Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mulberry Recipe - Black and White Mulberry Ricotta Tart

Both the black mulberries (Morus nigra) and the white mulberries (Morus alba) have ripened. From a heavily laden tree, we can pick gallons of berries by spreading a tarp under the branches and shaking the tree. The black mulberries are already on their way past, so we missed our opportunity to make some jam this year. Using the Roma food strainer, we can remove the stems and seeds with little effort to make a sweet, smooth jam. Instead, Robert started a gallon of wine with the ugliest but ripest berries. I picked out enough nice ones to add to this tart, along with some white mulberries.

Black and White Mulberry Ricotta Tart                 one 10" tart

1 1/4 c. cookie crumbs
3 T sugar
5 T melted butter

15 oz container whole milk ricotta
7 T sugar
3 T flour
2 egg yolks
1 tsp lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
pinch of salt
2 egg whites
1 1/2 c. mulberries, washed

1. Make the crumb crust by mixing the crumbs with the sugar and melted butter. Press it into a 10" tart pan. Heat the oven to 325° F.
2. With a wooden spoon, mix the ricotta with the flour and sugar until well blended.
3. Add the egg yolks, lemon zest and pinch of salt and mix until combined.
4. Whip the egg whites to soft peaks, then fold them into the ricotta mixture gently. Pour into prepared tart crust.
5. Top the tart with the mulberries, pressing them gently into the batter. I snipped the stems off, but it is not required.
6. Bake for 30-38 minutes. The filling will puff up, but still move a bit in the center. Cool and refrigerate.

White mulberries

Monday, June 27, 2011

Foraging Report 06/27/2011

Elderberry flower crepes

milkweed "capers"

This past week we gathered  more common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flower buds to make more capers and we kept some in the fridge already boiled to add to our cooking all week. We added the buds to soups, stir fry, and in a cheesy breakfast omlette. Our Monarch butterfly emerged from it's chrysalis today, and I let it fly away. I am sorry we don't have any pictures, but we may see some more when it is time to gather the pods from the milkweed field.

We picked a few more cattail (Typha latifolia) flower spikes to make into more griddle cakes, and to eat boiled on-the-cob style. The season for the flower spikes is almost over, and it would normally be time to collect the pollen next. All the rain this early summer has knocked the pollen off the male flowers before we have been able to collect it. Usually Robert grabs the flower spike and inserts it into a gallon jug in which he has cut a hole. Then he would shake the stalk around, knocking the pollen off into the jug. Some does escape, but not too much. Then he would sift the pollen to remove bugs and debris, and dry it gently in the oven. We usually keep a container in the freezer to use all year, but all we got this year was the pine pollen.

We noticed the elderberries (Sambuca nigra) blooming this past week, but it was difficult to gather flowers between the rainy days. If we tried to pick some right after a storm, all of the fragrance and flavor was washed out, so we waited for a few dry days, and picked a bagful. Robert made a crepe batter with puréed flowers, and served them layered with wild grape jam. He also battered and deep fried some clusters, and Gillian gobbled them up with a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

While taking a short hike in a favorite area, we found some mushrooms that we tentatively identified as tree ears, or wood ears (Auricularia auricula). We will try to get then viewed by David Fischer before collecting any. They are supposed to be tasty cooked in Chinese-style food, and can be dried and reconstituted. There were lots of them on a dying autumn olive tree right off the trail.

We also came across several varieties of wild blueberries and huckleberries (Vaccinium species)growing in rocky, poor soil. Some of the wild blueberries were obviously lowbush, some had much larger leaves, some were loaded with berries, others had few. We managed to find a small handful already ripe, and will return next week to compete with the birds for some berries. At this stage, I can differentiate between the blueberries and huckleberries by breaking open a green berry and counting the seeds. Huckleberries have exactly 10, and wild blueberries have many more smaller seeds. Both are tasty, but there is a more complex sour flavor in the huckleberries, along with a seedier texture since the seeds (or technically, nutlets) are larger than blueberry seeds.

