Field of Dreams

Went back to the pasture today for more fiddleheads.  It was a rainy day and I was hedging on whether to go or not.  I stacked firewood in the morning, made some bread with the rhubarb I had in the fridge, and was about ready to get my rain gear and go, as it was a light rain.  Then heavy rain let loose and I lost interest.  A couple hours later, the sun was out for about 5 minutes, and in that time I collected my empty gallon pretzel jars and scissors and headed up the mountain.
I dropped off some pesto I made from the first batch of fiddleheads, nettles and devils club buds, along with some bagels, for Laura and Bob. 
I parked up the mountain and headed for the creek crossing.  As Laura predicted, the creek was running pretty high.  There was still some snow along the creek, and as I walked on it, it was very hard and supported my weight.  Until I broke through in a little overflow channel along the creek.  Down on I went sideways.  Up to my elbows and soaked my pants. Oh well.  Not going back now.  I quickly pulled my pant legs out of my boot tops so they wouldn’t soak my socks, and walked to the tree that lay across the creek and served as my bridge.
I crossed without incident, but when I climbed up and over the root wad on the far side, I slid down the roots and figured I couldn’t get back up that root wad when I came back – how did Laura do it a few days ago?  
All the devils club on the other side of the river had buds that were perfect for picking.  But I didn’t need any more than those I’d already picked this year, and I didn’t have the salad tongs for picking them.  But noted to self for next year.
When I broke out of the rain forest onto the hillside, I decided to explore to the left, as we’d gone to the right the last time.  I already saw plenty of fiddleheads and wanted to see if nettles were more plentiful, as we saw few nettles on the first pick.  I pulled out a plastic 1 gallon (?) container and stuffed it in my bib overall top.  There was a zone of fiddleheads that were ripe for picking along the lower part of the hillside where the forest ended and the open avalanche chute began;  not far uphill from this zone the ferns had already grown and unfurled past picking.  
Maybe this zone was somehow more shaded by the mountains above and the tall spruce and hemlock behind than the plants further up the hill.  And everywhere there was twisted stalk.  I usually eat a few leaves of it when I’m picking fiddleheads but I’ve not collected it as I think it can only be eaten fresh, really, but boy was it everywhere.
Many of the ripe fiddleheads had long stems with a still tightly sheathed fiddlehead on top, and this made for a larger plant for each head picked than picking earlier in the year when the fiddleheads are just coming out of the ground, and I quickly filled my containers.
As I side-hilled and picked fiddleheads, I looked for nettles along the banks of the little creeks that came down the hill.  I didn’t see any in the first creek bed or two.  When I had nearly filled my 4 gallon containers of fiddleheads, I hit the right creek bed, and there were lots of nettles.  After filling all my gallon jars with fiddleheads, I packed  a 1/2 gallon jar with the tops of the nettle plants for Laura.  
She had given me all of the few nettles we’d found on our first trip because she knew I needed it for my Tongass Pesto recipe, so now I could drop these off on the way home for her and give her the good news about finding the mother lode.
I ambled back down to the creek, and made mental landmarks of which direction I needed to go the next time I came across the log bridge to get to the nettles.  As expected, I could not get up the root wad to get onto the tree bridge.  The water was shallower above the tree, and I hopped to the middle of the creek, where I could climb up onto the log bridge from a shallow spot in the creek.  I went over my boots a little, but not bad, and I was already wet from the first time.  It was smooth sailing back to the car.
I dropped the nettles to Laura and relayed the news of the nettle find.  When I got home, I went looking for what I had in my mind would be the best container for cleaning the fiddleheads in the dryer – a nylon duffel bag. I found two nylon sleeping bag duffel bags, each of which held a gallon of fiddleheads, and which I could tie three half hitches with the cinch line to tightly close the bags. I theorized if I used two bags in the dryer, they would tumble against each other and be better than just putting in one at a time.  I was right!  I pulled the first two bags out of the dryer after 15 minutes on air fluff, and they were clean.  I did the same with the other 2 gallons of fiddleheads.  I then put the fiddleheads in the salmon egg basket I garage saled from somewhere that has holes big enough to let the chaff through but not so big that the fiddleheads fall through.  I shook the basket till the chaff had winnowed through and left behind cleaned fiddleheads.
I rinsed the winnowed fiddleheads again through the basket to remove any remaining chaff, and put the cleaned fiddleheads in colanders to fully drain and dry out a bit in the fridge.  We’ll eat some fresh, and freeze the rest.  

