Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ramps Recipe - Ramps Pasta



Ramps are wild leeks, ramps are springtime, ramps are controversial. For us, ramps are what started our whole foraging adventure more than a decade ago when Robert asked me about an elusive onion-scented plant he remembered as a child growing in the forests of Hungary; did we have something like that here in America? Luckily it was spring, luckily we live in eastern North America, and we really lucked out when the random location I chose to look for their oniony-garlicky, smooth green leaves actually did have a carpeted forest floor of ramp-y goodness. We were hooked.

Gillian, age 6 months, eating raw ramps on our first foraging adventure

We have two different species of perennial ramps growing here in southern New England, the common ramp, Allium tricoccum, and the much less common, narrow-leaf ramp, Allium burdickii. The species from Hungary is another, Allium ursinum, which is very similar to our native ramps. Ramps only occur in the eastern half of North America, from Manitoba, Canada down into the higher elevations of Alabama and Georgia. The Appalachian communities have a long history of eating ramps and dedicate several regional festivals to their consumption each spring. 


The leaves of ramps are simple and lanceolate, with a juicy midrib and no veins. They have an almost waxy texture, but are very tender, and can grow 8"-12" long. A cluster of 1-4 leaves grow from an underground bulb, and the stem can be either all white for the narrow-leaf ramp, or have a purple-tinged section of stem for the common ramp. 


At the base of the teardrop-shaped bulb are many thin rootlets. Later in the early summer months, a single flower stalk will emerge from mature plants, producing an umbel of 4-petaled white flowers, which mature into black, round, hard seeds in bunches of three. Once the flower stalk emerges, the leaves start deteriorating and die back, not to bee seen again until next spring. All parts of ramps emit their funky, oniony-garlicky aroma when cut or bruised.
 


Controversy surrounds the collection of wild ramps among foragers and consumers: it's foodies vs. conservationists, collectors for profit vs. recreational collectors, greediness vs. reality. Restaurants and farmer's markets have championed the whole farm-to-table thing, and "wild foraged" is a hot term, allowing sellers to raise prices to whatever starry-eyed consumers are willing to pay. Supply must meet demand, insatiable appetites must be fed,  so more and more ramps are dug each year, while the reality is that once you dig the bulb and leaf of a ramp to sell it, you have killed the plant. Dead. No more ramps next year! Ramps reproduce incredibly slowly in the wild through bulb splitting and rarely seeding, and while you might think you have stumbled upon the motherlode and ramps appear locally abundant, they are disappearing in the wild due to over-collection using these lethal methods. It is now illegal to collect them in some provinces of Canada, and the concern for their conservation is growing in New York. 


So what is a hungry forager craving some green, ramp-y goodness each spring to do? We mostly collect ramps by selectively cutting one leaf from a plant that has at least 2 leaves, and only dig a limited amount of bulbs from particularly dense clusters of plants. The leaves contain all of the funky flavor with the added nutrition of eating a green vegetable. While restaurants and markets seem to think you need the whole plant to look "pretty" on a plate or at the market stall, most of our recipes don't require more than the leaves. Only once a year do we dig just enough bulbs to make 2 jars of pickled ramps, and that lasts us through several potlucks, parties, and salads.


The leaves of ramps dehydrate well to use as a seasoning all year, and we freeze them, sliced thinly and tightly packed into plastic containers. Pre-made pesto freezes well, as does straight puree. This recipe uses the fresh green leaves of ramps, and will stink up your house in the best way when cooked. This recipe might need a touch more flour if the ramps leaves are particularly succulent and fresh, so plan accordingly and adjust as needed.


Ramps Pasta              makes about 6 servings, 1 1/2 pounds

US Measurements:
14 oz semolina flour
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c. water
2 1/2 Tbsp oil
2.8 oz ramps leaves, washed and roughly chopped 

International Measurements
396 g semolina flour
3 g salt
150 ml water
22 g oil
80 g ramps leaves, washed and roughly chopped


1. In a bowl, combine the semolina flour with the salt.
2. Combine the water, oil, and chopped ramps in a high speed blender, blend 3 minutes until smooth. Pour into the semolina flour, and mix until a dough forms.
3. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then knead it further for 5 minutes.
4. Wrap the dough in plastic or cover with a damp towel, and allow it to rest at least 30 minutes. It can be refrigerated for a day or so if tightly wrapped.
5. Cut the dough ball into quarters, and use a pasta roller to roll it out into flat sheets, starting at level 1 and rolling it down to level 5 thickness, re-folding and rolling it again if it is falling apart. The more you work it, the smoother it becomes. We like the fettuccine size cut for this firm dough.
6. Dry the pasta and store, or cook fresh in plenty of salted, boiling water, about 2-3 minutes, until al dente. Toss with butter or a sauce, and serve.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Foraging Programs in Southern New England


Are you looking for a seasonal, educational program on wild edible plants or mushroom identification or eating in your area located in Southern New England ? 


