Monday, April 20, 2015

Lovely Black Locust

The rains have turned the countryside a lush verdant green, allowing us once again to experience Spring in her best finery. For several years now, many guests in the garden have appeared lack luster if they chose to bloom at all. With no winter rains the leaves which fell in the fall remained brittle and sat intact upon the garden floor, unable crumble becoming broken pieces to nourish the soil. With the winter and spring rains they appear to have broken into tiny moist bits that have melded with the soil beneath them to produce the sweet scent of nourishment. The actions of Nature are indeed a blessing.

Among the hardiest of trees is the Black locust which is native to the southern Appalachians as well as the Ozarks, where grows well on slopes and forest edges. It tolerates dry inhospitable soils quite well and has long been a staple in forests.

It is scientifically named Robinia pseudoacacia for Jean Robin, herbalist to Henri IV of France, who introduced it in Paris in 1601. He had received seeds from religious sects in the Americas who believed they were the Biblically referenced ‘Locust and wild honey’ eaten by John the Baptist in the wilderness (Matthew 3/16). The tree planted by Robin in 1601 is still standing… the oldest living tree in Paris.

The bark of the Black Locust is strong and resistant to decay… woodpeckers will choose Locust above most other trees for a nesting site. With its fast and easy growth habit, its strength and durability, the wood has had immense popularity as a staple among wood workers for hundreds of years. It was used for tool handles, dowels and pins to fasten the planks of wooden ships, hubs for wagon wheels, and gates… accounts speak of fence posts over 100 years old which are still standing. The aesthetic appearance of the fine wood led to its use in furniture, notably tabletops cabinetry.

As a legume its seeds have the ability of fix nitrogen in the soil, and the leaf litter breaks down to produce elevated levels of phosphorous and calcium in the soil at its feet. Although the limbs do have dreadful thorns and the seeds are a bit messy the Black Locust makes up for it all with a gorgeous show of sweet flowers each spring. They resemble a lovely white wisteria and their scent is equally charming. Following the bloom, the shade will appear in earnest as kind shelter throughout the hot days of summer.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Morel Season

The rains have more than green-up the countryside; they have extended Morel Season! Celebrated among rural folks from Oklahoma to Minnesota, the magical, mystical, and utterly delicious morel is more than simply a mushroom; it has a cult following. Why? Perhaps because the season is so short lasting only a few weeks with the first onset of spring; perhaps because conditions of temperature and moisture must be met; perhaps because the palate remembers this delicacy long after the season is over; or perhaps because they have never been successfully produced on a commercial level. Regardless of the reason, the arrival of this edible gem is the cause of many culinary celebrations all across the country. Only the subtle French truffle is more eagerly sought than the morels growing in our own back woods.

The elusive morel is usually found in specific locations, many of which are jealously guarded by experienced hunters and often these locations are passed down from one generation to the next. Morels, originating from spores, are found in clusters among fallen leaves under dying Elms, in abandoned apple orchards, under Sycamore or Ash and near decaying stumps. The morel requires a host, preferably a dead or dying tree, in order to produce.

Morels are a genus of the edible cup fungi and the highly porous ascocarps are the prize. It is said that collecting morels in a porous bag helps spread the spores, but this has never been scientifically proven. Morels are a delicacy that commands a hefty price of $20 a pound if found for sale, which is rare as most morel aficionados prefer to eat their finds rather than sell them. Dried morels are available, however much of the flavor and texture is lost in the process.

After a successful hunt, the mushrooms should be soaked in salted water overnight, if one can wait that long. The soaking kills the tiny micro bugs and critters that live on the mushroom. The traditional method of cooking includes patting them dry then rolling them in a mixture of (optional) beaten egg, flour or cornmeal or a combination of both and frying them in butter. Since margarine is one molecule away from plastic, it does not allow for as robust flavor a ‘real’ butter.

There is no better way to enjoy the arrival of spring than a walk through the woods on a fine day. Add the pleasure of searching for morels, an adult version of an Easter egg hunt, and you have a perfect day followed by a perfect meal. Happy Hunting