Newsletter 26 December 2011


Dan Dowling showed up for Saturday’s Urban Crawl with part of a 10-pound Dioscorea alata he dug up, and just in time. The vines usually die back from Christmas to St. Patricks Day making them sometimes difficult to find.

We might start calling him Yam Man Dan. As you can see above Dan brought a true yam to Saturday’s Urban Crawl for show and tell and sharing. The rest of the 10-pound yam is already recipe-bound as Dan is an avid chef. Finding wild foods he said is part of the fun. Making them into flavorful if not unique meals is the other part. Maybe he’ll put a wild foods cookbook together someday. If you want to know more about the kind of wild yam Dan’s a fan of click here.

Pepper Grass

The problem with Poor Man’s Pepper Grass aka Pepperweed isn’t edibility.  It’s a tasty winter annual locally and is coming up everywhere now. The problem is no two plants are ever at the same growth stage so identification when you’re just learning can be confusing. In northern climes the species quite predictable, a basal rosette of large leaves the first year, smaller leaves and a seed spike the second year. In warmer climates that can get all mixed in together in one year. You just have to learn to recognized it in all of its various growth stages. That said it is a mustard member that is around for several months with uses from a green to horseradish. Because its looks are so variable it can occassionally resemble other local weeds but a quick taste test sorts that out. It has a mild but tangy burn. It’s one of my favorite trailside nibbles. To read more about Poor Man’s Pepper Grass click here.

Janus looks both ways

I have often wondered why the holidays are clustered near the end of the year like bills at the end of the month. Also why the year doesn’t end on the shortest day of of daylight of the year which is usually Dec. 21 (or 22 or 23.) Even the ancients knew which day was the shortest (and the longest.)  Over time one collects holiday memories and I hope you added some this year. At Thanksgiving my mother, who was and is a horrible cook — I learned to cook out of self-defense — made a frozen “pudding” that her mother also made the only difference is that my grandmother had to freeze it in a snowbank.  All of it was collected… walnuts, plums, real marsh mallow and whipped cream. Another seasonal memory is one snowy Christmas Eve I took a large belt of christmas bells we put on the horses and jogged through the dark neighborhood just about the time Santa should be arriving. I still wonder how many kids — no matter how old — heard those bells, even if in their dreams and thought of santa. And at the bottom of this newsletter is a one of my seasonal memories of a different kind.

As for New Year’s Day it has become my day of reflection. January is named for the Roman god Janus, who looks foward and backwards. That sounds far more more poetic than it was. He was the god of gates which open both ways. And since this article is about New Year’s Day you could call it my … gate post… Janus’ name is also where we get the English word “janitor” which really means “doorman.”  Apparenlty Janus was not high in the hierarachy of gods. Regardless, New Year’s Day has become for me a day to take stock of things, a bit of contemplation, looking back, looking forward, a bit of gatekeeping.  This New Year’s I will be thinking about how to better serve my readers and students.

Organic Tobacco

Did you know there is health food store tobacco? One tends to not think of healthy and tobacco in one thought but you can buy organic tobacco. There are, according to those who count such things, 599 additives to smoking tobacco. One argument holds it is the burning additives that causes health issues more than the tobacco itself. In fact burning commercial cigarette tobacco creates some 4,000 chemical compounds. The push behind organic tobacco came from Native American groups who wanted ceremonial tobacco in keeping with their ancestors, read additive free. While on the topic nicotine is a purported “blood thinner” and some say it is not uncommon for an older person who quits smoking to have a clot-related cardiovascular incident a few weeks after quitting. My step-father did that exactly. Three weeks after he stopped smoking he had a heart attack. Coincidence? Interestingly research shows smokers have a significantly reduced risk of developing Alzheimers and Parkinson’s. Smokers might also get less rheumatoid arthritis and colorectal cancer. Oddly research also shows nicotine improves memory and reduces depression. And if I remember correctly people who chew tobacco don’t get cavities and have less peridontal disease et cetera. (No, I don’t smoke, never did.) I am reminded of an old joke. Smoking on average knocks eight years off your life but what’s the big deal? It’s the worst eight years!

Articles added this weed: Carpetweed, Mugwort.

Epiphany Cross Diving

Classes: I would like to thank everyone who turned out for the special class in downtown Winter Park Saturday, my Urban Crawl. It’s kind of like a treasure hunt and there are more edibles than one might suspect down town. It was a great group and we found some interesting plants including Natal Plum, or Carissa macrocarpa. It fruits year around but is a little slow in the winter but we found some fruit anyway. To read more about the Natal Plum click here. We also found a nice stand of clothes-sticking Galium aparine, or Goose Grass. I have one more class scheduled this year, this coming Saturday, New Year’s Eve. The first one next year will be in Tarpon Springs on January 7th, a Saturday after I watch the young fools jump in the cold water for Epiphany on Friday January 6th. It’s the largest epiphany event in the western hemisphere. Last year they actually had one particpant who could not swim… of all the questions one would think the organizers would ask…

Saturday, December 31, Mead Garden: 1500 S. Denning Dr., Winter Park, FL 32789.  9 a.m.

Saturday, January 7th, John Chestnut State Park: 2200 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor, FL 34685. 9 a.m.