Have your local library, nature center, garden club, or land trust contact us directly to schedule a program! Our programs can include a PowerPoint slideshow of our original images, a stroll around the property, and handouts for the participants to bring home, depending on the available space, and usually last 2-3 hours. We are available many Saturdays and on Sunday afternoons, as well as evenings during the week.


Reach us at kraczewski@comcast.net to inquire about available dates.
 
Our upcoming programs, please contact the facilities directly to register.
 
May 19, 6:00 pm, Edible Plants of Spring, Cragin Memorial Library, Colchester, CT, registration required
 
May 21, 10:00 am, Mushroom ID for Beginners, Ansonia Nature Center, Ansonia, CT, registration required-space limited

May 25, 6:00 pm, Edible Plants of Spring, Otis Public Library, Norwich, CT

May 28, 12:00 noon, Edible Plants of Spring, James L. Goodwin Conservation Center, Hampton, CT, registration required
 
June 7, 5:30 pm, Eat the Invasives- Invasives Lecture Series #3, Connecticut River Museum, Essex, CT
 
June 11, 1:00 pm, Edible Plants of Summer, Flanders Nature Center, Woodbury, CT, registration appreciated
 
June 16, 6:30 pm, Edible Plants of Summer, Farmington Public Library, Farmington, CT
 
June 18, 10:00 am, Spring/Summer Foraging (kid friendly!), Trumbull Nature and Arts Center, Trumbull, CT, registration required
 
June 25, 1:00 pm, Edible Plants of Summer, Bushy Hill Nature Center, Deep River, CT, registration required- space limited
 
June 26, 2:30 pm, Edible Plants of Summer, Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, Mystic, CT, registration required
 
June 29, 6:30 pm, Edible Plants of Summer, Clark Memorial Library, Bethany, CT
 


 

Black Trumpet Recipe - Balck Trumpet Pasta


For me, the most fragrant and distinct tasting wild mushroom is the black trumpet, with its earthy, iron-y, and rich flavors. Based on newest DNA studies, it appears the black trumpets of eastern North America are a separate genus from those in Europe and the West Coast, ours being Craterellus fallax, displaying a peachy-salmon spore print. Classify it any way you like, but let me eat my black trumpets!


We hunt black trumpets in the hot summer months, after the rain have made the forests damp and humid, and the mosquitoes swarm your ears with their whine. In this area of New England, we find black trumpets in mixed forests, associated with smooth-barked beech trees. The trumpets are almost impossible to detect among the leaf litter on the forest floor, appearing more as an absence of color when you look into their black funnel. Finding them along gentle slopes, nestled in soft, green club moss is easier on the eyes, if harder on the knees to pick while standing at an angle. Black trumpets grow in groups, sometimes great, expansive groups; you can fill several paper sacks within a half hour before making a trip back to the car for more paper sacks. 


Black trumpets are vase-shaped, or like the throat and bell of a trumpet. The stem is hollow, tapering down to the base, and can catch debris, sometimes bugs, and even small frogs. We pinch off the trumpets at the lowest point of the base and give them a quick inspection and shake to dislodge anything "extra". The top edge is often curled outward, and the inside is dark grey or brownish-black, sometimes minutely scaly. The outside has neither gills nor pores, but can have some ridges or be completely smooth, and is often a lighter grey.


Black trumpets dehydrate incredibly well; our many, full gallon jars on the shelves testify to that fact. They reconstitute easily with boiling water or heavy cream since they are so thin. We also sauté them lightly to reduce their volume before vacuum packing them for the freezer. Once dried, they can be made into an intense flavoring powder, which can be added to dough, sauces, or any other recipe that would benefit from the flavor of black trumpets. 



For this pasta, use the dried, powdered black trumpets. The color of the pasta will lighten considerably when dried, but will regain the darkness once cooked. It pairs nicely with a creamy sauce, we eat it with a stinging nettle béchamel.


