Folklore and Weather Forecasting

Do wooly worms, persimmon seeds, and black walnuts know the future?

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the U. S. Midwest, to be precise, we are entering the winter season. The topic on everyone’s mind seems to be what the winter weather will bring us.

Before potential winter storms are upon us, we look to the forecasters to get an idea about what is coming.

Will it be frigid?

Will there be deep snow or ice?

Could we get lucky and have a mild winter, cold enough to need a coat and kill the pesky insects, but not bitter?

We look to folklore for fun predictions about winter in my rural area. Every year, at Five Feline Farm, we use some of these traditions to predict the upcoming winter weather. Then we post about it on social media. This year, for some unexplained reason, the post went viral on Facebook. Shares and comments in the thousands.

People are interested in knowing what to expect, even if the source of information is unscientific weather predictions.

As winter approaches, there is always an air of excitement around the season’s first snowfall. This excitement seems to be present whether you like snow or hate it. Everyone makes a last-minute trip to the store to buy milk, bread, and toilet paper. Everyone but me, that is. I am always well-stocked on all three.

Back to the folklore.

Persimmon seeds

In the fall, the fruit of wild persimmons turns a gorgeous burnt orange color. Until after the first frost, they are too astringent to eat. But you can still gather a few for winter weather predicting. There are several seeds inside each fruit. Collect one from several different fruits for the most “scientific” results. We chose four persimmons this year, using one seed from each.

Squeeze or peel back the flesh and remove a seed. Clean it thoroughly. The sticky flesh clings to the seed, so it must be clean and dry; otherwise, it is too slippery to cut. To view the kernel, the seed must be cut in half lengthwise. This is not an easy task. The trick is to cut the seed without cutting off the tip of a finger. The seed is very narrow when held on the edge and very small in width. Plus, the seeds are hard.

My technique is to hold the seed with a pair of needle-nosed pliers and cut down through the seed with a very sharp razor blade. This usually results in a neat slice with the two halves showing the kernel inside.

Now that you have the seeds cut in half observe the kernel. You will find one of three distinctive shapes: a fork, a spoon, or a knife. This is where the prediction happens.

The spoon symbolizes a snow shovel and indicates a snowy winter. The knife forecasts bitter cold as in “cutting” like a knife. The fork is supposed to predict a milder winter; the lighter snows “fall” through the tines of the fork.

Not content with one folklore forecast, we look for more folklore to confirm our prediction.

Wooly worms

Wooly worms are the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth. They may also be called “banded wooly bear” or “wooly bear.” We call them “wooly worms.”

Wooly worms are prevalent in the Midwestern United States during Fall. Folklore weather forecasters observe the color and markings of the exterior or coat of these worms for their forecast. Colors range from white or cream-colored to very dark brown. The darker the color, the colder the winter weather predicted. Light-colored worms indicate snow.

Wooly worms may also have bands of color. The position of the bands coupled with the color is used to forecast the progression of weather over the winter season.

For example, you may find a wooly worm with dark bands at the ends and lighter in the middle. This would forecast cold weather early in the winter, snow mid-season, and cold again near the end. Usually, several wooly worms are observed, and percentages are used rather than relying on one worm.

Wooly worms and persimmon seeds are not the only folklore indicators of winter weather.

Nut producing trees

Trees that produce nuts, like black walnuts, acorns, hickory nuts, etc., tend to vary in the number of nuts produced each year. Some years, for example, the black walnuts will be sparse on each tree with no more than two in a cluster. Other years, the nuts develop in groups of four or five, weighing down the branches.

According to folklore, a harsh winter season is coming when the nuts are plentiful. The logic behind this prediction is that nut-gathering animals, like squirrels, need a large food store to make it through the winter. They will be unable to forage any other provisions, so they must rely on their stockpile to survive.

So what does all this mean for the winter of 2021–2022?

Below is the forecast from Five Feline Farm, as predicted by persimmon seeds, wooly worms, and nut trees.

The persimmon seeds observed at Five Feline Farm are shown above. (Again, note the blue color was added to enhance the visibility of the kernel, persimmon seeds are naturally white or creamy inside.) Every single seed had spoon-shaped kernels this year. This is unusual. Typically there is a predominate utensil, but others are also present.

The wooly worms are all black and dark brown.

The black walnut trees are loaded with nuts. The squirrels are busy hiding away all the nuts they can carry from morning till night.

So the official winter weather prediction from Five Feline Farm after reviewing these “facts”: we will have winter.

Practicing Gratitude on the Farm Even When It’s Hard

Through the Door

There is more to running a successful small farm business than harvesting lettuce or baking scones. Success is also a state of mind.

One night over a meal of green beans and new potatoes we talked about how grateful we are for Five Feline Farm. The country home and business we have established here. Most of the food for that meal was grown steps from the back door. Planted, tended, harvested, and cooked within a 100-yard radius of the table. To have such a level of relationship with the food we eat is a gift. At the same time, we have the distinct impression we have been entrusted with something that not only nurtures us but also the people who visit. 

But sometimes it is hard to remember to be grateful.

Like when things go wrong.

Did you ever have one of those days that nothing quite works out the way you hoped? 

It’s the little things that drive me nuts. 

The toilet paper holder falls apart when I’m in a hurry to get somewhere.

The coffee grinder is not on the shelf where I swore I left it. 

It’s cold outside on the day I scheduled to work outside.

A planting of new seeds did not germinate as advertised. 

In those moments, I have to work harder to be grateful. Experience has taught me that if I adjust my attitude and look for things to be grateful for, the little aggravations are easier to manage. 

