Three Trees

Walnut Tree in the WoodsWalking through the forest that covers a bit of familial-owned land, one might come across an orange flag here or an orange flag there — stuck in the ground.  Peeking thru  the low growing ground cover, one might find a single swamp white oak, perhaps a small grouping of them.  Wander over to another orange flag, and one might find a one to two foot tree with alternate and pinnately compound leaves.  Pinch a leaf between your fingers, and you might smell a very distinct odor, I equate the smell to soap.  This tree is a black walnut tree.  One of my favorite species of tree.  Here, on the familial-land, only three of the walnuts that were planted succeeded at making it through anthracnose in the late summer, early fall and then thru their first winter out-of-doors, and at a location that is technically much farther north than the northern edge of the black walnuts’ natural range.  These appear to be rather hardy trees.

In the fall of 2013, while traveling around and through southern Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri, I collected oak and walnut seeds.  There are many types of oak – bur oak, white oak, swamp white oak, pin oak, red oak, and others that are found in the upper midwest.  ce9c237a6e047cadc92679732e7e912e2b420dd1524e08f3061d95ae2a95bdf7_midThere is, however, just one species of walnut, the black walnut – Junglans nigra, found in the midwest.  I actually wrote about this collection effort from that time and a subsequent followup.  I kept records of where I collected seeds, when I collected seeds, the amount of time the seeds stratified, and how many seeds initially sprouted.

The walnut seeds and the various oak seeds, post stratification and vetting for viability, were plunked into seed starting pots in the garage and placed under a grow light.

Early in summer, the trees were moved from the garage to a space in the yard.  By the September 2014, much of the bright green foliage had blackened and fallen to the ground.  I had even contacted the University of Minnesota’s Extension Service about what might be causing the leaves to blacken and drop off.  Later, I determined, that it was most likely anthracnose.

It was unnerving to see those small trees that you had grown from seed turn black and die, but, I really was not interested in trees that would have to limped along.  I wanted trees that could hold their own.  Even though, when we brought a half dozen or so of the original 30 walnut seedlings to the familial-land, the seedlings looked simply like vertical sticks in pots of dirt, many of the stems showed small signs that leaves might form the next season.

_DSC8495With that, last fall faded into winter, and with winter, the seedlings were buried under snow.  On occasion, while visiting the familial-land during the winter, I would think of the walnuts under the snow.  Mostly, however, I stuck to snowshoeing the frozen river that forms of the southern edge of the land.  The trees could wait until spring.

When spring arrived, it was clear that at least half of the walnut seedlings did not make it through the winter.  The stems had withered and dried up.  Two showed strong signs of leaf development, and the third was a coin toss.

It was not until late May or early June that it was apparent that we had three surviving walnut trees.  Three of thirty walnuts – a 10% survival rate of the seeds that germinated, a little over a 6% rate of all the seeds that were gathered. walnut_trees There was an interesting property of the seedlings that made it through to this season: they were all from the same tree; one of our black walnut trees here in St. Paul.  None of the Iowa seeds or Missouri seeds, or even the seeds from southern Minnesota survived.  Those seeds grew quickly but seemed to have been hit quite hard by anthracnose.

We did not collect any seeds in St. Paul, last year.  We concentrated on collecting from the trees Hibbing, but, sadly, none of the three dozen seemingly viable seeds sprouted after stratification this spring.  In incredibly coincidental happenings, I spoke with my parents this evening and they informed me that a large grocery bag of walnut drupes was left hanging on their back fence.  It looks like seed collecting has started early this year.

Let’s hope those seedings that made it through last winter will have more seedlings to join them next year.

Common NameScientific NameLocationObtainedPlantedQntStrat DaysMarker
Black WalnutJunglans nigraRacine, MN11/3/20133/20/201410137JNRA013
Black WalnutJunglans nigraBlue Earth, MN11/3/20133/22/20149139JNBE013
White OakQuercus albaHastings, MN10/13/20133/22/201418160QAHA013
Swamp White OakQuercus bicolorWinona, MN11/28/20133/22/201436114QBWI013
Red OakQuercus rubraSt. Paul, MN10/25/20133/22/20141148QRSP013
Black WalnutJunglans nigraSt. Paul, MN10/1/20133/22/201410172JNSP013
Black WalnutJunglans nigraIowa City, IA10/5/20133/31/20149177JNIC013
Black WalnutJunglans nigraEureka, MO10/6/20133/31/20149176JNEU013
Bur OakQuercus macrocarpaRochester, MN9/17/20134/1/201423196QMRO013
Honey LocustGleditsia triacanthosEureka, MO10/6/20135/29/20148190GTEU013

Update: 8/16/2015

We made a day trip up to Hibbing and ventured out onto the familial-land while we were there.  Turns out, the title of this post should have been Four Trees, because we found one more surviving walnut tree tucked away in tall brush.