Black Trumpet Pasta                makes about 4 servings, one pound

US measurements:
10.6 oz semolina flour
1.2 oz dried, finely ground black trumpets 
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c. water
2 Tbsp oil

International measurements:
300 g semolina flour
30 g dried, finely ground black trumpets
3 g salt
150 g water
20 g oil

1. In a bowl, combine the semolina flour with the salt.
2. Combine the dried, powdered black trumpets, oil, and water in a high speed blender, blend 1 minute. Pour into the semolina flour, and mix until a dough forms.
3. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then knead it further for 5 minutes.
4. Wrap the dough in plastic or cover with a damp towel, and allow it to rest at least 30 minutes. It can be refrigerated for a day or so if tightly wrapped.
5. Cut the dough ball into quarters, and use a pasta roller to roll it out into flat sheets, starting at level 1 and rolling it down to level 5 thickness, re-folding and rolling it again if it is falling apart. The more you work it, the smoother it becomes. We like the fettuccine size cut for this firm dough.
6. Dry the pasta and store, or cook fresh in plenty of salted, boiling water, about 2-3 minutes, until al dente. Toss with butter or a sauce, and serve.




Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dandelion Recipe - Dandelion Flower Pasta


One of the earliest flowers to bloom in the fickle spring weather would be our common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), often the scourge of picky lawn groomers. The blooms are appreciated by our pollinators, and the entire plant is edible by foragers. 


The unopened flower buds can be collected and pickled as a large caper-like condiment, or lightly boiled and eaten as a vegetable. 



The recognizable yellow flower heads are composed of many ray florets packed together that look like flower petals, backed by green bracts. Each flower grows on one unbranched, hollow stem that is sparsely covered by hairs and will exude a white, milky latex when cut, but there may be many flower stems growing from each plant.



 As they  go to seed, they transform into the white pom-pom seed head, with each seed (achene) connected to a silky tuft that helps the seeds disperse on the winds.


The leaves of the dandelion grow in a basal rosette, and each leaf is deeply toothed and can appear incredibly variable in shape. The midrib of the leaf is slightly juicy, and the leaves will also exude a milky latex when cut. We collect the leaves before the plant produces its flower stems or under shady conditions before they become too bitter, and either eat them raw or add them to any dish that calls for leafy greens. Dandelion greens contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C, and K, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese.

 


Dandelions are perennial, growing from a long, thin skinned taproot that can be up to 24" long and difficult to dig up in one piece. Robert likes to roast the taproots in the oven until very dark and dry, filling the house with aromas of coffee and dark chocolate, before grinding the roasted roots into a bitter coffee-substitute. 



In the early spring, we dig the taproots and collect them with the newly emerged greens still attached. We cut off the greens, but leave about an inch or less of the juicy midribs attached to the tops of the trimmed taproots. Once that section of the dandelion is soaked in some cold water, it "blooms" open, and with the light purple color on the lower midribs, they can look like an underwater creature, earning them the nickname "land squid". They then can be boiled or roasted as a wonderful vegetable to be used in recipes or as a side dish.


This recipe uses the yellow ray florets of the flower, removing most of the green bracts as possible by pinching and twisting the flower head. This process should be done soon after picking the flowers, or they will close up! We also use the sweet, yellow flowers in a honey-challah bread, in a wonderful jelly, while brewing herbal beers, and in peasant wines. We also prefer to use a scale and weigh the ingredients to make a consistent product.





 Dandelion Flower Pasta                 makes about 4 servings, one pound of pasta

US measurements:
10.6 oz. semolina flour
1/2 tsp. salt
0.7 oz dandelion flowers
2 Tbsp oil
1/2 c. water 

International measurements:
300 g semolina flour
3 g salt
20 g dandelion flowers
20 g oil
120 g water

1. In a bowl, combine the semolina flour with the salt.
2. In a high speed blender, combine the dandelion flowers, oil and water, and blend until smooth and no pieces remain. Pour into the semolina flour, and mix until a dough forms.
3. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then knead it further for 5 minutes.
4. Wrap the dough in plastic or cover with a damp towel, and allow it to rest at least 30 minutes. It can be refrigerated for a day or so if tightly wrapped.
5. Cut the dough ball into quarters, and use a pasta roller to roll it out into flat sheets, starting at level 1 and rolling it down to level 5 thickness, re-folding and rolling it again if it is falling apart. The more you work it, the smoother it becomes. We like the fettuccine size cut for this firm dough. 
6. Dry the pasta and store, or cook in plenty of salted, boiling water, about 2-3 minutes, until al dente. Toss with butter or a sauce, and serve.

















Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Adventures in Edible Plant Foraging: Finding, Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Native and Invasive Wild Plants


Many exciting things happening this spring! Our book has been published, and is available on Amazon or at one of the many appearances, classes, or walks we have scheduled for the upcoming months. We live in southeastern Connecticut, but most of the plants in the book grow across the temperate United States, and we tried to focus on the 50 safest, best tasting (no boiling in 3 changes of water here!) wild plants. The book also includes 20 of our own original recipes, and lots of color photographs, along with a bit of background story about our family's adventures while foraging over the past 10 years.

http://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Edible-Plant-Foraging-Identifying/dp/1634504070/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1453818753&sr=8-1&keywords=9781634504072


One of the newest books to which that we contributed is Vin Sparano's newest edition of Complete Guide to Camping and Wilderness Survival, where we contributed the section on edible plants and fungi. 

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Guide-Camping-Wilderness-Survival/dp/0789331195/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461791819&sr=1-1&keywords=vin+sparano

These two, newly published works join the other publications to which we have contributed either photos, text, or recipes. The March/April issue of Yankee Magazine features us foraging together as a family in it's First Light section. Robert has even had some of his photos of the glowing jack-o-lantern mushroom published in a science journal in his home country of Hungary.




Saturday, April 2, 2016

Mugwort Recipe - Mugwort Mochi


Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) is just popping up here in southern Connecticut, covering the ground in a mat of silvery foliage before it grows larger and puts up flower stalks. It is considered mildly invasive, originally from temperate Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and Alaska. Mugwort is a bitter herbaceous perennial plant growing from woody roots, and traditionally had been used to flavor drinks and beer. The Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans use different species of mugworts as flavorings,  often preferring a bitter component in their traditional foods.


Our local mugwort is not very bitter at this young stage, and here it is used to make a liquid that is added to make mochi, a Japanese cake made from sweet rice flour and sometimes filled with a paste. Gillian loves gooey food, so mochi are among her favorite treats, as the texture is soft and gummy.


Mugwort Mochi  makes about 15-20

INGREDIENTS (US):
1 oz. weight  young mugwort leaves
1 c.  water
1/2 c.  sugar
pinch of salt
1 c.  sweet rice flour (Koda Farms, Mochiko)
potato starch for dusting

INGREDIENTS (International):
25 g young mugwort leaves
350 ml water
107 g sugar
pinch of salt
165 g sweet rice flour (Koda Farms, Mochiko)
potato starch for dusting

filling of sweet red bean paste or sweet chestnut puree

1. Boil the water with the sugar and pinch of salt, add the mugwort leaves and remove from the heat.
2. Blend the water/mugwort mixture until most pieces are chopped up. Strain through a coffee filter to remove the fibers.
3. Mix the green liquid into the rice flour, making a slightly pourable dough.
4. Pour the dough into a glass or metal bowl and steam it covered in a pot for 30 minutes, resulting in a gooey but firm dough.
5. Let the dough cool slightly, then dump it out onto a surface that has been heavily dusted with potato starch. You need to work with the dough while it is still warm, and it will be incredibly sticky.
6. Roll the dough about 1/4 inch (1 cm) thick, and cut into 2 inch (4 cm) squares with a pizza wheel of knife. You can let the squares cool and eat the mochi as is, or while the squares are still warm, roll the soft dough around a chilled ball of sweet red bean paste (1 tsp or 5 ml) and pinch the ends to close. Serve the mochi at room temperature and they will stay gooey.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Maple Tapping and Candy Making


Warming days and freezing nights mean it's time to tap some maple trees for
sap! We only tap 2-3 trees, since we generally don't boil our sap to syrup, we just drink it as sap. There are trace minerals and sugars in fresh sap, and it can be very refreshing straight from the tree. We don't have any facilities to boil our sap into syrup, which causes a lot of steam and consequently makes a lot of condensation in our tiny kitchen. The most we have done in the past beyond drinking raw sap is reducing the sap slightly with some ground chaga to make a naturally sweetened decoction.



Robert decided to try making some chaga-infused candy with a small amount of sap, only about 4 gallons total, resulting in a few products: an accidental chaga-maple caramel, a chaga-maple hard candy, and chaga-maple candy. The caramel came about because he didn't boil it and reduce it long enough, only to about 240º F. While still warm, it is a gooey, sweet, and dark caramel sauce, good for ice cream or even by the spoonful if I need something sweet. When it cools to room temperature, the sauce thicken up a lot, so I can heat it to make it pour-able again.


For the hard candy, he boiled the decoction longer, until it reached soft crack stage, about 258º F-260º F. Then he poured some of the extremely hot sugar into some candy molds and let it cool, before we wrapped the chaga-maple candies in waxed paper for storage.


For the chaga-maple candy, he took a wooden spoon and whipped up the remaining hot sugar until it became creamy, and poured into a greased glass pan. Once it cooled, he chopped it up into pieces that melt slowly in your mouth.