Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sharing, Teaching, and Tagging Along

We get asked very often by new foraging enthusiasts and beginners if we give classes or can let someone tag along with us while we are out foraging. We don't offer formal classes for money like many other foragers, or private lessons about foraging for a few reasons I would like to explain. 

Gillian eating wild carrots, NOT FOR BEGINNERS!
1. Liability. This is a big one for us, as we are not willing to be sued for someone's reckless behavior and bad identifications when they try foraging. Different people can have different reactions to any new foods, and we are not willing to take responsibility for this risk. Poor and hasty identifications by beginners who are very determined to eat wild foods terrify us. Liability waivers are essentially useless and offer no protection.

2. Local land use laws. In Connecticut specifically, there are statutes that do  not allow the removal of plants or natural materials from state land for any purpose, including pine cones for your kid's crafts! While we do not agree with this particular law, we cannot take people out into public lands to collect wild foods. We hike and forage on private property of friends and family in most cases, and do a bit of "roadside foraging" along lightly traveled dirt roads for berries or mushrooms.

We are also wary of sharing "our spots" with strangers. We would just hate to return to a ramps patch that has been pillaged for commercial sale, or trash strewn about in the woods left behind by someone with whom we shared some foraging fun and secrets.

3. Foraging is not a group activity. This does not apply to teaching, but to actual harvesting. If we are out forging with a few people who are just tagging along to learn and come across a beautiful maitake mushroom, how would we fairly share it? If we come across a small patch of 100 ramps with a group of 10 people, how could we possibly collect in a sustainable manner? Taking 10% or less of a wild food is how we collect for ourselves, so that patch would yield 1 single ramp per person to stay sustainable. Sustainability is not of an issue when it comes to collecting invasive species, which we strongly encourage. 

4. Our foraging time is our family time. Both my husband and I work, and our daughter is in elementary school all week. When we hit the woods, we are spending quality time together as well as searching for edibles. We meander on obvious paths and take many detours to indulge our daughter's interests in rocks and to build fairy houses, and Robert spends lots of time taking photographs from many angles of several specimens. We are enjoying our day and time together, and sometimes we do go out with friends, but even then it is still our leisure time.

We are willing to work through and with groups or nature centers that share our values on education and conservation, and look forward to signing up for more public opportunities for teaching. We have in the past worked with Flanders Nature Center to give a short program on mushroom hunting for beginners, which included a slide show and a short hike. We taught some members of the COMA mushroom group about basic foraging at their annual Fungus Fair event. Our other mushroom club, CVMS, has several public events each year where we display mushrooms collected by club members and we discuss their names and edibility, including the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. At the Coventry Regional Farmer's Market, we gave a short walk around the grounds during their Fungi and Forage weekend market, discussing many edibles like grapes, nettles, and hazelnuts at the edge of the market field. Much of our experience has come through taking paid classes and walks with educators in our area of New England, like Wildman Steve Brill, Russ Cohen, Gary Lincoff, and Blanche Derby. We are happy to recommend trustworthy foraging instructors that we have walked with, and direct interested individuals to their websites.

This blog, which has always been and will always be free to anyone to read is our main sharing tool right now. We take many, many photographs of plants and fungi to make sure they are clear, and spend hours researching plants to share information on their edibility. We spend even more hours writing, testing, and photographing recipes made with wild foods. We have purchased over 70 books on wild edible plants, field guides, mushroom identification guides, and forager's stories, filling a bookshelf with information at our fingertips. We will continue to purchase books, because we are always learning and I like to have multiple sources of information, as well as to support our fellow foragers.

In spring of 2016, we will have our own book published, focusing on the safest and tastiest wild edibles a beginner or family can start their foraging adventures with. We believe foraging is a fantastic family activity, even if it is for a few berries growing along the fence in the backyard or the weeds growing between your tomato pants in the garden. We also believe in sharing the knowledge of wild foods, and will continue to use this blog and the upcoming book, along with a few sponsored public events, rather than private tours, to share our experiences and adventures.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Wild Smoothies

One benefit of putting up the wild foods we harvest is that we are able to use many of the ingredients when they are out of season. Drying, freezing, and canning wild food provides us with a full pantry of berries, greens, and powders to use in everyday food preparation. We really do manage to eat wild food every day, even in the middle of winter with more than a foot of snow on the ground, like there is today! Gillian loves making smoothies for breakfast, and we finally saved up enough money to purchase a really good Vitamix blender, so she gets smoothie duty every morning, coming up with combinations using frozen berries, honey or agave syrup, bananas, and a splash of juice or almond milk since we don't drink much cow's milk. Robert tends to make more complex and adventurous smoothies, using dried powders and sometimes fresh greens and  a touch of cayenne.

