It was a difficult summer. It is the first time that I can really say that I saw that the great climate change is upon us. Spring came late after a record breaking cold winter. The first sign was when fewer birds built nests in the trees. The drum beat of the partridges mating ritual was barely noticeable when years their drumming echoed throughout the forest seemingly stirring the forest greenery a wake.
The forest was less musical and more silent while a number of usually extremely, cold hardy, Balsam Fir Trees turned completely rust brown and died from climate stress experienced during the winter. None of our many apple, plum or pear trees flowered. There was an abundant strawberry harvest because the forest mice that I usually compete with for low hanging fruit were almost completely absent. But it was in the flower gardens that the change was most notable. There was half the amount of pollinator insects. Usually the bee balm and the lavender are covered with insects during their peak flowering. In years passed there were so many wild bees working the lavender that a loud hum rose up from the garden you could hear from 50 feet away. This year there was often only one or two bees working the lavender patch. The echinacea attracted a myriad of butterflies but again far fewer than previous years.
Then there was the zucchinis. Since I was a child it has always been a joke about how people try to give summer squash away because the plants are just so darn productive. You would find giant green zucchinis on your doorstep or on the hood of your car left by gardeners wanting to not let the harvest go to waste. This year, the zucchini harvest has been weak at best. There are no giant zucchinis left on the doorstep. It could be because of the weather or the lack of pollinators. There are less hares in the forest as well. In other years, every time I walked the forest trails and I would hear their hurried escape as I approach. This year there is barely a rustling beside the forest trails. There was once a small pack of coyotes haunting the far edges of our property. Their crazed, communal yapping always gives me pause for it sounds so insane. This year there is only one, lone, coyote. I find its scat on the forest trails and hear it’s singular, plaintive cry from down by the water hole. I feel the lone coyotes cry in my own wild heart.
I think back to the time as a young girl when I first read about the flight of passenger pigeons that use to blacken the North American skies for days and the seas of buffalos on the great western plains, no more. We are in a dark time. No one talks about the torrential rainfalls we just had. To me it should be the leading news. Silence. Silent fall…
.The only way not to fall into an inky blackness is through action. By doing everything I think I should do I feel at least I am consistent . can in my own life to make my values consistent with my actions. It is not an easy thing to do because society both politically and economically is not set up to make environmental action acceptable. But lately I have been finding support in the most unusual places. Take these words for example:
“At the same time we can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness. As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a licence to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.“
These are the words of Pope Francis in a document called an “encyclical”. A sort of Papal manifesto for what he sees as his and the church’s work for the coming years. He published this encyclical last spring and I read it soon after. The entire text can be downloaded here: https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html Lets read a little more about what Pope Francis is saying
“Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment. A person who could afford to spend and consume more but regularly uses less heating and wears warmer clothes, shows the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment. There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity.
We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile.“
I find this last paragraph key to my approach to the great change that is upon us and it gives me hope. The educational part of my environmental lifestyle is very important to me. I like to give people experiences not lectures. Often it is not me who does the real teaching but the plants, trees, animals and insects around us. Even the very soil itself can be a great teacher. Living on the land and participating in activities consistent with that ecosystem is anciently natural. Our natural environment communicates with us not with words but with something older. Pheromones and sensations that enter through older systems of perceiving. It is time spent in nature, away from screens and commerce, that gives me the courage and the literal grounding to follow what Pope Francis calls ” make a selfless ecological commitment”. Sharing my ecological commitment is how I see that I can help others see how to make a change in their own lifestyle; to make it more environmentally responsible.
“You live an inspiring model of life that gives me hope that we can live otherwise in this unhealthy world.”-Mathilde participant in one of our atelier “Identification of Forest Edible and Medicinal Plants”.
“My daughter and I adored the time we spent with you. I have begun to look for a house close to the natural world so that I can grow my own vegetables and be closer in contact with Mother Earth” -Chantal who spent a week-end with her daughter for a forest bathing experience.
Only witnessing the change is a sure way to depression. Non action is supporting the status quo that has caused the problem. A generation of scientists have been tricked into studying the environmental change instead of using their talents to come up with solutions. Behind my screens is the cloud which is really an environmental catastrophe of a building filled with humming machines that could not last more than a few hours if the air conditioning was turned off and the machines were left in the natural environment. This is a situation that gives me cause for reflection and often means it is time to go outside and to connect with the deepest and
best part of being alive.
At last the spring thaw came this year and just in time! This week we ate the last cabbage that was stored in the root cellar and I ran out of my favorite sprout mix. I am now harvesting from the garden.
