Episode 1 : Cranberries

The Radacast
33 min readNov 22, 2019

In this episode of The Radacast, host Joe Stormer goes out harvesting cranberries in a creepy beautiful bog and then makes bbq sauce out of ’em. He also discusses the true dark past of the thanksgiving holiday celebrating in the United States.

These berries were collected on land stolen from the Snoqualmie people without asking permission nor being offered permission.

Twitter:
This podcast’s — @RadacastPodcast
Personal — @PopulusEyedJoe
My other science communication account — @365BotanyWomen@365EarlyCareer

Other favorite podcasts:
Breakdances With Wolves Podcast, “Ep. 10 — Thanksgiving with The Originators.” (Breakdanceswithwolves — Ep-10-thanksgiving-with-the-originators-breakdances-with-wolves)
The Field Guides (www.thefieldguidespodcast.com)
Warm Regards podcast (medium.com/@ourwarmregards)

Transcript:

You’re listening to The Radacast, and this episode is about the Vaccinium subgenus Oxycoccus — also known as the cranberry.

[Banjo playing]

Hi, my name is Joe Stormer and this is the first ever episode of The Radacast — a scientific podcast about foraging. I’ve named this show after Tolkien’s Radagast the Brown. Radagast the Brown was one of the wizards sent to contend with Sauron in Middle Earth.

While he was a friend of Gandalf the Grey, Saruman the White called him a simple fool. Saruman was a real dick. Little concerned with the matters of humans, elves, hobbits and dwarves, though, Radagast’s original name was Aiwendil, or Bird Friend, as he cared for the flora and fauna (the olvar and kevlar) of Middle Earth.

In the same spirit, with each episode of The Radacast I’ll be sharing about the scientific significance of a different species of forageable plant, fungi, or algae as I do my best to collect, process, and eat it. Prepare to listen to some digging, some pots banging around, and a bunch of nerdy facts. So c’mon, let’s go out to the bog and see what we can find.

[Brief banjo music]

From the top I’d like to say real quick that it is every person’s responsibility as a forager to familiarize themselves with safety. So if you sink into a bog or eat something poisonous or whatever, that’s on you.

[Single banjo chord]

Now that, my friends, is the sound of a banjo set to what’s called sawmill tuning. We’re gonna chop down and mill the bits and pieces of the evolutionary tree of cranberries so that we can see every step along the way. If you’re not willing to stick it out through the taxonomy, you just don’t deserve it.

So cranberries belong to the kingdom of Plantae — plants. Now these are generally accepted to be multicellular organisms with cell walls made of cellulose and energy usually coming from the sun via photosynthesis, with their DNA contained within nuclei instead of free floating around the cell, making them members of the larger domain of eukaryotes.

There are differing definitions of Plantae and these may include or exclude all or some algae. But just for context, as far as that uncertainty is concerned, even through the time of Linnaeus the kingdom included all macroscopic life except animals, and this was until just the last couple hundred years.

Further down the tree you’ve got tracheophytes. Now tracheophytes are a clade. A clade is a classification that doesn’t fit into the standard ranking levels of domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and finally species. Instead, a clade is a grouping that is descended from a common ancestral population, and this is also known as monophyletic. Now tracheophytes are defined as plants with vascular passages to transport water and the resources they dissolved in that water. These are you your “normal” plant that generally have roots, stems, and leaves; and this excludes weird stuff like mosses.

Next clade: spermophytes. Spermophytes are seed plants, as opposed to spore producing plants like mosses and ferns.

Next down the ladder are angiosperms. Angiosperm means enclosed seed, coming from the Latin angeion and sperma — angiosperm. Now angiosperms are flowering plants, meaning that they reproduce sexually (male with female) via pollen and in angiosperms the ovules (or egg cells) are contained in ovaries. This differs with gymnosperms. Gymno meaning naked, like gymnasium is a place where you get naked and wrestle with people in ancient Greece. Gymnosperms have naked seeds which are directly fertilized by the pollen blowing in the wind landing on the seeds’ exposed ovules. This includes cycads, ginkgos, pines, and other conifers, and really anything else you’d think of as a christmas tree. Angiosperms are the source of all fruit, full stop. They contain somewhere between 250 and 400 thousand species, worldwide, and they range from grass to cactus to sunflowers

Now the next clade below that is eudicots which are plants that have two instead of one cotyledons, which are the little leaves that pop up out of a seed. To further define them, the pollen have three or more little pores on it called colpi, but you would never know that without a microscope.

And the last clade under that is Asterids, which are plants that are defined by the double-layered membrane around the embryo. Again, something you would only see with a microscope.

Now we’re back to the usual ranking system. So we’ve gone from domain to kingdom to phyllum . . . eh, we skipped over class. Whatever. Now we’re down to order. Cranberries belonged to the order of Ericales, and Ericales depending on who you ask contains 22 families and more than eight thousand species. Many plants within this order have five petals that are fused together and they tend to have mutualistic relationships with fungi that grow around the roots. But really the definition of this order is genetically defined.

