Pickled Cat’s Ear Buds

The population of edible plants growing from our driveway down to the creek and up the hillside is astounding and exciting– beyond the salad greens we eat almost daily to include vegetables for roasting and stir-frying, fermenting and pickling.

I have been topping our daily wild salads with dandelion buds for months, split in half to reveal their bright petal heart. Munched just atop the green leafy halo, they are sweet and palatable straight from the plant.

But as dandelion season wanes and now with an overabundance of cat’s ear shooting skyward, I knew I wanted to utilize them in a way that would aptly tame their bitterness. So I pickled a jarful. Among them I added the last of the dandelion buds as well as clusters of sow thistle and spiny sow thistle buds, all significantly less bitter than cat’s ear.

When gathering, keep in mind that all secrete a staining white sap, but cat’s ear is worst of all and will leave skin and clothing marked brown indefinitely.

Cat’s ear is widely mistaken for dandelion because their leaf rosettes are rather similarly shaped and their bright-yellow blossoms are indistinguishable from a distance (to the unfamiliar). Dandelion flowers tend not to stand as tall, nor are its leaves markedly furry as are cat’s ear. Both, however, vary greatly in their leaf-shape and size. Cat’s ear buds lack dandelion’s ring of small leaves just above the top of the stem.

Cat’s ear leaves on the left; dandelion leaves on the right for comparison.

   

The good news is that both are edible and highly nutritious. Cat’s ear buds along with the top several inches of stem are fantastically delicious cooked as asparagus– we roast them briefly with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Sow thistle and spiny sow thistle plants, for their due mention, are edible but unappetizing by appearance: one is armored with long spikes; the other is limp and milky. Their tiny drum-shaped buds, though, show the signs of palatability. They may be picked individually or in clusters.

Another important note for gathering edible wild buds: All of the above flowers open and then close into a bud form.  Only the pre-flowering stage is worth eating as the latter is turning to seed. Pick only tightly closed, blunt buds with no tip of yellow or browned petal clusters emerging at the end.

Pickled Wild Buds

This pickle yields a rainbow of flavors, from tangy to sweet to bitter at the end. The bitterness wanes over time, so if they are too bitter for your taste, let them brine for longer in the fridge. They are a nutritious snack and zippy addition to salads and sandwiches.

1-1/2 cups wild buds

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup water

2 T sugar or honey

1 T salt

10 whole black peppercorns

10 coriander seeds

1 dried hot chili, such as Thai chili — or — 1 t red chili flakes

3 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

1 bay leaf

Rinse the buds in a colander to remove brown sap stain and any bugs. Drain. Then place in a clean canning jar.

Combine all other ingredients in a small saucepan and heat to a low simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Turn off immediately and cool to just-warm. Pour the contents over the buds and cool to room temperature. Seal with a lid (canning is not necessary). Place in the refrigerator for at least one week.

More wild food recipes for the weeds in your yard:

Superpowers of Stinging Nettles

Wild Greens with Polenta and Chutney Vinaigrette (And a Note on Foraging)

Sauteed Wild Mustard Greens with Dock, Garlic and Onions

Roasted Wild Mustard Buds

Eating Mustard Flowers

Meadow and Brown Field Mushrooms

Firsts Among Fungi

Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

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Moving 50 Animals 600 Miles

We made it! We are officially here permanently. I can’t say that it feels so final in my mind– rather, the days are rushing by as if again approaching the long return trip to California. Without a set routine and with such a seemingly insurmountable to-do list, the past week has been a blur.

The process of packing and loading, of corralling the animals and worrying about how in the world we’d be able to move them all at once, is still haunting my dreams.

The two sheep, two goats, three rabbits, four geese, and dozens of chickens all rode in one trailer, neatly packed into cages and a makeshift livestock area. As stressful and challenging as the experience was, the actual trip was successful and undoubtedly quite the amusing scene for passers-by. We did try to track down a professional livestock mover or at least rent a proper trailer, for the record, but in the end, this was it. And it worked!

The animals seemed to travel quite comfortably, and their release onto acres of lush mixed grass was a happy one. The goats have managed to clear most of the blackberry brambles from under the hay barn. As soon as it’s cleaned out we can fence the area off to contain the sheep for shearing next week.

Between the numerous projects and good hard work, I’ve been voraciously foraging and experimenting with preserving the wild harvests. Posts and recipes will follow this week, along with an update on the beautifully expanding garden.

Home sweet home!

Firsts Among Fungi

My husband and I have spent enough time morel-hunting over the years to border on embarrassing considering we have never found a single one. That is until now, or rather, our last week at our new home. Best or most ironic of all: it was in our own backyard. We had purchased a bagful at the Eugene farmer’s market the morning before.

We actually found two, both in burn pits. I had the highest hopes for finding morels among the charred debris and across the snarled land that was logged last year, both inviting conditions for the delicious mushrooms. I’m hoping that there will be many more in two weeks as people have been reporting their finds all over the Willamette Valley and at higher elevations.