♣ Botany Builder #9: There are many different kinds of leaf shapes. Two can be confusing, obovate, and ovate. An obovate leaf is egg-shaped with the fattest part is near the end (away from the leaf stem.) An ovate leav is also egg-shaped with the fattest part near the base (closest to the leaf stem.)  Here a page where you can see different leaf shapes.

Green Deane Canoeing in 1984

About a dozen years ago on Christmas Day that I could have died. Unlike last Friday where we saw a record high of 85ºF (29.4 ºC) it was a cold day for Florida, in the lower 40s, sunny, with a strong wind. I took my 18-foot canoe to the Wekiva River and paddled solo up a skinny branch of it called Rock Spring Run.  Sometimes the run is wide and shallow, other times just a few feet wide but deep and swift. About eight miles upsteam I saw an abandoned rental canoe from the (closed) marina I launched from. I decided that on my way back I would fetch the canoe and return it to the marina, good samaratian and all that. When I came back I put the 12-foot canoe in tow on a six foot rope and started downstream. I had gone less than a third of a mile when I came to a tight switchback to my left. No problem. I had several decades of canoing experience behind me. However, when my canoe and the one I was towing were at a 90 degree angle the back canoe caught on a branch and stopped. The tow line tightened and my canoe rolled over as easily as a log in water. My paddles went one way, my glasses another, my floating underwater Hanimex camera was never seen again… probably ended up in Europe. I caught my glasses, swam to get one paddle then in the cold water righted both canoes. My hands were too cold to untie them. I was in a swamp so starting a fire was not possible even if I had the means. I was completely wet and more than seven miles to go. I realized I had to do two things to defeat hypothermia: Paddle like hell, and do it

Rock Spring’s Water Is Gin Clear

naked. And I did. Dry and cold in a strong winter wind is better than wet and cold in a strong winter wind. No one was on the run or at the marina. Frankly I was so cold didn’t care. Seven shivering miles later I got my truck started and baked in the flow of the heater until I was functional. Yes I drove home naked, too. Wet clothes are cold… The moral of the story: The first picture you should always take with your camera is of your name and contact information in case your camera is found floating a few thousand miles away, or sitting abandonded on a park bench.

To donate to the Green Deane Newsletter click here.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Peg December 26, 2011, 7:48 pm

    You look like a young “whipper snapper” in that canoe ; p

    • Green Deane December 26, 2011, 8:15 pm

      Hmmm… mid-30s… so, so long ago… half a lifetime… I canoed a lot then, usually 30 hours a week.

  • Bobbi December 27, 2011, 12:01 am

    I just want to say that you are by far my favorite wild foods expert. I really enjoy your work and in particular your newsletter. The personal pictures are also a nice touch. Do you know of anyone in the Midwest that does something similar to what you do online? I’d also like to learn about the wild edibles of that area as well.

    • Green Deane December 27, 2011, 6:36 am

      Thanks for writing and your compliment,. If you go to my website and type in “resources” it will take you to a state by state list of instructors. If there is not one near you pick the closest and write to them. They might know of someone near you. Good luck, and thanks.

  • Rosemarie December 27, 2011, 6:47 am

    Great stories and useful information. How I wish I lived closer to you – would love to go on some of those ‘crawls’.

  • hoyt December 27, 2011, 11:22 pm

    thanks for the great time at the urban crawl on saturday. It was nice to be in a group that was knowledgeable with different perspectives and experiences. Also please thank “yam man Dan” for his gift of the yam portion shown in the picture. I know that it is wise for your liver and potential allergic reactions to only eat a small portion of a new food on the first occasion, however half of that baby was made into a mashed potato like dish that I just couldn’t stop eating with christmas dinner. The other half was dehydrated overnight and ground into flour, waiting for another delicious recipe. Hope to see ya soon.

  • hoyt December 27, 2011, 11:24 pm

    P.S. Yes I boiled the whole thing before I dehydrated that portion

  • Dan December 28, 2011, 11:01 am

    I better dig something else up quick before that name sticks. 🙂 Anyways, you’re welcome. I’m grateful for meeting all of you, and especially Deane. Such a sharing and knowledgable mentor. In the spirit of the season, here’s what I did with a bunch of it.

    Wild Yam Au Gratin

    3 lbs wild yam sliced to 1/4 inch mouth-sized pieces (like scalloped potatoes).
    4 cups heavy cream
    8 oz grated Gruyere cheese (could substitute Jarlesberg Swiss)
    salt and pepper to taste
    grating of nutmeg

    Slice the yams into mouth sized discs. Boil in salted water for 3-5 minutes. Discard water. Bring cream to simmer, add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add potatoes. Cook on medium heat, uncoverd, until “fork tender” (about 7-9 minutes).

    Butter a 9 by 13 glass casserole dish. Add a layer of yams and cream then alternate a layer of cheese, more yams, etc until all is gone. End with cheese.

    Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 375 or until brown and bubbly.

    This should be one of the most decadently rich yam dishes you’ve ever tasted. A little goes a long way. We had this on Christmas Even with cane syrup glazed ham and stewed false hawksbeard (crepis japonica) seasoned with bacon and onions.

    I’m trying to come up with something for poor man’s pepper grass. I’m thinking of making an herb crust and coating a rack of lamb in it…?

    Best to you,

    Dan Dowling

Leave a Comment