appalachia.

The swimmin’ hole.

At home in WV, Laurel Fork runs like melted ice over coal ledges, rocks, and boulders to pool in a shady spot behind my Sunday School teacher’s house. Everyone in the community went there to swim–unless they went to Alton, but that was further away and you might run into someone you didn’t know.

The swimmin’ hole had a large boulder on the far side perfect for jumping off (so long as you knew where the submerged rocks were) and one on the near side perfect for sitting in the sun. The flat, coal ledge that spilled water into the pool was a good place to sit in just a couple of inches of water and watch what went on below. A sort of kiddie pool.

We would go there after working in the hay fields. Nothing was better to get the sweat and itchy chaff out of all your nooks and crannies. Mom brought Ivory soap (it floats) and Prell shampoo to kill two birds with one stone. It was heaven.

And it’s legendary. One story tells of how a kid jumped in and peeled a chunk of his scalp back on a submerged rock. The water was so cold, it slowed the bleeding and Aunt Bess just patted the skin in place and sewed it back on. Then there was my dad’s cousin who at sixteen jumped in the cold water when she was overheated and died. I’ve seen her marker in the Laurel Fork Cemetery. And I, along with many others, was baptized there.

It’s a magic place, the swimmin’ hole. Last time I was there, it was oddly smaller than I remembered. But I think in this instance I’ll trust my memory more than my eyes.

Because there are times when your heart knows better than your head.