Sunday, September 26, 2010

back alley

A residential alley in a large Southwestern city. Not scary, but not the best part of town.

Back fences, the spoor of the bum:

Looking into the back yards, some of these primitives even have animal parts on their fences.

Earlier, a couple of shady characters headed down that alley. What were they up to? Why the leather gloves, empty beer flats, and tongs in their hands? The answer is in the bottom left corner of the first photo. Let's look closer:

That's it, nestled amongst those spines: tuna. Now you can see the reason for the gloves and tongs. That fruit has stickers of its own:

Sure enough, those early morning skulkers came back with pounds of prickly fruit:

Said fruit was peeled, cut up, then boiled.

Once softened, the tuna was mashed, then the juice strained from the pulp. A closeup of the seeds might make a good Halloween poster: eyes......magenta eyes!

Let us repair to a recipe. After the addition of lemon juice, pectin, then sugar, the prickly pear juice gets cooked into jelly:

Skulkers' purpose revealed, mystery of the purloined cactus resolved.

Growing up in West Texas, we picked a bunch of prickly pear tuna, burned off the spines, then my mother made them into jelly. I recall glochids in fingers (actually, cactus spines in fingers was a pretty common experience for anyone spending much time outside around there), Mom being disappointed in the resulting jelly, and eating said jelly on peanut butter sandwiches for a good long time. Recently, talking to Mom about that experience, she recalled that the recipe came from Texas Parks and Wildlife and that the texture of the jelly wasn't great, nor the flavor particularly strong or notable. I remembered the taste as being good, but nothing about the texture of the jelly. Immature palates and all that.

The last year or two, I've been meaning to try making prickly pear jelly myself. People come to the Southwest and plant cactus. Why, I can't imagine except for naivete, or the specific purpose of keeping folks back from your fence or yard. Even then, you have to put up with cactus in your yard. In any event, tuna is all over town and no one seems to do anything with it- you can see it falling and rotting all over the place. Last year the season got away from us, but this year A and I did a little gathering around our neighborhood and put up two batches of jelly.

Tasting this jelly, I remembered that other from childhood. The flavor is also reminiscent of Jolly Ranchers (that is to say, the original Jolly Rancher that was a sort of a bar, and came in two flavors, as I recall- kinda apple and kinda watermelon-dang, I quit eating candy for twenty-some years and everything changes). The jelly tastes of watermelon and a bit of strawberry, although there is a green, earthy note on the finish that the candies can't boast. Not the best jelly in the world, I'd happily trade it for rose hip, which is going to be a real favorite. Still this is better than most anything commercial and might really appeal to folks who like subtle jelly. Further, the price of the fruit was right and it adds some nice variety to the pantry.

Taste aside, it is one of the prettiest jellies I've ever seen.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


We recently went looking for grouse in Northern NM. Didn't find any, though we did run into some gallinaceous birds- the common New Mexico blurry turkey:

Even though we couldn't come up with grouse, I saw a couple of feathers and a dust bath at our first spot. The road into the next spot, always bad, was much worse after a month or so of rain. Because it was so slow, we were getting toward the evening hours and, on the way up, were passed by a couple of bowhunters headed up, no doubt to those same meadows we were planning on trolling for grouse. Two sweaty bird hunters and a hundred pounds of dog racing about are not conducive to elk coming out at dusk. Also, it was opening day of their season, so I felt a little bad about going all the way up there and hitting those meadows. Consequently, when we went by a bunch of wild roses sporting large, ripe rosehips, we took a few minutes to gather a quart or so of the hips in order to make jelly, then headed down the mountain.

We relied on two different recipes in our jelly making, using the extraction technique from the first and, as they agreed on about everything except pectin as far as the ingredient list for the jelly, the pectin-utilizing technique from the second.

After cleaning off the stem and flower ends and any other detritus, we boiled the hips in water and then let them steep.

After steeping, we mashed them up with a potato masher, then extracted the juice (and quite a bit of pulp) through layers of cheesecloth set in a sieve. We'd have gotten clear jelly by using more cheesecloth and letting the juice just drip, but decided that we wanted the pulp for body (and Vitamin C, we hope) rather than trying for a prettier, clear product. Once we'd extracted our juice and pulp, in went lemon juice and pectin, to be followed by sugar.

The jelly ended up this rusty orange color:

The flavor is good- much like oranges, but without the bitter note you get in marmalade, and with a woodsy undertone. It came out a nice, tart jelly. Rose hips are supposed to be very high in Vitamin C as well, so it's good for you to boot. Definitely worth doing again.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Just when you thought you were safe

from mushroom posts, here's another.