Now we’re getting close! Ericaceae is the family of cranberries. Ericaceae is derived from the Latin name “erica” for the heath plant. Ericaceae contains edible and ornamental plants, varying rhododendrons, as well as shrubs like heaths and heathers. They have five petals which are typically fused together and are referred to as perfect or more familiarly hermaphroditic. They have male and female parts within the same flower. The flowers are often referred to as having an urn shape, though I think that bell shape would probably be a better term. They range in shape from the liberty bell, various East Asian bells to jingle bells.

Now our second to last grouping is Vaccinium. This is a genus that contains familiar plants as blueberry, huckleberry and lingonberry. They are generally restricted to acidic soils. And what is incredible is that in the United States, we produce three hundred thousand tons of berries from this genus every year. This is an absurd amount. To put this in perspective that makes no sense, if you took three hundred thousand tons of berries and converted it into three hundred thousand tons of classic VW Beetles, this would be a third of a million cars. And if you line these up bumper-to-bumper, they would reach from Seattle to Sequoia National Park in California.

Cranberries are defined as belonging to the subgenus of Oxycoccus. Oxycoccus is characterized by subshrub or trailing plants, and cranberries are are not uncommonly referred to as bog cranberries. This generally helps to differentiate them from highbush cranberries and lowbush cranberries. True cranberries are sometimes referred to as lowbush cranberries, but generally it refers to the very similar plant, lingonberry — Vaccinium vitis-idaea. But then it differentiates cranberries from highbush cranberries — several species of the genus Viburnum. that have small, juicy fruit with a single disk-like seed. They are super tart and they smelled the scum under your toenail but toss into a salad dressing . . . mmm! It’s delicious.

Cranberry comes from the German for “crane berry”, which is referring to the shape of the flower resembling the crane’s dopey-looking pointed face. It was named by the early European settlers. In the UK it has been known as fenberry, which is a misnomer because fens are alkaline while cranberries grow in acidic bogs.

Now across North America there are three generally-accepted species. The first Vaccinium oxycoccus is found across the whole of the world’s north — circumboreal. And then Vaccinium. microcarpus is very similar but just has smaller plant parts and some botanists consider this to be the same species. And the last species in North America is Vaccinium macrocarpus, which has a bit larger berry and is found mostly in the northeast of North America, but it is scattered across the north, central, and northwest North America as well.

Now let’s get into the plant’s reproduction. While most plants within the genus Vaccinium have these bell- or urn- shaped flowers, cranberries have reflexed pedals that are instead curved back, kind of like a mostly-peeled banana, or similar to a tomato or potato blossom. The flowers are formed the year before fruiting and the flowers bloom in late spring through summer, depending on your latitude. The flowers hang down, and the male and the female flower parts (though they are in the same flower), they are not active at the same time and this avoids self-pollination.

Speaking of pollination, these are buzz-pollinated. So the flowers produce nectar as a reward to draw in pollinators and they’re pollinated by bees plus some wasps. In New Jersey alone, there are twenty species of bees known to pollinate cranberries, including five species of bumblebees. Now the nectar is all good and well. It’s full of sugar (that’s good energy), but one of the real rewards is the pollen itself. Pollen is just packed full of protein and so in order in order to get the pollen out of the plant, the insects have to shake it out of the plant in some way. Now bumblebees sonicate (or audibly vibrate) their bodies as they’re sitting on the flower and the pollen just falls out. Honey bees, they will drum on the paint with their front limbs while mason bees and other solitary bees may drum with their middle or back legs

And then this pollen that falls out comes out from tetrads — which is four pollen grains that are stuck together. To pollinate a cranberry flower, there needs to be at least two tetrads to produce a fruit. Bumblebees deposit over sixty tetrads per visit in general, while honey bees only deposit ten. In the end, only forty to fifty percent of flowers mature into berries on a normal year.

The fruit is so is unique in its ability to over-winter or last until the following spring. Now freezing during the growing season can be very detrimental to the flower and the fruit growth but the bush of the plant itself can reach maybe negative five degrees Celsius during the growing season and still be okay. The fruit is it true berry, meaning it contains its seeds and it originates in a single flower and it contains somewhere between three to eleven and it is divided for locules, which is kinda like what you would see if you cut a tomato in half perpendicular to the stem. You look down and you see those different chambers of the fruit. That’s the same as you would see in a cranberry.

You wanna talk to the podcast?

[Meow]

Yeah?

[Meow]

Oh, yeah?

[Meow]

Yes, that is true!

[Meow]

I know. Can you quiet down, please? Please be quiet, okay? I’ve got stuff to do.