Today: Pesto

About out of the pesto I made in 2017, so gathered up what I need for a new batch.

I used about 6 cups of raw fiddleheads, 3 cups of raw nettles and 4 cups of frozen blanched devils club buds,  1/4 (? – 6 to 8 oz?) pine nuts, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup lime juice, 3 tsp garlic powder, 3 tsp pepper, and several cranks of salt from the salt grinder thingy.

Steamed the nettles and fiddleheads, then dumped into a colander and ran cold water over them. Put the greens and nuts in the food processor little by little to finely grind it all, added the juices and spices to it all it a big bowl, then added olive oil til it was the right consistency.

This year, I’m gonna try to freeze it in the ice trays like I’ve seen online and then vacuum pack bags of a few cubes each.

Kelp Marathon

Got after the kelp today.  I was going to make salsa, relish and pickles, but after the salsa looked so good, I decided to do more of it and not any pickles.
The bull kelp stipes are very interesting.  I had peeled some to make pickles, and left the rest with skin on.  The pieces with the skin on were so slippery I could barely pick them out of the bowl to put in the food processor. The stipes left behind this clear sort of gelatin coating on the bowls – maybe that’s the stuff they use to thicken ice cream.   The recipes called for running the kelp through a grinder, but the old food processor we garage saled seemed to do just fine.
The kelp stipes turned from brown to dark green in the fridge.  During cooking, it turns from dark green to a vibrant lime green.  The stipe is very fleshy – I’d guess maybe the texture a cross between a cucumber and a grape.  It chopped beautifully in the food processor.  
It’s been an all day affair, chopping, processing, or canning since 8 ish this morning and getting done now at  830 this evening with the last batch of salsa coming out of the water bath canner.  Luckily, this is water bath canning and not pressure canning, as that would stretch it out to another day, at least. 

Upland greens

Laura and I went to the fiddlehead pasture today.  Fiddleheads were plentiful.  Nettles were sparse.  I made Tongass Pesto last in 2017 and we are on the last bag of it from the freezer, so I needed some nettles to go with equal volumes of fiddleheads and devils club buds to make more.  I need to look around for another nettles honey hole.  
A nice day to be up the hillside in the high country.  The fiddleheads at sea level are largely passed picking, but up in our pasture they were fine.  We also saw the whole top of the hillside giveway in an avalanche, which made us look up the chute we were in to be sure we weren’t in danger.  
I brought the book by Janice Schofield’s book of Alaska plants back from the cabin after I “discovered” it there a few weeks ago.   When I looked around the chute we were in, I realized there really aren’t  that many species of greens coming up in the plant community there.  One plant I noted that was growing all over the place and identified from the book was False Hellebore, which is poisonous.  Good to know.  Lots of twisted stalk coming up, too, which Chef John Cox and Hanni introduced me to many years ago, but I don’t know if there’s a way to preserve it, so I just snacked on some of it fresh, but didn’t collect any.
Only one or two other green plants coming up I need to learn and then I’ll know about all of them on the slope. 
When I got home, it was time to clean the fiddleheads.  Normally, I put them in a pillow case and put in the in clothes dryer on air fluff.  This time, I thought I’d try it in a little backpack that had a zipper that I thought would be a nice convenient closure for doing batches of fiddleheads, instead of tying off a pillow case.  It worked great until the last batch.  I put a little rock in the outer pocket of the pack to see if it helped clean the fiddleheads.  Not sure if that made the difference, but the zipper on the main compartment opened, and I had fiddleheads and chafe all over the inside of the dryer.  I put the fiddleheads back in the backpack and removed it from the dryer, cleaned out the chafe as best I could, then pulled out the lint screen and turned the dryer back on.  The chafe was sucked out the dryer vent in short order, cleaning out the dryer, and I put the lint screen back in.  Problem solved.

Spring Hunting and Gathering

Took my buddy Jeff bear hunting. He loves to eat black bear. I’ve eaten it, but never been interested in hunting for bear. I have been wanting to harvest some kelp to make relish, salsa and pickles. And especially after attending the kelp farming workshop this winter, I was armed with a lot more information on how kelp grows and this made me more enthusiastic to harvest some, which I’ve never done.

The weather has been hot, hot, hot. I used to say I never need it warmer than 70 degrees. Well, it’s 70 degrees. No I say, I never need it warmer than 60 degrees. We left on a bluebird day at 6 am with light winds and blue skies.

The spring bear hunting trips I’ve tagged along on in Southeast Alaska are pretty simple. You cruise the beaches looking for bears to be out eating the new grasses on the beach. South of Juneau,  you travel on the waterways between primary land masses of the mainland and Admiralty Island. There are both black and brown bears on the mainland, and only brown bears on Admiralty Island. So we ran the mainland shore. We saw some killer whales at the mouth of the Taku River in Taku Inlet. We saw humpback whales a couple times down Stephens Passage. There were about 50 sea lions barking at each other on a haul out. Lots of cruiser boats were in Taku Harbor. We turned into Port Snettisham and found some beautiful coves.  What a day.

We didn’t see any bears. We did pick bull kelp in a couple spots. This was my first time harvesting. In the second spot, the kelp had herring spawn on it. We each tried it, and then it was game on. One swath of spawn on kelp for the cooler, one to eat. One swath for the cooler, one to eat. I thought I was way over doing it but couldn’t help myself and we filled the cooler. I thought – I’m gonna regret this when I get home and have to process it all. It was all very exciting understanding what I was seeing on the kelp. The plants we were picking had grown all this mass since last fall, and the brown splotches on the fronds were the spores that are the seed that would eventually release to seed next year’s crop.

Turns out, what we harvested was just right. The processed kelp broke down to about 16 lbs of stipe, a 6 gallon bucket of naked frond, and 3 gallons of fronds with spawn. The stipes should make a batch each of relish, pickles, and salsa. I vac packed the spawn on kelp pieces. The naked fronds I hung in the garage to dry. I’ll plan to somehow pulverized the dried kelp to use later as a powder for seasoning.