Raspberry & Black Currant Cheesecake

Raspberry & Black Currant Cheesecake

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Raspberry & Black Currant Cheesecake
Print Recipe
Servings
4 people
Servings
4 people
Raspberry & Black Currant Cheesecake
Print Recipe
Servings
4 people
Servings
4 people
Ingredients
Raspberry and Current Filling
Cream Cheese Filling
Pie Crust
Servings: people
Instructions
Raspberry and Currant Filling
  1. In medium sized pot place the raspberries, currants, sugar and water.
  2. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until boiling.
  3. In small bowl whisk together the cornstarch and water.
  4. Add cornstarch mixture to the boiling raspberries and currants. Stir constantly. Bring mixture back to a boil and let boil for one minute while stirring.
  5. Remove from heat and let cool at least 15-20 minutes.
Cream Cheese Filling
  1. Beat together, until light and creamy the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla.
Pie Crust
  1. Cook the pie crust as instructed on the package.
Assembly of Pie
  1. Once the pie crust has cooled, spread the cream cheese mixture in the crust.
  2. Add the cooled raspberry and currant filling to the pie.
  3. Refrigerate the pie at least 2hrs before serving. Best if made the day before and chilled overnight.
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Enter Summer

_DSC8353The summer solstice is tomorrow, it’s the official start of astronomical summer for the northern hemisphere. Meteorological summer, however, has been in full swing since the beginning of the month.  In Minnesota, in Saint Paul, the weather has been remarkably mild with lots of rain.  The gardens and yard are progressing nicely.  The ample rain has meant little supplemental watering of vegetable garden.

Today, however, I find myself in the central coastal region of North Carolina.  I accompanied my mother here to visit my sister.  Seasoned readers of this blog may remember that, for a time, my sister had been living in Japan; she returned to the U.S. last year, and now resides in North Carolina.  By my upper Midwest standards, it is humid here and it is hot.  When leaving indoor places with air conditioning (which is everyplace), my glasses fog over.

_DSC8301Aside of the climate-difference from my usual place of residence, this region of North Carolina is a decent area to visit.  While heading out to a state park on the coast, we spotted dolphins in the coastal inner waters.  No wild dolphins in Minnesota; no sharks, either.  There is quite a different growing season here, too.  In the rural area where my sister and her husband now reside, there are several small plots of corn.  The corn in these plots has already tasseled; corn, in southern Minnesota, is barely knee high.

Melissa tells me that back in Minnesota, it’s been a bit rainy but otherwise nice.  The mom and I head back Monday.

Juxtapose

_DSC7472I spent the past weekend on the Range.  That’s what those who inhabit the region call it, that’s what I called it when I was growing up there.  The Range.  While traveling to the Range and to my specific destination of Hibbing, I stopped in Duluth.  Compared to an average Saturday morning and the time I would get up, it was very early.

I love arriving in Duluth at this early hour – minutes after sunrise; you get the feeling you have the town to yourself.  Maybe there is a jogger or another amateur photographer in the harbor area waiting for that rosy-red-orange sliver of sun to sidle up at the edge of the horizon – out there, where the big lake bends with the curve of the Earth.  Battling the wind and heavy spray from the lake, I took several photos, and then headed back to the car to roust the hounds up for a pee-break.  My hands were getting a bit numb — two of our hounds were with me. The coonhound and basset just wanted to get their business taken care of and then back into the warm car.  The coonhound looked at me with a bit contempt – all while nearly getting his own urine blown back at him; the look was that of seriously? you lived in this area for how long; and you miss this place?

With the hounds packed up, the camera and lens separated and wiped down from the mist, I headed to a cafe in the Lakeside neighborhood.  Breakfast with a couple friends.  Good coffee, good cafe-food, good company; one of my friends reiterated that I should come to Hawaii in December for his wedding.  I said I’d give it serious thought, but at the moment, I needed to get on the road again.

Heading north from Duluth, you pass through Hermantown, and onto Pike Lake; as the highway curves and then flattens – going east/west – you pass the familiar Fisherman’s Corner, then a Dairy Queen on one side and a gas station on the other.  You then cross a Midway Road.  There is a distinct feeling of crossing into a different region.  While living in the Duluth area, and those sporadic travels back to the Range, I  noticed this division, this line that Midway Road draws, but never really had noticed it as much as I have the last few times I have headed back home.  And heading back to Hibbing is something that I have done more of since moving to the St. Paul area than when I actually lived in Duluth.

