Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Poke Berry Pie

I suppose I should be applying myself a bit more aggressively to the task of job hunting, especially considering the plans I've made for my future. There's nothing really wrong with bagging groceries or flipping burgers, but I've got an almighty college degree. I've never been so foolish as to assume that simply having a piece of paper makes me more suitable as an employee, but does it really make me that much of a threat? Obviously I didn't get the job at the craft store; while I'm not exactly heartbroken, I'm somewhat disappointed because it was an environment where I think I could have thrived and been able to contribute. Which means I'm basically back to square one. Anyone want to hire a recent graduate with a degree in history and a minor in Spanish literature? It's getting to be like Mel Blanc's train ticket agent asking if anyone wants to go to Kookamonga and then being so griefstricken that no one does, he shoots himself. Not that I'm that depressed about being jobless. There's just... nothing here that isn't mind-numbing, let alone that I'm qualified to do. I'm obviously neither a dentist nor a registered nurse, nor a physical therapist, any more than I'm a licensed paleobotanist. Okay.. the last is a stretch, but I'm still not one of those.
About the only positive from the lack of employment is that I have time to do things that are more satisfying than struggling and scrubbing floors for the Yankee Dollar, like spending time with important people (you know who you are!), knitting, spinning yarn, and dyeing projects. The freezer looks a little like a cross between a health food store and a mad florist because of all the bags of funny plants in it: marigolds, amaranth catkins, purple basil, coreopsis, and dahlias, as well as one enormous bag filled almost to bursting with pokeberries. The failure with the beet leaves notwithstanding, I hope to finish spinning the last of my white wool tomorrow or Wednesday, which should give the three pounds of roving I ordered (two pounds of white, one of gray) time to arrive, as well as giving the stock pot of pokeberries in vinegar and water time to finish doing whatever they're doing.
Last week I took a quick detour on the way home from the doctor's office and went driving along Luther Jones Road on a whim. At this time of year the roadside is dotted with berry-bearing plants of numerous kinds, including pokeberry; the berries are almost all ripe and a lovely dark purple. Since Rachael's series of posts concerning this very plant's use as a dyestuff, I wondered if I might take advantage of the fact that there's a bumpercrop of the stuff readily available -- and since she's already done a fair amount of research, I have something to go on. My detour cost me a barely visible dent in the car door when an unseen rock flew up and went DING! when I pulled off the road to go in search of ripe berries. Several passing motorists seemed astonished to see me tramping through the weeds and hopping over poison ivy at the edge of an orchard; this excursion netted me two ziplock sandwich bags of berries and some nice purple stains on my fingers. When I got home, I found out that there were enough plants growing in the yard to fill a large ziplock freezer bag with berries. Score! Into the freezer all three bags went.
The next day, I took the two smaller bags out of the freezer and plopped the frozen contents into my enormous stock pot. I think it's stainless steel, but I'm not sure.. it has a nice heavy lid and is big enough to make a six pound batch of soap with plenty of room to spare. I filled the pot about a third of the way with hot water and used the potato masher on the berries to try to break them up a little before I sloshed some vinegar into the mix. I didn't measure, but I think it must have been a good cup or so of vinegar. I could easily add more since I have two gallons stashed in the pantry for soap-making clean-up jobs. The pot has been sitting on the front step since Friday morning with its lid anchored by a cheerful, winged cast-iron pig named Francis Bacon. I figure that whatever heat the pot gets from sunlight during the day will probably help the berries break down a little more and release more pigment; as it is the solution is almost black, it's so dark. I'm hoping that by leaving the lid on, there's less chance that the tanins in the pigment (thanks, Rachael, for mentioning it) will begin to turn the juice brown. In a few days, or once I've got the new wool mordanted, I'll strain the mix and add some more water and vinegar so I can dye the roving. Rachael's recent posts indicate some browning of her early batches; maybe the addition of some KoolAid of either blue or dark red might help with the light-fastness? I'm not sure if I want to go that route, though. I've never dyed roving before, either, so this will be an interesting experience. My next project will more than likely involve either marigolds or some of the enormous amount of coreopsis I've been harvesting since early June; there are still lots of buds, but since the weather is getting colder, I'm not sure how much longer the plants will continue to bloom. Lots of dahlia buds, too, and all of them are dark purple, which means I'll get more pigment from them than the lighter blooms. I'm looking forward to that lovely burnt orange color!

No comments: