Friday, April 30, 2010

Ramps Recipe - Ramps Pickles

What is this? A jar of pickled pink worms? No, pickled ramp bulbs. I found a few recipes online and sort of tooks bits of each and put them together to make something that sounded good to me. The taste is very sweet/sour, and the aftertaste is a little bit oniony. Might be good for martinis, we'll just eat them on the side of everything! These are not processed in a water bath, but are kept in the fridge. I got the spices at the local Indian grocery, and the peppercorns from a peppercorn blend.
Pickled Ramps makes 1- 1 quart jar
2 pounds ramps bulbs, cleaned, trimmed
Kosher salt for blanching
1 c. white wine vinegar
1 c. sugar
1 T. salt
1 c. water
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp red peppercorns
1 tsp white peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1. Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, and blanche the cleaned and trimmed bulbs for about 20 seconds to retain the color and crunch. Drop the bulbs in ice water to quickly chill. Shake off the excess water and stuff the bulbs into a clean 1 qt. jar.
2. Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add the spices and bay leaf.
3. Pour the hot vinegar brine over the ramps in the jar and cover and cool. Refridgerate.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Foraging Report 04/25/2010

Gillian and Robert both had the week off, so we did a lot of driving this week. We ended up in several assorted areas of the state, from the Litchfield hills to Hamonassett Beach. We managed to find a few letterboxes, and attended a small gather at the Audubon Society in Glastonbury where we hiked the trails with fellow letterboxers.

We saw more of the same this week, when it comes to edibles. Dandelion greens, nettles shoots, chickweed, and wild garlic. We are still eating the ramps greens we picked last Sunday, and I keep peeking at the pickled roots wondering when I can open up the jar and eat them. Japanese knotweed is getting too tall to pick, it would be too stringy for recipes. Second year garlic mustard greens from the top of the flower stalk are good for gathering for pesto, and the white flowers are all open. We did come across some cattails big enough to gather a few hearts as a trail nibble, and are looking forward to an abundance soon. Evening primrose roots and wild carrot roots also were dug and boiled to eat.

Wild grapes are just starting to send forth leaves, and autumn olive bushes are opening flowers. It is nice to see the wild fruit trees in flower in the woods since most trees have not leafed out yet. Jewelweed sprouts are up, along with the first pokeweed shoots. Plenty of orpine to be found in a local park, along with some rather tough burdock roots.

My knotweed wine has really slowed it's fermentation, but the dandelion flower wine is still bubbling away. The knotweed wine is about a week older, and the color has mellowed out and cleared a bit to a light pink. I hope to have this drinkable by September, along with a wild grape wine I started last fall. We are willing to drink them "young" and rough, since our winemaking is mostly for fun, and just to see if it works!

Stinging Nettles Recipe - Nettle Lentil Soup

Finding a patch of stinging nettles can be great, or it can really suck for your ankles. Being stung when you are not expecting it feels like being stuck with 1000 red-hot needles coated with tabasco sauce. Finding a patch while out letterboxing, and not inadvertently stepping in that patch is a super find for a forager. We were so amazed with this field filled with nettles, I carved and hid a letterbox Foraging Nettles there, along with a micro bonus box.

Nettles (Urtica dioica) are a perennial herb growing on a hollow, stringy stem. The leaves are coarsely toothed, papery, 1-3 inches long, with a pointed tip and shaped a bit like an elongated heart. All parts of the plant contain the stings, which are like mini hypodermic needles filled with formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine and other nasty things to irritate your skin. Pick the shoots in early spring before the small, greenish, inconspicuous flowers appear by using gloves. In a large patch, it is easy to fill a large paper bag quickly.

The sting disappears with cooking or drying. You can steam the leaves, but the stems are too
tough and fibrous to eat. We also add the leaves directly to cook in soup, chop them up to use in quiche or spanikopita filling, or eat then lightly stir fried as a green. The stems and leaves can be dried in a dark place to use for an herbal tisane in the winter months when the "green" flavor is a welcome one. Nettles contain wonderful amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, beta carotene, and provide an excellent source of plant-based protein.

Here is a favorite recipe based on something I found in Vegetarian Times, using stinging nettles instead of spinach.

Nettle Soup with Lentils makes about 6 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1/3 c. dry lentils
1/2 tsp. tumeric
4 c. vegetable broth
3 c. water
10 oz. fresh nettle leaves, cleaned
about 20 ramps leaves and stems, chopped
1/2 c. dry linguine, broken into pieces
1 c. plain yogurt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint

1. Heat the oil and sautée the onions over medium heat until browned.
2. Add lentils and tumeric and sautée 1 minute. Pour in vegetable broth and water and bring to a boil, reduce to medium and cook 10 minutes.
3. Add nettles and ramps, simmer 20 minutes longer.
4. Stir in pasta pieces, and cook 10 minutes longer, until the pasta is al dente. The broth should be a deep, greenish-yellow.
5. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of yogurt and fresh mint.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dandelion Recipe - Dandelion and Potato Soup

Common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is widespread, easily identified, incredibly nutritious, and vehemently hated by many gardeners. It is one of the first flowers of spring, and the last flowers of autumn, good news for bees. There are several species here in the US, all edible in the same manner. All parts of the plant will emit a milky sap when broken.

The green leaves grow from a basal rosette, and are 3-12 inches long, 1/2-2 inches wide, and are deeply toothed. The leaves are best gathered in the early spring before the flowers appear, or after a frost. They may have some bitter characteristics that can be lightly boiled out. The greens can be eaten raw in salads, or steamed or sautéed into just about any dish. They work well in quiches or soups, or even as a stir-fry vegetable. Raw greens contain amazing amounts of Vitamin A, acscorbic acid, beta-carotene and thiamin. The greens also contain plant based calcium, potassium, and iron.

The yellow, composite flower grows on a hollow stalk 2-18 inches tall. I think the flowers are "smart" and know exactly how tall to grow--just under your lawnmower's blades' height! The flower will mature into the familiar white, poofy seedhead, wonderful for kids to blow around your yard. The flowers are also edible pulled apart in salads, and Gillian will often have a dandelion flower in her mouth while waiting for the bus. They can be fried in batter as fritters, pickled whole, and made into a dandelion wine.

The thick, brittle branching taproot grows up to 10 inches long. It is nearly impossible to get the whole root out at once, and the remaining bits will grow a new plant. Scrape the beige skin off the root and chop the root to add to soups like carrots or parsnips. The root can also be oven dried and ground to be used as a coffee extender like chickory.

Robert made some pickles, and we spent a long time separating yellow petals from the green heads for a small batch of wine. More greens went into a soup, some sautéed with ramps, some more frozen. We pick in a large area where I was inspired to hide a letterbox--Foraging Dandelion! The whole area was underwater during the spring storms this year, and some areas were a bit washed out, but those dandelions came back and blanketed the grass with sunny yellow blooms.

Dandelion Potato Soup makes 6 servings

olive oil
4 cloves garlic
2 starchy potatoes, peeled and diced
6 c. vegetable broth
1 c. chopped ramps greens and stems
1 c. dandelion greens, blanched and chopped
1/2 c. dandelion flowers, blanched
salt and pepper
6 T sour cream

1. Sautée garlic in olive oil until softened, add diced potato and cook until lightly browned.
2. Pour in the vegetable broth, and bring up to a boil. Turn to a simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add the ramps greens, dandelion greens and dandelion flowers. Simmer another 10 minutes, until the potatoes have mostly desintegrated. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Serve with a dollop of sour cream stirred into each bowl for a super "tang".

More Photos Here

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Foraging Report 04/18/2010

Another good week for some spring edibles here in Connecticut. The weather has turned much cooler, and a bit damp, so we have held off on the letterboxing. We need to get down to Hamonasset this week to check our Foraging Rosehips box, there have been 2 reports of it missing. We are also driving around at all times with 5 complete boxes in the car, ready to plant if the opportunity presents itself. Something new from us: bonuses with the boxes!

The dandelions are going strong, and Robert picked 2 buckets of flowers and buds this week. He is trying a pickle with the buds, and we pulled out the yellow petals of the flowers for a small batch of wine.

We returned to our favorite ramps patch to dig some ramps bulbs. The bulbs are small right now, since the plant is using all of it's stored energy to make the leaves and produce a flower later in the season. The bucket of bulbs was washed, trimmed, and made into pickles, and the leaves added to soup, quiche, and frozen.