The drive to Hibbing was uneventful.  The drive was that kind of drive where you are watching and are fully alert, but when you try to recall what was witnessed on the drive, you draw a blank.  Maybe I recall seeing the small grouping of white pines just before the juncture of Highway 33 with Highway 53 near the Cloquet River.  Maybe I’m just conflating the dozens and dozens of times I have take that exact same road north over the last 15 or so years.  Did I actually and actively look at the building in Cotton that was once a Bridgeman’s ice-cream shop, but now is vacant and for sale?  Blended memories.

Hibbing, Winter 2014
Hibbing, Winter 2014

Hibbing is and was Hibbing.  Those who have lived in Hibbing, and have lived the majority of their lives there, might be standing too close to discern trees from forest or vice versa.  There is nothing wrong with this.  My parents likely fall in this category, even though both spent a few years during the 1970s, living elsewhere, I feel that because their span of years in Hibbing since their return is greater than my age, they qualify.  There are also the individuals who have never ventured to the northern region of the state; those individuals, too, know little of the string of towns and cities in the state’s rust-region.  Then, there is a cohort of individuals who spent an amount of time on the Range – two years, four years, maybe twenty years, but for reasons – whether a conscious, thoughtful decision, or just wandering thru a bit of their life – they left, but have reason to return now and again.  I fall into this category, my sister falls into this category, I have a colleague who also falls into this category. As an aside, the picture above is of what you might expect if you looked to the west, down Howard Street in Hibbing; it was taken this past winter – there was no snow this past weekend; the temperature did go below freezing at night while I was visiting, but, during the day, it was remarkably spring-like.

Puttering around Hibbing in my Volkswagen, I often found myself reflecting upon or evening humming a song by Canadian folk singer Nathan Rogers (son of the late Stan Rogers).  The song is called Hibbing (lyrics here).  The song paints a fairly bleak picture of Hibbing, to an extent, however, it is spot on. It is spot on with the boom and bust of the mining cycle and the rhetorical grind mining.  The lyrics, laughing at the tourists in their silly foreign cars, flashed across my mind as I filled up the tank of my car with gas at a station near my parents’ house; a family – I assume family – of locals – I assume locals – just stared at me; they walked and moved but their eyes stayed on me, on my foreign car.  I overlaid staring in place of laughing as I ran through Nathan Rogers’ words with my inner monologue.

Internally, I feel like I am one of them.  I’m still a Ranger, I’m from Hibbing, aren’t I?  That group of individuals does not know that.  They do not know that I lived in Hibbing for nearly twenty-one years.  They do not know that, as I teenage, I jumped into and swam in that rusty mine pit Nathan Rogers’ sang about.  The family just saw my car and saw me; two things they hadn’t seen in town before.  Maybe, I’m just self-conscious.

357ec8df10ca83c4f2e33ccde455ab4e317e382e3fb28f11b535ae742af65a0f_fullI spent much of time, while in Hibbing, visiting with my mom and bit with my dad.  We talked about a bit of this and a bit of that.  Some politics; my mom and I watched The McLaughlin Group.  It was an enjoyable time.

My mother and I did take a walk-thru her mom’s house.  The house that my grandmother occupied for many decades.  Clarice, my mom’s mom – my grandmother, passed away just before Thanksgiving, last year.  Walking thru the house felt weird.  Even though I had stayed at the house since Clarice’s passing, the house, this time, was nearly empty, save for a bit of furniture, which was being used to stage the house for its sale.  The front porch did not smell like the front porch of my grandmother’s house.  Whatever was the source of that familiar scent had been removed; cleaned out by my mom’s brother or maybe even my mom.  Traces of the scent stirred when I moved an empty box.  It was quickly replaced with the sharper smell of clean.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 10.17.43 PMWandering around the small backyard, I remembered several of photos or videos that had been take of people and things in that backyard.  Somewhere, I have a photo of my grandfather in a similar lawn chair.  But, he has aged quite a bit and he has a nasal cannula hooked into his nose – a plastic tube leading to an oxygen tank; he wore a light green or tan plaid-like lightweight shirt and had a hat.  The photo is from the early 1990s. I am now the owner of the light mesh fedora that was perched atop his head. I probably also have the shirt somewhere, too, in the back of a closet; likely pressed up against half a dozen or so of his wool coats.  Maybe I’m conflating photos, videos and memories of photos and videos, again.

I videoed a walk-thru of the first floor of the empty house with my phone, and messaged it to my sister.  My mom and I locked up the house and left.  So many memories of people and gatherings at this house.

I grabbed the dogs from their slumber in my parent’s basement and then headed north.  I wanted to get a bit more time to myself in the woods before completely packing up and heading south back to my regular, present day reality of living in St. Paul and working in Minneapolis._DSC7488

 

Sugaring Season

_DSC7147A mile or so from us, in the suburb of Maplewood, there is a yard with half dozen or so maple trees. Each spring, early in spring, you’ll find buckets with tubes or blue plastic bags hanging from those trees.  It’s sugaring season.  It’s that time of the year where tree sap flows relatively freely.  Capture enough of the watery sap, boil it down — a lot — and you will end up with maple syrup.