So, what did we find up in Alaska? A mushroom festival!

We attended a workshop and a guided foray aimed at edibles of the region. In addition, A and I took a couple of hikes to show her some of the country (as she hadn't been up there before) and, along the way, noticed some interesting 'shrooms. The folks leading the foray said that mostly they get yellow footed chanterelles, hedgehogs, and angel's wings- nothing like the big boletes we enjoyed this year. With all the rain, moss, and decaying wood around in those spruce forests, we kind of expected more. Regardless, the rain forest is beautiful in a green, drippy, close sort of way. Check out this lichen, which we think is cabbage lungwort:

Of course, maybe the local folks were being cagey when discussing edibles in public forums. On one hike we found a small bear's head, which smells quite like a cauliflower mushroom, as well as a good sized growth of oyster mushrooms. We also saw quite a few angel's wings, although not in huge amounts, and a couple of hedgehogs.

Bear's head:

In addition, we ran into these-

which we haven't been able to identify yet. They look just about like a fried egg setting, don't they? Edible or not, cool mushrooms.

Fungus, it's everywhere.

Friday, September 17, 2010

AK again

Well, back from Alaska- another trip chasing coho salmon. Back in '07 we ran into a low water situation which kept a lot of fish from heading up stream during the period we were fishing, this year was something of a repeat of that. Consequently, it was another tough fishing (or, ha ha, catching) year.

Still, we did catch fish, mostly by hiking up one stream until past most other fishermen, then finding a pool holding fish that wanted to bite. Some just didn't. Others would offer to chase a lure or fly and then you'd get a strike.

Beautiful, sunny weather with little or no wind. Warm. I brought too much fleece and not enough t-shirts. Next year will probably be different. More black flies than before.

Great views, what with all those curtains of rain, drizzle or fog between you and the scenery.

A little brown bear kept showing up on one stream, but he wasn't aggressive towards fishermen.

I hope that he doesn't get enough salmon bits that he associates with humans to change that.

In addition to the silvers, there are some dolly varden in the streams, too. Every now and then one will whack an egg sucking leech. Egg flies will get more strikes.

I'm looking forward to a chance to get back up there.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Silver season

Fishing not blogging.

Perhaps a little bragging:

A silver salmon on the fly is probably right at the maximum level of fun.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

food geekery, or, a taste test

Another fungi post. "Gee," you might be thinking, "doesn't he do anything other than mushrooms?" Well, shortly, yes. Bird season has started, but the doves aren't around that we can see and other adventures are afoot, keeping us off the ridges looking for blue grouse.

Before too long, I hope to do some salmon blogging. And grouse blogging. Maybe a little fall trout blogging and, before we know it, it'll be time for lots of duck blogging. Maybe some dove and quail blogging and almost certainly a little pheasant blogging. This year, there likely won't be any elk or deer blogging. In any event, as all you outdoor folks know, sometimes you have a good year for one thing or another and, when that happens, you'd best take advantage. I remember my Dad and Grandad talking about shooting pintails in south Texas after Hurricane Beulah by walking the rows down orange groves and pushing the swimming birds in front of each other to flush. Got lemons?- Lemonade.

In our case, we've had a good year with lots of mushrooms. So, we've been hunting and picking mushrooms. If every grouse in northern NM had three clutches this summer, you'll probably read a ton about bird shooting on high ridges. Same thing if we find a nearby dove hot spot and they decide to hang around through September. For now, more mushrooms.

After our trip up to the high country where we found king boletes (boletus edulis) we checked another part of a more local mountain range. There, we found a few white kings (boletus barowsii) hanging on and a few puffballs. So, in hand, we had some prime king boletes and some prime white king boletes. Recently, a couple of serious food bloggers have wondered at the difference in flavor between the two. Give the chance, we put on a little taste test. We picked some nice examples of each (the kings are the mushrooms with the lovely mahogany colored caps),

sliced them up,

and gave them a little time in some hot butter.

Once they were about equally done, we ground a little fresh pepper on and sprinkled them with a bit of salt.

So, the verdict?

Definitely different. The barowsii have a slightly spicy note reminiscent of a really good parmesan cheese. The edulis are a bit more sweet and have a rich, mushroom-y note that seems to call for red wine, rich sauces, and meat. Each very good, but not quite the same. It'll be interesting figuring out how to get the most out of the more delicate flavor of the white kings. Grouse and pheasant, likely.