The one letterbox we went out to find is the Box of the Month at Szegda Farm in Columbia, CT. It has been a recurring box, and it is great to see the seasonal changes taking place in this environment every month. Today we went out, and as I walked into the open field, I was amazed to see that 90% of the field is covered in stinging nettles. What a wonderful forager's find! We gathered a full paper bag, and have already made soup, more recipes and info to follow. I suppose we had better get carving the stamp for the future Foraging Nettles box!

Finally, while out walking at Salmon River State Park, we saw plenty of fishermen on opening day, and lots of edibles and signs of future edibles. Lots of yarrow to be found here, along with wild strawberries. We dug up a few young wild carrots for Gillian to nibble. The autumn olive bushes are making their flowers already, but the sumacs still are not showing any signs of life. We saw lots of second-year garlic mustard, but were looking for first-year growth to dig some roots. Lots to look forward to this season!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chickweed Recipe - Creamy Chickweed Dressing

Chickweed is a great plant for beginning foragers, or for kids. It pretty much grows anywhere, including your lawn. It is available all year, but best in the early spring before too many other plants grow and shade it out. There are many species, but mostly here in New England you will find Stellaria media. The plant has small, paired oval-to-spade-shaped toothless leaves growing along it's flexible stem. One odd identifier is the thin line of hair running up the stem, not covering the whole stem. Another identifier is a tough string inside of the hollow stem--you can see it if you break the stem gently and pull the stronger string out.

Tiny, white flowers bloom in clusters at the tips of the plant, and drop tiny brown seeds. At first glance, it might look like there are 10 petals on the flowers, but there are actually 5 deeply split petals. Chickweed usually is a ground hugging plant, meaning it needs lots of extra washing to get the dirt off.

The taste of raw chickweed is mild, almost like corn, or at least the corn silk. It is a tender green, wonderful in salads. It can also be lightly cooked or added to a soup like an herb. It provides vitamin C, choline, vitamin B 6+12, vitamin D and beta carotene. It is a super spring green, appearing early enough to fill the desire for "something fresh" in your diet after a long winter.

Our find this weekend was so abundant, we made several recipes. Robert had a salad with feta, chickweed and a lemony dressing. I made myself a green egg salad, with fresh chives. We also tried a creamy chickweed dressing, and added it to pesto with some pungent garlic mustard.

Creamy Chickweed Dressing makes about 1 1/2 c. dressing

1/2 c. olive oil
1 T lemon juice
1 tsp. honey
2 c. fresh, washed chickweed greens and stems
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 clove of garlic
1/2 c. plain yogurt

1. In a blender, place all ingredients except for the yogurt. Blend until smooth and finely chopped.
2. Add yogurt, blending briefly, until mixed.

Chickweed egg salad makes about 1 1/2 c.

4 hard boiled eggs
2/3 c. finely chopped chickweed greens and stems
1 tsp. horseradish
1 T fresh chives
1/2 c. mayonnaise
salt and pepper
1. Chop eggs coarsely. Toss with chopped greens, horseradish and chives.
2. Mix in mayo gently, season with salt and pepper.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Foraging Report 04/11/2010

OK, so spring is moving along nicely here in Connecticut. While out enjoying some lovely weather and hiding a letterbox, we have had many opportunities to spy some new edibles, and gather some favorites for recipes. This morning for breakfast, we had omelette with dandelion flowers and cheese, dandelion green tea, and Japanese knotweed coffee cake. For lunch we had a dandelion, split pea, ramps and potato soup. Just this evening I made a loaf of kalamata olive and dandelion greens bread. Coming up this week: dandelion flowers for wine, our first try.

On a walk around the Baltic-Hanover reservoir, I accidentally found some watercress in a fast moving stream, garlic mustard greens, and huge amounts of the biggest chickweed we have ever seen. Chickweed recipes and photos coming!

