We had a great hike on Pennsylvania Mountain near our house in the Colorado high country yesterday afternoon. My intention was just to go for a short jaunt because we both have non-wild-edible-plants-related work to get done. So we headed up to one of our usual spots—an old mining road that starts where the county road ends. I brought pint containers just in case we found some late-fruiting currants—which we did, but not until the hike’s dénouement, like some sort of juicy pot of red gold at the end of the rainbow, because it was definitely a rainbow of a hike.
Starting out I was a little on edge because it occurred to me we should have worn orange on account of hunting season, but then we found a few currants hanging off bushes in the valley shade and my mood improved, even though we only found enough to whet our appetites for more.
Next we headed up the hillside out of the valley, into the evergreens, and on to the willows, where we discovered green, healthy (and in some cases, gigantic) dandelion greens growing in the deep grass under them. Supposedly, dandelions are not only good in spring before they flower but also again after the first frost. Since we’ve had three consecutive days of frost in the high country, I gathered a couple handfuls and stir fried them that evening, finely chopped, with shredded carrots, onions, red cabbage, sherry, spicy Szechwan sauce, and pan-fried tofu. The dandelion greens held onto their characteristically strong flavor, but this balanced out the spicy Szechwan and the accidental overdose of sherry to which I subjected the veggies. I served them over flat rice noodles with a touch of soy. Mmm. But I digress.
After the dandelions, we found a brand new footpath! I can’t say how many times I’ve hiked that trail and never noticed the path! Is it an old miner’s trail, an animal trail, a tracker’s trail, or all of the above, I wonder? The new path took us down to the valley floor but above tree line, past the tangle of willows that make it impassable lower down, into absolutely breathtaking terrain. In this upper part of the valley we found more currants bushes, however, most of them were past their prime, still just enough to keep us wishing we’d find more.
By then it was getting late so we bushwhacked our way straight up the hillside to where we expected the road to be. En route I found the puffy, brown, cup-shaped remains of a big puffball mushroom, the second one I’ve seen in two days in two different locations—the good news being that even though their time seems to have passed this year, I’ll know where to go next year. We found the road exactly where we expected and started booking it back down to the car—which is, of course, when I spied the currant bushes, ripe with berries, hanging off the south side of the mountain.
According to the wild foods literature, the terms “currant” and “gooseberry” are often used interchangeably for Ribes species, the berries of which share characteristics such as a dried flower sticking out of each one and (often) small, sticky hairs all over them. I won’t attempt to differentiate all the Ribes berries we found. Suffice it to say there were tangy red currants with spines, tiny red currants without spines, spineless pink translucent currants, juicy mottled red and flesh-toned currants, and dark purple currants that made my mouth pucker—all thriving next to each other. We gathered a pint and then finally tore ourselves away.
Gregg is so funny about these berries. Each time he caught me sneaking a berry during our walk down he got all worked up about how we shouldn’t be eating those berries because we need them for jelly. (And here I thought I was the one with a jelly obsession.) But that’s not all. He’s also taken a stand over a container of puffball mushrooms in the freezer; I’ll be ready to cook them up into a fine feast and he won’t let off talking about how it isn’t even winter yet so why am I trying to eat the puffballs already? This sudden and strong desire to store away food for the winter—I take it as a sign that he’ll make a good provider one day, so I suppose I can suffer through a few extra weeks without puffballs, purslane, and a few other wild edibles in storage.
Anyway, after an uneventful hike back to the car, one last wonderful thing happened. About ¼ mile up the road, we spied two baby moose twins in the woods vigorously chewing on willows. I say, it’s always nice to come across kindred spirits who enjoy eating the native flora like I do!
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