At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
TwoInTents Blog
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Wild brassicas blooming on the palmer divide

The wild brassicas are flowering on the Palmer divide, which indicates with extreme certainty one of the two following possibilities: either the last frost has happened, or the plants are senseless.  Certainly this has been something of a crazy year throughout the United States, but, hard won as it may be, the wild throws of temperature are now at least hovering something above freezing.

Brassicas are generally edible, and more often than not, delicious.  When harvesting wild brassicas, however, be careful to achieve positive identification.  They know they are delicious and will pretend to be other plants.  They are such good mimics that even expert hunters may mistake a poisonous or nasty tasting plant for a brassica. 

Brassicas are also known as “mustards,” “radishes,” “cabbages,” or other familiar names.  They are identified by having no coloration of the sap, may or may not have hairs on the stem, may or may not have a waxy coat.  Their leaves are serrated and pinnatifid, with lobe tips pointing towards the leaf tip.  The sprout seeds are usually cordate.  Flowers are what give the plant away best: they cluster at the tops of stems, have four petals cruciform, usually four long and two short stamen, often are yellow, but can be of other colors.  Their fruits are delicacies: they are capsules, with round seeds and usually spicy!

Romans were probably the first to experiment with the preparation of mustard as a condiment.  They also discovered how to use the thistle to make cheese. They mixed unfermented grape juice, known as “must,” with ground mustard seeds to make “burning must,” mustum ardens — hence “must ard.”  The only surviving recipe from the later Roman period (late 4th Century) includes a mixture of ground mustard, pepper, caraway, lovage, grilled coriander seeds, dill, celery, thyme, oregano, onion, honey, vinegar, fish stock, and oil. 

Though the French had been making mustard since the 10th century, the first appearance of mustard makers on the royal registers in Paris dates back to 1292. Dijon, France, became a recognized center for mustard making by the 13th Century. The popularity of mustard in Dijon is evidenced by written accounts of guests consuming 70 gallons of mustard creme in a single sitting at a gala held by the Duke of Burgundy in 1336.  Due to its long tradition of mustard making, Dijon is regarded as the mustard capital of the world. 

An early use of mustard as a condiment in England was in the form of mustard balls – coarse ground mustard seed combined with flour and cinnamon, moistened, rolled into balls, and dried – which were easily stored and combined with vinegar or wine to make mustard paste as needed. The town of Tewkesbury was well known for its high-quality mustard balls, which were exported to London and other parts of the country, and are even mentioned in William Shakespeare's play King Henry the Fourth, Part II.

There are many varieties of mustard which come in a wide range of strengths and flavors. The basic taste and "heat" of the mustard is largely determined by seed type, preparation and ingredients. Black seeded mustard is generally regarded as the hottest type. Preparation also plays a key role in the final outcome of the mustard. Mustard, in its powdered form, lacks any potency and needs to be fixed by soaking. One of the factors that determines the strength of a prepared mustard is the temperature of the water, vinegar, or other liquid mixed with the ground seeds: hotter liquids are more hostile to the strength-producing compounds. Thus, hot mustard is made with cold water, while using hot water results in milder mustard.  The pungency of mustard is always reduced by heating, not just at the time of preparation; if added to a dish during cooking much of the effect of the mustard is lost. 

When hunting mustards, it is difficult to decide whether to enjoy them as a vegetable, flower or fruit!

Providing for the needs of wildlife begins at home

When planning landscaping or your garden, remember the wild creatures – especially those that migrate.   By planting native species, you are likely providing necessary food and or shelter to these animals.  You can also then better enjoy the show this year as butterflies, bumblebees, birds and other interesting creatures come to your garden for food and shelter.

A sure bet for good wildlife watching is thistle, but you also can’t go wrong with milkweed.  Both of these produce good things for you as well: the thistles are good in your cooking pot, in your cheeses, and even in vases with your ornamental flowers, and the milkweeds are edible, very sweet smelling and soothing to the eye.  Don’t forget to save some of the blossoms and seeds for the critters out back!