So in the field, only one to three percent of seeds actually germinate, and this is greatly reduced after two years at which point the germination rate is halved, and then after three years it’s virtually zero. But the main method of reproduction of cranberries is actually clonal, which means that they send out these trailing vines can grow horizontally somewhere between fourteen and fifteen millimeters per week; that’s been recorded in Scandinavia. While these vines are constantly battling against being overtaken by the Sphagnum moss that they’re growing it. The moss is constantly growing and burying them, and so though the leaves will stay green for two years, somewhere closer to three, those parts of the stem may be buried far before.

Now speaking of Sphagnum moss, they grow naturally in bogs, although humans will occasionally force them to grow in sad fields. Now a bog is a wetland that is characterized by the accumulation of plant matter as plant matter as peat, primarily Sphagnum moss. A bog can be thirty meters or more deep of just deposited plant material and the moss can grow from one-to-five centimeters per year on hummocks — which are hill- or mound-like geological features. But in depressions where there’s bountiful water, they can grow up to ten centimeters a year. The organic matter in the soil of the bog ranges from 93.6 to 97.7%. Now I don’t know much about soil but that sounds like a lot.

And with all of this organic matter, bogs are a carbon sink. Now a paper by Dorothy Peteet and Jonathan Nichols recently raised the estimate of carbon stored in northern peatlands to more than it a teraton. That’s a one with twelve zeros and that’s well more than what is present as CO2 in our atmosphere — well more than CO2 and methane combined. How many classic VW Beetles are in a teraton? I can’t be bothered.

The hydrology of a bog is referred to as ombrotrophic or or ombrogenous, meaning that water in the bog generally comes from precipitation rather than groundwater or waterways. In the UK, bogs will be seen to receive about meter of rain per year, with 140 to 180 wet days per year. Cranberries grow best in bogs where the water is 25 to 30 centimeters below the surface, but in my experience I’ve seen them growing much closer to the water than that.

The water in a bog is acidic — a pH below five — and it’s very low in nutrients. As is typical for the genus Vaccinium, cranberries requiring low calcium and potassium. But they also, in addition to that, generally require a water substrate with not very much nitrogen or phosphorous. The community of cranberry includes plants like Drosera (which are the carnivorous sundew plants), heath and heather, sedges, subshrubs, Asphodel and skunk cabbage, but also less frequently plants like cinquefoil and moor grass. They have mycorrhizal associations with Hymenoscyphus ericae, which is a fungus that detoxifies the soil and transports nitrogen and phosphorus to the roots. But it also helps the plant avoid iron and manganese, which could become toxic to the plant. Cranberries are food for so many animals like bear, humans, thrushes, blackbirds, grouse foxes. Oh, maybe coyotes? So many.

With humans’ culinary use, ninety percent of the world’s cranberries are produced in the U.S. and Canada. Cranberries have been traded for a very, very long time in the northwest of North America by native folk who transported fresh or preserved and water or eulachon grease. These were traded by coast people, but likely inland people too. The Cowichan people of the Fraser Valley in Canada also granted permission to other peoples from up and down the river to come and harvest wapato and gather cranberries on those bogs. This is recorded by Nancy J. Turner and Dawn C. Loewen and the journal Anthropologica. Cranberries have historically been used by indigenous folks for pemmican, which is berries mixed with fat for travel and winter storage and also for dye.

Cranberries are sometimes known for their health benefits. Cranberries have been shown to be positive for combating urinary tract infections as they have a property that interferes with the ability of E. coli to achieve fimbrial adhesion, meaning that those little appendages that they use to grow onto our human cells — they just can’t latch on. This has been shown in the Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture by Abreu, Presto, and Barreto. And Narwojsz et al in Plant Foods for Human Consumption showed that cranberries can prevent adhesion of Helicobacter pylori to human cells, reducing the probability of stomach ulcers. And it also does well for a treatment of periodontitis, which is a gum disease.

However, every discussion with the health benefits should also include a discussion of the risk — toxicology. Shotyk et al and the journal Science of the Total Environment studied trace elements and cranberries in the boreal regions of northern Alberta. They showed that cranberries are extremely poor at uptaking lead and aluminum, that cranberries are an accumulator of copper, strontium, and manganese, and are also a strong accumulator of iron. They’re generally neutral as far as the accumulation of nickel, zinc, rubidium and barium, and they are moderate accumulator of cadmium. To determine this, they compared to the berries with the levels of these metals in the Sphagnum moss alone and they also found that the berries generally have less dust on them than the moss — probably because of the thin wax covering that the fruit has that allows rain to just bead up and roll off, taking all the dirt along with it.

Wotjun et al in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health studied the cranberry in the Western Sudety Mountains of southwest Poland. They tested similar elements in a similar setting. They found concentrations of copper, lithium, nickel, manganese, chromium and zinc, even at a high altitude. They suggested that this is likely due to automotive exhaust that has been carried by the wind over long distances and they suggested that these metals are finding their way into the bogs because the bogs are rain fed and the rain kind of scrubs the air of elements, bringing it down to the earth.

I’m not personally super concerned about this, but it’s up to you to determine your own risk.