Young dandelion and day lily leaves were the first to appear and be harvested.
The leeks and carrots that over wintered in the garden might look a little bedraggled but are still mighty tasty and have the zing of fresh produce.
I decided to make a humus using peas that I dried from last years harvest. I added a few lacto fermented green beans for a touch of crunch and spice.
Spring Garden Humus Salad
1 cup soaked and cooked peas ( you can substitute chick peas)
1/4 cup of water from cooking the peas
1/2 cup ground sunflower seeds
1 medium carrot
3/4 cup young dandelion leaves
1/2 cup young day lily leaves
2-3 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs cumin
1 de cumin
salt to taste
Grate the carrot. Add the pea water to the peas and crush them with a fork or puree them in a food processor. Add to the crushed peas the carrot, ground sunflower seeds, cumin and apple cider vinegar and mix well then set it aside.
In a skillet, sauté the leek in the oil for one minute. Add the dandelion and day lily leaves and sauté for 30 seconds. Pour the vegetables and all the oil into the pea mixture. Stir the mixture again and salt to your taste. Garnish with sliced lacto fermented beans.
This mix is excellent wrapped in a chapatti.
As a child, I read about an exotic and ephemeral clove-pink syrup in an old story book. Ever since that time I have wanted to taste it. Clove Pink syrup is exotic because the flowers are beautiful and not commonly grown these days and ephemeral because the syrup has such a short shelf life. As an adult I read about it in Maude Grieves and various early American and medieval herbals, where it was described as being used to cover the flavor of unpalatable infusions and in wine used for very special occasions. I came across it old homesteading magazines as something very special that grandmothers would keep aside for themselves to flavour warm water Last year, I stumbled upon the seed for sale in Richters Herb seed catalog:
Clove-Pink Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Grenadin’ Perennial Zones 5-8
(Carnation) Clove-scented flowers were once used to flavour wines and ales, especially celebration cups at coronations, hence its name ‘carnation’. Fragrance is valuable in potpourris, and herb sachets. Clove pink syrup, made by infusing the petals in hot sugar syrup, is delectable on fruit salads or stewed fruits. “‘Grenadin” is a mixture of pink, red and white double flowers.
Even though I live in zone 4 I decided to take a chance and buy the seeds. I started the seeds early hoping for a first year blossoming but 2013 summer was cold and wet so I didn’t get any blooms. In the late fall, with snow in the air, I mulched the young plants with leaves and fir boughs hoping against hope that they would survive the winter. Winter 2013-2014 was one of the longest and coldest winter in years. But there was an early thick snow cover so I remained hopeful. Spring finally arrived and I pulled the boughs off and raked the leaves. There seemed to be signs of life and in a few weeks young shoots started to grow up through the old growth of most of the plants!
The first time I smelled the blossoms I was 30 feet away and almost lifted off my toes by the heady fragrance. Dianthus has changed the garden dynamic with her intense colors and scent. Any breeze will send a puff swirling around the garden. She breathes sweetly first thing in the morning and continues until after dusk.
I made some experiments to find out the best way to capture the scent and flavor in the syrup.
1. Infusing the flowers in the hot syrup until it cooled
2. Infusing the flowers in the hot syrup overnight
3. Making a decoction with the flowers and slowly adding sugar but not to the boiling point
Separate the blossoms from the green calyx by pulling gently on the petals. Pack the petals into a measuring cup. Determine how much syrup to make by using a proportion of 2/3 cup flours to 1 cup of syrup. To make the syrup use 1 part water to 1 part sugar and boil it for 5 minutes. Take the syrup off the heat and stir in the flowers. Cover the pot and put aside to infused over night. Filter the flowers out of the syrup into a glass jar by using a screened funnel. Keep the syrup covered in a cool but not cold place. Use it within 3-4 days or until it looks or smells doubtful.
Other than just smelling it for a heady shot of aroma therapy, my favorite way to use Dianthus syrup is in warm water. A tablespoon or two in a glass is a sweet and fragrant beverage for hot summer days. My husband like it to replace sugar in his tea. I find it a bit too delicate to withstand the rich aromas of coffee.
The fact that it is so ephemeral is part of its pleasure for me. It is truly a seasonal treat. it makes me a bit philosophical and reminds me to live in the present. It speaks to the passing of the seasons and the cycle of life. Savor it while you can.