We also had an opportunity to test out the machete I won from the Outdoor Blogger Network and Gerber. I'll write up a full review in a day or two. We used it to clear some pathways of low hanging branches, and cut down a 3" thick black birch (Betula lenta) tree. With the inner curved blade of the machete, Robert was able to strip the bark easily to retrieve the wintergreen flavored cambium layer. We took home a large segment of the tree, which scented the car and house nicely. Robert will try to carve some utensils from the wood. Black birch inner bark can be made into a tasty tisane, and has some medicinal properties discussed by Wildman Steve Brill in a video that Robert recorded recently.
Black birch bark

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Foraging with "Wildman" Steve Brill - VIDEO

Robert and Gillian took a tour with "Wildman" Steve Brill in Cornwall, CT off a spur of the Appalachian Trail. While the trail was steep, Robert was able to film this segment about the Wildman discussing black birch (Betula lenta) along the way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Milkweed Flowers and Butterflies

Monarch caterpillar
We were out picking some more milkweed flower buds in a large, open field filled with milkweed plants (Asclepias syariaca) when we noticed all the butterflies on the open flowers. Milkweed plants will flower in stages, and most plants will have tight flower bud clusters, loose clusters, and fully opened flower clusters on the same stalk. Butterflies are constantly on the move, so Robert had a hard time getting them to "pose" for a picture. We saw some Monarchs, and more caterpillars, and others I don't know the names of. Anyone who can help with these butterfly names and ID?

I think it was orange with the wings open

The little orange one in the right corner

A very large butterfly

Fast and pretty

Monday, June 20, 2011

Milkweed Recipe - Milkweed Flowerbud Capers

We picked slightly looser flowerbud clusters from common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) plants to try to make a caper-like condiment. If you read the ingredients list on a jar of capers, it is mostly salt and vinegar. I looked up some recipes, and adapted them to make one 8 oz. jar of milkweed capers. They are a bit heavy on the vinegar, but tender and tasty.  Robert tried a different recipe, using garlic cloves and a salt brine only, and let the flowerbuds lacto-ferment. Both produced a great little condiment with strong flavors that we can use all year. We store them in the fridge. The capers can be served with some smoked salmon, some rich paté, or cooked into a piccata sauce.

Vinegar Milkweed "Capers"                       makes 1-8 oz. jar

2 Tbsp. salt
1 c. water
1 c. milkweed flower buds

Vinegar pickling juice:
1/2 c. white wine vinegar
1/4 c. water
2 tsp sugar
2 bay laurel leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme

1. Wash the milkweed flower buds to remove insects. Boil them for 2 minutes, shock in ice water, and squeeze to remove excess water. Pack them into an 8 oz. canning jar.
2. Make the salt brine by bringing the water and salt to a boil. Pour the hot brine over the flower buds. Cover the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 3 days.
3. Drain the salt brine from the jar. Make the vinegar pickling juice by boiling the vinegar with the sugar, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Pour the hot vinegar over the flower buds and allow to cool.
4. Cover the jar and refrigerate for 3 days. The capers are ready to use, keep refrigerated.

Lacto-fermented Milkweed "Capers"                            makes 1-8 oz. jar

1 c. milkweed flower buds
1 c. water
1 Tbsp.  salt

1. Wash the milkweed buds, boil them for 2 minutes, shock in ice water, squeeze to remove excess water,  and pack them into an 8 oz. canning jar.
2. Mix the water and salt together, mixing until the salt is dissolved. Pour the brine over the flower buds and cover.
3. Allow the buds to ferment at room temperature for 6-7 days. The liquid will appear to bubble out, so keep the jar on a plate. Keep the buds submerged at all times, using a weighted lid inside the jar, otherwise mold will be produced.
4. Taste, and store in the refrigerator in the brine.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Foraging Report 06/19/2011

While the growing season is still late, the edibles are finally coming in. We had gathered tightly closed milkweed clusters to cook with all week, adding them to a quiche, soup, making "capers" from the buds, and vegetable stir-fry. The flowers are opening now, and the smell is lovely. Blanche Derby has mentioned she eats the flowers raw from the plants, and we have heard of people frying the flowers in tempura batter. Our Monarch caterpillar has gorged himself on fresh milkweed leaves all week, and made his chrysalis. We hope to see the butterfly emerge in 10 days or so.