Hooters gone silent

I took Nick, the son of my inlaw’s cousin, hooter hunting today.  He had deckhanded on his uncle’s seiner for several years, and just finished his marine biology degree at UAS.  
A glorious day about 70 degrees, sunny and a slight breeze.   We went to Admiralty Island where Bob and I got 2 birds and missed out on two others a few days earlier, when birds hooting all around us.  Not sure why, but we couldn’t hear any birds hooting as we climbed up the hill.  Usually, you can hear birds up on the ridge, but if those birds were calling, they were barely audible.  I noticed (again) I’m getting old, as Nick could hear birds further away that I could not.
About half way up the hill, we stopped to listen, then took off our packs for a drink of water.  We started talking- one of the joys of hooter hunting, because you don’t have to be quiet as the birds don’t care – and sat there a good half hour or more.  And then a bird hooted about 50 yards away.  And another one answered 100 yards up the hill from that one.
We had to negotiate a train wreck of dead falls to get to the tree the bird was calling from.  As we got close, I could see ahead there was a deadfall across little swale I could duck under to get to the tree the bird seemed to be in. As I neared the deadfall, the bird exploded from his perch on that deadfall, to a nearby tree, landing low in the tree.  Nick saw it right away.  It was still so close that when we tried to get in position for a shot, it exploded again, flying to a nearby tree below us to a low branch.  We moved down in the bird’s direction, and Nick soon saw him, again in a low branch. 
Nick had my .22, and was getting a rest for a shot.  I had the 12 gauge further down the slope and would be back up.  Nick kept trying to shoot, but the gun wasn’t firing.  I asked him to look at the shell from the chamber to see if it had a dimple in it so we’d know if the problem was the ammo or the gun.  No dimple, he said.   He finally, told me to take the bird, which I did.  
As soon as I shot, Nick realized he was actually moving the safety in the wrong direction.  I felt bad for him as I know what it’s like to use an unknown gun for the first time.  I should have checked the gun when it wouldn’t fire but we were too anxious to get the bird.
I showed the bird to Nick, put it in my pack, and we climbed half way from our position to the upper muskeg at the base of the mountain to try for the second bird we’d heard.  We spent another 30 minutes waiting there, and eating some smoked salmon Nick had made with cohos he caught from the beach in Juneau last summer, using his mom’s smoking recipe.  It was very good.  The bird never piped up.
We worked our way up to the lower muskeg. We could hear birds rather softly hooting further up on the ridge, but there wasn’t time to get to them as I had to get back for scouts.

We saw a lot of scratching on the muskeg up there.  Just barely scratching of the surface, and not deep down digging.  Don’t remember seeing this before.  There were lots of these little ~ 3 ‘ x 8’ scratches.  Seemed like a brown bear would have scratched deeper but maybe they have that dexterity.  Nick noticed a last little patch of snow, so I plucked and cleaned our bird, and packed it with snow to cool it down.

We headed back down to the beach.  The mountain greenery had exploded since being here just a few days earlier.  We came across some skunk cabbage dug up by a smaller brown bear.  It was one of the first times I’d actually seen the foot prints in the mud of these digs, as it was a recent dig and there had been no rain for a week.   I wondered if this was the young brown bear that was terrorizing some residents of a nearby island with summer cabins.  Not really for any bad deeds, but merely by it’s presence, much of which has been discovered on web cams. Bears have been coming and going from the island long before people put their cabins there,  and long after the cabins were built, but were not under the modern surveillance, so they went unnoticed from the cabins that are used only part time by all but one of the island residents. 

I was happy to see the boat floating nicely at anchor when we got back.  Finally, a trouble free end of trip.  Just pull the anchor and go.  Except the anchor was hung up.  We could budge it a foot or two once in awhile, but it would not come free.  Finally, Nick stripped down to his boxers and tee shirt and waded out.  The anchor chain had fouled in a tree on the bottom.  I saw the tree on the beach when I set the anchor on , but didn’t figure it would be a problem – why didn’t it float?  He freed the anchor and brought the boat to shore.  I told him to just hop on the boat and I would hand him his clothes and gear.  But, too late, he realized why I was telling him this – all the barnacles on the rocks.  He felt a pain in his foot.  As we were motoring away, he saw he cut his foot in the meaty pad underneath the base of the toes pretty deeply, but it did not bleed and was incredibly clean.  He got out his first aid kit and dressed the wound. 
Back at the launch ramp, I handed Nick the bird.  He thought I should have it since I shot it, but I told him shooting isn’t the tough part – seeing the bird is, and he’d done that.  He looked excited to try his first grouse.
Andrew and I were to go hunting on Friday, the last day of the season.  I got a text from him when I got home.  He said more Covid 19 had been discovered at the prison, where he sometimes works as part of his job.  The state was going to test all the staff and prisoners, including him, and he did not know who the infected people were so he could not guess if he had been in contact with them.  Did I still want to go hunting with him?  We decided it would be better to wait to do something else, as the birds had gone largely silent.  I also told his son not to attend scouts tonight until we had Andrew’s results back.  Andrew seemed relieved with my answer.