It’s a warm day, the jewel tones of autumn are off-set by a clear blue sky; the air is rich and wet, the scent of decomposing leaves have overtones of honey and cinnamon. Matthew Berry, Adam Kistner and I are on our way to Bullards Bar, just north of the North San Juan Ridge, to see what may be out in abundance ready to gather.
We have high hopes. As we drive up the 49 North, Matt recalls last year’s harvest, when acorns from the Tan Oaks were plentiful, rolling down into small ravines and littering the areas under the trees. The acorns from the Tan Oaks are especially exciting, because they tend to have a higher oil content than other acorns: they contain as much as 30% oil. I muse that for the Native Americans, oak trees must have been what coconut palms were to peoples living in more tropical climates.
Finally, we arrive in the forest. We spread out, dodging under low branches, walking on a blanket of leaves still wet with yesterday’s storm. The ground is colored with pale tan and taupe, russet and ochre; I feel as though I’m walking on a living mosaic. However, there is only a spattering of acorns on the dappled ground, and most of what we find have tiny, black holes in them made by weevils. “It’s just the first drop,” Matt muses with some disappointment, and we figure the harvest is delayed due to the late winter we had this year.
We venture further into the forest, hoping to find some mushrooms; Matt recalls that last year, this part of the forest was a veritable supermarket for chanterelles and porcini, and we hunt among the moist leaves that cloak the forest floor for such treasures.
No such luck.
We find some old, inedible Turkey Tails, a motley Amanita or two, and finally, something that is probably a bloated Puff Ball. We’ll have to be patient and wait for a more bountiful, future harvest in this area.
The next stop on our journey is Ananda Village, where Matt’s friends give us a tour of their extensive orchard and garden, and where we will scope out a pond that is overrun with lotus for possible harvesting opportunities. Matt hopes to collect lotus seeds, and possibly even some lotus roots for the Wild Foods CSA that he runs with his wife Rachel. As we drive up the hill to the village, we enjoy a wide vista of the Sierra Buttes, and a view of the sky, mostly clear except for thin, wing-like wisps of clouds.
Ironically, Matthew’s friends have a small, but hearty patch of Butter Bolete mushrooms growing right by the front gate, and the Black Oaks in their yard seem to have dropped a few more acorns than the Tan Oaks at our last destination. Life is full of small ironies.
We make our way to the pond that needs some thinning, and indeed, I’m amazed at the thick mat of lotus that has taken over most of the water’s surface. We pick some seed heads with makeshift sticks and stalks, but the seed pods we recover have abortive seeds—when we pop the seed husks open, there is no nut inside. Valiantly, Matt wades into the freezing water and claims a few more seed heads, but alas, the seeds contained therein are also abortive.
Shivering, we resolve to come back to the pond another time when we have a boat for more extensive exploration; we hope that, at the very least, we will be able to harvest some roots for the Wild Foods CSA. After all, it’s the start of a new CSA season: there are twelve shares and twenty people who come together for three distributions over six weeks to learn about and enjoy wild foods. Last session, shareholders enjoyed a collection of Sierra berries, Yampah tubers and seed (or wild caraway) and made elderberry syrup for the cold season. Unfortunately, CSA members will have to wait a little while longer for edible mushrooms and Tan Oak acorns: but the anticipation will make these wild foods all the more delicious when the elusive harvest finally comes in.
Article and photos by Rachel R.C., a local Nevada City resident, artist, writer, and native plant enthusiast. Check out her blog here.