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A friend and I went out this past weekend to walk around the river. It was fun hanging out with him, and as a bonus I asked if we could scout out some of the trails for pawpaws. Luckily, we found a couple of ripe ones (and a bit over-ripe) lying on the ground. He had never had one, so I gave him one to take home with the instruction to eat it that day because of how ripe it was. I kept the other one.

Ever since I first realized last year that pawpaws grow wild and that I could eat them, I have had an itch to eat them again when they come in season. Here is this year's crop!




Pawpaw Flavor Notes

The friend commented that he thought they tasted somewhat like banana. I also could taste the banana, but for me there was some other fruity taste as well -- again just like last year, I'll say 'papaya' for lack of a better word for the flavor that was underlying the 'banana'.

Later that day, another friend was over and when he tasted it, he commented that it left a bitter after-taste. Which is totally true! It is something I had not noticed before, but I definitely noticed the bitterness after he mentioned it.

My plan is to head back to the river this weekend if I get a chance and see if I can snag a few more.


Circle of Life

On the same trip, I found a LARGE spider. I think it was a Black and Yellow Garden Spider -- an Argiope aurantia -- feasting on a Snowberry Clearwing hummingbird moth (Hemaris diffinis). It was sort of sad to see the dead hummingbird moth!



Cloudless Sulphur

That same weekend, I found myself chasing a yellow butterfly around the yard because I could not ID it. It was very skittish. And very fast flying, fluttering around wildly. It did NOT like it when I got within, say, 10 feet of him! This made it hard to photograph! I believe it was a Cloudless Sulphur.

Here he is DEEP inside a morning glory out back in the alley:





Porcelain Vine & Neighbor Notes

Below is a photo of of a honey bee approaching a wasp from behind. The bees, wasps and some sort of fly were everywhere on the out-of-control porcelain vine back there, and I'm not sure why because there are no blooms from that plant now -- just the fruit.

The vine is quite the invasive, but this one is not on my property; instead it is growing on a neighbor's fence. Because it's not on my property, I can't just go out there and start whacking away at it.


Come to think of it, that neighbor has let his backyard go to weed the last couple years. Actually, I have a couple of neighbors doing that. Although I like the 'wild' look, the other neighbors have taken it to a new level, with thigh high grass for one of them, and this porcelain vine everywhere for the other.

The neighbor with the tall grass is older, so that doesn't surprise me. But the neighbor with the porcelain vine was someone that I used to see outside tending his garden all the time. But not lately. He's not old, so I'm not sure what has happened.

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Last night, a friend was over and mentioned the sweet smell he was smelling. I guess I just assumed it was normal for Summer in the neighborhood to have this fragrance and had never investigated where the scent came from.

Turns out, the big tree out back, covered in yellow blooms was the, um, culprit :) It is an American Linden / American Basswood: Tilia americana.

The leaves are edible for things like salads, and the blooms are used for tea. It has medicinal uses for blood pressure, etc. There is one warning from a study about too much tea causing cardio-toxicity, so do you research if you decide to try this.

In any event, the tree is BIG, so I could not reach enough blooms to dry for tea. The trees live around 200 years, evidently becoming nicely "old" and full of holes for animals as they get older. The leaves have a fairly pleasant, although definitely 'green' taste to them. I think younger leaves would have been better -- the one I chomped down on was pretty tough chewing.

Here are the leaves:



And the blooms. The 3 long "leaves" are special leaves for the bloom -- I think they are called bracts.



Size of the tree, and you can see all the blooms on it:


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Continuing my quest to try the edible things in my yard and neighborhood, today I made some tea with dandelion flowers

First off, I had only mowed the yard just a few days ago, so I didn't have many flowers. I should have reduced the water in the pan -- the tea was not very strong.

First, I gathered the flowers that I could fine. I just put 2 fingers underneath each flower and tugged until the flower popped off into my hand.


Then, I put some water in the pan and put the flowers in. Remember -- there were too few flowers for this amount of water. I think the articles online showed a lot of flowers in the pan.


