Monday, July 24, 2006

I've made the best batch of raspberry jelly ever. I mean seriously, the flavour is amazing, the colour is astounding. Makes it worth all the fly bites and nettle burns.
What, you think I went and picked them in the garden?
No, I don't think so. I have a battered, slightly pink wicker basket that I bungee on the back of my mountain bike, and pedal off into the woods. The deerflies are vicious and insane this year, biting though Off if it hasn't been applied in the last quarter hour. Even a short nip from one is painful and leaves an itchy, scarring welt. The only remedy is to cover all skin with Permethrin-sprayed cloth. I even use a ballcap sprayed with Permethrin. It also repels the flying deer lice -- like ticks with wings. There are regular ticks as well, and danger of encephalitis. I've used tansy flowers as fly whisks, after I discovered that the flies really don't like the stuff. No kidding, the houseflies won't even land on the garbage can after I laid tansy sprigs across it. No wonder Medeival households used tansy as a "strewing herb".
I have a gorgeous bouquet of tansy topped by a tawny sunflower from my garden on our kitchen table.
Raspberries grow on all the edges here, from forests to brooks, streams, and agricultural irrigation channels. It's very dry this year, so the berries are fattest by water. Meanwhile, I have noticed that the schlehen, or sloes (wild plums) are thriving in the dry (by Germany's standards) heat.
I'm not doing so badly, either. This is nothing compared with Texas heat, and it gets deliciously cool in the evenings, down to almost 50. Texans would kill for 70 or 60, round about this time of year.
Cherries are at the end of their season. I found a wild cherry tree with yellowish fruits that was just delicious. I washed them and popped them in the fridge, snacking on them now. Apples are bulging green on the trees, some with tantalizing rosy cheeks. I'm enchanted by hazelnuts in their lacy casings, but I'm honestly not sure what to do with them. We have wild chestnuts too, in tresses of spiny casings, "hedgehog eggs" I call them. Poor mommy hedgehogs!
In my forest forays, the thing which thrills me most is the finding wild gourmet mushrooms.
Naturally, I must disclaim that I spent years of study getting to know them, and if you just go devouring random fungus, you can easily end up dead, permanently insane, or worse.
I've gotten to know the European chanterelle, known in Germany as Pfifferling. Whitish yellow to egg yolk yellow on a dry day, their fresh peppery fragrance is enchanting, mixed with the mossy musky smell of the earth they hide on. I also enjoy the European boletes in their variety. Get the right kind, treat it right (porcinis on pizza!!) and cross your eyes and hope to die, it's amazing. Chanterelles are best for breakfast. Grate an aged Gruyere into two farm fresh scrambled eggs and a dash of cream. Sautee sliced, cleaned Chanterelles in fresh butter, very gently. Dash with dry white wine, then add eggs/cheese mixture and cook on cooling burner. Snip chives over, and serve. O. M. G. I'll find even more of them when I go hunting for blueberries and cranberries in the fall, along with elderberries, and the later harvest of blackberries. I don't preserve apples, so far, just eat them. There's nothing in the world like a crisp tart apple right off the tree on a snappy fall morning.
It's an experience I trade being home for.
Like most natural progressions, I am here, there, and everywhere with it on a given day. This time of year the tunas are ripening on the cactus, and the muscadines are getting ready to pick, but it's the same story of protective clothing and timing. I got the worst case of chiggers once, picking wild muscadine grapes at McKinney Falls State Park where I used to work for Tx Pks & Wild. I worked so hard, to work for them, and then they disappointed me enormously.
I like my job much better now, I like who and where I am much better now, I like my health better, and by damn I may be chilly in the morning.
For a Texan, there ain't much to beat that, in late July.

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