Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rambling thoughts

Kids picking blackberries

 A bush walk with kids can be entertaining. There’s all sort of things that can happen and lots of surprises and odd discoveries as you lead them through the wilds. A recent occasion was a field-day for Southland Girls High School Y7 girls. Nice bunch. I asked them about their previous schools and they come from all over. There’s 100 schools in Southland and many primary schools contribute to Girls High with the rural ones boarding at the hostel. The red shoes? Half loved them, the other half hated them.

 My part of the day was to take them in small groups on a 40 minute bush walk. We did twelve of these over two days. Good weather both days luckily, but the blackberries ran out  at 1.23pm on the first afternoon. It’s been a pretty good blackberry year but nothing on last year which can only be called vintage. I collected 10kg in 2011 at a rate of about two kilograms per hour. This year they were smaller and less abundant and we had to work harder for them. The better ones seemed to be in moderate shade rather than in full sunshine or deep gloom. They weren’t the only things to eat. There were several fungi that are edible including the Sticky bun which grows only under pines and the Waxy laccaria which is nicer than a mushroom.

 We found a patch of the black orchid Gastrodia and dug up and ate a couple of tubers. They taste like raw potatoes. Normally I would baulk at ruining an orchid but they are actually very common in places. They were past flowering and hadn’t set seed. We smelled lemonwood and I told them I had tried a sprig with the potatoes. That had been a big mistake; I had to throw them out. About a square centimetre of leaf would be sufficient. Pikopiko or the koru, the coiled new frond of Hen and Chickens fern, is edible but it tastes bitter. Other fern species have an edible koru as well but none of them is very nice raw. The uncoiling bracken frond is called ‘bears’ paws’ but it is apparently somewhat poisonous so we don’t eat that.

 We pulled thistle heads apart and ate the thistle ’nut’. I burned most of them with pepper leaf, horopito, by calling it ‘sugar leaf’. The good thing about that is that the horrible burning only lasts about ten minutes. There is a toadstool that does that as well, the Peppery bolete, which grows under beech trees. In Europe it is harvested, dried and ground to a powder for flavouring. I found a few miro berries but I think the pigeons must have got most of them before they fell. You can suck them like peppermints. We caught cicadas. They tickle when hold their legs against your skin. One child wanted to see what it felt like on her nose . She shut her eyes and I popped it into her mouth. Some people sure make a fuss. My mother would have said “Just eat it up and don’t say anything”, her usual response when we kids pointed out the caterpillars in the cabbage. I tried my ‘toothache cure’ where you get someone to bite gently on a stalk of Yorkshire fog, then pull it away quickly leaving them with a mouthful of fluff.

 The commonest of the ferns is houndstongue. I got them to hold one in their teeth and pretend they were dogs with green tongues. No dogs have green tongues but the chow from China has a blue tongue. It is or was an eating dog. We don’t eat dogs in our culture but they were on the menu in many parts of the world. Maori used to keep kuris for food and on his first voyage, Cook celebrated rounding the bottom of Stewart Island by converting one of the ship’s dogs into a pie, a roast and haggis. I suggested that the poodle might be a good eating dog. I can picture a KFP shop in Dee Street. Tuatapere could become the sausage dog capital of the world and I can imagine takeaway shops throughout Southland selling hot dogs as well. Needless to say the suggestions were not received with acclamation.

 No dogs were eaten in the making of this story, but a good many other things were.