Thursday, January 29, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

At the Pond: Warren Roberts, an Arboretum superstar

Warren Roberts, superintendent of the UC Davis Arboretum for 37 years and superb storyteller, leads monthly walks September through June. He examines a valley oak; the acorn was part of his diet growing up as a sixth-generation Californian.
Jean Jackman/Courtesy photo

By
From page A14 | June 24, 2012 |

Did you take in a Walk with Warren this year? That’s Warren Roberts, superintendent emeritus of the UC Davis Arboretum. Well, if you didn’t, you are out of luck until September or October. But there are other activities at the Arboretum all summer.

Warren, superintendent for 37-plus years, has been leading a monthly walk in parts of the Arboretum since before he retired. He is a superior storyteller. You ask him about a tree and he has one fascinating story leading into another.

On one walk, in the oak tree grove, he had told a story about a tree insect that produces a sweet substance that can be used to make candy. There is a chestnut-leaved oak, quercus castaneifolia, that grows in the Shields Oak Grove. Native to the Caucasus and Alborz mountains of Iran, it is the fastest growing oak after our valley oak. It has excellent wood and is used for timber.

His candy from oak tree story: In its native habitat, it has a mealy bug that lives on it — sort of like an aphid with a very wooly coat — and that insect, when it hooks onto the part of the tree that carries the fluids up and down … it gets more than it needs and so ejects some of the sugary material. In your own garden you might see aphids and sooty mold, that’s the honey dew as it’s called that’s been attacked by fungi. But it collects in the wooly part of these insects and so you can take your finger and get some (sweetness) by just touching this particular creature.

It was long ago that people learned that this could be made into a candy. So people go out and scrape the mealy bugs off of these twigs and gather them and put them into a double boiler so that the water gets hot, but not to the boiling point. So that gets the sugar into the watery solution plus some of the protein from the insect, and this is strained and cooked down and you make a nougat of this. Usually you think of sugar and egg white … but the egg white part is taken care of by the protein from the insect and the nougat is made … — sort of a soft, chewy candy — and traditionally pistachio nuts are added to it, which come from the same part of the world, and rose water. This is the most delicious thing and it has the name Gaz … (a Farsi word that means) gal or girl, probably related because Iranians speak a language related to English. It’s not an Arabic language at all.

And then that is typically made into little cakes, about 2 1/2 inches across and about less than a half-inch thick and then it is stored in flour and you can ship it around. I had a roommate from Shiraz, which is in the southern part of Iran. And his folks used to send boxes of this stuff. And, oh! It was so delicious. It’s kind of like divinity but with a rose flavor and you can get it here in Davis at the International Food Market in Davis Manor, East Davis. Ask for Gaz. It’s wrapped in little papers. It is made with egg whites so people who are squeamish about … where eggs have been would be squeamish about that too. Nonetheless, it’s delicious and has come from a tree.

That story was from my roommate … He knew the Iranian oak and the oaks we have. Thank goodness we don’t have the mealy bugs (in the Arboretum).

Warren’s story led into one about a scrub oak from the Mediterranean that has another kind of mealy bug, which produces a red dye that was the main dye for the Roman empire, medieval Europe and so on. Gradually, the Spanish adopted that red dye but with the conquest of Mexico, a much better insect was found for red dye — that’s the cochineal on prickly pears. The name cochinilla is depreciative for little pig. When they dry, they look like little black pigs.

Warren is familiar with the products of our own native oaks. On his mom’s side, there were Native Americans. His grandmother used to make muffins and sheet cake from acorns. You gather them, crack open the shell and have to get the brown skin off the cotyledon because that’s very bitter. Then the seeds are ground and leached. You put them in a colander and keep pouring scalding water over them until it no longer tastes bitter. Then his mom and grandmother would toast it in ovens and then grind it again and they would add it to the recipe and use it instead of bran in muffins.

Warren was interested in plants from the time he was 3. His grandparents and great-grandparents were interested in plants. His great-grandmother was a gringa but was a healer. She was born in the Sierra foothills in the 1860s and learned about herbs. She used yerba santa, which was used to treat tuberculosis. The leaves taste sweet so, when you are hiking, you use the shiny leafed species and it keeps your mouth from drying out. She also used creosote bush to make a poultice to treat arthritis.

The Arboretum had been discontinued when Warren came to run it in 1972. He was hired to re-establish it. He was hopeful when he met devoted volunteers Pat Miller and Nancy Crosby, who were painting a building, and those volunteers are still working today, 40 years later.

Year-round, the 3.5-mile Arboretum loop is a delight of surprises, free, 24 hours a day. In the summer, it’s best to visit early in the morning or later in the day. Google UC Davis Arboretum and click on Plan Your Visit for maps, directions, parking information, to find out what’s in bloom, special events, tours, folk jam sessions, birding and the like. I recommend the very accessible west end if you only have time for a short taste.

— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident. Her columns appear monthly. Got a story, question, comment, correction? Contact her at [email protected]

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
    ‘Huck’ and ‘Tom’ float old Arboretum dock to removal

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Work continues to modernize Davis Healthcare Center

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

     
    Holman continues to educate and inspire

    By Daniella Tutino | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Biologists: Raising California dam would harm salmon

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    Teens arrested after midnight joyride

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    Overweight video game avatars ‘play’ worse than fit ones

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Meet the mayor for coffee at Peet’s

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Author joins radio show

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Make your own SoulCollage on Sunday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Calling all chicken owners: Apply for coop crawl, share information

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Walk through Quail Ridge Reserve on Feb. 14

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Hopmans named associate vice provost for global affairs

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    Review motivation to refresh your healthy-habits plan

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6 | Gallery

    Tips to protect skin this winter

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

     
    For health and healthy appearance, there’s just one quick fix

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

    NAMI-Yolo examines inpatient services at potluck

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    Measles outbreak grows

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A9

    .

    Forum

    Basement living, with attitude to match

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    50 years since Ash Hall

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10 | Gallery

    Can climate change bring us together?

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

     
    Paso Fino coming to a vote

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    .

    Sports

    Aggies still looking for record hoops win

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Blue Devil Hammond has a huge day at home

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Pent up? Join Davis’ latest athletic event

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Two in a row for Devil boys

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    UCD roundup: Aggie football players crack the books

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

     
    Youth roundup: Harper hoopsters off to hot start

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    Treys send Toronto past Kings

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    .

    Features

    What’s happening

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A8

     
    College Corner: Have wanderlust? Go overseas for college

    By Jennifer Borenstein | From Page: A8

    District learns from bomb threat incident

    By Kellen Browning | From Page: A8

     
    It’s Girl Scout Cookie time!

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A8 | Gallery

    Feenstra-Fisher wedding

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

     
    .

    Arts

    Show explores the evolution of dance

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    A rose by any other name — if there is one

    By Michael Lewis | From Page: A11

     
    Acclaimed guitarist Adrian Legg to play at The Palms on Saturday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    James George Tingus

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Thursday, January 29, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B6