Autumn olives are our favorite invasive berry to collect in great quantities. They freeze very well, make lovely jelly and fruit leathers, cook down into excellent sauces and ketchup, and are very nutritious: full of lycopene and vitamins A, C, and E. The seeds, which are soft and edible, contain omega-3 fatty acids. Personally, I spit the seeds out because I don't like seeds in my fruit, but Robert and Gillian chew them right up with the ripe berries. With the blender, Gillian adds the whole, frozen autumn olives with bananas and lets it blend well enough that I don't mind drinking the pulverized seeds within the smoothie. Autumn olive berries get much sweeter after freezing, but we still add a touch of honey or orange juice to the smoothie.

We collect pine pollen and cattail pollen in late spring, drying it and keeping it in jars in the freezer to add bright yellow nutrition to breads, pancakes, and smoothies all year long. For this smoothie, Robert used pine pollen collected along the shoreline of Rhode Island, uncooked oats, bananas, and almond milk with a spoonful of honey for sweetness. Pine pollen has all 8 essential amino acids, minerals and is a powerful antioxidant, as well as a natural source of steroidal-type substances like testosterone, DHEA, and androsterone. This smoothie was wonderfully thick from the oats and sweet from the fruit and honey, one of my favorites.

Chickweed is one wild green we can sometimes find late into the fall and even in the winter if there isn't too much snow on the ground. It prefers cooler weather, disappearing in the hot summer, and re-sprouting in the fall from the seeds that fell in the spring before it died back. The flavor of chickweed is very mild and bit like the silk of ears of corn. We add it to salads and smoothies, tossed into soups at the last minute of cooking, and use it on sandwiches like sprouts. Chickweed doesn't dry or freeze well, so sometimes we just get lucky when finding it on a mild winter day and use it fresh. It contains vitamin A, B, C and a bit of iron along with other minerals and silica. While the light green color of the smoothie turned Gillian off, Robert and I both enjoyed this last little blast of fresh, green goodness before the harshness of winter set in.

This wild blueberry and huckleberry smoothie probably had some bananas and cranberry juice added. We picked the wild blueberries and huckleberries from the same patch of poor, acidic soil last year, putting our newly purchased blueberry rake to the test. The forest has a mix of low-bush and high-bush blueberries and huckleberries all mixed together, so we just kept them blended and made a batch of jam and froze the rest of the berries. While both berries appear very similar, taste similar, have similar amounts of iron and antioxidants, and are equally edible, you can tell them apart by checking the seeds. Wild blueberries have many small seeds spread throughout the inside of the berry; huckleberries have a ring of 10 larger seeds (botanically nutlets) arranged in a ring inside the berry at its equator. The rich, purple color is a good indicator of anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant. Wild blueberries and huckleberries also contain high amounts of fiber and maganese as well vitamin K and C. This smoothie was sweet and delicious, one Gillian's favorites, letting us know we need to pick more wild blueberries and hucklberries next year for the freezer!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cattail Griddlecakes with Fresh Oyster Mushrooms for Breakfast

After watching a TED talk given by Sunny Savage, a wild food forager currently living in Hawaii on the island of Maui, we have been inspired to follow her mantra of "Eat a Wild Food Every Day". She advocates incorporating wild foods into your daily diet by just adding a little bit at a time to start, increasing the nutrition of any meal. We agree, and have been following this idea for years, adding nutrition, color, and interesting flavors to normal meals everyday. For us, it is second nature to reach into our stores of frozen, dehydrated, pickled, or jellied wild food stores to add something we foraged ourselves to a meal. Adding frozen wineberries to smoothies, cooking a soup with dried wild mushrooms, making pasta with dried and powdered nettles, or grinding garlic mustard seeds into spicy mustard is something we do nearly every day.

