Tracking in the Mud

All things children and nature

Making Fruit Leather from Wild-Harvested Autumn Olives October 21, 2010

Filed under: Autumn,Getting Outside with Kids,Seasons,Wild Edibles — Sandy Beverly @ 10:27 pm
Tags: ,

My husband tells me I’m getting a little obsessed with gathering wild edibles.  But here’s a success story: Max and I made fruit leather from berries we discovered along a local bike path.

The tree is Autumn Olive, related to the Russian Olive and not a “true” olive.  In the fall, it sports tart red berries with silvery spots.  The lone tree caught my eye at 12 miles an hour, and even though I’ve never seen this species before, my brain said “Autumn Olive.”  See, oh doubting husband, those hours spent poring over wild edible books have not been wasted!

Once I confirmed that the tree was indeed an Autumn Olive, Max and I returned with shopping bag and pruners.  In no time at all, we’d filled the bag with small branches.  (Next time, I won’t clip the branches, I’ll strip the berries straight from the tree.  But this plant is considered invasive in many places, no harm done by slowing its growth a little.)

That evening, we were ready to dig in.  Had a fabulous time sitting on the floor and stripping the berries into a large bowl.  The simple beauty of the round crimson berries made me smile, and we had a misplaced sense of pride about the quantity we had gathered.

We washed ‘em, cooked ‘em, ran ‘em thru a food mill. (Hey, nobody said processing wild fruit is easy!  That’s why those pioneer women could birth their babies while traveling the Oregon Trail.  That, and because they had to…)  Then we sweetened the runny magenta mush with lots of honey.  One night in the electric food dryer, some kitchen shears (sorry, pioneer women, technology happens), and, viola, a bunch of beautiful if slightly mouth-puckering fruit roll-ups.

Look out, Ma Ingalls.  I’m after your cookbook, and your husband.

Important aside: According to the Wild Berries & Fruit Field Guide, Autumn Olive has no toxic look-alikes.  But, as always, be careful eating wild plants.  Some are quite poisonous.

Advertisements
 

Neighborhood Nature Notes–September 2010 September 11, 2010

Filed under: Autumn,Neighborhood Nature Notes,Seasons — Sandy Beverly @ 9:46 pm
Tags: , ,

This is a log of nature observations for our neighborhood south of West Junior High.  Want to share your observations?  See below.  Or start your own nature notebook at home.  Find earlier Nature Notes by looking under “Categories” to the right.

September 2010

  • Sept 10–Saw a bat on my evening walk.   Guess they are still around and active.
  • Sept 9–A few black walnuts have fallen.  (Smell these fragrant green seeds!  But ones that have cracked open can stain your skin and clothes.  Walnut “husks” make a fine natural brown dye.)
  • Sept 8–A few lone fireflies here and there.  I think these are the ones who haven’t found a mate…
  • Sept 7–Still hearing soft night-time bug sounds, but cicadas seem to be gone.
  • Sept 3–Neighborhood owls have been noisy.  Great horned owls and especially barred owls.

Want to share your observations?  Add a comment or e-mail me (sgbeverly@gmail.com) and I will add to the log.  Send first name, age (if you’d like), observation, and your location in relation to a public school.

Or, start your own nature notebook at home, with your family.  Sometimes hard to keep at it, but lots of fun to look back at previous years to see if events are happening earlier or later.  We got a big kick out of observing our first-of-year bat on the same day two years in a row.

 

Neighborhood Nature Notes–June June 1, 2010

Filed under: Neighborhood Nature Notes,Seasons,Summer — Sandy Beverly @ 8:12 am
Tags: , , ,

This is a log of nature observations for our neighborhood south of West Junior High.  Want to share your observations?  See below.  Or start your own nature notebook at home.  Earlier Nature Notes are posted here.

