Ed’s Corner

Warm, Green, Growing Days

Calvin and Hobbes

That beautiful season, the summer! Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light: and the landscape lay as if newly created in all the freshness of childhood.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

I remember the last day of school when I was a boy, the beginning of summer vacation in June, when we literally ran out the school door and felt, in our exhilaration, that summer would last forever, that time would almost freeze (even with 90 degree days), and that this was the natural state of things, this was how life should be!  Even now, it’s easy to lose myself in such thoughts as I traipse through the green, stretching, sun-filled days of summer.

Years ago I heard a story about the benevolent native American deity, Manitou, and his desire to give something special to his beloved people of the earth.  He called them together and asked them what they would like.  One group wanted an earthly home where flowers bloomed, animals gave birth to their young, seeds in the ground sprouted quickly, bird song filled the sky, and the sense of life swelled in the people as it did in the air.  Another group asked to live in a time and place where the days were long and warm, the Three Sisters (corn, squash and beans) and the wild berries and the animals themselves would provide plenty of food, and a dip in the cooling river would be a welcome relief from the heat.  A third group dreamed of beautifully colored leaves, a time to harvest the wild nuts, acorns and other bounties of the forest, and cooler days and nights.  A fourth and final group longed for a world where the everyday was blanketed with crystalline ice and snow that made it easy to track animals, the air was crisp and clear, and families came together for long evenings of storytelling around the fire.

Well, you can imagine Manitou’s consternation after hearing such different requests.  How could he give all of his people what they really wanted?  He retired for the night with a heavy heart.  But the next day he appeared among his beloved people and spoke, pointing to each of the four groups in turn:  You, who want flowers, birth, morning bird song – I give you Spring.  You, who seek warmth and long, green, growing days – I give you Summer.  You, who desire colorful trees, bountiful harvests and cooler weather – I give you Fall.  And you, the last of my Indian brothers and sisters, who yearn for cold, beautiful snow, easy tracking and cozy fellowship – I give you Winter.

And the people were happy.  They never became tired or bored with their gifts, for while none of these seasons lasted forever, each came and left with the assurance it would come around again and again and again.

Welcome to Manitou’s warm, green, growing days.

Quest for Bread

Nature Place cooking activity leader, Eva Szigeti, writes about food and cooking, and how to feel at home, wherever you are. 

 

It never was part of my plan to bake bread. Like many other things in life, somehow it happened…

I grew up in a place where “daily bread” is not only a metaphor for food in general, but where bread is truly eaten daily, almost with every meal. Good bread with fresh butter is the ultimate comfort food for most of my countrymen and countrywomen. For kids, bread with butter and honey or jam is what peanut butter sandwiches are for American children.

My quest for the “perfect bread” began years ago when I left Europe for the United States. Coming to a place far away from home, I braced myself for the unknown. I knew that I would have to face the unexpected, but I was unprepared to be somewhat hungry almost all the time. In this country, which was to become my new home, I encountered sophisticated technology, an abundance of goods and foods, but shockingly, I could not find good bread or butter. And there is no home without good bread and butter… never before had I thought about the value of basic, simple food. To make myself feel at home, I started to bake bread.

The loaves that came out of my oven in the beginning of my journey were great compared to the ones sitting on the shelves of the supermarket, yet still very far from the imagined “perfect bread”. The first turning point came when an older lady living in the neighborhood paid a visit soon after my son was born. Along with her good wishes and tiny, hand-knitted mittens and socks, she brought us one of her home-baked loaves as a gift. The very next day I was walking home from her house with her bread recipe in my pocket, and in my hands I was carrying the real gift: a jar full of sweet-and-tangy smelling, bubbly sourdough starter. That’s when the real magic began…

A few years and many loaves later, on a rainy summer day in Transylvania, I was helping my husband’s uncle, a retired baker, to make bread. He lives in a tiny village where the drinking water comes from the stream running behind the houses, and where the art of traditional bread making is still alive. At the end of the day, out of the wood-fired oven came robust, round loaves with thick, dark crusts, and these loaves redefined my idea of bread. That night we ate the same kind of bread the baker’s ancestors had on their tables. My request for the recipe left a friendly smile on the baker’s face. Naive me, of course – he had no recipe, he didn’t need one, he knew the way of bread… After this day, my loaves became much better again.

My next inspiration came from reading experience. In books written by professional bakers, I found not only inspiring recipes but motivating personal stories, and most importantly, techniques that brought my baking to a new level.

Over the years I have shared many breads with my family and friends: free-formed, pan-baked, white and whole-wheat, yeasted and sourdough, wheat, rye, spelt and multi-grain, breads “spiced up” with potatoes, seeds, cheese, spices… It has always been a great pleasure for me to work with my hands, experiment with ingredients and give the fruits of my work to those I love.

All of the above being true, I sometimes think about the other side of the truth. The dark secret of my bread baking (as dark as the crust of a burned loaf of bread, one could say) is that I can’t get away from it. By baking bread my family likes, I build myself a trap. My children would often label average quality, store-brought bread as “not proper bread”, and politely (or not so politely) refuse it. But they do want to eat bread and I just have to keep baking. One loaf disappears quickly and soon it is time to bake another and then yet another. I am trapped… or am I? Maybe I have to admit that there is something satisfying in this demand for bread coming from my family, and maybe I like my established baking routine (at least most of the time). The bread I bake is certainly not perfect and it never will be, but having it is part of what it means to be home.

