24 June 2009

Bitterroot Fest '09: Montana's State Flower & Elk Rib BBQ

On the Butte hill, Bitterroots (Lewisia redivivia; an important root crop for native peoples) bloom with the coming of summer. The exact date for this coincides not with the calendar date for the summer solstice, but with blue sky summer weather. As such, the actual date varies from mid-June to early-July. This year, the Bitterroot blooms DID come with the solstice:

As Montana's state flower, the Bitterroot is well chosen. It grows wisely under harsh conditions. Roots send their energy up as the snowmelts, and the leafy little rosettes begin soaking up the sun. This year, that occurred in early April:

Come 07 May, they carpeted the ground well before most other plants greened up:

But by 02 June, some secret sign told them it was time to let the leaves die away and to concentrate energy in the fleshy root:

Energy that fed the formation of the buds pushed forth over the past few weeks. And will continue to bloom and pollinate over the next week or so, producing seed for future years:

Like the Bitterroots timing their flowering with the coming of summer, we time our Elk Rib BBQ with the Bitterroots.

Steps for an Elk Rib BBQ (after shooting & butchering one elk, of course):

1. Marinade ribs 24 hours in a tenderizing mixture--I like vinegar with some juniper berries added:

2. Boil until tender; I use the marinade with a few bay leaves, a dozen crushed garlic cloves, and a small handful of black peppercorns added. This year it took just 2 hours for the bones to fall out--sometimes it takes nearly 4 hours:

3. Use a dry or paste rub: crushed garlic, minced habaneros (just 3!) & jalapenos, lemon juice, olive oil, and your other favorite rub spices. Let sit overnight.

4. BBQ over slow charcoal heat with splits of a flavoring wood added for smoke. I usually use hickory or apple, but didn't have any so used black cherry from a trip to the Alleghenies:

Easy does it--keep temperature between about 170 and 200 deg F:

Be patient--4 hours is about right for well smoked, tender ribs. Open the grill once each hour to add splits and (if necessary) a few lumps of charcoal. I like to pile ribs on a rack over a pan of water to keep them moist:

5. Meanwhile, make your finishing glaze & mopping sauce (what most people think of as "BBQ Sauce." This year, I made a chipotle with a few pints of Mrs ER's home-canned peach jam:

6. After the slow BBQ, remove ribs, allow the fire to heat up, brush on glaze, and cook briefly turning once:

Enjoy! After eating (and drinking a few pints of the local microbrew), induce as many of your guests as possible to accompany you on a walk to see the blooming Bitterroots (from left: MollyTheDog, Sheila Youngblood, Heather Shearer (recent arrival to Butte America!), EcoRover, Dave Carter, Frank Ackerman, and Grant Mitman [photo by Hwe Ackerman]):

Happy Summer!

PS: I also grilled those Giant Puffballs from an earlier trip--brushed free of dirt, 3/8" slices, lightly coated with olive oil w/ salt & pepper, grilled until brown on each side--DELISH!

22 June 2009

Early Summer (?) Hike: No Morels, but lots of Wildflowers

Summer Solstice, though here in the northern Rockies along the Continental Divide it's still the rainy season of June. Despite the weather, Andrea Stierle, Dave Carter, and I (and our three dogs) donned our raingear and set out from Butte America for a hike. Don Stierle was going to join us as well, but a big rainstorm swelled the Wise River (Big Hole tributary), so he kayaked instead. So many choices, so little time.

Our ostensible purpose was a hike into the Pettengill Burn in search of morel mushrooms, but we got off on a finger ridge that the burn never reached. No matter, we found LOTS of mushrooms. Not morels, though, and we amateurs didn't know if either of these common types were edible:

We did, however, find tasty specimens of the eminently edible Western Giant Puffball (Calvatia booniana):

This leaf lichen is probably edible too, at least if you are a caribou:

In the woods, along with the fruiting mushrooms, the tiny flowers of Grouse Whortleberry (Vaccinium scoparium) are blooming:

OK, which of you lughead dogs mouthed this grouse egg (and cracked it)?