[Brief banjo playing]

Alright, I just parked the car. And before I get going, I want to acknowledge that I am on the land of the Snoqualmie people and these are people who ceded their land under threat of force in a treaty that has been violated time, after time, after time by people of European descent just like me. Acknowledging and recognizing that this is the land of the Snoqualmie people, one of numerous Salish peoples — acknowledging this doesn’t change anything and it’s not enough. Too often, people like myself use this acknowledgement to assuage feelings of guilt and to make ourselves feel woke and make ourselves feel better. This is merely the very bare minimum step. This is their land.

[Pause and then footsteps]

So I’m climbing over the gate here, I’m passing through probably about a quarter mile of private Timberland before we get to the wetlands that are probably privately-owned, but I cannot imagine what anyone would ever do with it. I mean, maybe someday someone will come through and drain it and farm it — god forbid — but in the meantime it is just a happy little patch of cattails and cranberries and Drosera sundew plants. The trees that I see around me right now: we’ve got some western redcedar, that’s some western hemlock, got some Douglas fir. In the understory we’ve got . . . oh, what is this? We’ve got some Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia), a beautiful, weird tree and the original source of Taxol, which are early and I think still very prevalently used chemotherapy drugs for cancer. The toxin within the plant comes from an endophytic fungi growing inside, and the entire plant is toxic except for the fleshy covering called an aril that covers up the seed. It’s a conifer so that’s not a fruit and in fact that little berry-lookin’, drupe-lookin’, so-called “fruit” is actually a cone — just a very highly specialized one that only produces one seed. Other understory plants we see around here: there’s the salal, we’ve got sword fern, got deer fern. I’ve heard that sword fern rhizome is edible and I one time collected some here and I tried it and it was still just like eatin’ wood. I don’t know if there’s a trick or if I selected the wrong one; maybe I’ll try it again someday.

Now, right now most of the precipitation that’s coming down is this very, very extremely fine mist, fog rolling across the valley. The valley that I’m in is the North Fork Snoqualmie River and I’m approaching an oxbow, which is a bend of a river that the river has stopped using and is slowly filling in with other organic materials and is slowly being taken over by plants. I’ve got a raincoat in my bag if I need it.

There’s a gorgeous mountain right up ahead of me with some pretty sheer rock faces shrouded in the mist; it’s wonderful to see. I am now coming out into the opening. It’s a bit of a challenge to get back to the bog because pretty much this road that I’m walking down is built over a bog, which means that it sinks in. So I’m walking on some pretty fresh stone that some of it has sunken in and is submerged, but to the left of me there seems to be a really an interesting little ditch waterway. One time I was exploring here I discovered that that actually is the previous road that it is now maybe three or four feet deep. I’d really like to not fall in. I’ll probably go back.

Around me I see a very fascinating collection of plants. It looks like . . . I’m only at sixteen hundred feet, which is not super high, but this looks like I’ve got subalpine fir and we’ve got mountain hemlock — which is a close relative of the western hemlock but they usually don’t overlap a whole lot. What else do we have here? I think one time I found some Alaska cedar in here too. Let’s see if I can find that again around me. Around me there’s bog laurel, salals that are growing up on the stumps or anywhere they can find a little piece of wood. It looks like some alders, some bracken ferns that have died back. You got some swamp cabbage. Now one of the really cool things I love in here is that the swamp cabbage . . . in a depression like this, I think I was reading this moss can grow up to ten centimeters a year. So those swamp cabbage both on account of being able to shade out this Sphagnum moss around it and then also I suspect maybe because of the fact that skunk cabbage is endothermic (they release heat in the early spring, which means it’s the first thing to melt out), I suspect that that might also be killing the moss around it. Right here on the edge I see maybe six inches deep in that one. This one is about, well, that’s probably about six inches deep too. I found some that are like foot and a half deep and like three feet wide. The pits that have grown up just haven’t dug these holes out; they’ve just inhibited the growth. We’ve got some sedges growing in here. The cattails don’t really come into the bog itself so much; they stay out on the edge.

How much can we see? This might be . . . I see one cranberry. This might even be a leftover from last year. This one is very red and very almost transparent, very juicy looking. Mmm! Oh yes, that’s delicious! Just bursts into my mouth.

Not quite sure the size of this bog, or rather the water opening in the middle. It’s maybe two hundred yards by maybe a hundred fifty at its widest dimensions? I tried sounding one time and I think it might be something like twenty feet deep, so not super deep. I’m walking over. Ha! I see someone’s already been here. There are some deer tracks through here. My feet are sinking in as I walk. Oh! Oh, there’s another beautiful berry. That’s going straight in the mouth. Mmhmm! Okay!

So the water is just black and the air is super, super still right now — barely any ripples at all. It’s like a perfect black mirror reflecting this gorgeous, gorgeous sight. And then one interesting thing too is that there’s not much animal life in here to note. As I mentioned before, this is a pretty low oxygen environment. So I see some water gliders hanging out there. Maybe if I get over closer I can see if there are any little bugs. Oh! Whoa! Okay! That really sank. So yeah, right now I’m basically walking on floating pillows. The moss is a smattering of dark maroon; there’s some yellows; there’s some green left — not a whole lot. But if I remember correctly over on this side I can approach the water more directly without sinking in. I’m not worried about my safety, I just don’t want to have my boots completely flooded yet.

One of the really cool things is that when you step, you can see the entire surface of this bog undulate and even — where you have the submerged kind of shelves — it’s really cool to see them, undulating too. So I’m looking down at the edge of it and it appears that probably because of the frost, all the sundews — the Drosera — are killed off already. But one of the really cool things that I find when I come here is that (I assume because of the anorexic water and the acidity of it) the sundews stay preserved for much longer down in the water. So I’m looking down to the water and these beauties are still living down there. They also have — I’m seeing some dark red dense clusters of the new leaves that’s come out and I wonder if these leaves are going to survive the next year when the water drops and they’re exposed again or if they’re goners.

Let me look around some other areas, see if I can see the similar structures. Nah, I don’t see anything of the sort. Now there’s super cool lichens growin’ in some of the shallower water and in the moss where they can manage it — kind of a spearmint green — kind of thing that you’d see in a big old model train exhibit, what they would make trees out of. Out on the far end we got cow lilies. There’s some other water-top plants that cannot identify, unfortunately, and some other emergent plants — meaning that they grow up out of the water. That kind of look like a cinquefoil, but I don’t know if cinquefoils ever grow quite like that. Other emergent plants that we have here, we’ve got some sedges. We’ve got some bog laurel or other ericaceous shrub that look like their roots are probably always submerged, but they’re still hanging on.

I don’t know if anybody else hardly knows about this place. I have never seen much evidence of impact. Looks like maybe there’s evidence of a trail of just kind of like foot traffic and a little place where they’ve cleared out a little trail. There is one piece of wood, which is probably four by six by twenty four inch piece wood here just sitting on the top of he surface of the dog, which I would guess that somebody brought it in here to harvest cranberries; or I could be wrong. Now I’m going to flip this up to see if there’s anything interesting living under it. Hmm. What’s that? Got a little centipede. Another centipede. Third centipede. No, not much down here. Okay, so it looks like I’m not disturbing too much significant habitat if I move this. My plan is I am going to use this piece of wood to sit on to harvest these berries.

Now one of the fun things about coming here to harvest the berries is that every time I do it looks like there’s not much here but then moment you start picking, you realize that there’s an endless amount. I brought a couple of Tupperware containers — one to make the bottom of my bag rigid and the other one just to plop the berries in before I then pour them in the bag. [Sound of a few berries falling into the container]. There really doesn’t seem to be as much here as I’ve seen in past years. Some of these are fresh; they’re still pretty firm and they still have a bit of yellow on them. But then a lot of these are extremely pink and juicy, which makes me think that they might still be holdovers from last year. Cranberries can last really surprisingly long, which is probably a big part of why they’ve achieved such dominance in our grocery stores because they’re just really easy to keep in transport. Since the flowers are formed in the previous year before the berries are formed, this can probably be an indicator of what conditions were like this past year, especially this past summer. I don’t remember exactly what it was like. I think I remember it being pretty dry, but I could just be projecting that now on every single summer that we experienced in the Seattle area now. This is the new normal, or at least it is for now until who knows what happens next?

[Banjo playing]

So I’ve been collecting for a little bit. It’s been pretty slow goin’. Things are a lot more sparse this year than they’ve last years and I think the years before when I’ve been out here. [Laughs] And of course as soon as I say that I’m looking down and I’m seeing tons of berries. But one of the challenges here is that this Sphagnum moss is turning a very dark red so that it’s actually the same color as the berries. And then also another difficulty is that as the moss grows, it’s actually burying the plants and burying the berries so sometimes you think you got all of them in an area and you look down, you see just a little glimmer and you realize that deep down in there in the moss there’s some more. And then also another thing is that we have here a mixture of this year’s and last year’s berries, which have very different characteristics — both of which I absolutely love. This year’s berries, you know, they had the same crunch and the same really fresh acidity that you expect from a store bought agricultural cranberry but, last year’s berries, they’re very squishy and it’s pretty hard to take them off the plant without breaking them but it’s worth it.

Now I’ve found more footprints of deer or other close relatives to deer; I’ve found the droppings from them. And I also found what I think might be bear droppings. Now it’s made up of completely cranberries — nothing else. I would say it’s bigger than a Clif Bar. And the interesting thing is that they’re not very well chewed up so I kinda wonder how well they could be digested in the first place. Then some of them came out looking about the same as they went in, which makes me wonder if whether it’s a bear or raccoon or I don’t know if we’ve got foxes around here (maybe coyotes like these) . . . we’ve got a lot of animals around here that are large enough to make that kind of pile that might’ve come through here and eaten just those berries. Maybe things came out of them a little faster than they intended. I’ve had that happen.

