Monday, May 6, 2013

To the woods - escape from the city

Henry Hudson Parkway

On Sunday, after dropping Estorbo off on the Upper West Side in preparation for his radioiodine treatment for hyperthyroidism, Vince and I decided to flee the city in our Zipcar. It was a very beautiful spring day.

 Saw Mill Parkway

Soon, we were in the woods of the Hudson Valley.

The young leaves are still translucent, letting in light. This is a beautiful time to appreciate the form of the woodland trees, before they are in full leaf and a uniform presence.

Along waterways skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) was prolific.

Small spring flowers covered the forest floor  - spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) and violets. As one who likes to forage, I can't bear haul out the spring beauty to eat - they have little potato-like tubers but it would break my heart to dig them up, unless I was actually starving.

We last saw these in the Catskills, just breaking the surface: Veratrum viride (false hellebore, Indian poke), very striking, and very poisonous. 

Squeal! Ramps (Allium tricoccum). I picked a couple of handfuls. It is such fun finding them, as the culinary world is besotted with their spring appearance on expensive menus. It's the one forageable plant that most people know. In previous years I have bought them at farmers markets. 

I still maintain that field garlic (Allium vineale) may have a better flavor -more pronounced - but the nice thing about ramps is that you can eat the whole plant: leaves, stem and all. Everything is tender. Field garlic has that very tough stem inbetween the edible leaves and bulbs. On the other hand, field garlic is highly invasive, and ramps are a native plant, and should be gathered with far more circumspection. 

Pretty yellow violets, possibly Viola pubescens.

Below, jack in the pulpit - Arisaema triphyllum. Edible when cooked, but very high in oxalic acid, so not good to eat raw, at all. I leave them well alone. Unless a plant is: 1. delicious, 2. relatively easy to prepare, and 3. abundant, I stay away...

Nettles (Urtica dioica). Ouch!  So prickly. I rubbed nearby jewelweed seedlings on the sting spots and it seemed to help. But that may have been psychosomatic. I routinely rub my ankles with it after I've been in poison icy country (there was plenty around), and so far I've never had a reaction. But apparently some people are not too susceptible. Unlike certain Frenchmen

I am not in love with the flavour of nettles, and their preparation is prickly. Famine food, in my opinion.  The purple stems interest me. Is this the male, or is it particular to a subspecies?

Above - a terrible invasive in woodland: Euonymous alatus. Winged euonymous, also known as burning bush, for its intense scarlet colour in fall. It is planted, very stupidly, in highway medians. But it is terrible in the woods, where it crowds out native plants. You can identify it by the papery 'wings' on its stems. Do not plant it. Birds spread the seed far afield.

Another invasive shrub of garden and designed landscape origin is berberis, or Japanese barberry (Thunbergii sp.), circled. These woods were not too bad, but in the Catskills I have seen it smother a forest floor. Again, it is spread by birds who eat the fruit (we can eat the fruit, too - small and tart).

All the talk of eating. It was time for a picnic. Pickled field garlic made an apppearance.

And totally out of season little Persian cucumbers.

We drove back to the city on the spring parkway.

And down the West Side Highway.

At home I made a fire, and cooked up some ramp burgers. 
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