Saturday, August 27, 2011

Wild grapes & their leaves

This summer has been ferociously busy, but I have managed to find time for some wild foods harvesting and preparation. Last week I crossed the road and fields to the woodline, in search of tender wild grape leaves and the small tart purple wild grapes.

With them I planned to make dolmas and grape juice. Euell Gibbons and other wild food writers say you should collect grape leaves in June while they are new and tender, but even in August I found several dozen that were not too bug-eaten or leathery; and I also gathered numerous ripe, miniature grape clusters, found hiding beneath the blankets of vines and leaves.

Back at the house, I cooked the leaves in a few inches of boiling water (with olive oil, garlic, red wine vinegar) for about five minutes to soften and partially cook them. While they drained and cooled I prepared rice with olives, garlic, nuts, raisins and other tasty ingredients. I dabbed a bit of the rice mix into each leaf; folded top and bottom and sides of each leaf around the mix, and placed each dolma bundle seam-side down in a glass casserole pan.

When the pan was full (one layer, tightly packed), I poured over it a flavorful mix of oil, vinegars, salt and pepper (also some liquid from a jar of olives) - enough to come up the sides of the dolmas but not to cover.

A tin foil cover was applied to the casserole, and I let it simmer in the oven for about 45 minutes at 350F. Then it went into the fridge to cool. These dolmas were wildly flavorful and tender - success!!!

As for preparing the grapes for juice, I sorted the ripe purple grapes into a pan with a little bit of water, brought it to a boil and let it simmer for about 10-12 minutes. I placed a metal mesh kitchen strainer over a bowl and poured grapes and juice into the strainer.

With a wooden spoon, I rubbed the grapes gently so that their pulp went through the strainer into the bowl with the juice, leaving the grape pips behind in the strainer (I discarded the pips, yes of course into the compost bin).

Tasting the resulting juice, I found it exceedingly tart, so I cut it with about a cup and a half of water and 2-3 T of sugar, stirred, and let it cool in the fridge. Even a week later it was AMAZINGLY pure and refreshing in its purple grapey flavor - I mixed it with seltzer - POW!

Monday, August 22, 2011

When it fails to rain

Beautiful fresh rainwater can fill a bucket quickly - but none fell this weekend.

The rainclouds swept heavily and darkly across my backyard all day Sunday, but released only a few sprinkles in all that time, not enough to even wet the bottom of my buckets set at the bottoms of downspouts on the house. Not enough to flush one toilet one time!

I went to the Slottjes' house for a tasty (home made! Go Helen!) supper on Saturday, had a long hot shower, and filled twelve jugs of water from their kitchen and bathroom taps. As he lugged the jugs out to my car David said, "It would do some people a lot of good to have to live like this for a while."

Of course, most of the world's people do live like this -- in fact much worse -- drinking, washing and cooking with polluted water -- when they can get it.

David was referring to New Yorkers and other pro-gasaholics who are convinced that using our precious clean fresh water for gas fracking is a great energy bargain for the country and planet. If they had to live on water in jugs and showers at friends' houses, they might begin to understand the true (overwhelming) value of water in the gas-water equation.

I got back to the house with my twelve jugs of water wealth, and ran around setting up the downspout buckets for all the rain that was supposed to show up on Sunday. I went to bed Saturday night thinking that I was going to be rich - water to drink, wash dishes with, water for the tomatoes in the garden, and flush the toilet twice a day!

I used up almost three gallons of the jug water wealth on Sunday to wash two sinkfulls of dishes that had built up -- and there was an almighty stink of putrefaction in the drain due to no soapy water having rinsed its gullet for five days.

And then, no rain all day Sunday. A month into having no running water, I kept thinking about what the Atlanta sewer and water authority guy said at that conference: "Try to do without it for an afternoon!"

Sadly, the new advice is to call in a well driller expert to help diagnose the problem. Uh oh.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The sound of flowing water

Some days I am cast down by the complications of having a dry well, but this afternoon as it rained gently and quietly, I began to hear the most lovely sound: it was water trickling through the downspouts off the roof and into the buckets I have set around the house. Such a sweet pure small calming set of notes.

I washed chard from the garden today by setting the leaves out on the picnic table, turning them over when they were brimming with rainwater, and then shaking them. I know there's bad stuff in the rainwater, but surely the romance of rain-washed produce is stronger than acid rain?

Sitting out in the back yard yesterday, I gazed at the tops of the trees around my house as they swayed far above me in the restless breeze of the approaching rainstorms. White pines, maples, willow -- and the big oak in the front yard, about 60 years old (I remember when my mom planted it, young and skinny.) I thought about the shallow roots of the white pines, and the deep taproot of the oak -- and stopped to think again. Maybe the oak tree's root has grown deep enough to tap into my well water? If that is true, the oak is more than welcome to it.