I’ve taken off my coat and my jacket and I’m going to do a little bit of exploration. The picking is a little slow on this end of the bog, so I’m going to go over to the other end. But first I’m laying down face first on my belly on top of this piece of wood. I’m clearing the top layer of the moss, pulling it apart with both hands to see if it’s possible to reach down very far — to get a sense. This is really hard to do because as it gets deeper and deeper it gets more dense and then also more and more roots. It’s just completely crisscrossed. I assume right where I’m at right now there’s a bog laurel or a close relative of that (I can’t remember what the other one is that is grown in here). We’ve got some really delicate little sedges and we’ve got lots of long, long cranberry plants, which seem to be most of the roots down there. He’s ones have a very bright red root and I’m looking at this laurel. This one’s a little more peachish/orangeish, although as it gets deep enough it turns more reddish. Let’s look at one of these sedges, uhh, the sedge kind of just go off into like a little thread-like white hairs.

I’m going to try another experiment. I want to see how far I can follow the stem of one of these cranberry bushes. Now as I’m digging down, I’m finding layers and layers of leaves that have been overtaken by the moss. And this in this cranberry stem doesn’t really go straight down very much mostly, although it seems to be going down more straight. It’s going pretty horizontal (at a little bit of an angle) and I suspect that my perception of it going straighter down could be simply because the moss down there is more compacted. Here’s a place where it branched and then one of the branches died off. So far I have probably sixteen inches of stem already and it has little bits of very fine roots coming off all along the length. And this is only four inches under the surface by now and it’s getting harder and harder to excavate this. Oh! Well, I didn’t get to the end of it. Maybe I broke it off or maybe the end of it is broken off on its own. So I broke it on purpose this time and it’s a very egg-white interior whereas the end that I pulled up seems a little more brown and scarred. So yeah, about sixteen inches, just this one little bush. Well, I guess I say bush, but it’s not branching. I can only imagine how much further and convoluted many of these other ones that might be a little bit more truly bush-like.

It’s really gorgeous. There’s dead trees, some snags grown up that are pretty old all around me. It looks like some of them are cedars, definitely. I wouldn’t doubt that we have some hemlocks. The stumps definitely have salal which has grown on them but and also bunchberries, which are a dogwood relative. There’s some almost spearmint-colored Usnea lichen hanging down from the branches. This place that I excavated, which is just about as big as a fist in the end — I’m covering it back up, healing the surface where I tore it up. I don’t know if that really makes that much of a difference cuz I know disturbance is a very natural part of wild processes and also I know I’m not the only large mammal that comes through here and I’m sure other mammals are making some messes here. Maybe the bears are digging up the ant nests that are under the surface. I don’t know if nature cares that I just made that mess but, you know, maybe another person’s going to come through here and see the impact that I’ve had and not really care for that a whole lot.

Oo! What is this plant over here? Today is the ninth of November. A lot of the plants have already lost their foliage so when I look at them now, I can’t tell what a lot of them are if I hadn’t seen them already with their foliage or their inflorescence. So I’m making my way back across . . . oh wow! Oh, these ones are great! Well, I already put my container in my bag to trek across the bug, but I’ll just a throw these in my pocket and hope for the best. Maybe I should take the container back out.

[Banjo playing]

Whew! It started to rain, which is not really bothering me too much but I’ve also been getting some rollin’ thunder coming through here. Considering that I am in a very flat place that is basically just pillows floating on water, I figured that it might not be the best place to be picking berries right now. Just to review, I managed to get maybe another pint of berries. These ones were a lot smaller and a lot juicer, which meant that I wasn’t bringing home the same volume, but I’m really hoping that they might actually be much more intense flavor. Also, one thing that I wish I had done differently was that I’d spent the first half of my time out here just kinda picking a berry here, a berry there, cuz there weren’t very many of them around where I started picking and I spent my first half of the time there. Then I decided to move over and I found a patch that was just super, super rich.

I would recommend for yourself — whether you’re harvesting mushrooms or cranberries or other berries or whatever you’re collecting — if you’ve got the chance to, I would consider taking a quick look around. Walk around, see what the different areas are, the greatest abundance, see where you think they might be the easiest harvest, see where the brush is the thinnest. It might be a waste of time for you to do that or, as I just experienced, you might save a lot of time and effort. You might be able to bring home a lot more delicious goodies. I guess I’ll see you back in my kitchen.

[Banjo music]

So we are back in my house. We are in my kitchen and you’re probably hearing a little bit of buzz, a little bit of different noises. I’m directly underneath of a flight path to SeaTac Airport. I have planes flying very low over my house on a very regular basis because I live at the north end of a historically Black neighborhood and the city has no interest in enforcing noise ordinances over historically Black neighborhoods.

