Monday, April 27, 2020

Spring Shoots, Mushrooms, and Greens-Dinnertime!


Spring is coming along slowly this year, it has been chilly and damp, plenty of April Showers. A few treks into our local woods yielded some early edibles: nettle shoots, ramps greens, garlic mustard, and morels. Dinners have been wild this week!


Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)are out in open fields and along the edges of the woods, They are covered in small, stinging hairs that inject you with a mix of histamines and acids, producing the "sting". Nettles are high in soluble iron and proteins, a super green vegetable to use as a spring tonic.

Soup made with nettle greens, spinach, and ramps greens, with topu croutons






We do have a very local spot where we often find a handful of morels each year. This year the yellow morels (Morchella americana) have popped early in this one spot, it is a really exposed area that gets plenty of direct sunlight. We headed back twice, finding more than two dozen good-sized mushrooms. Morels are a highly sought after mushroom with a very earthy flavor, and they can be preserved by drying. It is very important to slice your morels in half to make sure they are completely hollow (and to make sure there are no slugs hiding!)


Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a very abundant and invasive weed that most people want to eradicate from their property. It is biennial, and the second year's growth has already shot up with the flower cluster at the top. Garlic mustard is in the mustard family and can be a bit bitter for beginners, but we eat so much that we are used to the pungency and can eat it as a side of sauteed greens.

Potato and morel hash with a side of sauteed garlic mustard greens
Irish boxty made with morels and ramps greens

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) have sprouted in southern New England, and we have collected a few from several different patches that we visit. Ramps are a wild leek with a fantastic funky-garlic flavor. We only collect one leaf from each plant, allowing the bulb to stay and reproduce for future years; besides all of the flavor we want is found in the leaves, along with the goodness of a green vegetable.

Flaxseed braided breads stuffed with potatoes and ramps greens

Chinese flower steamed buns with chopped ramps greens

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Recipe - Dandelion Root Pudding


Wintertime is a good time for us to go over our stores of wild food from the previous seasons and use them in some dishes and recipes. Here we used dandelion root powder to make a smooth, creamy, and deeply flavored pudding for dessert. We make the powder by digging up the long, tough taproot of dandelions in the spring or autumn, then scrubbing them well until they are free from dirt. Then they get roasted in a low temperature oven until they are dry, you will start to smell the wonderful coffee-chocolate-like aroma after about 30 minutes. Once the roots are totally dried and brittle, they get ground into powder using either the blender of a coffee grinder. The powder is then kept in a airtight jar until we want to use it to make a coffee-like hot drink or use the powder as a flavoring in other recipes.

For this pudding, we made a vegan pudding with a blend of almondmilk and coconut milk from the can, but you could use dairy milk as well. We also used weight measurements since they are far more accurate than volumetric measurements in many cases.

Dandelion Root Pudding-makes about 8 servings

200 g almondmilk
15 g dandelion root powder
200 g coconut milk (from a can)
70 g sugar
30 g coconut oil
25 g tapioca starch
1/2 tsp agar agar powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a medium saucepan, add the almondmilk and dandelion root powder and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it steep for 10 minutes. Filter the mixture through a coffee filter to remove the solids.
2. Add the almondmilk back to the saucepan and add the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture up to a boil and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
3. Remove the pudding mixture from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. It will thicken slightly and be a bit gooey.
4. Place the mixture in the blender and whir it for 30 seconds, until smooth. Pour the pudding into serving cups and chill in the refrigerator.


Friday, June 28, 2019

Mulberry Marzipane and Mulberry Agar jewels


Mulberries are falling and staining the sidewalks around town, and you can hear the flocks of birds among the branches. Mulberry picking is easy--the ripe berries almost fall into your bucket, or you can spread a tarp under a small tree and give it a hearty shake to make it rain berries.


I ran the mulberries through our Roma food mill 3 times to extract the juice and pulp, while removing the seeds and stems. This is the juice/pulp from which we would normally make jam, but we decided to try a few other things as well this year. 

Mulberry marzipan

First, Robert made some mulberry marzipan, sticking a single slivered almond into the end of the shaped paste to mimic the small stem. The flavor is subtle because you don't need too much liquid when making marzipan from scratch.

Mulberry agar jelly jewels

The second thing we tried was mulberry jelly jewels, made using agar-agar as a gelling agent and pouring the mixture into silicone molds. Once the agar firms up, I just popped them out of the molds. In one batch, I used mulberry juice with a touch of lemon juice added, in the second batch I mixed in a little coconut milk to make them creamier and lighter purple. They are small enough to pop them in your mouth, one at a time.

See this link for an older recipe for Black and White Mulberry Ricotta Tart

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Wild Mushrooms for Dinner: Spicy Chicken (Mushroom) Patties on Steamed Buns


When we teach edible mushroom classes, we praise the chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus, L. cincinnatus) as a very good edible mushroom. It's not so much that the mushroom tastes like chicken, but its texture mimics meat in a satisfactory way. We find that the chicken mushroom can be one of the most versatile wild fungi when it comes to making meals, standing in for meat in many cases or just being used on its own. Another reason we like it so much is that chicken mushrooms can fruit in spring, summer, or in the fall, giving us many opportunities to utilize this mushroom in different preparations. With this week's spring chicken find, I ground some in the food processor to make spicy patties with rice, scallions, garlic, chopped nettles, and hot spices. We served the patties in steamed buns with some gochujang sauce, fresh radishes from our farm share, and cilantro.


white chicken
It's very important that the chicken is collected in good condition, when it is still young or tender. Coming upon an old chicken mushroom can be disappointing, but you should never be tempted to use it anyway--it will be like eating sawdust. Ideally, you want the flesh to ooze yellow or milky juice when cut into, the colors to be bright, and the fronds to be bug-free. Sometimes the overall mushroom can be very, very large, or just a few fronds on the side of a tree. This fungus starts out looking like spray foam on the tree, before it shelves out. You will find the yellow chicken mushroom growing from the trunk of a dead or dying tree, as it is a heartwood rotter. The white chickens are found at the bases of dead or dying trees, as they rot the butt wood. Chicken mushrooms are polypores, which means there are "many pores" on the undersides of the fronds, although you may need to use magnification to see the small pores. 



When we find an excessive amount of chicken mushroom, we cook it and freeze the cooked parts in vacuum packed bags. Dehydration is not ideal for this fungus, as it becomes woody and does not rehydrate well because the context of this polypore is constructed of skeletal hyphae which harden into a dense substance when dried. Sometimes large finds end up in a recipe and brought to a weekend foray to share for lunch. We also make and freeze many vegan "sausages" made with ground chicken mushrooms, gluten, and seasonings to use all year long. You can find a list of some of our recipes using chicken mushrooms here.

#chickenmushroom #wildmushrooms #foraging

Friday, May 10, 2019

Mix old with new--Spring ramps with Autumn maitake!

Maitake burgers on ramps biscuits, made with the greens only


In spring, we need to start emptying out the freezer of last season's stored bounty but also crave freshly foraged green goodies.


Here we combined some of autumn's maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) that we had frozen pre-cooked and ground with brown rice, chopped ramps greens, seasonings, and an egg as a binder to make a baked patty. Then I baked some biscuits made with added pureed ramps greens and chopped ramps greens added to the dough. We served them with pickled beets made from last year's CSA share. It seems likely that many dinners for the next month or two will include wild foods pulled from our freezer or pantry to make some space!


Autumn maitake, hen of the woods, sheepshead, Grifola frondosa

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Connecticut Morels


The "official" morel season seems to be underway in Connecticut and southern New England, even though we still don't find too many. Why? Is the soil wrong? Are the trees wrong? What is up with the weather? Who knows, not me!


But, when we head out for other assorted forages (for nettles, ramps greens, asparagus, immature knotweed, or pokeweed shoots), we still ramble around and examine the grounds and forests for morels, likely Morchella americana, the yellow morel.


With limited experience with morels, we often dehydrate them to concentrate their flavor upon re-hydration, or cook them fresh very simply. A light batter and fry is the popular default, cooking in a wine and cream sauce is standard, and stuffing large morels that have been halved seems like a good idea.

Morchella americana in various stages of development. Not really any such thing as "greys" or "blondes"


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Hemlock "Reishi", Ganoderma tsugae, Varnish Shelf Mushroom--Eat it young!

Fully grown Ganoderma tsugae on hemlock trees


Some warmer weather is finally signalling the Ganoderma tsugae to fruit. We find them on eastern hemlock trees (Tsuga canadensis), dead or nearly dead trunks. Our eastern hemlocks are under a lot of pressure from several sources that are killing them in large numbers: from the woolly hemlock adelgid--an invasive insect; to various fungal blights and infections--tip blight, twig blight, needle rusts. The amount of dead hemlock trees is steadily increasing, creating more substrate for the "hemlock reishi", or "varnish shelf" fungus.

Fresh fruiting body, soft and tender at this stage

Ganoderma tsugae is a white rot or butt rot of the heartwood for the hemlock tree. It can act like a parasite on live trees and a saprobe on dead hemlock wood. The fruiting body is a firm polypore that shelves out horizontally from the substrate, sometimes in large colonies. The top of the fruiting body comes in a range of colors that changes as it ages--starting out with white on the tender new growth and edges, then darkening through yellow, orange, reddish-orange, and finally a darker reddish-brown after sporulation or with age and weathering. The top of the cap also appears very shiny, almost as if it were lacquered. The fan-shaped cap can grow up to 10" wide, but more often the caps are about 4-7" wide, and there is often a stem present where the cap attaches to the wood that is up to 1" thick. The fresh pore surface is white; it gets a dirty reddish-tan with age and often supports a colony of green mold or algae. There are many cool insects and beetles that live on old Ganoderma conks, so there is really no need to remove old fruiting bodies from the wood.


Many people in the eastern part of North America where Ganoderma tsugae is abundant love to claim that Ganoderma tsugae is the true "reishi" fungus of Chinese medicinal lore, seemingly a cure for every cancer, malady, and even a fountain of youth treatment. Those same people are more than happy to try and sell some dried "reishi" to you to make a bitter decoction or some tinctured "reishi", making some pretty big promises as the efficacy of the fungus. We don't really get into medicinal fungi, but the actual "reishi" fungus is a different species--Ganoderma lucidum, and any actual scientific studies into the possible benefits of "reishi" are in regards to Ganoderma lucidum.

Very young fruiting body, sliced and pan-ready

In the spring, when the fresh growth is still white with no hint of any lacquered color showing or any signs of pores, we collect the marshmallow-y fruiting body to eat as a fresh mushroom. The mushroom should be incredibly tender--it gets tough very quickly with any hint of color or once it gets too big. The white blobs get sliced thinly, cooked with a touch of oil over medium heat until they brown, then hit with a sprinkle of salt for a taste of a mushroom that contains a lot of meaty flavor in a small slice.


#hemlockreishi
#varnishshelf
#ganodermatsugae