Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wild Strawberry Season
By Jessica Spencer

This is a food memory written by a friend of mine about strawberry season in Pennsylvania.

In late spring a blanket of white flowers with a distinct yellow center covers the hayfields and backyards of North central Pennsylvania.
These flowers seek the sour soils of rocky hills to take root and establish for the wild strawberry growing season. As the month of June begins the strawberry blossoms begin to transform and berries slowly appear. The hard unripe berries quickly turn from a greenish-white to a deep red and droop by bunches from a narrow stem. Four or more strawberries can hang on a stem and weigh the tiny plant into the ground. Others grow a heartier stem and hang high like a shepards hook in a gardeners backyard.

The wild strawberries grow in clusters as you walk across the fields. The blossoms in the backyards succumb to the blades of lawnmowers, and never quite reach full maturity except for a few lucky ones. When you discover a patch of berries without a bowl your step becomes light as you tip toe around the myriad of berries careful not to squish the bounty below the feet.

The picking season varies on Mother Nature. Some seasons last over a month, while rainy, cool seasons cause the berries to either not ripen or become mushy from the dampness of the ground and hayfield grasses surrounding the strawberries. Picking wild strawberries takes patience, not just to fill a full bowl of berries the size of the end of your pinky, but also the potential of determined horseflies, deerflies, and mosquitoes preying on hot summer skin.

When the bugs are at rest, the strawberry picking is peaceful and the mind wanders in and out of thoughts of wild strawberry jam, and strawberries frozen for a special treat during winter doldrums. I learned about all of the hearty wild strawberry patches from my Mother. She took me out into the fields when I was just a baby in a stroller tagging along for the ride. Now during each wild strawberry season I try to out pick my Mom, but she still has me beat. I still have a lot of picking to do.

Two quarts of wild strawberries are needed in order to make one batch of jam. Smaller amounts of strawberries suits strawberry shortcake or toppings for ice cream and cakes. Follow these recipes to enjoy wild strawberries in your home either right after picking or throughout the entire year:


Wild Strawberry Shortcake
1 homemade buttermilk biscuit- warmed
Whipped Cream
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
1 cup of wild strawberries (or as many as you would like)
Put a hand full of berries in the bottom of a bowl. Warm the biscuit. Then, separate and place the bottom half over the wild strawberries. Layer on top a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Layer on top of the ice cream a dollup of whipped cream. On top of the whipped cream is another layer of wild strawberries. Continue this layering sequence one more time and enjoy.

Wild Strawberry Jam
2 quarts crushed wild strawberries
6 cups of sugar
Bring to a boil in a saucepan until sugar dissolves. Add 1 pouch of certo/fruit pectin and boil for 1 minute. Pour hot mixture into sterilized jars. Let set and enjoy.

Monday, July 07, 2008


Last week, I caught late strawberries off Territorial Highway in Oregon. The place smelled like strawberry jam and I picked a half bucket and ran into a cute little family of strawberry pickers before I headed down the road.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Jen's Folk Remedy for Tummy Aches: Fresh Papaya

Try this when you have a tummy ache, particularly if your belly is sick from stress or from feeling angry.

1) Take a large ripe papaya, open with a knife, and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon.
2) Consider chewing on a few of the black bitter seeds that lay in the papaya before you scoop out and taste the delicious coral-colored flesh of the papaya.

Papayas contain an enzyme called papain that helps digest proteins. This enzyme is more concentrated when the papaya is not ripe.

3) Throw the seeds and shells over your neighbor's fence (just kidding.)

4) Do something to forget about your stress and let the papaya help your stomach. In an hour or so, your tummy will feel MUCH better.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Delicious Mint Honey from Honey Tree Apiaries

And the guy who harvests it in Alpine, Oregon.