Bread!

Whole-wheat Rolls
(makes 16 medium rolls)

2 cups whole-wheat flour
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
2 tablespoons salt

Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add water. Stir together with a large spoon or mix on low speed in a mixer with the paddle attachment until the dough comes together. You may need a little more or less flour, depending on the quality of your flour. Adjust with water or flour if your dough seems too sticky or too dry.

Cover and let rest for about 20 minutes. Knead by hand or machine (on medium speed for 12 minutes).

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough ferment at room temperature for approximately 1 ½ – 2 hours, or until it doubles in size. Push the dough down and let it proof again until it doubles in size.

Dust your counter or a large wooden board with flour. Transfer the dough onto the floured surface, divide it into 16 pieces and form round rolls. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment and arrange the rolls on the sheet. Brush the tops of the rolls with lukewarm water and let them rest for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Bake the rolls for about 20 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the rolls to a cooling rack. Cool for at least 45 minutes before serving.

 

Eva Szigeti operates Pinebrook Garden Day Care, child-care centered around hands-on homesteading activities and free creative play. She also offers cooking and fiber craft classes for children and programs for homeschoolers.  For the past three summers Eva has been teaching cooking at The Nature Place Day Camp.

Grandma Cramshaw’s May Pole

In the backyard of the Cramwshaw house, tucked in near an ancient rock wall, there was on old pole, maybe fifteen feet high with straggling, faded ribbons hanging from the top. I never knew what it might be for. Along with the cast iron bathtub filled with smooth stones, the single large iron gear surrounded every spring with daisies, and the collection of Ford, Chrysler, and International hub caps nailed to the side of the barn, this pole topped with tattered ribbons was just another artifact of the Cramshaw way of life. But I did know this pole had something to do with grandma Cramshaw. Then the morning after one particularly strong night of April showers the pole was blown down.

Ricky Cramshaw came down to my folks house and found me looking for fish worms in my dad’s rose garden.

He said, “Chucky, no fishing now, we got to go help with the May pole.”

My dad, Walt, who was inspecting the new growth on his rose bushes said, “Your grandmother’s May pole?”

“Yup. It blew down last night and got busted. My big brother Lucky gone up the mountain to cut a new one and we need kids to dress it up.”

Walt looked again at the new little buds and seemed worried about them. He said, “She ain’t done any May dancing since I can remember.”

Ricky said, “Nope, I never seen it done neither. But she says with it coming down that’s a sign to do some dancing!”

“Dancing?” I asked with images of old time ballroom dancing in gowns and tuxedos.

Ricky said, “Sort of like dancing around a fire only it’s around a pole.”

Walt looked to our back porch and said, “Where’s your mother?”

“She went shopping, I think.”

Ricky said, “Oh then she’ll miss the dancing!”

Walt said, “Good, she don’t approve of things like May poles anyway.”

“What’s not to approve?” Ricky asked him. “It’s just dancing around a stick in the ground!”

Walt said, “It’s an old fashioned thing that scares her.” He told us to go on up.

At the top of the street we met up with Cindy Maloney, her friend Josephine, and her two brothers Mort and Wort. They had all been invited to help as well. When we got to the place where the old pole had been Lucky Cramshaw had already dragged it off and was tying long, many-colored ribbons to the top of the newly cut maple pole. Ricky explained that his Grandmother preferred a maple May pole to any other wood. Dougy Cramshaw was attaching old dried maple and oak leaves to his woolen shirt with safety pins. He told us he was going to be ‘leaf boy’ and give out the sticks. I was just asking what sticks he might be talking about when Ricky’s mom, July, came walking out with her mother, Lilian Cramshaw. July did not look pleased about this project. She was shaking her head and seemed annoyed. Her mother’s pig monster dogs were kept in the house and they were not happy about this. I could see their ugly, fat heads popping up in the lower kitchen window and hear them yapping to be let out. Even Ricky’s sister Luanne and her half sister Mary Jo were there. I did not see their father. The old lady came up to a little rise above the garden, and holding on to July’s hand she started to instruct us kids as to what we were to do. Once Lucky got the pole standing up straight and sure, we all had to take hold of the end of one of the long ribbons. Then Mary Jo (who was looking kind of teenage pretty these days) had a flat snare drum, and as she pounded it we were to dance around the pole. Each of us were given a direction to go in, and as we danced the idea was that the ribbons would get wrapped into a big braid around the pole… at least that was the idea. The ribbons were long, bright-colored cloth of blue, red, orange, green, yellow and violet. When Grandma gave the command Mary Jo starting drumming and we hopped into motion.

