Monday, April 3, 2017

A Warm Gathering on a Cold Night

By Beth Sullivan
It snowed all day. Threatened to turn bitter cold and windy. But the word had gone out, the committee had been planning for so long. So when the snow stopped, roads were cleared, the decision was made to go ahead and Avalonia’s Winter Potluck Gathering was ON!
March 10 was getting pretty close to spring. We were all hoping that the lovely warm weather we had briefly experienced would hold on. But it didn’t. The anecdote for winter blues has always been good food, good friends, and a good cause.

Winter potluck dinner

Avalonia Land Conservancy has held a Winter Potluck event for decades. There were years when it was a huge event, and then years when it was smaller and more intimate. But always there were shared home-made dishes and friends looking forward to connecting with each other. Part of the tradition has been to have a basket or tea-cup raffle and folks donated all manner of treasures. There were home-made birdhouses, garden baskets, books, and jewelry. There was also the usual assortment of knick knacks, small appliances and treasures that someone would absolutely need to have.
A big table of donated treasures to be raffled 

This year there was also a silent auction of smaller works of fine art. There were several framed pieces: watercolors, oils, and acrylics. There was a lovely quilted table runner and the bidding was lively for that. There were also packs of nature- themed cards, just perfect for those who still believe that a hand written note will never go out of style.
Items of fine art for the silent auction.

While people trickled in, several wonderful Girl Scouts and Avalonia volunteers met guests, explained the evening, and took steaming pans of food and covered salads and desserts to the kitchen. As everyone mingled, and bid on items, there were opportunities to look at displays of Avalonia projects including the new Hike and Seek program. Guests were encouraged to seek out those with Avalonia name tags, indicating people who might have answers to their questions.
Displays of Avalonia projects were on view.

The food came out, people found tables with old friends and new friends, and enjoyed music provided by The Avalonia Quick Steppers. They were fun-spirited, foot-stomping good, and inspired a few people to dance.
Old friends and new enjoyed dinner together.

The Avalonia Quick Steppers.

After dinner speaker

After dinner we were educated and entertained by an excellent presentation by Russ Cohen, author of “ Wild Plants I Have Known….and Eaten”. For those of us who are nature lovers, as well as gardeners, and who love to eat too, foraging is a natural extension of our interests. And what is fun, is that can be a positive, natural outcome of some of our stewardship efforts-eradicating invasives. Russ presented a great program, concentrating on wild-growing plants, many of which we constantly battle. How satisfying it was to see that instead of just cutting down, and swearing at, Japanese Knotweed, that there are a number of very delicious and easy recipes to be made from young tender stalks. They can be used like rhubarb. Autumn Olive berries can be as nutritious and tasty as cranberries in jellies and spreads. Maybe we should open up our work party days to foragers?
Author and forager, Russ Cohen.

Other plants provide roots that are tasty when prepared , like Chickory and Burdock. Leaves of Sheep Sorrel, Violets, and Lamb’s Quarters are excellent replacements for other farm-produced greens.
Russ also discussed other native plants that have produced foods that were appreciated by Native Americans and colonists such as Acorns, Hickory Nuts, and Black Walnuts. He even took the time to share some of his secrets for extracting the nuts in big edible pieces, rather than the smash up job I have been using.
Of course he offered the important cautions about foraging certain foods, Mushrooms as an excellent example, and the need to be absolutely certain of your identification. He also cautioned about harvesting plant populations that may be too small or scarce to sustain a harvest. All of this information is available in his book.
Desserts ended the evening with a very special creation by one of the Girl Scouts: Earth as a gem with a cake baked to appear like the jewel encrusted formation we see in geodes. Really creative!
The baker and her creation-Earth as a geode.

Included on the dessert table were creations offered by our guest speaker. No offense intended to all the other delicious treats, but his were spectacular.
Everyone went home happy. We made new friends, new members, and enlisted some new volunteers for our efforts. We went out into a cold night, warmed by a special event.

Thank you to the team who planned this event, and Bruce Fellman for his photographs.

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