Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tarrytown: between the woods and the weeds

We walked into the green woods across the road from Gabrielle's house in Tarrytown. Gabrielle, her three year old daughter Bess, and Vincent. Gabrielle is my editor at Edible Manhattan and -Brooklyn, and she and her husband Craig Haney live in the Hudson Valley to be near Craig's office. If you can call the idyllic, pastoral fields and Pocantico Hills of Stone Barns an office. Craig is the livestock manager - his office workers are lambs and cows and chickens and geese. And pigs. Really big, black Berkshire pigs.

                          Fleabane - Erigeron philadelphicus, growing in a sunny opening amongst the trees.

I was expecting a stroll of an hour or so - Gabrielle wanted me to sniff out some edible weeds, and I walked with my eyes scanning the undergrowth. These are very clean woods. Not in the litter sense, but free of what I call plant rubbish - invasives such as porcelain berry and cat briar and lots of garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed (as much as I like eating the last two). This was real, clear, beautiful deciduous woodland. The air streamed down from the first perfectly blue sky of the spring, filtering to us through oak branches and leaves and green by the time it pooled at our feet.

Geranium macullatum - cranesbill, growing in another grassy clearing. These woods are within the Rockefeller State Park. Next door, Stone Barns, the farm, is a former Rockefeller estate, and was created by David Rockefeller, his daughter, Peggy Dulany and James Ford. So let's not be too hard on the 1%.

I have never seen native Jack-in-the-pulpit in the wild. Arisaema triphyllum. The corm is edible when dried and cooked, but it's not one I will be trying. Raw, it is stuffed with oxalic acid. Read more about it at Eat the Weeds (though this is hardly a weed).

Young cinnamon ferns - Osmunda cinnamomea.

The plant above confused me. Milkweed. Common milkweed? Those are red stems, and the common milkweed - Asclepias syriaca - I know has pale green stems. And the branching? Feel free to chime in.

[Update: my first encounter with dogbane, Apocynum cannabinum. Notorious common milkweed lookalike.]

This is another plant I do not recognize. Neither do several foragers I have polled. Steve Brill says it is a mustard, but that he has not been able to ID it, yet. It is about three feet tall, and about to bloom, growing in dappled shade. Its leaves reminded me of Polemium, or Jacob's ladder...

Broad swathes of skunk cabbage in boggy parts. The young spring leaves, still upright and furled,  are edible when boiled in many changes of water. But really, why bother? I love these prehistoric-looking plants.

Near a lake the woods gave way to meadows and clear water. Vince found a salamander. Vince always finds a salamander.

A single and delicate Sisyrinchium - blue-eyed grass. Not sure what species.

My knowledge of meadow grasses approaches nil. But I love them.

Above: a real squeal moment. Watercress!

And near those giant Berkshire pigs, whose camps move around in the shady woods, pokeweed.

Oddly, I did not take pictures around the beautiful buildings of Stone Barns. It was lunch time, and the light was bright and hard. The buildings and layout reminded me rather of an English estate. A beautiful kitchen garden, vibrant honeysuckle in bloom, a small farmers market, where Vince and I bought empanadas while Gabrielle went home to fetch a stroller for the short-legged Bess. Our stroll was well into its third hour.

We met Craig, on the job in jeans and and work boots, and went to meet some lambs; who were lying down with lions. Or, at least, Maremma sheepdogs. Two big dogs passed out in the middle of the flock but still very alert. A stressed baah came from the end of the field and one dogs stood up at once and looked, came to a conclusion, then sighed and lay down again. Bess said, Will we eat Little Black, Mamma? (That's Little Black, above). The sheep are not named but Little Black kind of stood out.

"Don't e-e-e-e-e-eat me! I am not a ch-o-o-o-o-op!"

The sheep graze on meadow grass, as sheep should, and the fields are rotated so that plants can grow back inbetween croppings. We picked some chamomile from the middle of a dirt track that ran through one resting pasture. We now had a bagful of milkweed shoots, pokeweed, watercress and lambs quarters. No, not woolly lambs quarters.


Having walked in pastureland for a while we returned to the woods, heading home.

At home, at least, our home for the night, I dunked our leafy spoils in cool water to revive them. The prickly stems in the middle are devil's walking stick shoots. It's a fast-growing flexible tree - Aralia spinosa - with vicious thorns. First time I had seen them, though I knew about the shoots. Edible when very young and tender.

Watercress and lambs quarter salad. And mandolined radishes. I want a mandoline.

Our sauteed milkweed stems.

And lamb burgers with pita bread that Gabrielle had made earlier in the day. Supper outside under the spreading stars. Lemon ice cream, freshly churned, for dessert.

The three-year-old (well, three and three months)  looked up and announced: You need a telescope to see the rings of Saturn.

Just 24 hours, but a profound break from our rooftop and apartment and city life. We rode back on the train beside the Hudson, heading for home and my class at the BBG, with green leaves in our heads and weeds in our tummies and a sense of wonder at modern toddlerhood.


  1. Oh my oh my - what an idylic place.
    It reminds me of the forests and meadows behind the Knysna hills.

  2. looks lovely lady!!! what a nice day it seems you had!

  3. Beautiful...I wish that was my "office"

  4. On your milkweed lookalike I'm going with hemp dogbane or Indian hemp. As for the 1 %, Rockefeller may have been a robber baron, but the Rockefellers had some class, and you knew who they were, and they were mucho philanthropico.

    I wonder if your woods were so clean because they've been cleaned by the deer. Was there a prominent browse line? That other mystery plant is ringing some faint and distant bell. Baaaah.

  5. "my editor". don't you love saying that? good that you are building a strong relationship. i think that will make it easier as you get into the editing process.

    got any idea where I could get watercress to grow in my pond? I looked once. must do it again. someone must have some!

    glad you got a break.

  6. Hen - yes, I remember that grassy meadowy-foresty combination..xxx

    bonbon - thank you, other lady :-)

    portlandier - me, too!

    Frank - yes, dogbanish, indeed. Thank you. Baah! I did not notice an obvious browse line but was not looking.

    webb - if you can buy watercress (to eat) locally root it in a glass of water. Then plant in mud. It tends to like moving water...

  7. Apocynum cannibinum, like Frank said. A milkweed relative but not edible.

  8. My favorite thing about dogbane is the dogbane beetle. It seems too cool and metallic to live here, but I find them every year. And there's sometimes some fun red fall color in them too - the plants, not the beetles :)

  9. Ellen - thank you! I've heard of people eating dogbane thinking it is common milkweed, so it was good to see it for myself.

    Paul - I saw no beetle :-(

  10. I know it was almost a year ago but looking through your foraging posts, I found a plant that needs identifying and I can never resist such a thing......... others beat me to the dogbane but the second plant is indeed in the mustard family: cardamine parviflora, small flowered bitter cress (possibly pensylvanica but I think it's too small)
    There! I feel better ;)

    1. Thank you! Very helpful. Funny, I had forgotten that it was only a year ago that I had not met dogbane, yet. We are now old friends.


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