 
 

How best to enjoy wild foods

One of the best ways to appreciate the changing of the seasons is to get a CSA membership and, as the parade of flavors passes by your plate, even a casual observer can take notice that nature provides exactly what we're hungry for when we're hungry for it.

Foods rich in protein, vitamins and minerals in the spring, cool juicy treats in the summer and fatty and starchy foods in the autumn.  Winter's austere love can be found any time of year (winter foods are hardly seasonal, whether it is the preserved berries or the delicious tree barks), but (isn't it funny?) we only notice it when we need it most.

Yet it is far better to watch the new pine needles, soft and tender, emerge from their paper tents and grow hardened as they mature; to see how Winter's austere love warms into Spring's soft hopes.  To taste summer is far different from witnessing the daughter of Winter maturing into Summer, to see her hopes fruit in the birth of her son autumn.  To rest yourself at the banquet with your fellow creatures surrounding you, to join in the happy songs of the birds and the insects as they give thanks for another year's bounty is easier when you are out of doors.

To camp outdoors! 

One of the first things we advise to our customers (whether they subscribe or buy just a single box) who want to know how to best enjoy the food we bring them is to camp outdoors.  Whether it is on your balcony or in your backyard, find yourself at home in nature!  Men, women and children are not meant to lock themselves away from the world inside castles of stone or stockades of wood.  Let down your defenses and you will find what good friends you have waiting outside!

Then, bring your kitchen outdoors, too.  Your barbeque, your campstove, a small fire pit - this is how food (wild or domestic) is meant to be prepared.  Under the stars, sun and clouds food cooks better and tastes better.  Whether you are cooking your pinole or your pasta, your fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, teas, nuts... when you hear the breeze in the trees above you or the coyote in the distance, the meadowlark and robin encourage you to sing along while you cook.  And everyone knows that singing makes food taste better.

Then, laying in your tent or in your sleeping bag in the open, the gentle sounds of the night singing stories of the primordial childhood of your noble species, stories about your fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, cousins distantly related across distant seas, you remember the sea, you remember the mountains, you remember your home and look about you - you really will! - and see you are still there.

No matter how chaotic life becomes, the constancy of nature's love reminds us we are at home, the joy in the company of our fellow creatures reminds us we are at home.  No longer prisoners in our castles and stockades, we work harder at school and our places of business because our bodies are filled by good food and our hearts are filled by good hope - the hope that never disappoints. 

If you keep an animal in an environment that it is alien to, if you cage it or take it away from its natural environment, it will have stress.  A camping lifestyle is for everyone.  Whether you like a yurt, an outfitter's tent, a backpacker's tent, a tipi or just to sleep out under the stars, there is a place in your heart that needs the campfire and evening song, that will not be satisfied by television or electric stovetop burners, but thirsts for the cool, clear draughts that has satisfied humanity for ages.  Can't you feel it?

Don't ignore it.  Beneath it, there is a place in your gut that hungers for wild foods and will accept nothing else.  Feed your hunger, slake your thirst!  Give some of our wild foods a FREE try today!

 
 

Are you ready for THIS?

Louis Pasteur said that fortune only favors the prepared mind and some of the foods and medicines and other useful things that we harvest and grow might take some preparation.  Not only in the kitchen, but in your mind.  It may seem strange at first to eat these things or rely on them for your health or to improve your quality of life... and it is, quite frankly, a WILD thing to think, that nature might provide you everything you need at your time of need!  So prepare yourself and come with us, our friends, and we'll visit some strange but worthwhile places together so you will feel more "at home in nature!"

Are you ready for THIS?

Louis Pasteur said that fortune only favors the prepared mind and some of the foods and medicines and other useful things that we harvest and grow might take some preparation.  Not only in the kitchen, but in your mind.  It may seem strange at first to eat these things or rely on them for your health or to improve your quality of life... and it is, quite frankly, a WILD thing to think, that nature might provide you everything you need at your time of need!  So prepare yourself and come with us, our friends, and we'll visit some strange but worthwhile places together so you will feel more "at home in nature!"

 
 
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