It’s a muggy, gloomy day today here on the farm– one of those days where you don’t know if it will be hotter than blazes or stormy. We’ve enjoyed comfortable temperatures for awhile now, so my bet is it will be both. I wish it would stay comfortable and dry in some ways because I’m tired of vegetating on the couch, but the plants are loving our weather lately and all of them jumped! The soybeans are really obvious about it and have begun to canopy already. It is about time to put another row of florida weave up too–the third in the last couple of weeks. And the lawn just keeps growing. Yet the horse farms around us look pretty much the same as always. Pristine and sterile to my eyes.
The size of the bush amazes me. Mike found it somewhere on the farm and transplanted it near the house. I thought it was a weed and when cleaning out the woodburning stove one day, dumped its contents, ash, slightly burned logs and all, on top of the plant, breaking it nearly in two. It is now about ten feet tall and at least eight feet around. It looks like it will have a bumper crop this year too. We harvest it by picking off what are now flower heads in one big clump, wash them, then pick off the tiny berries one by one to remove all stems, leaves and other unwanted items. We also only use the black colored berries. There is a reason for this. Unripened fruit and other parts of the plant can be toxic. For the uneducated, there are several poisonous elderberry look alikes too. You have to be careful of wild bushes.
to extract the grapelike liquid. The steamer juicer is another “instrument” which we have come to love because it can also be used for steaming vegetables and other fruits. During the summer, we use it almost daily, and for juicing elderberries it is perfect! It draws out every smidgen of juice, then we spar over who gets to use it. Mike, to make wine or me, to make jelly! Admittedly, there is only just so much jelly a person could eat, and Mike and I rarely eat it, but who does not like elderberry jelly?! I suspect I will win this year, at least some of the prize, because, with giving it as gifts to friends, family, and neighbors, our stock is running low. Ah, but I will share! After all, he made some elderberry merlot last year that is now quite tasty and mellow that goes really well alongside a dinner of bartered-for venison. There would be another battle with Mike if I dyed my own fabric or yarn. It makes a beautiful purple-red dye color…at least on my kitchen countertop and on our T shirts where we have accidently spilled or splattered the juice on occasion.
As summer draws on, there are many wild foods to forage on the farm. Right now, it is blackberries, though admittedly since Mike found the snake, I am leery of tromping through the brambles to pick the black prizes. By fall, there will be black walnuts to gather from dozens (hundreds?) of wild trees and laid out for their outer husks to dry. We have hickory nuts too, a perfect addition to Christmas fudge or to make pie. The shells on those are so hard, we use a hammer and an anvil to break them before picking out the nutmeats. Like picking through the elderberries, it is time consuming. Here and there are wild grapes too, whose flavor is more tart than domestic varieties. I am still looking for a mature persimmon tree hiding elusively among the wild black cherry woods in the hopes of making some of my grandmother’s Persimmon Pudding. There are juniper berries, too, from the old juniper trees probably once used to distill gin on the property. We do not pick those, however, since the only other use I can think of is to make pemmican, by adding it to ground meat and berries before drying the concoction like a beef jerky. (I’ll take mine with soy sauce and red pepper flakes, thank you.)
So as I’m sitting here on the couch, while Mike feeds the calves, looking out the window at the elderberry and watching mama rabbits and turkeys with their young ‘grazing’ by the asparagus patch, I am also wishing I was out there exploring the other bounties Nature bestowed on this farm. The poor horse farmers around us do not know what they are missing. I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.