My husband fried them up– along with our market specimens– in a bit of butter, and the flavor was unparalleled.

My daughter also picked her first mushrooms on that trip: dozens of puffballs scattered across a sunny field. She’s been with me as I’ve collected meadow and brown field mushrooms plenty of times, but these little white delights were all hers. Like a true fungophile in the making, she drank in their mellow mushroomy scent.

On a short hike up the road we also came across gatherings of gregarious Agrocybe praecox, which are pretty and interesting, but whose edibility is, according to David Arora, “mediocre at best; disgusting at worst.” We took enough for identification but let the rest be.

All those hours in the woods and meadows of the Pacific Northwest are never wasted, even when the disappointment over an empty bag is at its worst. I’m notorious for traversing the most majestic of landscapes with my back hunched and my eyes trained intently on the ground. The forest floors have so much to offer– orchids, trillium, violets; beautiful but toxic salamanders; and on a good day, the most intriguing of wild mushrooms.

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Three Geese A-Laying

The season has arrived. The African and Chinese geese are all sharing a nest. I’m not sure if the two Chinese geese are a pair or both gals, so I don’t know if all of the eggs are fertile (or if there are only two geese a-laying). No one is yet setting on them while they accumulate. One of the eggs is especially monstrous– probably from the African. Her spouse stands guard at her side while she lays. After depositing her egg, each goose carefully covers the nest over with straw to disguise their trove.

Once someone begins to set, the eggs should hatch in 30 to 32 days, which means we’ll have even more critters to move to Oregon.  Meanwhile I’m policing the hens to try to prevent any broodiness, although they tend to simply appear with a parade of peeping chicks unannounced from hidden nests. One such egg stash, we recently discovered, was under the tractor mower in the barn, fortunately with no hen atop. We pulled the tractor out over the weekend for the first time in a long while, and found this odorous surprise:

The Weight of Things

In the end, our move will have taken almost half a year– one trip at a time, one trailer-load at a time, one month at a time. But now the essentials and most of the furniture is there, so we’ve reached the point of packaging all the little things we plan to take, and setting aside the things we don’t.

There’s an added weight to an out-of-state move over many hundreds of miles, more so now even than I remember from our move down here. We did it so lightly before, just the two of us, freshly married and exploring new possibilities. Now, we know what we’re leaving behind and mostly what lays ahead– and we recognize the void of what we don’t know.

Going through and touching each thing that makes up the tangible parts of our lives brings to mind the many miles we’ve come. It’s a unique opportunity to really see the things that surround us.

We’re trying pointedly to cut back on material “stuff.” On principle, I’m committed to that effort, but item for item I struggle to let go. Going through my daughter’s baby clothes, her Bumbo seat, her swing– we’ll need it all for the next baby, I say.

But there is a lot. Some of the clothes were barely worn. Sometimes I liked them so much that I didn’t want them to get ruined– so I rarely dressed her in them. How absurd, I recognize now. How irrational to not use something we like when she fit into it for such a fleeting time. I look at the piles of baby clothes and I can hardly believe how fast the time went, or how long the time seemed then.

The days are long but the years are short, wrote Gretchen Rubin. There are no truer words for parenthood.

I took apart my favorite piece of decor and nostalgia– old wooden cubbyholes originally mounted in my grandfather’s office, where I now work. It holds found things of all sorts, tiny pieces of art, stones and shells, the boutonnières my bridesmaids and mom and her friends all made for our wedding, the pie-topper bride and groom that I made with trimmings from my actual wedding dress, which I also made.

But I didn’t keep everything. Some little rocks and knickknacks had lost their value, their memories, and I let them go. In fact, I collected them in a bowl and let my husband scatter the natural ones outside, something he surely long wanted to do. He doesn’t store emotion in physical things, and I envy him that.

One freeing aspect of a many-phased move is that each round of selecting and packing, the things I leave don’t have to be immediately thrown out or gotten rid of. I can tell myself that they’re just not coming yet. And maybe by the end, I’ll have picked out all the things I know I want and let my husband come in and take the rest while I look the other way.

Rain Means Puddles (And Happy Toddlers and Waddlers)

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In nearly four years, we’ve had few enough real rainy days that I can count them on my ten fingers. The drought has been aggressive and draining. But when it does rain here, the episodes are torrential. The clouds grow dark as they turn and flex. Then they open up abruptly and dump cascades onto the arid, tightlipped Earth.

California rain differs from Oregon rain. My hometown in coastal northern California accrues nearly as much annual rainfall as Eugene, Oregon, but in fits and spates relatively rare to the Pacific Northwest. The misty drizzle of so many days in Oregon is foreign to its southern neighbor. It’s that perpetual cooling dampness that draws the verdant abundance of the land, feeds the fantastic fungi, and soothes my soul. It also makes spring sunshine a worthy celebration.