June 2010

  • Summer Solstice–Mimosa trees are blooming.  Very fragrant, but invasive.
  • June 13–Heard first-of-year cicada call
  • June 7–First chigger bite, sigh….
  • June 1–Daylilies are blooming.  The flowers are edible.  Go on, taste one!
  • June 1–Young hawks have left the nest on Orchards Golf Course
  • June 1–3 young blue jays exploring our yard.  They fly pretty well, but an adult is still supervising
  • June 1–Catalpas have been blooming for a few days.  I call this “the tree of Big”: big flower clusters, big heart-shaped leaves, big seed pods

Want to share your observations?  Add a comment or e-mail me (sgbeverly@gmail.com) and I will add to the log.  Send first name, age (if you’d like), observation, and your location in relation to a public school.

Or, start your own nature notebook at home, with your family.  Sometimes hard to keep at it, but lots of fun to look back at previous years to see if events are happening earlier or later.  We got a big kick out of observing our first-of-year bat on the same day two years in a row.

 

Making Lemonade from a “Weed” May 5, 2010

Filed under: Seasons,Spring,Uncategorized — Sandy Beverly @ 2:07 pm
Tags: , , ,

Chances are good that yellow wood sorrel is growing somewhere near your home.  This little clover-like plant has delicate yellow flowers and is informally called “sour grass”.  When I was a kid, my friends and I would eat the sour leaves and flowers, and over-react to the tingling in our jaws.  Many consider this plant a weed.

Thirty years later (thank you, Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants), I’ve learned that you can make a refreshing cold beverage—a cross between lemonade and tea—from this plant.  Want to try it?

  • Gather a bunch of sorrel.  You can find it in almost any untreated yard (and do be sure your plants don’t have chemical herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers on them). My bunch was 4 or 5 inches in diameter.
  • Trim off the roots and rinse thoroughly.
  • Steep 10 minutes or longer in hot water.  I probably used about 20 ounces of water, and my drink turned out very mild.
  • Strain out the plant, chill, and sweeten to taste with your favorite sweetener.

It’s that easy.  And a fun way to teach children about the many ways that plants enrich our lives.

Note: A number of reputable sources describe yellow wood sorrel as a safe edible plant.  But it contains quite a bit of oxalic acid (which is in many foods).  It should be consumed in moderation, and avoided by people with kidney disease, kidney stones, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout.

 

Neighborhood Nature Notes: May

Filed under: Neighborhood Nature Notes,Seasons,Spring — Sandy Beverly @ 1:35 pm

This is a log of nature observations for our neighborhood south of West Junior High.  Want to share your observations?  See below.  Or start your own nature notebook at home.  Earlier Nature Notes are posted here.

May 2010

  • May 26–3 young hawks are still in the nesting tree, but one has moved to a branch a foot or so above the nest.
  • May 26–Purple finches in the neighborhood.
  • May 26–Some mulberries are ripe (and tasty)!
  • May 25–Grackle fusses persistently at neighbor’s cat.  Probably young grackles close by.
  • May 23–Spotted a redtail hawk’s nest on Orchards Golf Course.  Binoculars show 3 large young birds with giant eyes.  Read this about ID’ing juvenile birds.
  • May 22–A broken robin’s egg on the sidewalk.  A different nest has unhatched robin’s eggs.
  • May 10–Baltimore Oriole in our Sycamore tree.  First one I’ve seen here in a few years.
  • May 7–Sycamore trees are dropping seeds, too.
  • May 5–Cottonwood trees are dropping their white fuzzy seeds.  Max calls this “snow”.
  • May 5–Mulberry trees are setting their fruit.  In June, these messy purple berries will make a tasty treat for birds and people.  (Note: Taste varies from tree to tree.  If you’ve had a bad-tasting berry, try again from a different  tree.  And read this short blog.)
  • May 5–The little blue herons have definitely returned to their regular nesting site.  Why do they nest in our so-suburban neighborhood?
  • May 2–Honeysuckle shrubs are blooming, releasing their sweet-smelling fragrance.  Take a walk at night and see if you can tell when you pass one.  (Honeysuckles are a problem plant, but the nectar smells and tastes sweet.)

Want to share your observations?  Add a comment or e-mail me (sgbeverly@gmail.com) and I will add to the log.  Send first name, age (if you’d like), observation, and your location in relation to a public school.

