The first spring harvest

I love that our Maine farm came with a tremendous amount of edible things already in the ground and thriving. Peach trees. Blueberry bushes. Apple trees. Pears. Raspberries. Blackberries. Grapes. 

A whole lot of grapes. 

We actually decided we needed thin out the grape vines a bit. We have grapes in the yard. Grapes down in the cutting garden. Grapes growing in the greenhouse. Grapes growing over the arbor outside the kitchen door. 

Altogether, there are 20 grapevines or so. All different kinds - cold hardy, seeded and seedless varieties of concord grapes, for the most part. We made jam with them last year - lovely stuff. But a bit much to keep up with, and we actually like to have some open space in the yard. So it was time to thin the stock a bit - I wanted to take out the two rows above and create a bit more space. So I posted a note on Craigslist last week "You dig 'em. You take 'em. Free to good home."  I had a half dozen responses within half an hour. I love Maine. 

While the young couple was digging up the grapes, I noticed the wild chives had already sprouted. If you brush them, the air was full of that lovely, spring scent. A grassy & onion perfume. Rich and heady. 

I went out and clipped an armful

This is not to go to waste - soon enough, the rest of the lawn will rejuvenate, and I'd have to pick through it more to separate "lawn" from "edible" - as it is, it was simple to snip an inch or two up from the base, and grab whole clusters of chives. 

I picked through the scrawny ones and tossed to the chickens (who never mind the tasty castoffs), rinsed them and spread them over a sheet pan. A couple/three hours in the Aga's warming oven, and I have fresh dried chives to chop & dice & add to the spice drawer. 

Now I'm eagerly waiting for the fiddleheads to appear - those will go right into the sautee pan with some butter and lemon, and maybe a sprinkling of chopped chives to boot! 

If I see Opie and Sheriff Taylor, at least I have an excuse for the hallucinations.

Story #1: 

One night last week, I woke up at about 2am to the sound of 135 pounds of St. Bernard going all Cujo at the front door. I stumbled out of our room, tugging on a t-shirt and trying to figure out what set her off as I went. I hadn't quite managed to wake up yet & staggered-fell sideways down the stairs trying to see what the hell was bothering her at such an hour. I landed sideways and not very gracefully onto my foot at the bottom of the stairs, and saw flashlights strobing across my driveway. 

Then a big, shaven-headed face appeared in the window of my front door. 

Go ahead and bark, dog. 

A few seconds later, my brain registered that the face was perched on top of a uniform. And that shiny thing he was waving through the window was a badge. Oh. I should probably keep my dog from eating the nice policeman.  I grabbed her collar and opened the door. 

"Hello sir, we were driving by and noticed your truck's door was ajar. We just wanted to check and make sure everything is ok. And um... did I just hear you fall down the stairs?"  

Hell, there's nothing in my truck to steal. I don't even have a radio. I had probably not made sure it was latched when I got home that night, and the wind caught it and swung it open. But here are my local police officers, just checking to make sure.  

My foot hurt like hell for three days afterwards, but you can't beat that kind of neighborly watching out for you.

Forget Stars Hollow. I live in Yankee Mayberry.  

Story #2:

A few days later, I was having a rare Sunday morning lie-in when the dog started her "Stranger-danger!" routine again. I brushed the hair out of my eyes, wiped the crusty sleep-drool off my chin and managed to walk down the stairs more or less upright. (Stop looking at me like that. Like everyone doesn't dribble occasionally in your sleep. Because we're all basically half-literate chimpanzees when no one is looking.) 

There was a kind looking older lady on my doorstep this time, without a badge or a flashlight. She introduced herself as Bonnie from just a few miles down the road - I recognized her from the farmer's market. Actually, I recognized the bumper stickers on her car. She has most of our town's "Obama: Rhymes with Hosanna", and "G-O-P spells EVIL" bumper stickers plastered all over her hybrid, and that kind of stuff sticks in my head. I had a momentary thought that she was here to ask about my truck (with its rifle rack and NRA sticker) as well, in a whole different way.

"Did you know you have hen-of-the-woods growing in your yard?"

Huh? I must need more caffiene.

She pointed at a large oak in our front yard - "I was driving by, and couldn't help but notice the lovely specimens of mushroom growing at the base of that tree," she practically bubbled. "It was too fantastic not to stop and tell whoever lived here."

Bonnie, it turns out, is an avid semi-amatuer mycologist. She is a member of the the mycology club at Harvard university, and was so genuinely excited to show me the beautiful samples of Grifola frondosa growing right there along the roadside in our yard that I couldn't help but start to be a little excited too. 

I assured the dog that this particular Democrat wasn't there to lecture us on the evils of fiscal conservatism, and was therefore off the lunch menu, and asked Bonnie to show me which specimens she had spotted. 

Hen-of-the-woods (in Japan, it's called Maitake) are apparently highly sought after mushrooms, that normally grow at the base of old oaks. They can be feet across in diameter, and show up in well stocked Asian grocers regularly. This pretty, folded looking fungus grows densely in big ball shapes that look like a cross between a saggy brain and a feathered fringe. Or something. I don't know how to describe it exactly, but Bonnie assured me that not only were they safely edible, they were delicious.

She hopped in her car, humming with the excitement of having shared her knowledge of the fungal world, and I have to admit that her enthusiasm was contagious. I was very nearly certain that she hadn't been leading me on in an attempt to rid our town of one of the few registered Republicans, but I did go back in the house and do an hour or so of intenese internet research on this particular mushroom, just to see if there was anything else that resembled it that was slightly less edible, or had other side effects. Like hallucinations, or painful death.

Nope. Looked safe. I mean, the internet wouldn't lie, right?

I harvested all of it and brought it in the house to weigh. A bit more than 5 lbs of surprisingly dense, firm-fleshed, lovely mushroom. I was impressed. Turns out, ours is just a small sample. These things can easily get into the tens of pounds, and people have maitake parties to chop and store all that fungal fun. 

I asked my Bride and the Critter if they were up for trying some with me. They both got pretty dubious looks. I showed them all of my internet research, but they still seemed pretty skeptical. I diced it up, and showed them the lovely white flesh, and suggested I make a beef stir fry. Or rather two: one with, and one without the mushrooms.

My Bride at first suggested that only one of us eat it, to ensure the kids would have at least one surviving parent.  But curiosity overcame her reluctance, and she scooped a healthy portion onto her rice. 

The Critter, in a rare moment of self-preservation overcoming her culinary adventure, said "Ok. But you try it first, Dad."  

So I did.

It was delicious. 

Mushrooms aren't something you really want to experiment with unless you absolutely know what you're about to put in your mouth. And I'm glad to know that my kids already knew or somehow intuited that. 

But here in our little town, we have neighbors that will stop by and point out what is good to eat and what's not. I'm not sure that I'll do much foraging for these things on my own, but with a good neighbor like Bonnie, who didn't even really know who it was she was stopping to tell the good news to, I was introduced me to something growing on our property that I would have otherwise skipped right over.

I sure am glad I didn't let the dog eat her.