Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wild Berries in the Sierra Nevada

So two weekends ago I went to Yosemite and the Sierras.  This was my first trip to Yosemite where I completely avoided the valley floor.  It was wonderful.  It's such a beautiful park no matter where you go.
It's late summer coming onto fall and so there were quite a few berries scattered about on different bushes.  Some edible, some not, some undetermined.

The first berries we found were along a creek on some species of Ribes.  They had thorns on the stems so they would fall under the common name gooseberry I think.  Not sure which one specifically since our book just said there were various species of Ribes scattered throughout the Sierras.  It had small red berries.  Near the creek, they were a little mealy and not so sweet, but higher up they had a pleasant tartness balanced with a little sweetness.

In the same area we found twinberries.  Beautiful, plump glossy berries looking like conjoined twins.  My recent favorite book Flavors of Home describes them as officially edible, but not good to eat, at least here in California.  Further north in Oregon, they are supposedly prized and considered tasty, here in California no mention is made.  I now understand why.  I tried one, just to see, even after my friend said they weren't worth it.  It had a pretty foul taste.  So foul we had to go back and eat some more Ribes berries to get the taste out of our mouth.  Ah well.

On the last day, on our way home, we stopped for another short hike.  We walked through the woods, it was quite beautiful, but then we found some thimbleberries.  I had heard they were really good, but had never found them ripe.  They are really good.  They are kind of like a small fragile raspberry in the shape of a thimble (hence their name).  They have a very nice, but complex flavor.  Very good.
Then  further up we saw more gooseberries.  These had full on spikes to protect the berries themselves.  I kept thinking to myself that this plant, unlike most berry producers, did not want mammals (or at least me) disbursing its seeds.  I seemed to get impaled more than my friends, but it was worth it.  They were sweet and very juicy.  I thought to myself at the time that they would make a nice sorbet.  Evidently someone agreed.
I pulled a bunch off with some twigs I used as impromptu chopsticks and brought them home in a bag.  At home with a fork and a sharp knife they were much easier to open, and a small spoon easily scooped out the flesh.  Next time I'll just remember to bring gloves.
There were also quite a few hazelnut shrubs on that hike, but no hazelnuts were ready.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Birds in Tilden

So on a hike about 2 weeks ago with some friends, I saw two birds in an unexpected place.  I see these birds all the time, but I don't usually expect to see them in the trees.

The first was what we believe was a juvenile red-tailed hawk.  Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are very common not just here in California, but throughout North America, and their range extends to islands in the Caribbean and down through Central America.  They are quite variable in coloring and here in the West they have three forms, light, dark and intermediate.  The dark are completely dark brown, so it looks like that's what we've got below.  For more pics and more info, check out this post on 10000 Birds.
The second bird was a turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), just sitting in a tree a mere 20 feet from the trail.  It wasn't a tree on the edge of a clearing, we were in the woods.  We thought maybe it was hiding from something, but really we had no idea.  This bird too is a juvenile.  It's head is grey instead of the characteristic red of the adults. Turkey vultures are the most widespread of the New World vultures from Southern Canada to the end of South America.
These are two birds I think of when I think of open space here in California.  I often see them on hikes or long car rides in less populated areas.  But it looks like people all over North America probably think the same.

And as an added bonus, here's a pic of a heron (I believe it's a great blue heron) that I saw while paddling down the Russian River in a canoe over Labor Day weekend. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wild Late Summer Harvest

Inspired by the book The Flavors of Home, which I wrote about in a previous post, I decided to try and find a few of the things that are available in August or September.

First I decided to look for some California hazelnuts which are ripe in July and August.  While hiking in Huckleberry a few weeks ago I was unsuccessful.  But this last week in Marin I was, though not very.  Although there were many hazelnut bushes along the trail, I found only two, count them, two California hazelnuts.  I ate one on the trail and saved the other to take some pictures.
The book warns that they are a favorite of squirrels and so hard to find.  It tasted kind of like a walnut to me.  I don't think I've ever had hazelnuts outside of chocolate though, so I'm no expert.  The green sheath below surrounds the nut when it's not yet ripe.  And then dries to brown as the nut ripens.  Be careful though.  There are a lot of tiny hairs on it that will stick in your fingers and hands.  Felt kind of like nettle.  Peeling the first one, I only got a couple, the second a handful of stinging hairs.  The first seemed drier.  I wonder if that made the difference.  Then you've got to crack the nut to get to the meat.
Next up was madrone bark.  This is the time of year when sheets of the bark starts to dry and curl on the tree and is easily removed.  It's used to make an infusion (i.e. tea).  I haven't tried it yet, but will definitely blog about it when I do.
And last up were rose hips of one of our native wild roses.  Much like the hazelnuts, I've seen lots of wild roses lately, but almost no hips.  That is until I stumbled upon a small group of bushes covered with hips.  They are very tiny in comparison to the domesticated varieties.  I'm not sure I took enough for more than a cup of tea, but when I have it I'll blog about that as well.
I was trying to dry them whole, but then decided to cut them in half and dry them in a low oven for about 30 min as per the book's suggestion.  Rose hips are high in vitamin C.  And rose hip oil is commonly used in parts of Latin America to minimize scarring and as an anti-aging cream.  I tried one on the trail.  It was pretty mealy.  Not so great.  The book does say that some bushes have better tasting hips than others and if you find mealy ones, to move on.  But those were the only hips I've seen in weeks.