We buy Organic, Khorasan wheat flour directly from the flour mill, La Milanaise, in Milan, Québec. It is the best tasting flour we have ever used in baking. The taste is sweet, nutty and not at all bland. You can really tell that it is something different than commercial flour. Khorasan wheat, or as it is also known as Oriental wheat, is an ancient grain that has not been modified genetically or extensively hybridized in order to make it easier to grow and harvest. There is an excellent article on wikipedia about it.
Chapatis (makes 8-9 chapatis)
- 2 cups Organic Khorasan Wheat Flour from the Mill La Milanaise
- 1 cup warm water
- sea salt (without additives)
- organic olive oil
Mix a few pinches of salt into the flour. Combine the warm water to the flour in a bowl to make a dough that is soft but not sticky.
Knead the flour in the bowl adding more water or flour as needed to get the right consistency. Divide the dough into equal parts and form them into rough balls. Roll a ball of dough, with your hands, on a flour surface to form a snake about 14 inches long. Rub the snake lightly with oil, coating it all around. Coil the snake into the spiral spiral. Let the spirals rest for an hour.Form the spirals into balls again. With a rolling pin, form the ball flat like a crepe until it is the thickness of a coin. Now it is a chapati Heat a cast iron skillet on a medium to low flame. Do not oil the skillet. Place the chapati into the heated skillet. Pockets of air may form in the inside of the chapati, this is a good thing, wait until brown freckles appear on the pan side of the chapati.Flip it over and wait for the brown freckles to appear on the other side. Repeat for all.
Sylvain shows how he modified our wheeler so he can work anywhere.
Every spring the maple trees awaken and their sap begins to flow when the nights dip below freezing and the days are warm. This year we had a very late, cold, spring and because of that not much sap flow.
We love maple syrup, but our trees (mostly Red Maples) are not the best for syrup production in the best of years so there was no way we would be able to collect enough to make syrup so we decided to make Maple Beer with the water we were able to collect.
You can drink the water straight from the bucker “neat”. The taste straight from the tree is very pleasant. Like a sweet, sparkling seltzer water with a touch of something extra that you can feel is good for you. Spring sap contains sugar, hormones, minerals and other nutrients and has been enjoyed as a spring tonic for thousands of years. All of this goodness will be in the beer too.
We were only able to wait 1 1/2 weeks before opening a bottle of the maple beer we made. Ahhhh, a little bit of liquid maple heaven. The beer tasted slightly sweet, had a distinctly maple flavour, and a smooth finish. Refreshing and energizing. Next year we will definitely be tapping for beer as well as maple syrup.
Below are two recipes for making maple bear. The first one is for making beer either from Red Maples or Silver Birch Trees. The second one is if you are lucky enough to have Sugar Maples.
Simple beer making – what you need:
- Large cooking pot big enough to contain the sap and added sugar
- Fermenters- large glass jars like those used for gallons of oil or apple cider vinegar or a glass carboy
- Air locks to cap the fermenters available from a home brewing store
- Recycled bottles that had wine or beer in them
- Something to tightly seal the bottles either bottle caps and a capper or you can get creative like I did with corks and wire
- Clear Plastic hose about 1 meter- 1 1/4 long
RED MAPLE BEER
- 1 gallon maple sap
- 2 pounds sugar (We used a mixture of malt sugar and organic table sugar)
- brewers yeast
- black tea (about 1/2 cup per gallon of beer-to give the beer some tannin taste)
- Sugar for when bottling
Determine the proportions of your sugar to sap. Boil them together until any impurities rise to the top and skim them off. This liquid is known as the “wort”. After you are done boiling the water, measure how much liquid you have so you know how much tea to add to the mix. Cool the wort until its slightly warm to the back of your hand, about 70°F. While its cooling, brew the tea and stir it into the cooling wort.
Pour the wort into a clean fermenter. Add the yeast. Add water to your airlocks and seal the fermenter. Put the fermenter in a location that stays at warm so the yeast will work. The yeast will take a while to wake up and start working. When it does a thick foam will form at the top of the wort in the fermenter and the airlock will begin to bubble off gas After about a week of working it will slow down only leaving a few island of foam on the wort and the airlocks will stop bubbling.
Ready your bottles, plastic hose and sugar. Put 1/2 tsp of sugar in each beer bottle. This will give you a carbonized beer. Siphon the beer from the fermenter into the bottles and cap them. Store the beer standing in a dark, cool place for one to two weeks. It is now ready to drink.
Sugar Maple Beer
- 2 gallons fresh maple sap
- brewers yeast
- black tea (about 1/2 cup per gallon of beer-to give the beer some tannin taste)
- Sugar for when bottling
Boil the maple sap to 1/2 its volume. Proceed as in making Red Maple Beer