Along the seashore we gathered petals from the roses (Rosa Rugosa) to make into a highly fragranced sugar syrup to add to drinks. The color is a pretty dark pink, and the flavor is as strong as the fragrance. Robert also picked some of the green rosehips to try a pickle. We have some pretty pink rose petal wine bubbling away in a gallon jug, we hope to drink it next spring.
Cattails (Typha latifolia) are sending up their flower spikes, and they are easy to gather in abundance from a marshy area. Gillian loves to eat the flower spikes boiled and topped with butter. I pinch off the pulp from the male part of the flower and use it in recipes like griddle cakes and chowder. The flavor is similar to corn.

We were finally able to find some wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) in quantity, and made 2 small jars of jam. The flavor and fragrance of wild strawberries is so much stronger than what you can buy at the grocery store, but it takes a very long time to pick a lot. Some of the tiny berries are the size of peas. Robert also gathered some elderberry flowers (Sambucus nigra) to make syrup and crepes. The bushes are heavy with flowers, and it is easy to spot the large, white clusters from across a field.

We ended our week with a walk with "Wildman" Steve Brill out in Cornwall, CT. The walk was along a spur in the Appalchian Trail, and was very steep. He talked about partridge berries, burdock, garlic mustard, spice bush, low bush blueberries, black birch, and others. We were familiar with most of the plants he talked about, but learned sweet cicely (genus Osmorhiza) and common parsnip (Pastinica sativa). Robert brought home a large Reishi mushroom to dry for tea. Video coming soon!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cattail Recipe - Cattail Flower Griddle Cake

So may parts of cattails (Typha latifolia) are edible. The early shoots are edible as a vegetable in early spring. Pull apart the leaves when they are about 2' tall to get to the tender heart, and eat it like bamboo shoots, chopped raw in salads, and pickled lightly. The flavor is very similar to cucumber. Cattail flowers are a good source of bright yellow pollen in late spring in southeastern Connecticut. We gather and sift the pollen and use it as a nutritious supplement in baking throughout the year.

Gillian and the sheathed flower spikes
This is an easy recipe using the pulp from the cattail  flower spike in mid-spring. When we gather them, the flower spike is still sheathed in a single leaf. We cut the flower spike and bring it home to peel, but be aware that there are usually lots of tiny black beetles hiding inside the leaf, so peel them outside. I then pinch the darker green male portion of the flower along the stem, and the pulp flakes off easily. I cannot get much off the female flower, so I don't bother. I can still boil up the female flower and let Gillian chew on it like cattail-on-the-cob. For this particular batch we had some glasswort (Salicornia) from the seashore on hand, and I added it for a salty crunch. We served these like appetizers, with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Removing the male yellow-green pulp from the spike

Cattail Flower Griddle Cakes              makes about 12- 2" cakes

2 large eggs
1 T milk
2 T flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c. cattail flower spike pulp
1 T minced sweet red pepper
1 T minced glasswort
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of pepper

garnish with sour cream and glasswort

1. Mix the milk, egg, flour and baking powder together with a whisk until no lumps remain.
2. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
3. Cook the batter by tablespoonfuls on a medium griddle, until browned on both sides.
4. Allow the cakes to cool, and serve with a dollop of sour cream and more glasswort.

Cattail flower stalk; male portion
on top, female portion on the bottom

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cattail Video with Blanche Derby

Foraging Cattails

Common cattail (Typha latifolia) and narrow leaf cattail (Typha augustifolia) are easy to identify and easy to eat wild edibles, and produce some of our favorite edibles--pollen, the early "hearts", and the flower spike pulp. Cattails grow in open marshy areas, along slow moving rivers, in some tidal marshes, and shallow ponds. They prefer full sun and mucky ground. The sword-like leaves grow from the base of the rhizome beneath the mud, to about 4-8' tall. A very early shoot is edible, gathered by cutting it from the rhizome. The heart of the leaves is edible in early spring before the flower stalks grow. The flower stalk is produced from the center of each leaf cluster, and it contains both the male and female flower parts. The immature flower stalk can be collected to cook and eat like corn-on-the-cob. As it's protective leaf unfurls, the upper male flower produces the pollen that will fertilize the lower female part which will develop into the brown, hot dog-on-a-stick seed head most people are familiar with. The dried hot dog makes great tinder for fires. Late in the autumn through winter and in very early spring, the rhizome can be gathered and processed as a source of starch.