Violets are up, Gillian picks few while waiting for the bus and eats them. I tried a jelly recipe last year that never solidified, so we used the brilliantly colored purple juice as syrup. When more pop up, I'll try again with the jelly. We visited our favorite ramps patch for a bag of fresh greens, visited my hiding spot for my Foraging Dandelion letterbox to gather a bag full of greens and flowers, and visited a potential letterbox hiding spot to search for fresh nettles. Driving around, we spied plenty of Japanese knotweed, almost too big to gather already, mullien for tea, and orpine for salad.

Finally, while hiding a new letterbox, Foraging Huckleberry , I noticed the wild blueberries and huckleberry bushes were blooming and the autumn olive bushes are leafing out. Overall, a great week!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Japanese Knotweed Recipe - Knotweed Squares

Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) is a wonderful wild edible, but a horrible invasive species. It came originally from Asia, and has spread to the US from the UK as an ornamental plant for it's pretty white flower sprays in summer and fall. It spreads mainly through rhizomes underground, but the seeds have "wings" to better ride the winds. Japanese knotweed looks like a red-speckled asparagus in it's early stages in the spring, but the leaves quickly unfurl and the smooth, hollow stems grow very tall. There are several very distinct identifiers, including the jointed stem which looks like bamboo, a membranous sheath at each of the stem joints, and leaves that are broad with an oddly straight base and a pointy tip. Japanese knotweed will grow just about anywhere, next to water, on the side of the road and railroad tracks, anywhere there is ample sunlight. It will also grow in just about any type of soil, so it easily excludes native vegetation. The thick layer of decomposing dry stems will outmulch all competitors.

This is our first year of Japanese knotweed. We found a few poking up in late March, and they are really growing at a fast rate now. What we cut down one day is ready again in two more days. The flavor of the raw knotweed is similar to rhubarb, with a slightly green flavor. We have been cutting shoots about 8" tall. We have started a small batch of wine and made a dessert bar recipe with the peeled, chopped shoots.

Japanese knotweed is known by other names like Mexican bamboo, Japanese fleece flower and crimson beauty. It also has several different Latin names--Polygonum cuspidatum, Fallopia japonica, or Reynoutria japonica.

Knotweed Squares makes 1-11"x7" pan

1 c. flour
1 c. confectioners sugar
6 T cold butter

2 eggs, beaten
2/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
3 c. packed, peeled, and chopped Japanese knotweed stalks

1. Heat the oven to 350°. Grease a 11"x7" pan.
2. Put crust ingredients into a food processor and pulse to coarse crumbs. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and bake for 12 minutes.
3. For the filling, whisk all ingredients together except for the knotweed pieces. Stir in the knotweed, and spread the mixture over the hot crust.
4. Bake for about 35-40 minutes. Cool and cut into bars.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Black Walnuts

Wow, is it spring already? Back to foraging and letterboxing, it has been a long and lazy winter. We are looking forward to adding some more plants to our foraging knowledge. We are looking forward to trying Japanese Knotweed, common Milkweed, more greens in spring, and more roots. Nettles are just starting to appear, and we have a planter of them in the house that we forced last month. It was nice to get some fresh nettles for soup. The tiny patch of ramps we have planted behind our porch is also starting to appear, a good sign that they will be available in the wild soon. We are actively watching several patches of the Japanese Knotweed. This will be our first experiences with this plant. We are planning on eating it steamed, in a pie, and making a jam with it.

We have had some black walnuts (Juglans nigra) drying all winter, and on a nice sunny day we took them outside to crack open. There is a tree next to our house, and we picked up a bucketful last autumn. The tree is identified by greyish-brown, deeply furrowed bark. The leaves are compound, made up of many smaller lance-shaped leaflets, arranged alternately along a stem.

The nuts are inside a thick green husk that must be removed, and is often infested with worms. You should wear gloves to remove the husk, as it will stain everything it touches. Inside is the deeply furrowed nutshell. It is best to wash the nuts and scrub them with a wire brush at this point to remove any leftover husk. The nuts are easier to remove from the shell after they have aged and dried awhile. Robert used the backside of an axe to crack them open and picked out the meat. Gillian ate the nutmeat almost as fast as it was shelled! The flavor is different from commercial walnuts, and black walnuts have a very high oil content. The nutmeats can be added to recipes, eaten raw, made into nut butter, or boiled to obtain the walnut oil. We just ate them raw as a treat.