Or, start your own nature notebook at home, with your family.  Sometimes hard to keep at it, but lots of fun to look back at previous years to see if events are happening earlier or later.  We got a big kick out of observing our first-of-year bat on the same day two years in a row.

 

Enjoying Nature with Children: No Need for Names April 12, 2010

Filed under: Getting Outside with Kids,Seasons,Spring — Sandy Beverly @ 9:51 am
Tags: , , ,

Last week, my three-year-old started noticing (and chasing) what he calls “snow butterflies.” These white and very pale blue beauties are typically one of the first butterflies of spring.  They are actually spring azures, but he doesn’t need to know that.  “Snow butterfly” is a perfect name—it’s descriptive, memorable, and Max came up with it himself. Which takes the pressure off of me to identify the next butterfly we spot—which I almost certainly will not be able to do!

In my younger years, I had a short, mostly unsuccessful internship in environmental education.  It was then that I learned this technique of letting children name trees, bugs, flowers, whatever natural treasures they find.  “What would you call it?” is a useful question, in many contexts and for many reasons.

In her amazing essay, “The Sense of Wonder” (available at the Lawrence public library), Rachel Carson reminds us that we don’t need to give young children names and explanations, at least not always.  We simply need to share a sense of wonder and pleasure at what we find.

She writes: If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.  Parents often have a sense of inadequacy… “How can I possibly teach my child about nature—why, I don’t even know one bird from another!”  I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel.

And later: If a child asked me a question that suggested even a faint awareness of the mystery behind the arrival of a migrant sandpiper on the beach on an August morning, I would be far more pleased than by the mere fact that he knew it was a sandpiper and not a plover.

So, my job with young Max is simply to reawaken my senses—and my sense of wonder.  No need to know much.  I like the sound of that.  Wonder what crazy-named natural treasures we’ll find today?

 

Neighborhood Nature Notes–April April 4, 2010

Filed under: Neighborhood Nature Notes,Seasons,Spring — Sandy Beverly @ 9:16 pm
Tags: , , ,

This is a log of nature observations for my neighborhood south of West Junior High.  Want to share your observations?  See below.  Or start your own nature notebook at home.  Earlier Nature Notes are posted here.

April 2010

  • April 30–Spotted a heron in our neighborhood.  Looks like this will be the 3rd year for them to nest here.
  • April 30–Black locust trees are full of blossoms.  Stand under one and smell the sweetness!
  • April 26–Yards, sidewalks, and streets are filled with the “helicopter” seeds of maple trees, alsa called “keys” and “samaras”.  Flowers from oak trees also abound.
  • April 15–About an hour after sunset, one lone firefly is flashing
  • April 12–White redbuds are blooming.  Lilacs are close.  Spotted some poison ivy, sigh….
  • April 10–Max is seeing lots of “snow butterflies”, actually spring azures.  This is a sign of spring.
  • April 8–Heard first-of-year thrasher in the neighborhood.  Their songs come in pairs.  Listen here.
  • April 6–For the first time ever, heard a frog in our neighborhood.  At sunset, after an evening of rain.  I think it was a western chorus frog.
  • April 5–Our first real spring thunderstorm?  Occurs soon after dawn.  A couple cardinals keep singing through the storm.
  • April 4–Redbuds are budding.  Elm tree seeds are dangling.   (See elm tree seeds and other tree seeds and flowers in this blog about neighborhood nature in Chicago.)
  • April 4–Kevin spots butterflies in our backyard!
  • April 2–Forsythia and vinca are in full bloom; the invasive Japanese honeysuckle is leafing out.
  • April 1–Turkey vultures have been back for several days.  Watch for them soaring, with wings in a V-shape.   Some birders say it’s not spring until the vultures return.

Want to share your observations?  Add a comment or e-mail me (sgbeverly@gmail.com) and I will add to the log.  Send first name, age (if you’d like), observation, and your location in relation to a public school.

Or, start your own nature notebook at home, with your family.  Sometimes hard to keep at it, but lots of fun to look back at previous years to see if events are happening earlier or later.  We got a big kick out of observing our first-of-year bat on the same day two years in a row.