Mayapples and Parental Woes


Mayapple is a misnomer. It’s neither an apple nor does the fruit appear in May but, as a forager it’s way at the top of my list of most relished wild plants. It has a nice friendly mix of extremely toxic parts (root, leaves and unripe fruit and seeds) and an edible ripe fruit that really has to be put in it’s own category of greatness. It has this lemony-tart and sweet combo while exuding an extremely rich aroma that really doesn’t compare to anything else i know. For those that freak out about eating a plant that has some poisonous parts remember, potato is toxic! Of course we eat the edible tuber but the leaves that grow above the ground are actually poisonous.

Mayapple is one of the wild plants i harvest that really has to be hunted in a way. At least in upstate NY where i live, the season for collecting the ripe fruit is in late July - early August. Before that, the fruit is green and probably toxic and if you wait too long, you’ll loose the harvest to other forest animals like hungry raccoons. You can actually pick them a little earlier than when fully ripe and continue to ripen them inside as i have done. They don’t taste quite as good as they do when they ripen on the plant but, it is the next best thing.

If you’re serious about hunting them, you’ll find them hiding in the rich mesic forests of North America where they may spread out into fairly large colonies. Mayapple doesn’t get too tall so, you’ll really spend a lot of time looking down. The large leaves umbrella the fruit so if you don’t look closely, you might miss the “apple” hiding in there. I find myself needing to move a bit neurotically, just to try to view the patch from many angles to insure i’m not missing any. I’m sure i still miss a lot.

I feel a bit nerdy that i get so excited when i come across a ripe, wrinkly Mayapple in the woods. I wait all year for these 2 weeks of Mayapple Christmas to come around and i happily fill my bag with as many of these little presents as i can find. Every once in a while while harvesting, I love to stick my nose in that mesh bag and catch that wild citrus-like aroma. Its so strong and unreal, it almost smells alcoholic!


When Olivia, our 9 year old, was a baby, I would tote her around in my little ergo carrier, read to her, play music for her, and make plans for my new little best friend. I would be interested in all her interests, we would have lazy summer afternoons reading side by side with jazz music playing in the background, we would have sophisticated mother daughter dinners where she would order shirley temples and I would sip on white wine. And then...

9 years later and one big fat slap in the face after another, reality sets in. There is screaming. And more screaming. There is pleading (mostly on my part), whining (mostly on her part), and lots and lots and lots of tear filled talks. Let me side note here -- I hate sitting and talking about feelings. Good god, I hate it. But it seems to be all she wants to do and I do my best to envision what I would have wanted my mother to say and do when I was pre-teen and angsty and very, very girly. And that's the thing isn't it? The age old dilema between mother and to balance all these hormones and feelings under one roof. Sean and Jack get along like gangbusters. A typical Jack-Sean conversation would go like this: "Want to play puzzles Papa?", "Sure buddy! Which one?"; while on the other side of the house it sounds like this: "Hey Liv, do you want to take a bike ride?", "No MOM. I just want to DO something. I mean like just DO SOMETHING!!", and the conversation will end with her crying into her pillow and me googling "How to talk to your pre-teen" while gulping down massive quantities of beer.

Then we made thumbprint cookies with mayapple jam in them. Or, I made them in the 100 degree heat while the kids stood by and watched me sweat. And honestly...they were not good. They were burned, and mealy, and the only good part was the mayapple jam. But you know what? As soon as they were cooled down, Liv grabbed one, shoved it in her mouth, tried to hide the disgusted look on her face, and said "Wow mom, these are good, really! They're not that bad.". And I remember that my hormonal, moody, cranky pre-teen is, under all that sourness, a sweet and loving kid who wants to please her mom. She's just been eaten by the monster of puberty. So maybe we will have that sophisticated mother daughter dinner, but it will have to wait 10 or so years, until the hormones have settled down and anyway, by then, at least she can share in my white wine.

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Well, we've been absent, yes. Actually, I've been writing away, storing blogs on the computer, but Sean has been neck deep in new music and a new way to bring it to you. More on that in a few weeks