Thursday, May 29, 2008

Foraging For Inspiration in the Old-Growth Forests of Seattle

...the author has recently completed what was sworn to be the last Le Mixeur as presently construed, and there are no immediate notions for a replacement concept,

and Whereas...
...the author is now immersed in a two-week, Ayurvedic cleanse in which nothing is consumed but raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts, along with organ-cleansing herbs and tinctures,

we do Hereby Declare...
that not a hell of a lot of cocktail stuff is going on.


However, T.Mixeur has a few ditties from the past to share, and some ideas for the future as well. Today we will seamlessly bring together events of the recent past with fanciful notions for the future, while at the same time engaging in an activity appealing to any Ayurvedic cleanser...writing about berries.

Memorial Day was a rare child, work, and Mixeur-free day for T.Mixeur, and was gratefully spent in large part at Seattle's Seward Park.

Les Caractères

Seward Park - a large city park, furthest south of a long chain of parks along the west shores of Lake Washington. It sits on a peninsula jutting out into the lake, and is the proud holder of an old-growth forest.

Lela - a student of natural medicine and longtime student of the forest. T.Mixeur is counting on Lela to one day aid his survival in post-apocalyptic Washington, guiding the way to sustenance in the forms of mushrooms, miner's lettuce, and an endless variety of berries.

T.Mixeur - a genius obsessed with cocktails and spirits, who looks into the magnificent beauty of the forest and the plants, berries, and flowers therein and thinks only one thought: how can these be incorporated into a drink?

La scène
The balance mixologists seek in a cocktail, or distillers in a spirit or liqueur, is naturally present in the forests of Washington. Sweet, sour, bitter, are represented in widely varying degrees by the berries alone. Salty and umami are present as well, but one would likely have to look closer to the ground than we did this day.

As we walked through the forest, T.Mixeur's mind was swimming with thoughts on how to use these native, natural delicacies in a single cocktail, for homemade macerations, syrups, or liqueurs, and also how to employ them in distillation techniques. One could spend a lifetime exploring the possibilities. For this day, we took about two hours (including the time spent looking for our car when we realized we had no idea where we were).

Les Images Montage


Lela's favorite berry in the forests. It will produce shiny purplish berries that ripen in the fall and stay present until December. They are sweet and easy to eat, with a slight musky taste. They have long been a staple for the Quinault Indians. The plant is part of the Ericaceae family, distinguished by hard, dark green leaves (think of Azaleas, Rhododendrons, or Blueberry).


The first thing to know about Thimbleberry is that its leaves make, by a long shot, the finest toilet paper in the forest. Beyond that, the berries themselves are somewhat sweet but considered bland by many. They are red when ripe and look like a larger, flatter raspberry with more seeds than any self-respecting raspberry would dare be seen with. The Nuu-chah-nulth Indians smoked Thimbleberries with clams. The Kwakwaka'wakw picked them when pink, stored them in cedar-bark bags until ripe, then ate'em down. The shoots are apparently edible as well (and perhaps Umami?).


"Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast" describes Salal as "creeping to erect; spreads by layering, suckering, and sprouting." This description reminds me somewhat of the Munat Brothers. It continues, "with hairy branched stems." Well, perhaps C.Mixeur. But T.Mixeur? Hairy-stemmed? Oh no no! Je ne pense pas ainsi!

Anyone who has at one time or another had a professionally made bouquet of flowers has likely beheld the thick, dark green leaves (which makes it what, class? Ericaceae? Très bon!) of Salal. It is one of the most common sources of green filler in bouquets. The delicate, hairy little sepals pictured here will eventually become purple and sweet. Salal has for centuries, perhaps millenniums, been the most abundant and edible fruit of the Pacific Northwest.


This grows in abundance at Seward Park, and loves to grow anywhere there are Douglas Firs. The "grapes" (there is actually no relation to grapes, it is an evergreen shrub that produces berries) will eventually turn blueish/purple, but they will never turn sweet. They are quite tart and bitter, or, as Lela describes them: "awful." They are often mixed with Salal berries and/or made into jam with lots of juice and sugar. The Oregon Grape has traditionally been used medicinally for treating liver, gall-bladder, and eye problems. The Saanich tribe considered it the only effective medicine for shellfish poisoning (so if you smoke some Thimbleberries with clams, have some Oregon Grape nearby as well).

There are more. Much much more. But let's save those for a follow-up post, shall we?

Nous espérons que vous avez aimé apprendre de baies dans la forêt!


No comments: