Sunday, January 22, 2012
Yeast From Trees
Bread is the staff of life, or so some say, but let's say a person runs out of the yeast that makes bread rise. Do they live their life with unleavened bread? Well, as most people know, yeast is around us almost every day. It floats in the air, grows on many fruits such as apples and grapes, and many plant actually have their own yeast farms.
Such is the case in the aspen or other light skinned trees such as paper birch. A lighter colored tree has one of the same problems that lighter colored skinned people do. It can be affected by the sun in bad ways. Now, these trees don't get sunburned per say, but if they get too hot too early in the spring their sap will start rising only to freeze and kill the tree if winter isn't quite over. So what these trees do is grow yeast on their bark, especially on the side of the tree that gets the most sun. Here in the north it is usually on the south side of the tree. This yeast is a light colored protective powder that keeps the tree from heating up too fast in late winter or early spring.
We can use it in a similar way. Rub your fingers down the smooth bark of an aspen tree on the side that gets the most sun. A gray or white power should show up on your fingers. You can spread this yeast across your cheek bones or over your nose to help protect you from getting a sun burn. It's not SPF 15 but it does a pretty good job of blocking the suns rays.
Of course you can use it for what yeast is most used for by humans and that is to cook with. Many a moonshiners would start their mash or beere with a little scraping of birch yeast. Wine made with tree yeast can be used to drink, in tinctures or even let go to vinegar to do so many things with. Scrape an aspen tree and put these scrapings into a flour/water mixture with maybe a pinch of sugar to feed the yeast and you're well on your way to making bread. If you use it right away it is simple yeast. Let it set for a few days while feeding it flour and water and it will ripen into a delicious sour dough.
So the next time you are out in an aspen forest or walking by a paper birch tree on a cold winter's day, check out this most useful of wild edibles. If bread is the staff of life, yeast is the tree the staff was cut from.