Tag Archives: spring

Field Notes: The End of May

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We have officially transitioned from early spring to late spring, though the change has been a bumpy one. There have been sweltering hot days offset by chill and damp ones. Not quite a normal spring. One of the more noticeable signs for me is that the big old dogwood behind the shed out back has lost all of its cream-colored petals and has fully leafed out. Every morning in the blue pre-dawn light I would marvel at its cascading flowers glowing brightly. The lush grass and budding trees and bushes would remain crepuscular and mysterious, but the dogwood would be alive and kicking, no pre-dawn twilight could keep it down. Now it’s back to its behind-the-scenes modesty, just simply being a tree behind the shed, its moment of fame evaporated into the ether.

Another sure sign of late spring’s arrival is the end of morel season. But boy what a season! I think everyone found a morel this year. I have read that it was a once-in-a-ten-year explosion. I haven’t been seriously looking for that long, so I wouldn’t know. I have been aware of the morel mystery for a long time though, even wrote a short story about them over ten years ago. Back then I thought I’d never find one, but now I know how hard you have to look. This year I found them all over. Friends gave me some! People who don’t even look found them in the weirdest places. Popping out of gravel and sidewalks! Under a line of spruces between two driveways! These are all anomalous places compared to the general rule of dying elms, ashes and abandoned apple orchards. But morels are nothing if not anomalous, in my opinion.

This year, I found them under every one of these types of trees. It was an exciting time, and I feel now as if I had been swept up in a weird wave. Every spare moment was given to exploring possible sites. All my free thinking time was spent wondering where I would go next. Frankly, this obsession is exhausting, and I’m rather glad it’s done! Now when I walk I’m back to my thoughts, instead of wondering where the morels are. Is it like a crush? Although I found several different spots, I picked only a few from each patch. I have a rule that if there are only a few I don’t take any. And when there are a good ten or so, I’ll take about half. It’s not that they are endangered, it’s just the general etiquette. I dehydrated some, and the rest I ate sautéed in a good amount of butter, cooking them thoroughly, served on a good piece of sourdough toast. Did you know that you have to cook morels thoroughly? All wild mushrooms really. And some folks can have a bad reaction to them even after having them with no prior upset before. Always be careful when eating wild mushrooms.

Now my obsession is turned towards the garden, as the still-green strawberries fatten up  and tomatoes are finally planted in the garden. I direct sow most of my garden, but I always buy tomatoes plants. I just don’t have the patience to start them myself. The past few years I have been buying them at the Northern Dutchess Botanical Garden–organic seedlings, great selection and only $1.49 a pop. There are so many great local sales to visit, but it can get crowded and expensive. I bought two Opalkas, which was last year’s winner, a paste variety that is equally delicious canned or sliced for the table. Other tomatoes: Sun Golds, Early Girls, Paul Robeson, Black Krim, Pineapple Beefsteak, and Principe de Borghese, among a few other randoms. The planting of the tomatoes is so filled with hope and desire, adequately taking over the obsession of the morels.

 

Random Notes: Now that the summer is here, I will have less time to be prolific here so I’ve decided to do one post a week, alternating Field Notes with my Kitchen Journal posts. I hope you’ll stick around! Stay tuned on Instagram for almost daily posts…

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Ramp Vinegar

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It’s ramp season! I almost don’t want to talk about ramps because of the frenzy they induce. There’s something about them–of course, it’s the taste of them–but the fact that they are elusive just makes them that much more desirable. Ah, the lure of forbidden (or just hard to find) food. I try to make due with other wild onion-y greens, but truthfully they don’t hold a candle. I’ve been hiking around in the woods up here for a long time and have never found them.

Until the other day. I was actually thinking about ramps as I was walking in the woods. For ten minutes I was thinking hard about ramps. I was thinking: I hate you ramps! I don’t even want you. And then poof! There they were. I must admit, it felt pretty special. I only took a small handful, and out of the handful I only picked two bulbs. The bulbs I planted in my yard. The leaves that I sliced off at the neck of the bulb were turned into ramp compound butter. I used my “special” butter, cultured and made with local cream. We had it on homemade sourdough bread. It was pretty amazing.

Then a few days later I got up the nerve to contact a neighbor of mine. For years I’ve noticed a lovely patch of green in their shady yard. I have always suspected they were ramps. I was right! And they were kind enough to dig up a clump for me to plant in my yard. It was a forty-year old patch planted by the family. I left a few jars of quince jam on their doorstep in return. All this time right under my nose! When I asked them how they enjoyed their ramps, they said chopped up on bread with a drizzle of olive oil. Very simple and probably very good.

By far, the best thing I did with my small bounty of ramp leaves was to put a single leaf in a small jar of vinegar. In my ramp research, I found that drying ramps dilutes their flavor, and that freezing isn’t a good preserving technique either (unless it’s in a compound butter). I know this is the second post in a row of me just putting something in vinegar, but the ramp vinegar proved to be stellar, and it’s results were immediate. I did one with white wine vinegar and one with apple cider vinegar. They are both delicious–garlicky and leeky– and should last the summer. You only need one leaf for eight ounces of vinegar, so whether you buy them or find them, it’s a good economical use for your precious allium!