This is Ethan Bennett: beekeeper extraordinaire who started the company Honey Tree Apiaries. He sells his honey at the farmer's market in Corvallis every Saturday. I can tell you unabashedly that it's the best honey I've ever tasted. I bought a quart jar of his mint variety, which was collected from a hive that sat near wild mint and farmers' fields of radish and cabbage. Ethan also sells pumpkin honey and several other varieties- which are also yummy. He also melts down the wax in a solar-powered contraption and makes lovely beeswax tapers you can fit in a candle holder.

Ethan also let me accompany him while he was beekeeping. I have a curiousity for it and wanted to be around the lovely little creatures that accompanied my grandfather for the duration of his adult like. My grandpa was a beekeeper in Idaho while helping raise 5 children. My mom and aunts talk about helping in the extracting room with their daddy. They all have fond memories of it and all have a love affair with honey and I think the art of beekeeping. Of course thinking back on childhood, one is always prone to romanticize a bit. But anyways, thanks Ethan, for giving me a taste of what it may have been like for my Grandfather the beekeeper. (In the next post, I'm gonna tell a little bee-lore that was passed down by my mother. Stories like my Grandpa forcing the bees to sting his arthritic knees before a bowling tournament and otehr medicinal uses like my mom chewing on raw honeycomb to relieve her asthma.)

I have to add in here that I was indeed very comfy around the little bees... little worker bee ladies that buzzed around the hives (I could do without the drones who are slow and the Queen Bee, who is sooo fat) But then again none of us could do with the Queen and her drones now could we? But those little worker bees are so cute, I wanted to take one home :)

He's lighting the smoker with a piece of burlap.

Here he is charming the bees.

Interesting Note: I rather liked the soft sound of the constant and mezmerizing humming of bees but Ethan says he tires of it. Think of it, if you always heard that background buzzing all day long if might get to you after awhile. Ethan says he finds bees everywhere: in his food, in his hair, so I'm sure he wouldn't miss one of those bees one bit if they had hitched a ride home with me.

I'll let you hear about his job in his own words. (And I'm going to add a few more videos when I get them downloaded!)

In all Ethan's got about 80 hives with 40,000-60,000 bees in EACH hive. Which makes him the father of how many bees?? You do the math. He says some of the breeds are feistier than the others. But for the most part, the honey bees are "gentle," particularly in the summer.

Honey Money

He makes his money off honey he sells at the farmer's market but the bulk of his profit comes from farmers who pay him to pollinate their fields. They pay him about $40 per hive and he uses about 4-8 hives per acre. His bees pollinate blueberry, pumpkin, and radish and cabbage seed fields as well as meadow foam (a flowering crop that's under experiment as a possible bio fuel source).

In February and March, Ethan will head down to Northern California with his bees to help pollinate almonds there. The California almond fields need every registered beehive in the US for their harvest, which has given rise to questions of whether the US government should allow more of these bees to come from Mexico to meet the demand of farmers to pollinate fields. Ethan says many of these are Africanized Bees- a breed of bees that have a dominate gene and are very aggressive. He's concerned that if the US allows this, that beekeepers won't want to be beekeepers anymore because the African bees will breed with the domestic bees and produce bees that are difficult to manage. It's a worry he has (and honestly can you blame him? wouldn't you worry? Didn't you see that t.v. movie in the '80's: Attack of the Killer Bees?) Here's an article (albeit old) about the "Mean Gene" in these Africanized bees.

Here's another article Killer Bees.

Ethan points out the Queen Bee to me. She's longer and fatter than the others, but she's the most important bee- you want to keep her fat and happy.

Extractor room

Ethan takes a panel with honeycomb on it and puts it in a machine that spins around, making the honey run down to the bottom.

The extractor

When this thing gets spinning, if you stand over the extractor, a delicious honey wind blows into your face. It's magical. My mom always talked about helping her dad in the extracting room. She and her sisters and brother have very fond memories of the extracting room.. the smell of the honey and how soft her hands were after handling honey all day.

Thanks to Ethan at Honey Tree Apiaries.