Photo by Mark Saunders for Green Meadow Waldorf School

Photo by Mark Saunders for Green Meadow Waldorf School

First of all, Mort and Wort went the wrong way, tripped and started to strangle each other with their ribbons. Lucky broke that up, but then Luanne tangled Cindy up and they both fell into me while I was trying to avoid Dougy, who was running around swinging fresh-cut maple limbs at everybody. July Cramshaw got us all back to our places and explained that this was a slow dance around the pole and that we weren’t supposed to be choking each other with the ribbons. We tried to start it again but Mort and Wort got into a fist fight which sent the indoor pig monsters into a frenzy, so we had to stop. Finally, Grandma Cramshaw got us all together, and looking very stern she told us what for.

“This is important, you kids. Now we got to do this right or there won’t be any good growing season. Up there on that mountain just like down here in the village the trees are listening. They hear us every day and they want to know we respect them!”

Wort Maloney then spoke up, his little reptilian voice croaking like some bog creature, “Then why’d you cut one down to make a pole with?”

It was a good question. A fine young maple had been cut for this May Pole. The old woman scowled at Wort and said, “Some sacrifice is sometimes necessary. Thing is…” she added, “we now got to hold ceremony for the living!” Her last remark was stern and just a bit angry.

We took our places again. With the determined, chiseled face of the old lady staring down at us we danced slowly to the beat of Mary Jo’s snare drum. I looked up and saw that the wrapping of the ribbons was working. Eventually we got to the bottom of the pole and each of us got to the end of our ribbon. Then Dougy the leaf boy danced about handing everybody a switch of fresh maple. Now old Grandma was smiling and all her meanness was gone. She said to us, “Take your maple stick as a sign of fresh new growth. Take it and know that things are now fertile.” She looked to July, who I think was pretty disapproving of the whole thing, and the old lady said to her, “A long time ago I took a fresh cut maple stick from a May Pole dance – and that year I gave birth to you!”

July laughed out loud.

Photo by Fernando Lopez for Green Meadow Waldorf School

Photo by Fernando Lopez for Green Meadow Waldorf School

Foraging Wild Foods

Wild food forager and Nature Place activity leader Paul Tappenden shows us what’s growing wild and edible in our area. 

I love this time of year. Everywhere we look, life is bursting forth. After the rains that visited us for a week at the beginning of the month we are having a spectacular spring. When I walk in the woods and fields, I feel as though I’m standing in a giant banquet hall, where all the food is fresh, tasty and free. I look around and I’m greeted by nature’s medicines, offering up their powers for our use. As different plants reach their peak, I gratefully gather some for our dinner table and for my herbal medicine cabinet.

After years of foraging I’ve come to know many plants like old friends, and I know just when and where to look for them. This familiarity comes from years of dragging myself through marshes, jungles, deserts, fields and woods, studying plants, making notes, taking pictures and writing about what I discover.

Hardly a day goes by at this time of year that I don’t either forage, prepare wild food dishes or make herbal remedies. Of course, mine is a rather anachronistic lifestyle in our high-tech age, but I am inextricably drawn to it. Besides, eating these nutrient-rich foods makes me feel good!

Milkweed shoot
Milkweed shoot

Field of ramps
Field of ramps

In the past few days I have been out gathering the shoots of knotweed, milkweed and other various trail-side plants. I harvested garlic mustard, stinging nettle, and ramps, with which I’ve made such dishes as forager’s spanakopita with an acorn crust or a wild greens quiche.

Wild greens spanakopita
Wild greens spanakopita

Nettle quiche
Nettle quiche

I’ll often slice my dishes into small pieces and take them to parties or gatherings, where they soon disappear. I now have all my neighbors hooked on my wild food dishes.

At the Nature Place Day Camp, campers love to go out and forage, prepare a wild foods dish from what we’ve collected, and then eat it! They usually keep coming back for more until the whole foraged dish we’ve just made is all gone.

Open House & Spring Peeper Hunt

Join us this Saturday, May 7th, for our camp open house between 1 and 4 pm. We’ll take you on a tour through the garden, past the pond, and around much of our campus (although not the full 200 acres!). We’ll also show you a slide show of photographs from past summers, hopefully answer all of your camp questions, and you’ll come away from visiting us with a good feeling for how and why we do things at The Nature Place.

Peeper

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can join us this same evening, Saturday, May 7th, at 7:30 pm, for our annual spring peeper hunt. We’ll meet in front of the lower school building at Green Meadow Waldorf School, 307 Hungry Hollow Road in Chestnut Ridge, NY.

Hunting spring peepers successfully takes a keen ear, a sharp eye, stealth, and above all, patience. We’ll tromp through the small swamp behind the farm on a search for these tiny sirens of spring. The male frogs emit a loud ‘pee-eep! pee-eep!’, which allows us to echo-locate our targets, carefully treading over hillocks and sunken logs until we are close enough to shine a flashlight on the spring peeper. If we’re lucky, after a minute or two, the frog will start singing again, and we’ll see his vocal sack bulge out as he peeps, like a bubble blown from froggy bubblegum.

This event is in the dark, in a swamp! Please attend in high rubber boots, clothes you don’t mind getting swampy, and a sense of adventure. Flashlights are a must. This program will be easier for children ages six and older. Attending with younger children is OK, but you might decide to stay along the edge of the swamp.