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//www.wildmanstevebrill.com).

Ginkgo leaf and nut. Photo by

On November 9 we will have our first social outings as a Nature Calendar community. In the morning we will hunt for fossils with paleontologist Carl Mehling as he concludes his private quest to find fossils (native or transported by glaciers) in all five boroughs. He’s scored fossils in the four other boroughs from periods as early as 300-million years ago up to a mere 12,000 years old. In the evening we will feast on dishes made from ginkgo nuts (photo above by “Wildman” Steve Brill). This species has thrived on earth since before the dinosaurs and each tree can live up to a thousand years.

Each activity will have limited space, and each participant must be individually responsible. There’s no dollar fee for entry. You earn your way as a participant. In the morning, we’ll expect you to poke around in the cold weather for odd and promising stones, or to assist in ways Carl determines necessary. The dinner is a potluck, so show up with a ginkgo delight! You can cheat and use store-bought ginkgo nuts if you must, but foraging is FUN!

Devonian Epoch fossils by the Illinois State Geological Association.

Devonian Epoch fossils by the Illinois State Geological Association.

FOSSIL HUNT!

We’ll announce the meeting and hunting locations to participants. Just dress to walk through mud, beach comb, and climb hillsides. We plan to start early in the morning.

GINKGO NUT POT-LUCK DINNER!

The first social gathering of http://www.NatureCalendar.com will celebrate one of our most under-appreciated street trees, the ginkgo, by having a ginkgo nut pot luck dinner! Go out this week (the season is ending fast!) to gather nuts and then incorporate them into your favorite recipes!

Here are a few recipes:

http://www.ginkgo-wellness.de/recipes/index.html

http://nourish-me.blogspot.com/2008/05/gingko-nut-custards.html

http://www.recipezaar.com/library/getentry.zsp?id=838

We expect that the party will be near Prospect Park. Seating is limited, so please RSVP and gather your gingko nuts! Follow the smell of the pungent fruits. They are in many larger parks and on streets throughout the city.

We hope to expand to larger pot luck foraging parties in cooperation with our friend, Wildman Steve Brill (his photo of the nut and leaf here), our city’s most acclaimed forager. Be sure to check his page (scroll down) for ginkgo foraging tips:

http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Clippings.folder/FreeLunch.html

Be sure to either prepare your nuts early or seal them away! Roommates and spouses not in on ginkgomania won’t appreciate the fragrance.

Some more information about gingkos:

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/29/answers-about-nature-in-new-york-part-3/

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Prickly pear cactus in Jamaica Bay. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese.

 

By Erik Baard

 

In my youthful urbanite naïveté I used to view the idea of a flowering cactus as a discordant mixture of elements, a kind of vegetative platypus. Little did I know that June brings forth gorgeous cactus flowers in the dry spots of own archipelago. Take a moment to admire the prickly pear, or opuntia, flower above.

 

When photographer Klaus Schoenwiese and I stumbled across this example at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, I was quite surprised. I knew the species only as a backyard garden item, and had never seen it flower. Naturally, or quite the opposite, we’ve all seen plenty of paper flowers tackily glued to cacti of many species in decorative gardening stores.

 

The prickly pear is our city’s only indigenous cactus, but I won’t complain about a lack of choice. Until a few years ago I didn’t know we had any at all! Some uncharitably characterize it was a weed because of its hardiness and easy propagation (though because of that quality, but a happenstance encounter with it in the wild isn’t likely. Make your way to Jamaica Bay and hike a bit, or even kayak out to its islands.   

 

Prickly pear cacti feed a wide array of birds (so don’t pluck them from the wild, please), and they are consumed with relish (and as relish) in cultures stretching from Mexico (where the plant is on the national flag) to Sicily. The fruit is delicious on its own and is made into jellies and drinks. In a nice self-perpetuating cycle, while the fruit is fermented into alcohol, research indicates that the skin (known as a source of anti-inflamatory compounds) might help cure hangovers. The young, flat leaves, or nopales (in Texas, “cactus paddles”), are served at breakfast for a daily start that’s rich in fiber and nutrients while lowering the glycemic effect. Another amusing circle completed by this species is that while it threatens to prick us with two kinds of spines, eating it reportedly improves platelet function. Enjoy a few recipes here and here. Or simply look for its red insect feeder’s possible contribution to your next imported bright red snack or garment.