That’s said, here I am turning these cranberries into cranberry sauce. I have dumped these into a bowl of water. Most of these are floating, some are sinking, and I’m just going to scoop out . . . [sloshing noises] . . . I’m scooping out the floating ones and there are some sunken ones too. Normally I would probably ignore those, but I don’t have as many cranberries right now as I would like so I think I’m going to scoop those out. And while I’m doing so, I’m picking out any kind of yellowish or kind of gross-lookin’ cranberries. Now I’m tossing those into a pot with a little bit of water and turning them on the stove.

And here I’m back. These cranberries cooked down for probably about half an hour, just on a low simmer. During this time I have brought some water to a boil. I sliced up some [red] onions, which I am going to parboil by pouring some boiling water over them to take the edge off of the flavor.

[Sound of pouring water]

Oof, that is potent!

Now I’m also bringing to a simmer my cranberry [barbecue] sauce. My cranberry [barbecue] sauce is more or less derived from a recipe by Derrick Riches on The Spruce Eats website. It’s just called “Cranberry Barbecue Sauce” and I’m more or less following it. I’m doubling it. I’m leaving out the orange juice because my older cranberries are much sweeter and richer than you would normally expect. I’m leaving out the brown sugar and instead substituting maple syrup. The Worcestershire sauce is a challenge because I’m vegan. I have ballparked this recipe and instead of anchovies I have tossed in some dried seaweed to give it kind of like a oceany flavor. I’ve also tossed in half of an habanero pepper. It’s just now coming to a simmer. So while I’m doing this, I’m going to chop up some cilantro and I’ll check in with you in about another twenty-five or thirty minutes

And I’m back! So this is seeming pretty delicious. It’s a little bit tangy; it’s a little bit sweet. It seems a little bit shallow so I have added in a little bit of molasses and that really hits the spot. I almost feel like maybe I should have used molasses entirely as the sweetener, but I can try that out in the future. Please, if you try making cranberry barbecue sauce, tweet at me @RadacastPodcast. I would love to hear what your experience is.

I’m going to the shelf to see which mushrooms I want to use. I have tons of dried mushrooms here. Think I’m probably gonna use Xerocomellus chrysenteron, which is referred to sometimes as red crackin bolete. It is no longer classified in Boletus (which is the genus of boletes), but it is a modest and unassuming but delicious mushroom, nonetheless.

Let’s see. [Sound of a jar opening] Mmm, yup. That smells delicious. That’ll be perfect.

I’m tossing some of this in a dish pan and spooning some sauce over it. I’m going to bring this to a simmer for about five or minutes during which I’m going to lightly toast some bread. I do not like crispy bread. It just hurts my mouth. It’s not worth it.

Okay! So here we are. These mushrooms have plumped up very nicely. I’m spooning them onto the bread, tossing on some cilantro and some of these parboiled red onions. Just from other slight taste here I kind of wish that I’d made it a little bit spicier, maybe doubled or tripled the amount of habanero that I included.

Here goes! Mmhmm, yes, yes, yes, yes. Well done, Joe. This is delicious. This is [laughing] exactly what I was going for. The salt level is perfect. The tanginess, it’s not too sweet. Still maybe could use a little bit more molasses for the more minerally flavor that molasses can grant. The red onions have mellowed out through par boiling. The only thing is I would like it a little bit spicier, but at this moment I have a beautiful sandwich full of beautiful cranberries and beautiful mushrooms in front of me, and I don’t want to talk to you anymore because I just want to eat my sandwich. So I’m going to have my dinner and I’ll talk to you in a sec.

[Banjo music]

Let’s talk about white supremacy and how it is related to the holiday of Thanksgiving. This is a very important conversation to have with the kids in your life, but if you have kids with you at the moment you may want to skip forward about three minutes.

The white supremacy doctrine of manifest destiny subtly uses this holiday as an opportunity to further the narrative of Europeans being welcomed to take over the continent from the indigenous people who have here since time immemorial, and this narrative is a tool of the ongoing genocide being perpetrated by people of European descent against native people from Canada to Chile. The story of the first Thanksgiving touts Tisquantum, mispronounced by whites is Squanto, as the generous host tool selflessly and voluntarily these ignorant interlopers to survive on this continent. While in fact Tisquantum was himself enslaves and abducted by the European invaders. Twenty Patuxet people of the Wampanoag Confederation were lured onto a ship under there false pretense of trade after which the European sort of many of them as possible into slavery while to Tisquantum was kept as a slave for four years in Spain until he escaped to England and came back home to discover that his entire village was dead from the diseases brought by the Europeans.

Then we’re told that the Patuxet people in the area of Plymouth Settlement arrived with food to feast together with the settlers — which is half true. Now to back up, one of the first acts of the settlers within weeks of landing in this continent in what would become Plymouth Colony was to send out armed bands the loot nearby native settlements — stealing utensils, mats, baskets, food, hunting trophies and material for making mats. They even looted graves and then the governor of the settlement, William Bradford, had the gall to refer to the people they had just robbed as “savage barbarians”.

