I say it often: I love Wisconsin in the summer. Peung had the day off so we headed to Brooklyn. Wisconsin, that is. A tiny community just south of Madison that happens to have a fantastic segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail nearby.
I put the Brooklyn Segment into my 60 Hikes Madison book, but hadn’t had the chance to get back there since. It being mid-August, I knew I had missed the raspberries but I had not even thought about blackberries. Gees, was that a mistake. The Brooklyn trail runs north/south with some nice trail loops off to the sides managed by the DNR and a bigger loop at the northern end which can function as a turnaround if you want to do a full 9 miles of hiking. We went for a short trek with about 4 miles roundtrip.
This southerly section, starting north across a field from Hughes Road off of WI-92, tops a modest glacially carved ridge, and as soon as we hit the trees, all the partly sunny open pockets were nothing but blackberries. I hadn’t brought a container so we ate what we picked as our fingers turned purple. This was phase one of our foodie day and we found good patches throughout the entire hike.
While mosquitoes were nearly nonexistent, tiny flies, like fruit flies, were out of control. Even with bug spray they dive-bombed our eyes, and like vampires, the only thing that drove them off was direct sunlight. A stake in the heart would have been tricky but I found I could get about 4-8 of them just by clapping my hands quickly in front of my face.
This trail is loaded with wildflowers, but mostly out in the prairie stretches where vistas are great with a few lone red barns way off in the distance. Coneflowers, White Campion, Black-eyed Susan a bit, St John’s Wort, Evening Primrose… lots of yellow here.
Peung spotted something that has been very rare in my experience (saw it only once at Stewart Park in Mt Horeb): Indian pipe. Weird stuff. No chlorophyll, so it has to use a cooperating fungus to breakdown nutrients from organic matter. This clump had just busted through the dirt at the center of the trail.
What many might not know is that sumac (staghorn sumac or Rhus typhina), the red “berries” of which are pictured here, is edible. There is a spice called sumac in the Middle East which is relative to this North American variety. I intend to see how similar it is on a few dishes at home this fall, but what surprised me is that there is a sort of “lemonade” recipe for it. Soak 6-8 of the seed clumps in cold water overnight and it lends its citrusy flavor to it. (Not hot water — that releases tannins that would make it too bitter.) Sugar is optional. A friend of mine says his mother used to use it in pancakes… and that he always hated them. I’ve been warned this plant is related to cashews and mangoes, so the allergic folks should be cautious.
Back out on the highway, we went shopping along the roadsides. A few farms have tables out near the ditch with priced fresh vegetables scattered across. Take what you want, leave the money in the can. We picked up 4 lbs. of red onions, 4 lbs. of white onions, 5 lbs. of little red potatoes, a dozen ears of corn (so-so), and some tomatoes for $8.50. We are curing the onions and won’t need to buy any for a long long time to come.
Passing through Brooklyn itself we found a girl out on the sidewalk with a veggie stand. What? No lemonade? (Or sumac-ade?) A quarter a piece for everything and we raided the coins in the car to carry off a cabbage, carrot, fresh basil and some big sweet onions (to round off the onion collection, maybe make some French onion soup). Not a bad load of food and by the time we got back from the hiking, we were ready for it. Ah, the joys of Wisconsin in the summer.