We were gifted a mushroom growing kit for Christmas, and promptly got it going, watching as the tiny oyster buttons grew larger the more we watered them, and finally harvesting the clump for breakfast this morning. 

The cattail griddle cakes were made with the male flowers of the cattail plant (Typha latifolia), gathered last spring before they produced their pollen. We go out in tall boots to snap the cattail flowers off the stalks, and bring them home to clean. The top portion of the flower is the male section, and can be easily pinched off the slim core into flaky bits that have a mild corn-like flavor. The  male flower parts freeze really well, portioned out into 1 cup containers, the perfect amount for a single recipe of griddlecakes. The lower, female section of the flower doesn't flake off like the male portion, but can still be steamed for a few minutes and chewed like corn on the cob, although you don't end up with a lot of actual material to chew. If left to mature, the male portion of the flower will produce the pollen that falls to the lower female portion of the flower, then the male flower falls apart and falls away, leaving the female portion to mature into the typical, brown cattail stalk that turns to fluff in the fall as the mature seeds are spread.We also gather the pollen from cattails later in the spring by snapping the pollen-filled male portions off into a bag, then shaking the bag vigorously. Then the pollen in sifted a few times to remove debris and small bugs, before being lightly dried and stored in the freezer to add to pancakes, biscuits, or smoothies.

A little more mature, male part on the top

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Yule Cake

Every year I make a yule log cake for family holiday gatherings, as one of the many belly-busting desserts. According to Wikipedia, from the Encyclopedia of English Folklore

"For as both December and January were called Guili or Yule, upon Account of the Sun's Returning, and the Increase of the Days; so, I am apt to believe, the Log has had the Name of the Yule-Log, from its being burnt as an Emblem of the returning Sun, and the Increase of its Light and Heat."

This year my family was scattered and we didn't have a large gathering, so I made the yule log cake to bring to a party given by friends, fellow mushroom enthusiasts, in honor of their new home.

The cake is a vanilla biscuit, filled with a passion fruit mouse, made from passion fruit juice we brough back last year from the Auntie Lilikoi factory on Kauai. The frosting is an Italian buttercream, and the cake is streaked with chocolate to resemble a white birch log, common here in Connecticut. The jumble of chunky chocolate is meant to resemble a medicinal chaga (Inonotus obliquus) that we gather to make decoctions. Maybe only a few poeple might get our obsession with mushrooms, but we are completely loving our fungal adventures!

Real chaga on silver birch

Plus I made a basket full of the traditional meringue mushrooms for snacking. Sweet!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Final Frozen Forage of 2014

Gillian bundled up and foraging on December 31, 2014

I was chatting with a friend this morning and kind of whining about how cold it was outside (upper 20's) and how boring the winter is here in Connecticut. We won't have any fresh greens, fruit, or mushrooms for months I lamented. She was kind enough to point out there is no snow on the ground and we could still go outside for a short walk and maybe find some rosehips or other hearty wild foods. Great idea, thanks Stephanie.

We bundled up and put on multiple layers before heading out to the cranberry bog for a peek. It has only been cold for a few days, but the rain that fell last week in the field had frozen into sheets of ice, making it lots of fun to slip around. There are still plenty of cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) left in the field, and we snacked on some while picking a small container of berries to bring home. Gillian had the most fun, finding the ice crystals that formed on the grasses stunning, and the air pockets under the ice cool to break open while popping frozen cranberries into her mouth. The cold mellowed out the tartness quite a bit, and they were softened by being frozen. Robert made a ginger-cranberry syrup with the soft berries, and I cooked the rest up into a traditional cranberry sauce to eat with pancakes for breakfast.

Moving on down the path through the surrounding bog, we marveled at the frozen pools of water and the sphagnum moss trapped under the ice in pristine condition. The sun was shining and reflecting off the sheets of ice, and it looked slightly unreal.

Further into the forest, we encountered plenty of pines and mixed spruce trees mixed in with oaks and birches. The needles of the white pine (Pinus strobus) can be made into a bracing, pine-scented tisane that contains vitamin C and tastes really good mixed with plenty of honey.

Wintergreen leaves and berry
Pine forests are preferred habitats for two more hearty plants to forage in winter, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and partridgeberries (Mitchella repens). Both of the evergreen plants had their edible berries present. While the partridgeberries growing from the non-edible, prostrate foliage are mostly tasteless, we picked a few to add color to a rice and grain salad for lunch. The leathery leaves and red, crowned berries of wintergreen both have the minty, wintergreen flavor, and we plucked some of both to make into a refreshing, warm tisane.

As for the fungi, we spotted the usual suspects on dead wood, crusts and polypore shelves. These mushroooms are just doing their job of breaking down the wood and decomposing the dead wood into sawdust and back into soil. Last week we came across some stunning blue turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) on another walk. Turkey tails come in many color combinations from oranges, browns, tans, greys, and sometimes subtle shades of blues. I was very surprised to find one poor, frozen, blackened-with-age gilled mushroom. I am not sure what it was, but it was my last fungi find for the year of 2014.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Chestnut Recipe-Chestnut Mousse

In our area of Connecticut we can find many Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima) trees on old farmsteads and in a few parks. They don't make good landscaping trees because of the spiny hulls that drop to the ground, and I have found sources of nuts by asking on Freecycle and offering to help clean up a person's yard in exchange for the nuts. The native North American chestnuts had been mostly wiped out by a fungal blight, although there are groups working to hybridize them and make them resistant to the blight. An estimated 3 billion chestnuts trees died from the blight introduced in the early 1900's. We find the Chinese chestnuts have good flavor, even better than the imported Italian chestnuts we can buy at the grocery store, but supposedly not as good as our native chestnuts.

This year was mostly a bust for most nuts, including black walnuts, white oak acorns, and hickory nuts, but we did mange to find a good amount of chestnuts to eat. Gillian likes them boiled and peeled, and we sometimes have a hard time getting her to stop eating them all before we can cook with them! I add them to rice pilaf and made a squash-chestnut soup with wild maitake mushrooms, but this dessert mousse is our favorite. Most of our boiled and peeled chestnuts are portioned out in the freezer, ready to thaw and make mousse later in the year.

Chestnut Mousse           makes about 12 1/2 cup servings

10 oz. peeled chestnuts
1 c. milk
3 Tbsp. spiced rum
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. water
1 Tbsp. spiced rum
2/3 c. heavy cream

1. Place the chestnuts in a small saucepan with the milk and 3 Tbsp. spiced rum. Simmer for 20 minutes, until the chestnuts soften and the milk reduces. Puree the chestnuts and milk in a food processor until smooth, and cool. It will be quite thick.

2. In a mixer bowl, combine the whole egg and the egg yolk, whip on high until thick and frothy, about 6 minutes.

3. In another small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring up to a boil. Cook until it reaches 235 degrees, or soft ball stage. Pour the hot sugar into the egg and whip on high until cooled, about 8 minutes. It will be thick and light yellow.

4. Whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks.

5. In a large bowl, whisk the final 1 Tbsp. of spiced rum into the chestnut puree. Pour half of the egg/sugar mixture into the chestnut puree and whisk it together until smooth. Add the remaining egg/sugar mix and whisk until completely smooth. Gently fold in the whipped heavy cream, mixing until no white streaks remain. Pipe into serving glasses, or into a cake lined mold and chill. The mousse will thicken and become firm as it chills. Serve with cranberry sauce or shaved chocolate.

Chestnut trees in flower in spring

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Public Event!

Sunday, October 5 | 3 - 5 PM | Sugar House
What are those weird things that pop up in the woods after the rain? Are you mystified by wild mushrooms? Curious? Scared? Or do they make you hungry?

Come to Flanders Nature Center in Woodbury, CT join a foraging family who hunt, photograph, identify, and love to eat the fungi in New England for a discussion and walk identifying mushrooms (appropriate for beginners). Dispel myths, learn how to safely identify mushrooms, and discuss mycophagy, the cooking and eating of wild mushrooms.

The 3 Foragers are a family from southeast Connecticut and members of Connecticut Valley Mycological Society, Connecticut-Westchester Mycological Association, and the North American Mycological Association, as well as avid wild food foragers.
Location: The Sugar House, located ¼ mile up Church Hill Road 

Pre-registration is required.

The Program fee is: $10 members and $15 non-members
Please call (203) 263-3711 x 12

Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust | 5 Church Hill Road | Woodbury, CT 06798 | 203-263-3711