Posts Tagged ‘root beer’


Autumn’s the time when the earth shoots and sprouts a bit less and instead does a great deal of dropping, shaking off, and scattering. The fun lies in catching the good stuff before the housekeeping winds of Winter blow it all away.

My usual friendly cautionary note about picking wild edibles goes like this:

1) Be sure that what you’re about to pick and eat is what you think it is. Please don’t wing it. Shoot for old age.

2) Don’t pick anything off your neighbor’s lawn unless a) she owes you one b) she owes you several c) you know she doesn’t use pesticides d) it’s under cover of darkness e) in which case leave my name out of it.

3) Don’t pick anything close to roadsides where they likely have been urologically christened by every domestic pet within five miles, most notably the Alsatian across the street that routinely drinks out of the potholes in the Quik Chek lot.

From left to right:

Crabapples (Malus) I wrote about this little treasure a while back. Wild crabapples are a little grainier in texture than their voluptuous full-sized apple cousins, and for my taste, they need a bit of sugar to be palatable. Making jam from crabapples is a special fall thing for me, even though making it is a bear because they’re so small and their seeds are the size of sesame seeds. Having good music in the background goes a long way. I add a hefty dose of New Jersey honey to the pot, making it 100% local. You can also make crabapple liqueur if you steep them in vodka with granulated sugar.

Rose Hips (Rosa) Another jammy choice, and a vintage one. Folks during World War II ate a lot of rose hip jam because it was full of Vitamin C, which was tough to access then. They’re tart, a little bit astringent like their cousins above (so they need sugar, too) and wildly healthy, full not only of Vitamin C but of antioxidants and lycopene.

Beech Nuts and Leaves (Fagus) As a Laura Ingalls Wilder diehard all my life, I knew beech nuts were edible. She wrote about her husband as a boy, gathering and eating them in upstate New York, describing the spiny little husks and the three-cornered nuts they contained, and saying they were ‘solidly full of nut.’ But the leaves being edible as well? News to me, but cool news. Freshly picked, they can be eaten in salads or even steeped in gin.

Acorns (Quercus) When I took Anthropology in college I learned that American Indians ate acorns. Making them edible takes some doing, and they knew what they were doing; they must be smashed and rinsed with a lot of water to release toxins. I’d love to try them. Has anyone ever prepared acorns for food or eaten them?

Missing from this list: Sassafras. Here I was all ready to dig up one of the 764 and counting plants that grow around my lake and steep the roots to make another American Indian specialty, a primitive form of root beer, when the heavy winds last week blew all of the telltale mitten-shaped leaves off. They’re all out there now, mittenless and mocking, but I’ll hit them up come spring. Stoked to write about it.





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I’ve stayed home over Labor Day, relaxing, broccoli-like, on the sofa or porch.

Gone to barbecues, eaten my 74th standard-issue potato salad, and wished its maker had seasoned it.*

Gone away to Williamsburg, Virginia, which was cool.

But I’ve never yet seen a better way to celebrate than in a way I came across many years ago.

Michael and I were in our canoe on Deal Lake, a natural body of water that once flowed directly out from the ocean and which, like most natural bodies of water, weaves any which way it pleases. It has wide open areas, small,  secluded nooks, and a bunch more spots that are somewhere between here-I-am and shhh-you-don’t-see-me. (My former neighbor is in his 90s and grew up on the banks of this lake. He told me that in his youth he explored every watery inch of it in his canoe. And remember that scene from ‘Dead Poets Society’ in which Robin Williams’s character has his students stand up on his desk, one by one, and look out so they would learn always to seek out a new perspective? That’s what happens in a canoe as well—it makes you see the world from a fresh point of view.)

On this particular afternoon you could feel the effect that the summer sun had had on the place for the past three months. Everything—sky, water, trees, sandy grassy banks—was saturated with sun. Not in a sweltering way, but in a lazy soaked-up sleepy way. As we floated by, we saw two young women on the Allenhurst banks. They were in an alcove within the overgrown wild maples, cherries and sycamores. There they are above. I’m born and raised here, and I didn’t even know that spot existed; there must have been a hidden path to it that they knew about. They were stretched out in folding chairs, eating pizza out of the box from our only pizza place a block away downtown, drinking, talking, and soaking in the late-afternoon sun on the lake. Except for the splash of the water against our paddles and the warm breeze through the leaves on the trees, it was completely, deliciously silent.

We paddled closer and called out a hello to them. They told us their boyfriends had finished eating and had gone to play a little one-on-one basketball on the courts behind the trees. They were just hanging now. It was almost total seclusion, and thoroughly peaceful; unless you lived in one of the houses across the lake and were squinting, or were us, you never would have seen them. That’s what they were going for, they said. They decided to do something different this year, and purposely went off the grid. We told them they got Labor Day right. They grinned and said, ‘We know.’

Tucked away with a pal in a leafy nook of quiet with a pizza and some cold beer. And I don’t even drink beer. Okay, root. But to me this tiny, quiet Labor Day drop-kicks all the others.

I hope that spot’s not taken on Monday.

*I’m holding out for that blessed day.

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Crayfish and shrimp stew.

Last weekend I drove down to Ellicott City, MD to my college roommate’s house, jumped in the van with her, her three girls and the dog, and continued down to Colonial Williamsburg.

I’m not a serious history buff—I don’t know the Hawley-Smoot tariff from a hole in the ground (it might have been, for all I know)—but I’m one of those people who loves historical places, thinking places, and beautiful places. Factor in good food and we’re golden.

I love that you can wander around most of Colonial Williamsburg and don’t have to pay to do it. I love that the original plank floors in the King’s Arms Tavern are still there, worn and smooth and grey, and that George Washington’s boots crossed them more than once. I love that the place has been so authentically restored that if Thomas Jefferson were beamed back from the dead and dropped onto Duke of Gloucester Street, barring us with our fanny packs and our iphones, he wouldn’t see a thing different than he ever knew.

When I travel I make a point to eat something that the region is known for. Lunch at the Shields Tavern offered some tasty southern/colonial choices. Lordy, how I do love Carolina pulled pork, and I was tempted to get it, but pushed the envelope and ordered crayfish and shrimp stew. Described as an 18th century recipe, it includes tomatoes, vegetables, sherry and seafood. But the addition of that sherry plus a splash of cream really made it a bisque, and it truly lived up to that name: velvety, rich and savory. It was full of calories and full of flavor, and I didn’t care about the first part.

Tender Sally Lunn bread, watermelon-rind relish, those addicting ginger cookies that are sold on the street under awnings—these are the flavors of long ago, carefully recreated to give visitors a genuine taste of the cooking of the area’s English-Scottish settlers. Tasting it is a trip anyway, but if you’re used to Hot Pockets and Yoplait for lunch, it’s even trippier. My favorite dish is Game Pie—rabbit, duck and venison under a crust. Just the description makes my mom squinch her mouth up like Wile E. Coyote when he’s standing immobile just over a cliff and holding a sign that reads ‘Help’, but I adore it. And Colonial Williamsburg’s root beer—sharp on the tongue and intensely flavored—is a standout drink. Not for wusses, and I wish I’d bought a case of it to bring home.

After lunch we did what Colonial Williamsburg is best for: wandering. Photo opportunities are endless for normal people who like to take shots of trees or architecture or an errant fife and drum procession as well as for less-than-normal people who like to take pictures of rusty things and bricks. Three guesses which category I belong in.

Rusty padlock.

Path and boxwoods.

Sleepy ewe.

Bricks in stages of curing.

18th century fence.


Moss and lichen.

Magnolia blossom.

Peeling shutter.



Swiss chard.

Hitching post and elm.

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