I remind myself to be grateful for my life and the things I have acquired to make my life easier. Or that make life better. 

I am grateful for the toilet paper that I can put on that holder that fell apart. I can savor the fresh ground coffee that fills my cup. Property that provides a place to exercise creativity. The abundance of seeds that did germinate and produce fresh, tasty produce. 

As I often do when thinking about a concept, I turn to the dictionary for a new perspective. What does the definition of gratitude teach me? What does it mean to be grateful, full of graciousness? 

Merriam Webster lists the essential meaning of “gratitude” as “a feeling of appreciation or thanks” with the full definition being “a state of being grateful: thankfulness”. 

According to the thesaurus, gratitude is the opposite of censure. “Censure” is condemnation, judgment, blameworthy. 

Gratitude is not just what you do, but a state of being. A chosen attitude to combat feelings of condemnation and judgment. 

I can offer gratitude to others. I can be grateful for things. I can practice appreciation for all that surrounds me. I can accept gratitude from others.

It is a state of being that I can choose each day.

For today, whether the biscotti works out or not, I choose to be grateful for the opportunity to bake. 

I choose gratitude for Five Feline Farm and the fullness it offers my life. Even when the days are long and the work is hard. Even on the days that things don’t quite work out as planned. 

What would happen if we all practiced a little more gratitude? 

Delicious Flavored Vinegar

Gourmet potatoes dressed with chive blossom vinegar.

Here at Five Feline Farm, we have started experimenting with infusing vinegar. We start with either white or apple cider vinegar, then add ingredients from our gardens to steep. We started with chive blossom and garlic scape infusions. The chive blossoms turned the vinegar a beautiful pink color. Garlic scapes keep the original color of the vinegar. But the flavors are phenomenal!

Now we are trying other fruits and herbs.

Small batch with farm-fresh flavors beats those fancy specialty oil and vinegar shops any day.

The next question is always, “How do you use these delicious vinegar infusions?”

The first obvious choice is on a salad.

Pile your favorite greens and salad toppings into a bowl. Drizzle a good quality, flavorful olive oil across the top. Then splash with an infused vinegar. Add some fresh cracked pepper and sea salt to taste.

This simple dressing allows the flavors of your salad ingredients to shine.

You can also make a quick vinaigrette dressing. Start with blending dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and infused vinegar in a bowl. Blend in olive oil with a whisk drop by drop, then in a thin stream to create an emulsion. You can adapt the proportions to taste.

But you do not have to limit yourself to only topping a traditional green salad. Here are some more ideas:

—Scrub new or small heirloom potatoes and cut them into bite-size cubes. Boil in salted water or steam until tender. While still warm, toss with olive oil, infused vinegar, and salt to taste. The potatoes will pick up the gentle underlying notes from the infused vinegar.

—Or slice colorful raw beets very thin. Use the same dressing ingredients plus some freshly ground pepper.

—Splash infused vinegar over grilled chicken breast.

—Make a pan sauce after roasting chicken or fish. After cooking, remove the meat from the pan and return the pan to medium-high heat. Deglaze the pan with infused vinegar, then add butter to thicken the sauce. Serve over the meat.

As you can tell, infused vinegar is delicious any time you need a bit of acidic tang to your meal.

Hooray for Gourmet Potatoes!

This is the first week of our Gert’s Garden 2 Go© delivery that includes gourmet potatoes.

We call them gourmet because they are. Small spuds of varying colors and textures, specially bred to be small and flavorful.

Of course, we like “new” potatoes too.

What is the difference?

New potatoes are from varieties like Kennebec, Pontiac, and Yukon Gold. Most of these varieties are grown for size and storage. Before each hill of potatoes is harvested, the gardener gently digs around the plant. She is assessing the progress of the potatoes and pulling out a few of the early small ones. “New” refers to these early harvest culling of the plants that will be left to grow large potatoes.

A few of the gourmet varieties are Adirondack Red, French Fingerling, German Butterball, and All Blue. These potatoes are designed to be harvested when the potatoes are small in diameter. They have very thin skin similar to “new” potatoes but will not develop thick enough skin to store long term.

Many people have asked over the years how we fix these potatoes. It is a common question when presented with unknown varieties.

My favorite way to cook these is to oven roast in a cast-iron skillet with either garlic cloves or small new onions. We happen to have bunching onions available too, so it makes for a perfect dish.

To roast this way, preheat the oven to 375º, melt 2-3 tablespoons of butter in a cast-iron skillet. Scrub the potatoes but do not peel. Cut larger potatoes into pieces approximately the same size as the smallest potato. This ensures even roasting and that all potatoes in the skillet are done at the same time. Add potatoes and peeled garlic cloves or onions to the skillet. Toss to coat, season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast uncovered for 30-35 minutes or until done as tested with a sharp knife.

Another great option for these potatoes is to scrub and cut as above but simmer in salted water until almost done. Drain and allow to dry. Smash each potato flat and then brush with olive oil and season to taste. Grill or oven roast at 450º until the outside is crispy but the inside remains tender. Turn at least once, but try not to turn too many times as the potatoes will fall apart.

The third way I prepare these is in a vinegar dressing-based potato salad. Add crispy crumbled bacon, hard-boiled eggs, chopped dill pickles, salt, and pepper to taste. Dress with a combination of flavorful olive oil and tasty vinegar. This is pretty when red, white, and blue potatoes are available around the 4th of July.

So get cooking with gourmet potatoes. Let us know your favorite preparation.