Archive for April, 2012

Scrounge

April 23, 2012

I am a complete scrounge when it comes to food and nowhere is this more evident than at work, where I have built a number of relationships that result in me getting food.  And not just any food.  I want the special stuff.  The stuff that people hunt, grow, fish or find.  And fortunately for me, people that hunt, grow, fish and find food are typically excited to share it with others because it means so much to them, and the food is tangible, no, – better, edible proof that they actually do what they purport to love.  And I am more than happy to hear the stories of the provenance of the foods being passed to me.  To hear of the bee stings acquired en route to the honey collection, the forest floor full of morels the spring after a fall burn, the politics of the pecking order of the hens laying pastel eggs.  I love the people, I love that they share their treasure with me, and like so many others these days, I love having a story behind the food on the plate.

So after a week in which I scrounged morels, venison, and backyard eggs from a number of coworkers, I knew it was time to do some food-finding of my own.  In the greenspace across the street, along the creek, I had noticed clumps of stinging nettles, Urtica dioica.  In the past I had cooked nettles, boiling them, “plunging” them into an ice-bath (per Bittman), and then using to make a pesto of sorts, sans the pine nuts.  It has been a while since I had done so and I never had collected the nettles myself so after lunch, Annabel and I went across the street on a “nature hunt” and she watched me carefully snip the tops of the plants, dropping into a paper bag below.  She was fascinated by the whole thing and then had a blast playing (“exploring” we called it) with the soft greens in the ice-bath.

Tonight, this will be served on seared trout, with green beans sauteed with ramps and a rice pilaf.  Paired with New Glarus Moon Man No Coast Pale Ale.  Though I bought the trout this morning at the co-op, it is easy to imagine pulling a trout from Black Earth Creek then collecting nettles from the banks and ramps from an adjacent forest.  As they say, if it grows together, it goes together.  If this turns out as well as I hope, I’ll have to collect another bag of nettles and prepare the sauce to share with those who have shared with me.

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April

April 7, 2012

Spring is getting to the point where so much is happening that it is almost impossible to keep track unless I make notes every day. Which I don’t. But, in the last two weeks, the swallows and herons and flickers have arrived so I guess we can call that the second or maybe third wave depending on how you count. The lilacs, cranberries, redbuds, and cherries are all at, nearing, or just past peak bloom. The Canada anemone is now a complete mat, the lawn grass is 5+ inches in areas, bleeding hearts have peaked, shooting stars are ready to launch, ferns are unfurling and, thankfully, the weather has cooled off with the last week returning to temps in the 50s during the daytime.

Unfortunately for some of the fruitcrop growers in the region, the early freakish spring warm allowed fruit trees and vines to flower and now, not surprisingly, we are facing frosts in low-lying areas in the earliest hours of the morning.

This could, of course, negatively impact harvests if the frost destroys a significant percent of the fruitcrop flowers. In the greater scheme of things, one dismal harvest will probably not affect much but if by 2030 this happens three out of five years, will any of the growers be able to stay in business? Are they already trying to grow varieties in which the actual flower is frost-hardy? Has anyone even developed cultivars in which the actual flower is frost-hardy?

Of course, by 2030, this might pale in comparison with other challenges we will all face but everything is connected. And despite the fact that the Upper Midwest faces less apparent risks from climate change than other parts of the country such as the Southeast, Southwest and Mountain West, it is hard to imagine what the secondary and tertiary impacts of these strange springs might be. And this is where current projections might fall apart. The frozen fruit flowers are an excellent case study. Currently, we all mostly perceive this as a case of cause and effect, or if-then, if we consider the origins of fruit at all. Plants flower and then we get fruit.

But what if this regularly gets decoupled? I guess it will or is, rather, forcing us to remember that the pathway from flower to fruit is not a simple linear system but rather a complex system that is impacted by many factors such as temperature, rainfall, humidity, disease, and pollinator availability. What other ecological processes do we rely on that could face regular failure in an age of climate change? What will we do when a bad year doesn’t mean a yield 8% below average but 80% below average?

Will we change our behavior so that we transfer our reliance to more resilient systems? For example, we could all eat more leafy, hardy, perennial greens rather than fruit. More sorrel, less cherries? Similarly, if our coldwater fisheries fail will we happily train our palates from trout to carp? Both of these examples seem unlikely but at least they are semi-replacable processes.

And if we have semi-replacable processes then logic would suggest that there are non-replaceable processes. And this is where it could get really scary. What if the trees don’t leaf out in springtime in a particular region? I have no idea how this might happen (shitload of tornados during a wet spring with a new, invasive exotic leaf fungus) but I am pretty certain that the more we destabilise the climate, the more we will see non-replaceable ecological processes fall apart and the more profound the impact on society.