A year later at what we now know as “The First Thanksgiving” Patuxet warriors did arrive at the English’s harvest feast, but only when they heard celebratory gun and cannon fire, and they arrived armed and ready to defend any neighbors being killed by the whites. The white folks explained this, but then the warriors stuck around me because they very well knew that the settlers could not interested.

All the while, Bradford described the native peoples as “a savage people who are cruel, barbarous, and most treacherous”. Then fifteen years later in 1637, Bradford’s forces perpetrated the slaughter of every present member of a native village that was estimated to be between four hundred and seven hundred people — lighting their fortified town on fire, killing every single person who tried to escape. Bradford wrote: “Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.” For this, Bradford also declared yet another thanksgiving celebration.

This is the backdrop of the thanksgiving holiday in the United States. At best, the holiday has been used to justify the fantasy that Europeans are the inheritors of this land, but in truth it has just been used to justify and even celebrate the slaughter of indigenous peoples for their lands and resources. This is a whitewashed holiday of genocide, perhaps the more insidious for its effectiveness at obscuring the truth.

Now I don’t mean to insinuate that native folks are all of one mind about the thanksgiving holiday. Unfortunately there is no transcript, but if you listen to Episode 10 of the Breakdances with Wolves podcast, you can hear an assortment of viewpoints and opinions. They make it clear that thanksgiving rites and harvest celebration is by no means owned by white folks, but are actually a universal part of human culture. I would add, though, that it’s one thing to respect the fact that Native folk choose for themselves whether or not to celebrate the thanksgiving holiday and how they will or will not, but it’s quite another for white folks like me and my family to celebrate a holiday that is for us inextricably linked to the historical mythology that glosses over genocide. We should hold ourselves accountable.

[Silence]

Alright, so I probably should take a moment now to mention that the collecting trip I just went on may have been a bit reckless. In the words of a recent post from the wetlandr.salish.lowlands Instagram account, “It’s possible to punch through bog mats or bog mud, get stuck and die. With every step, test it before you trust it. Maybe go with a buddy. #BogBuddies not #BogBodies.” It’s a great post! I would tell you how to find it but I never have and never will understand how to use Instagram. I will say though that both for social media and for wetlands, familiarize yourself with processes for getting out of sinking mud. Consider making sure that you go in with at absolute minimum some sort of tool like a trekking pole. I should have. I didn’t.

That said, I cannot state strongly enough that it is each forager’s own personal responsibility to educate themselves about the impacts that they have on nature, the impacts they have on other humans, and the impacts that they have on themselves — consequences that are not only physical but also legal. The worst atrocities that humans have committed were legal at the time and so many of the most beautiful aspects of the human experience have been illegal at one time or another. Familiarize yourself with the laws around wild collecting in your area and the rationales behind those laws, and then decide for yourself if the laws make sense. Then decide for yourself whether you are willing to accept the consequences that may come not only with breaking those laws but also with following them. It is not only through law-breaking that harm is done.

[Banjo music]

Thanks for listening! The banjo playing you’re hearing is the tune of my song “Toy Plastic Guns”; if you’d like to hear the full version, search for it by name on YouTube. If you’d like to follow the ramblings of this mushroom-addled mind, I’m on Twitter @PopulusEyedJoe and I have two more accounts that celebrate gender diversity in botany and related fields: @365BotanyWomen and @365EarlyCareer. And of course you can follow this podcast on twitter @RadacastPodcast.

Some of you may notice that the format of this podcast bears a striking resemblance to The Field Guides — a podcast that I used to transcribe. I’m grateful to Bill and Steve for allowing me to step in on their operation for a bit and giving me advice for getting this podcast off the ground. Unfortunately they do not offer transcripts now.

Now speaking of transcripts, every episode that I release will have a transcript available in the episode notes on my Soundcloud page because it is unethical to release spoken audio content without a transcript. For this purpose I’ll be giving a shout-out to another transcribed podcast each episode and this time it’ll be Warm Regards, another podcast that I transcribe. Warm Regards is stories from the front lines of climate change, featuring interviews with scientists, journalists and activists. You can find Warm Regards on iTunes, Soundcloud, and I’m sure other podcatchers. Read the transcripts on the show’s Medium homepage and follow the podcast on Twitter @OurWarmRegards.

Please rate and review The Radacast because otherwise I’m just a tree falling in the woods. If you’d like to help me get this operation off the ground please go to my Patreon page to contribute on a one-time or monthly basis. I plan to use the money I receive to upgrade my recording and sound-editing set-up, purchase a flour mill for further experimentation, and hopefully someday bring in enough money that I can afford to make this a twice-monthly operation (or better). And don’t forget to send in your questions for my 300th episode!

I look forward to talking to you all on next month’s episode of The Radacast. In the mean time — whether it’s nature, cooking, or anything else that gives you life, share your passions with one another.

Next time, it’s honey mushrooms.

[Banjo music]

--

--