Larger operations will skip the buckets and bags and go straight to stringing tubing from their tree, through the sugar bush to the sugar house.  These operations may also employ vacuum suction in the tubing to draw out even more sap.

_DSC7060Sadly, we are lacking in many areas for the production of maple syrup.  Our little acre-plus in St. Paul has many trees – mulberries, Siberian elms, hackberries, buckthorns, pines, cedars, cottonwoods, pears, apples – crab & regular, cherries, plums and black walnuts – but not a single maple tree of any variety.  No silver maples, no red maples, not even a boxelder tree, but more importantly, no sugar maples.  We also are lacking in having a dedicated sugar house; we have an old garage at the back of our property, but the lack of maple trees kind preempts the need to turn that into a sugar house.

I have written, before, about our black walnut trees, and I often try to think of interesting uses or benefits for these great trees.  Last year, I stumbled across a blog post on tapping black walnut trees for their sap.  It was not spring when I came across the post, but the idea seemed very intriguing, very simple.  It is exactly like tapping sugar maples for their sap.

A few weeks ago, spring seemed like it was about to arrive.   News articles about the pending sugaring season started to come to my attention.  The walnut syrup posting came to mind.

A fleet supply store chain, here in the upper Midwest, had recently advertised the sale of beekeeping equipment; I wondered if they also carried sugaring supplies.  The nearest one of their stores is about 20 minutes away; it’s always fun to wander around the store.  A hop in the car, and wander around the store yield a roll of blue plastic sugaring bags and the metal hanging brackets.  Throw in a couple of taps and we were set.

_DSC7374This being a bit of an experiment, we decided to only tap one tree.  I picked the largest walnut we have that is outside of the dogs’ fence – we had visions of our coonhound running the yard with a blue plastic bag full of sap dangling from his clenched jaw; he has enough energy without sugar water.  Outside the fence seemed safer.

I punched two ½ inch holes into the tree; one higher and deeper than the other.  A few taps on the taps with a hammer and I hung the bags on the tree.

…and we waited.

The weather was great during this time; you want above freezing temperatures followed by below freezing.  That’s exactly what happened.  High 30s during the day, and high 20s at night.

_DSC7394The bag hanging from the higher, deeper tap began to accumulate liquid.  The bag on the lower, shallower tap did nothing – a few black flies ended up in the bag.

When there was a bit less than a gallon of sap in the bag, I decided to boil it down and see what I could produce.

The sap was strained through cheesecloth to remove any insects that had been unfortunate enough to get stuck there before the nightly temperature drop.  The clean liquid was then placed in an enameled cast iron pot and that was placed on the stove over medium-low heat.

We waited…periodically stirring the boiling liquid.

In the end, we ended up boiling down the near gallon to about a ½ cup of syrup.  Poured over hot waffled with a bit of butter – the syrup was delicious.  It was much more nuttier than maple syrup.

_DSC7395

Chocolate Sheet Cake

Chocolate Sheet Cake
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Chocolate Sheet Cake
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Ingredients
Cake
Icing
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Bring margarine, cocoa and water to boil and remove from heat
  3. In large mixing bowl combine flour, brown sugar, soda, cinnamon and salt
  4. Add cocoa mixture and beat well
  5. Stir in the condensed milk, eggs and vanilla
  6. Pour into greased 15x10 jelly roll pan
  7. Bake at 350 until cake springs back - about 15 minutes
Icing
  1. In small saucepan melt margarine
  2. Stir in cocoa and rest of the can of condensed milk
  3. Stir in powdered sugar and chopped nuts
  4. Spread on warm cake
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Potato Chip Cookies

Potato Chip Cookies

Potato chip cookies
Print Recipe
Servings
5 Dozen
Servings
5 Dozen
Potato chip cookies
Print Recipe
Servings
5 Dozen
Servings
5 Dozen
Ingredients
Servings: Dozen
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together
  3. Cream sugar and butter until fluffy
  4. Add vanilla and egg. Mix well
  5. Add flour dry mixture and mix well
  6. Add chocolate chips and potato chips and mix thoroughly
  7. Drop by tsp on un greased baking sheet
  8. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes
  9. Store cookies in tightly covered container
Recipe Notes
  •  I didn't have any cookie sheets I could use so I ended up making cookie bars in an 8x8 pan instead
  • We used 50% less sodium Lays, which I think were a bad idea.  Alex said, "it's like chewing on toenails" as they got soggy and chewy.
  • If I was to make these again, I'd use a thicker crispier potato chip with more salt.

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