 

When you’re eating a prickly pear, also consider its pedigree in scientific history. A youthful Charles Darwin was fascinated by his discovery that this cactus’ anthers, the bulbous tops to stamen, curl over to deposit pollen when touched.

 

If you fall hard for this yummy, curative, sustaining, beautiful, and surprising species, please consider bringing some of that verve to the New York Cactus and Succulent Society, which will next meet on June 19 at the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church at 351 E. 74th Street, before taking a break for July and August. Treasurer Richard Stone remarked to me that the organization is at this time quite elderly and not up for field trips to see our local wild cacti. Some young blood (with opuntia-enhanced platelet function?) with a willingness to organize an annual Prickly Pear Day (hiking, cuisine) might help perpetuate this important group.

 

And maybe a local organic farm might consider growing these locally?

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by Erik Baard

  

 

Flip Victorian and Edwardian snobbishness on its head with a wild and spicy forager’s. answer to the British cucumber sandwich! With its peppery and garlicky kick, call it a Cattail-on-a-Hot-Tin-Roof sandwich.

 

This recipe isn’t likely to show up on the next International Debutante Ball menu, but it might be perfect for the livelier Billionaires for Bush set.

 

Some culinary historians believe that upper-class Britons chose the blandly delicate cucumber sandwich specifically because it demonstrated that they could afford to spend money on empty calories. The poor put their shillings down for protein and nutrients. We’ll enjoy our version as a little reward for adventurous field work and creativity in the kitchen.

 

Last weekend I joined Wildman Steve Brill for a tasting tour of Central Park (photographed above by Heather Sweeney, getting an early start on his cattail feast). Nature offered up a suite of delicious choices. One highlight was cattails, a freshwater plant with a soft stalk core that tastes very much like cucumber, with what a member of Fuji television crew noted was a hint of celery. It can be found by the Central Park Lake and many other sites, including Inwood Hill Park, Van Cortlandt Park, Udalls Park Preserve, Eibs Pond Park, Clay Pit Ponds Preserve, Kissena Park, Prospect Park, and Alley Pond Park

 

 

(Photo of cattails in Central Park by Heather Sweeney)

 

Having sampled garlic mustard (“The garlic taste is the plant’s defense against insects, unless they are Italian insects, in which case it will go extinct,” Steve joked) and lemony sheep sorrel, it occurred to me that we might have the makings to liberate a traditional cucumber sandwich recipe.

 

I strongly recommend that you join Steve or another experienced botanist or naturalist on your early foraging outings. Plant misidentification can bring illness or death.

 

Slice your cattails near the base, but DO NOT uproot them. The roots are edible (and be made into a flour for baking bread), but in fairness to others and local wildlife, grow your own. A cattail corner to a community garden, perhaps fed by roof-collected rainwater, might be a wonderful signature. Check with the Green Guerillas, New York Restoration Project, or Green Thumb to investigate this tantalizing possibility.

 

Bunches of sheep sorrel (named for the sheep’s head look of their leaves) are easily had in moist meadows and grass hillsides, especially near the kinds of ponds where you’ll find cattails. It’s an invasive and common plant, so feel completely guiltless in munching it down.

 

 

(Photo of sheep sorrel in Central Park by Heather Sweeney)

 

Ditto for garlic mustard, which has swept aggressively through woodlands and floodplains.  

 

 

(Photo of garlic mustard in Central Park by Heather Sweeney) 

 

Another key ingredient is wild onion, which has scallion-like tubular shoots.

 

 

(Photo of wild onion and fellow-forager Alex in Central Park by Heather Sweeney)

 

 

Now blend the yummy invaders in the sheep sorrel  spread recipe on Steve’s website (scroll down for recipes).

 

And given that Steve and I are both vegans, please forgive me if I suggest you try a nondairy butter substitute, for the sake of the environment, your health, and a more humane culture. And if you’re a crust-trimmer, earthworms will appreciate your noblesse oblige in tossing them in compost bin. 

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