After learning all about foraging from Sean Wall in our Master Naturalist training, I’ve been pretty excited to see what we can find around the Hermits’ Rest that we can eat or turn into something useful.
I know I could have done a lot more with all those dewberries besides make cobbler. I just need to be brave enough to try canning. Maybe next year!
The midsummer bounty that magically appears every year are mustang grapes, which are native to the area and a great food source for animals. We have two trees that are completely covered in grape vines, plus a lot across the road from the gate.
In fact, I thought the grape vines were dying, they looked so black last week. Nope, it was all grapes.
Now, I knew my Master Naturalist friend Burt likes to make wine, mead, applejack, and other tasty beverages. And I’d been looking for a reason to invite him and his wife, Jenecia (and their daughter to be), over to see the ranch. So, I announced that I have all the free mustang grapes a vintner could want, for free. (A couple of other folks had lots, too; it’s a great year for the mustang grape.)
They said they’d come by over the weekend, and so they did.
What’s a mustang grape? I’m glad I asked myself that question, because it let me to search for more information, and I found a cool foraging blog, called Merriwether’s Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Texas and the Southwest. Wow, it’s chock full of information and is a great supplement to what I find in Sean’s blog and book. I am not sure why I hadn’t seen it before, since a bunch of my friends like the author’s Facebook page.
For some reason, I thought mustang grapes were very common, but it turns out they are only native to a few states in the southern US. The muscadine grapes (which I’d like to plant some of here on the ranch) are more widespread.
These grapes are very tart, but when cooked up make very nice jams and jellies. The skins make for very red wine, too, though according to Burt, it needs some sweeter juice in there to balance it. Also helpful is the fact that the naturally occurring yeast on the grapes helps with fermentation.
So, Burt and Jenecia showed up with a big white bucket and we went to work, along with Mandi, who happened to be hanging out with us. We brought plenty of water, of course. The first spot we hit was the easy pickings of the vines along the roadside. We very quickly determined that these would NOT be our wine grapes, since they are adjacent to a cotton field and the road. This pretty much guarantees that there will be herbicides and/or pesticides that waft over from the cotton, and of course there is debris and exhaust particles coming from all the cars and trucks going by (even though it is not a heavily traveled road!).
We threw all those grapes into two plastic grocery bags. We got a LOT. It will make a bunch of something or other, as long as we are sure to boil the heck out of it.
Meanwhile, Mandi took all these photos for me. Thanks, blog photographer!
Then we headed over to the center pasture (the pretty one), where there’s a tree completely covered in grapes. Luckily I had thought ahead and brought our lightweight stepstool along with us. Sure enough, there were a lot of grapes, but they were all located just above the height of a cow’s head. Cattle apparently also like mustang grapes.
While Burt picked things that were high, Jenecia and I pulled on vines to get to lower grapes. We were much slower. Jenecia learned about one mustang grape fact the hard way, then I had to test it out:
Mustang grapes are very acidic and handling/eating large amounts of the raw fruit can cause burns to hands and mouth. (Merriwether)
Yep, I got the tingle lips. I stopped eating as many as I found after that point.
The first consequence of the grape harvest was tending our wounds. I got a lot of scratches, and it turns out, lots of chigger bites. I had sprayed my lower legs and feet, so they conveniently went after my upper legs. The little creeps. I still itch.
B&J took their harvest home, and I forgot to take any photos of the buckets of grapes, probably because we all sat on the porch in a heat coma after the picking and could not think of other things.
I’m hoping to soon see the results of the harvest, though. Wine is promised by Burt, soap is envisioned by Jenecia, and perhaps some sauce or jam may appear. Yum. Stay tuned to this spot for the results.
As we were looking around the property, it came to us that we have a spring crop (dewberries), a summer grape crop, and a fall crop of prickly pear for our foraging friends. Those cactus fruit will be another rich source of pink deliciousness in just a few short weeks, so we hope Jenecia and Burt, along with anyone else who wants to share our bounty, will come along for a cactus harvest party. With gloves.
Vorderbruggen, Mark: “Grape – Mustang,” Foraging Texas: Merriwether’s Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Texas and the Southwest 2008: http://www.foragingtexas.com/2008/08/grape-mustang.html
Vorderbruggen, Mark: “Grape – Muscadine,” Foraging Texas: Merriwether’s Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Texas and the Southwest 2008: http://www.foragingtexas.com/2008/08/grape-muscadine.html
Wall, Sean, The Cycle of Foraging: A Book of Days, 2018.
Wall, Sean: “WILD GRAPE (VITIS MUSTANGENSIS, ROTUNDIFOLIA).,” aNaturalPlace: February 8, 2018: https://anaturalplace.wordpress.com/2018/02/08/wild-grape-vitis-mustangensis-rotundifolia/