The excessive rain this spring has prevented us from gathering the hearts. Either it is raining too much all day, or all the extra rain yesterday flooded the swamp and we can't reach the cattails because of the high water. All we own are knee-high rubber boots, perhaps a purchase of chest-high waders is in our future. The hearts are gathered by grabbing the outer leaves of each leaf cluster, and pulling them away from the center. Then we firmly grasp the center leaves and give it a pull, and it releases easily from the rhizome. The lower 4-6 inches of the leaves are white and very tender with a taste similar to cucumber. They are easily added to salads and pickled, but Gillian like them best raw. We'll have to wait until next year to get more.

Gillian holding unpeeled flower stalks
Already the flower stalks are up, and we have been able to cut some and bring them home. The protective leaf is peeled, and we boil up the male and female flower parts like corn. The female part is usually lighter green, and does not produce much food, but the darker male part produces an abundant pulp. We also remove this pulp raw and use it in recipes like chowder and griddle cakes. The taste is similar to corn.

If the flowers are allowed to mature, the male parts produce large amounts of pollen. We gather the pollen by using a gallon jug with a hole cut into the side. Robert bends the pollen-laden flower stalk into the hole, and shakes it around. The plastic jug holds most of the pollen inside, although some always escapes and Robert comes home covered in yellow dust. Then we sift the pollen once in a metal sieve to remove debris, then again through a tea strainer to remove bugs and flower bits. The pollen is then spread out on a sheetpan and left to dry, and we store it in the freezer in a glass jar. We add the pollen as a nutritional and flavor boost to pancakes, biscuits, and in yogurt and oatmeal all year.

Cattail Pollen pancakes with wild strawberry compote
We have not tried gathering the rhizomes to make a starch, but may try it later this fall. We read about digging the rhizomes from the mud and peeling them to expose the center core. Then the cores are pulled apart and washed with water to separate the starch from the tough fibers. The water is allowed to sit, as the starch will settle to the bottom and can be dried for use like flour. Samuel Thayer gives a great description in his book "The Forager's Harvest" of how to process flour from cattail rhizomes. We also recorded Blanche Derby talking about cattails in a video.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Foraging Report 06/12/2011

Northern bay laurel
In typical New England fashion, the weather has been crazy hot one day, chilly and rainy the next. The growing season is already about 2 weeks behind due to the extended winter. This week we went to the seashore in search of blooming roses (Rosa rugosa) for the fragrant petals to use in a syrup and wine. Both the white and pink roses were blooming, and Robert gathered about 2 packed gallons. We also grabbed a few branches from the northern bay laurel (Myrica pensylvanica) to replenish our supplies. We add the leaves to soups and beans just like commercial bay leaves. They bay laurel is so plentiful in our area, it is easy to keep a fresh bunch of leaves around.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flowerbuds are plentiful right now. We gather one bud cluster from each plant in densely populated open fields. The flowerbuds are still tight, and resemble broccoli. The buds are good in recipes like a crustless quiche, or puréed soup. The flavor is similar to green beans. We are also attempting to make some brined and pickled "capers" from the unopened buds. We accidentally took home a teeny tiny Monarch caterpillar, and I noticed it when I was washing the buds for a recipe. I put it in a bug box,and have been feeding it fresh milkweed leaves and flower buds every day, and he it tripled in size in 3 days. Gillian loves to peek in on the caterpillar every morning and evening to see how much it has grown. We hope to keep it alive through butterfly stage and release it.

We are having a bit of trouble finding a suitable cattail (genus Typha) foraging area. We hope to gather some of the hearts for snacking and maybe pickling, we hope to gather some pollen, and we hope to gather the immature flower stalks to cook like corn on the cob. The narrow-leaf cattail (Typha augustafolia) is abundant in Preston, but the yield for pollen and flower stalks is so much lower compared to the common cattail (Typha latifolia). Most roadside ditches are unsuitable due to pollution, and many swamps are off limits because they are private property, or too deep to access on foot. Our gathering methods do not kill the plants, as the cattails spread through their rhizomes under the water or wet ground. We will keep our eyed opened!

