Sunday, May 19, 2013
Warblers arrive in the spring garbed in colorful clothing, but they head back south in the fall dressed in drab colors. There's got to be a message there, but those of us who don't follow the birds south are too busy getting ready for winter to recognize it.
For us, fall is canning, freezing and drying fruits and vegetables, closing down the vegetable and flower gardens, frantically finishing summer chores that were neglected, foraging for the last of our wild edibles, filling the freezer with turkeys, grouse, woodcock, ducks and venison, bringing in the firewood (and shame on you if you are still working it up), as the geese fly overhead, honking goodbye. They look awfully smug to me.
The good news is that there are still wild crops to harvest. Last weekend, Lin and I paddled to our favorite wild cranberry crop, delighting in the discovery of the most bountiful and biggest berries we've seen in years. Wild cranberries can be found in the wetlands that surround many of Maine's waterways.
I just finished reading "The Cranberry -- Hard Work and Holiday Sauce" by Stephen Cole and Lindy Gifford, published by Gardiner's Tilbury House. The book provides a fascinating account of the history of commercial harvesting of wild and cultivated crops. While the book reports that cranberries are generally harvested in September, we've always picked them in October and sometimes even in November. They are out there now, just waiting.
Also last week, our local mushroom guru, Barbara Skapa, took Lin mushrooming to introduce her to matsutake and maitake mushrooms. We've been picking chanterelles for a long time, confident in their identification, but this year we took a giant leap forward, starting with black trumpets, a delicious meaty mushroom.
Lin prepared the matsutake mushrooms a couple of different ways, and they were very tasty. There's a lot to be said for living off the land. Particularly when all you have to do is find and pick the crop.
While we no longer have to rely on harvesting wild crops and animals for food, it still can provide a valuable and enriching link to our past.
This summer, I read "Come Spring" by Ben Ames Williams, republished by Down East Books. (Editor's note: George Smith also writes for Down East enterprises), It's a historical novel about the mid-coast's first settlers in the late 1770s. They suffered starvation when vegetable crops failed, sometimes eating tree bark to survive, along with bear and moose meat.
Today most of us live in a level of comfort our ancestors could never have imagined. On the other hand, they never needed heating aid because all of them cut and burned their own wood.
We have traded elements of self-sufficiency for comfort, not always to our benefit. Too many people today -- particularly young people -- have no idea how to provide for themselves.
Their unfamiliarity with growing a garden, working up wood, hunting for game and foraging for wild edibles, makes life far more complicated and insecure, even as many seek to simplify their lives.
Of course, they might accuse us (OK, me) of thinking only in the short term, resisting change. I'd have to plead guilty -- very guilty -- to that charge. I hate change.
But then again, I'm taking advantage of change, even as I write this column. When I started writing this column 21 years ago, I wrote it on yellow legal pads with a pen. Then I typed it on a Smith Corona electric typewriter and drove it to the Kennebec Journal office in Augusta, where someone else retyped it for publication.
Today, I write this column on a laptop computer and email it to the newspaper, where it goes almost directly onto the editorial page.
I guess I like change after all! But it's more fun pretending to be an old curmudgeon.
There is one thing you can do that would be healthy, fun and helpful to our economy: Eat local. A clear and easy path has been cleared for you with the publication of "The Eat Local Cookbook" by Lisa Turner, published this year by Down East Books.
Turner, of Freeport's Laughing Stock Farm, is thorough, covering topics from gardening basics to methods of storage, and provides creative seasonal recipes with easily obtained ingredients. As Linda noted, "The recipes are so simple that even George will have success with these recipes." She added: "Get cooking, George!"
Well, on page 148, the apple cranberry cake seems perfect for today. I'm going to get cooking!
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Smith's writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.