I brought them to a slow boil, then turned off the heat. Then I did some stuff around the house and came back -- probably about 20 minutes letting them steep.


The color of the tea looks like pee to me...but it tasted fine! I used honey to sweeten it. I would definitely make this again!



One side note -- if you take a medicine, make sure there will be no interactions.

Me? I take medicine that increases my blood potassium levels. And dandelion flower tea evidently is very high in potassium. So...this means I shouldn't drink this on a regular basis.

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You know...I don't expect people who grew up in a city to know much about their natural surroundings because nature is mostly over-whelmed by a city.

What does surprise me is that I, having grown up in the country, had so little experience with eating wild things. Although I had lots of experience with nature, my family only ate things we grew in the garden or bought at the store.

But there is SO MUCH available in the woods and fields for free!

As I was walking in the park yesterday, I noticed Hickory nuts on the ground. I did not take a photo of the Hickory tree -- easily identifiable, and you can search Google to find out what it looks like. I knew these were edible but had never had them, so I brought some home.

The nuts grow in a surrounding skin. The skin usually turns dark brown before the they fall off the tree.


The skin had already come off most of the nuts, so they were easy to gather. Here they are on a dish at home --



The nut has a very hard shell. I took a hammer and attempted to break one on my cutting board. You can see the divot the nut left on the board -- and with no effect to the shell itself!





So I took the nuts and the hammer outside to a granite rock which conveniently had a nut shaped divot in it already. When I whacked the nut on the rock with a hammer, it cracked open.





I didn't eat a lot -- just tasting it. If I were to describe the taste, I would say it is NOT like an walnut. The meat was dense like a pecan. And it was sort of was like eating a pecan, but more bitter. Pecans are sweet, and I would not call the Hickory nut sweet at all -- more bitter.

They were good, but the meat is not easy to get out of the shell. In that respect, it also like a pecan, but the shell is way harder than a pecan shell.

So maybe that's why we didn't eat them as a child -- it was easier to get nuts from the store :)

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Headed down to Belle Isle today to look for Pawpaw fruits. Pawpaws are native trees that provide a 'tropical-like' fruit. I'm a little surprised I didn't know about these from growing up. I can't believe that my grandparents didn't know about them -- maybe we we got bougie, we stopped harvesting wild fruit? Or maybe some of the knowledge just didn't get passed down.

Fruit is very creamy, custard-like. I ate it with a spoon out of the pod --


Big mamajamma pits --


I gave the tree a good shake to get these to fall -


I can't quite describe the taste. I saw someone online describe it as a banana taste, but I tasted nothing banana-like. Maybe kinda like a papaya -- but very creamy. But there is something that I can't put my finger on....

Nutritionally, I'm seeing that they are high in protein, A and C, and possibly have anti-cancer benefits.

I believe that the Papaya is also called a Pawpaw, but it's a different species from this one. Although the fruit looks a bit a like.

http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/pawpaw/cooking.htm

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Not exactly 'urban foraging' since the black walnuts were most certainly planted purposely by someone...I really wonder who planted the edible trees on my property and one of my neighbors -- black walnuts, mulberries, etc. The walnut trees follow the property line between my neighbor and me.

As I understood how to do this, I should pick up black walnuts that had fallen off the tree, and then cut the green hulls off. Then, I would dry the actually 'nut' -- which is the hard shell and the edible goodness inside.

I did NOT realize it would STAIN EVERYTHING! A nice yellow-brown.
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I expanded my urban foraging to a nearby park. My biggest fear about going outside my own yard was that I wondered if the city might be spraying some sort of pesticide for mosquito control.

But as I thought about it:
  1. I go to the park all the time, and I have never seen the city spraying anything.
  2. If the park had been sprayed, unless the poison is systemic, I would expect it to wash off with the rain. And we had a lot of rain last night and earlier this week.
  3. There's a large bird population at the park and lots of bugs, so I just don't think there has been any spraying.
  4. I only foraged a small amount of food, so even if there were to be systemic pesticide, I'd only get a small dose.

So, I think I'm safe on that account.

So off to the park I went to pick some Mulberries since they are in season right now.

I actually have a Mulberry out back of my house (hence the sub-title of this journal), but it is very old and no longer seems to bear any fruit. It did bear some fruit when I first moved in, but I have not seen any any in recent years.

The ones I picked at the park were on the tree itself, so I suspect they are not completely ripe. And as you can see below, the stems came off with the berries -- another sign of incomplete ripeness. I think with a Mulberry on the property, you could spread a tarp on the ground and let the berries fall naturally off the tree.

In any event, I washed the berries and then used some scissors to trim off the stems. And I put a little sugar on them to eat.


There are several Mulberry trees at the park. They are pretty easy to identify -- of course, by the fruit, but also by the leaves and because their branches naturally sort of drape down towards the ground.


Picking Mulberries is a messy business -- your hands get stained purple. It reminded me of helping my grandmother pick blackberries when I was little. By the way, the park is full of blackberries as well.

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Got some Common Plantain out of the back yard today. I had understood that I should get the young leaves, and that if I got the older leaves I would have to blanch them.

I thought I got young leaves, but they were still pretty tough! They didn't taste bad mixed in with other greens in the salad, but were a bit tough to chew.



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Continuing along the lines of eating what's in my back yard, I found this recipe (actually recipes) for making Candied Violets -- http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Candied-Violets. I chose to use the dip in sugar water approach. Easy.

I have TONS of wild violets in the yard -- some consider them weeds, but I like the flowers! And the leaves are green, so what more would I ask? I don't use chemicals in the yard, so everything back there is up for consideration as food :)

(IMPORTANT NOTE -- these are wild violets, NOT the African violets that you buy at the florist. I believe African violets are poisonous. Here's a post here to help you identify. I think wild violets are pretty edible -- leaves, flowers, etc.)


Flowers collected, rinsed in a collander, and then drying on paper towels --







The recipe called for 'caster sugar,' which evidently is finer than granulated, but not so fine as powdered sugar. I hate to buy special ingredients, so I decided to grind granulated sugar up in my mortar and pestle.



Recipe called for almond extract which I had in the cabinet. It also suggested rosewater would work well, but I did not have that.



I like the licorice taste of anise, so I ground up a few seeds as well as an extra ingredient --



An essential element of any cooking adventure -- this is for the cook, not this recipe :)



Sugar, water, almond extract, and ground anise heating on low on the stove, until the sugar dissoves --



I did not have any tweezers (as the recipe called for) which I would have wanted to use in the kitchen, so I used kitchen tongs to dip the flowers into the sugar solution. Surprisingly, I did not have any wax paper in the cabinet, so I subbed parchment paper. Here are the flowers placed on parchment after being dipped and sprinkled with the 'caster' sugar --



I hate to waste food, so I decided to dump some pecans in the sugar solution. I put it in the fridge to eat later --



So...what did the violets taste like?

They were pretty good -- I mean, it's hard to go wrong with sugar, right? I guess they are sort of Victorian candy. They had a bit of a green taste since they were flowers straight from the yard. But good -- I'd do again if I needed flowers for decoration.

Fun little project, and I suspect that if you have young kids, they'd love to help with this!


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I knew that both Henbit and Purple Dead Nettle were edible (article for reference).

I have a TON of Purple Dead Nettle growing in the yard. See the purple wave of blooms behind the bench to the right? All Purple Dead Nettle -- sort of a poor man's version of fields of lavender :)


Since I have so much of it, and since I knew it was edible, I added a bunch of it to a salad today, along with some lettuce, raisins, apple, and some dressing. It wasn't bad - more 'vegetably' than some salad greens. And a bit tough. But otherwise, it was fine.


Here's a closer up view of the weed (um, crop?) --

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karmicdragonfly

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"O seguro morreu de velho, mas o desconfiado ainda está vivo." -- "The safe one died of old age, but the suspicious one is still living."





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