Learning to forage is a way of naming the world. Little by little, what was once unknown becomes known, and as familiar as picking a loved one’s face out of a crowd. In the process, we become aware of what’s edible and, just as importantly, recognizing what’s not. While shopping at Maine Meat earlier this fall, co-owner Shannon showed me the satiny smooth chestnuts littering the ground around the tree out back. I scooped up a few to take home and, though tempting as these were to sample, I held off until friend John Forti could identify them. Much as these reminded me of ones I ate in Italy, these were horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum), inedible and to be avoided for the toxic saponins they contain.
Telltale signs: The horse chestnut is rounded in shape with only one side flattened, and the absence of a pointed tip. Though there are medicinal uses for the nut, leaves and bark, horse chestnuts are known to be especially toxic if eaten raw. I’ve read that slow cooking does render these safe to eat, if not perhaps exactly palatable — the meat will be bitter, in complete contrast to the edible sweet chestnut.
The leaves are another way to identify the horse chestnut, which are palmate, with three to seven leaflets fanned out in the shape of an open palm. Lastly, if the squirrels won’t eat them, neither should you.
• Chestnuts vs. Horse Chestnuts, Washington State University Extension
• Chestnuts, horse chestnuts, and Ohio buckeyes, University of Minnesota Extension
• Chestnut FAQ, Badgersett Research Corporation
As we face shorter days and cooler temperatures, there’s something comforting about having a well-stocked kitchen. Though it’s that time between the end of our outdoor farmers’ market season and the beginning of the indoor one, Orange Circle Farm offers a way to help bridge the gap. Organic farmer Jeff Benton makes local food accessible through online ordering, a choice of three pick-up days and locations — either at the farm in Stratham or through Yoga on the Hill in Kittery, depending on day — and a generous order deadline of the night before desired pick-up. Order from what’s currently available or, for those who can’t decide, Jeff also offers a variety box.
This week’s variety box (above) contained braising greens, two heads of lettuce, Kennebec potatoes, onions, carrots, rutabaga, and a spaghetti squash. As a supplement, my order also included some baby kale and chard, red kuri, butternut, and delicata squash, sweet potatoes, more carrots, dried black beans, and a couple dozen eggs. If you hurry, you can still get an order in for this Saturday’s pick-up in Stratham.
Fall finds — just a handful of the edibles discovered with local forager Jenna Rozelle, who shared her wealth of knowledge with us on a recent walk (clockwise, from top left): parsley-like beach lovage or wild celery; crunchy sea beans or glasswort; and salty sea plantain or goose tongue. As an extra treat, she brought us Kousa dogwood berries. Though the rind is edible, Jenna showed us how to pop off the stem as the quickest way to the rich, custardy interior.
In answer to the question “What is Cooking?” Soba master Tatsuru Rai choose to demonstrate making soba noodles by hand. Though he remains silent, the process itself is far from it. His rhythmic movements beat out a precise rhythm, resulting in a kind of auditory performance as much as a visual one, and reminds us of how cooking demands the use of all of our senses — touch, smell, taste, sight, as well as hearing. Happy National Noodle Day! (Video link here.)
I’m honored to be chosen by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension as the 2014 Master Food Preserver Volunteer of the Year — many thanks to them for sponsoring this very special program, to food preservation educator Kathy Savoie for sharing her extensive knowledge of the subject, to community education assistant Kate McCarty of The Blueberry Files for her lovely speech, and to my fellow MFP’s for their always excellent company as we spread the preserving word!
The summer’s been full of unexpected changes, with the garden remaining the one constant, providing comfort and moments of joy. Thank-you to all who’ve asked about our absence — as we sort things out, we’ll be posting when we are able. Though we cannot foretell the future, the long week-end spent canning and stocking the pantry became an act of faith in whatever may come. “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” ― Alan Wilson Watts
Harvesting: Fun jen, kale, chard, summer squash, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, radishes, favas, filet beans, shishito peppers, fairy tale eggplant, salad greens, arugula.
Preserving: Canning tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, dilly beans, dill pickles; freezing roasted cherry tomatoes.
“Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.”
— Lisa Bonchek Adams
We will be taking a breather from our weekly postings to invite some much needed time and space into our lives. Thank-you, dear friends, for continuing to visit us here, we look forward to rejoining your good company. Until then, we hope you have a glorious summer, and delight in its many pleasures and splendid bounty.
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