They all (Black Molly, Speckled Jack, and Golden Chooka) look guilty to me:

We climbed to about 8,400 feet and encountered almost no snow. At the highest elevation along the ridge, flower catkins of the Mountain Alder (Alnus incana) hung in the chill air:

Down lower, below the woodline in the meadows along the Big Hole River and its tributaries, many wildflowers are blooming:

The blue sea of flowers at the top of the photo (above) are my favorite, and an important food of Native Peoples, the Blue Camas (Camassia quamash):

The foreground of that landscape photo is dotted by another Indian food, the American Bistort (Polygonum bistortoides):

Ah, here's a bed of Rocky Mountain Irises (Iris missouriensis):

Exquisite up close too:

A sign of overgrazed land (cattle don't like them) but beautiful nonetheless, a field of Golden Pea (Thermopsis montana):

Look closely, and you can see why they're called "false lupine:"

Speaking of lupines, two varieties are in bloom. Here's Silvery Lupine (Texans call them "bluebonnets;" Lupinus argentus):

And the easily overlooked, less showy Dwarf Lupine (Lupinus pusillus):

Rounding off the list for today's hike, the Sticky Geranium (Geranium viscosissimum):

Back in Butte, my neighbor's wheelbarrow & wagon garden of cabbages and tomato plants is looking mighty fine:

And tomorrow is the Bitterroot Festival: BBQ elk ribs and a hike out back to see the rock roses. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood!

18 June 2009

Skywatch Friday: What Raven Said

On a mid-June morning, Fog shrouded Butte, Montana's Silverbow valley (view from Walkerville; Timber Butte poking up through the fog left center w/ Anselmo mine "gallows frame" lower right):

Raven awoke early and drank her coffee. She waited for Sun so she could eat breakfast in the valley. And waited. But Fog kept Valley hidden. Raven quorked the ancient language:

Sun answered, and Chokecherry Blossom rejoiced:

Big Hole River: Salmonflies, Troutfishing, and Bears OH MY!

Angling residents of Butte, Montana have a rule of thumb: when the lilacs are blooming on the hill, the salmonfly hatch is on for the Big Hole River. With the lilacs (and poppies) blooming at my house, it was time to go:

And sure enough, the willows were full of the big, 2-inch plus size bugs. And my flybox had a few fair imitations:

I don't look around much while fishing, but I did notice this dainty little mule deer fawn track:

Along with its mother doe:

Hmmm... Given the size of this black bear track (front paw; about 5.5" or 6"), maybe I should look around more:

But the fish were on the feed, and I had to keep my eye on the prize. Like this brown trout (caught on a big stonefly nymph):

And this hefty whitefish (surprisingly, caught on a salmonfly dry!):

I also ran into fellow professor John Amtmann and his beautiful, athletic kids. Here he is with one in their tandem kayak:

It didn't take much persuading to get them to demonstrate a roll in the big boat:

Tight lines & fast rolls!

16 June 2009

A Rainy Day Hike in the Hills

June in Butte, Montana. Continental Divide in the Northern Rockies. It rains. Still, you go hiking. You don't necessarily want to, but you have to.

Many of our plants, like this lupine, evolved to capture the precious spring rains to store water for the endless blue-sky days of July and August. I love the way the water drops refract the leaves:

All things rejoice in the spring rains: these two Globeflowers (Trollius laxus) hold hands, turn their faces to the sky, and dance with joy:

No hike is complete without a mystery flower. Here, some species from the mustard/cress family, I think, given the four cross-like petals and tubular flowers:

Spirerock is a landmark near an old development from the Anaconda Mining Company days c. 1880 - 1910:

A logging camp with a half dozen or so cabins:

And a flume that was used to collect and float timber 15 miles or so across the Divide to feed the smelter in Anaconda and mines of Butte:

Look close and you might find a treasure like this 44 WCF (Winchester Center Fire) cartridge stuck into a log:

MollyTheDog: faster than a speeding bullet. Someday, perhaps when she is 4 or 5 years old, I'll get her to slow down and pose for a photo:

Quick! She's stopped on that snowdrift:

MTD is a pretty good dog, though--at least she didn't chase this gangly, yearling moose that we saw on another hike just north of town:

Watching the weather--we'd like to get and camp a night with the elk cows & calves before they move from the willow bottoms up into the hills.