Ramps pesto twists
We were happy to attend a potluck and tour at our organic and biodynamic CSA farm this past weekend. Woodbridge Farm is located in Salem, CT. We have picked up our first 2 weeks of food shares, and the greens are fantastic. The potluck was open to all CSA participants, but many might have been scared of the overcast and cool weather. Our small group gathered in the barn for potluck lunch, we brought some ramps pesto bread twists. The group then took a tour of the farm, and there were so many wild edibles! Organic farms are an ideal place to gather wild food since there is no spraying for weeds (herbicides) or for bugs (pesticides). The farmers know many of the "weeds" already, and we were able to talk about a few more and their edible properties. The kids enjoyed some red clovers (Trifolium pratense), honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and monkey tails--the tendrils of wild grapes (genus Vitis).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Milkweed Recipe - Cream of Milkweed Flowerbud Soup

Our common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is making flower buds in abundance this week. Milkweed usually grows in open fields, and along recently disturbed areas. The young buds look like broccoli, but the taste is more like buttery green beans. As the buds age, the flower stems elongate, and the flower bud cluster become floppy before the flower opens. For this recipe, we pick the younger, tighter buds. Each milkweed stalk will usually have 2-5 clusters at the top, and maybe 3-6 more clusters along the stalks where the stalk meets the leaf stems. To forage responsibly, we pick just one cluster per plant in an area with a large population. The clusters will ooze white "milk" when picked, and sometimes there will be beetles, ants, or Monarch butterfly caterpillars in the tight clusters. Give the clusters a quick shake and wash to clean them before cooking. I like to use a roux and an added potato to thicken my cream soups, instead of heavy cream. The result is still velvety smooth, and rich tasting.

Cream of Milkweed Flowerbud Soup             makes 4-6 servings

1 T oil
2 T butter
1/2 small onion, diced
3 T flour
2 c. milk
1/2 c. vegetable broth
1 medium russet potato, diced
3 c. milkweed flowerbuds
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar
1 c. boiled milkweed flowerbuds for garnish

1. Heat the oil and butter together and sautée the onion until translucent.
2. Add the flour and whisk to cook the roux for 30 seconds over medium-high heat.
3. Slowly pour in the vegetable broth, milk, and diced potato, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Bring the thickened soup to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and cook 8 minutes, stirring often.
4. Add 3 c. washed milkweed flowerbuds and cook 8 minutes longer, stirring often.
5. Purée the soup in a blender, or with a hand blender until smooth. Stir in the shredded cheddar, stir until the cheddar is melted. Serve garnished with the boiled milkweed flowerbuds.

Milkweed flowerbuds

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Foraging Milkweed Video


Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a food source that gives several edible parts during different times of the year. Last year, we made an effort to try almost all of them. Milkweed grows in open fields and meadows, roadsides, along forest edges and near river bottoms. It is found in eastern North America, except for the deep south. It will grow in dense colonies, sometimes filling a field with green stalks. Milkweed is commonly known as a food source for the Monarch Butterfly caterpillar.

Common milkweed is a tall perennial herb that rarely branches, an important identifying characteristic to differentiate milkweed from dogbane, a poisonous look alike. The leaves grow in opposite pairs along the stalk with short stems. They are elongated ovals, veined and thick. The stalk and undersides of the leaves are covered with fine hairs that can be viewed under magnification, another important characteristic. The flower bud clusters appear in spring, looking a bit like bunches of broccoli. Once the flowers open, they can range from white to pink or purple, many times a combination of colors. From each flower cluster, only 1-4 pods will eventually appear in mid-summer. The pod are teardrop shaped, green, and usually bumpy or covered in soft green spikes. The pods will grow to 5 inches long when mature and contain seeds and silk that helps the seeds "fly" to their next destination. All parts of the plant will exude a white, milky latex sap if broken.

We had read about a bitterness associated with the plant and the sap, and possible poisonous characteristics of the sap. We also read some strongly worded arguments about the non-bitterness of milkweed. Most people who have actually gone out and really tried milkweed seem to agree that it is not bitter, and does not need to be boiled in 3 changes of water to make it safe to eat. We decided to go a safe middle route, and boiled our milkweed once for about 8 minutes. All parts we tried after a initial boiling-the shoots, flower buds, and pods-were very tasty and not bitter at all. I will admit that once we used the boiled parts in a recipe and the milkweed was cooked again, it tasted even better. Milkweed is a wonderful addition to recipes as a vegetable, it's flavor resembles green beans.

In the spring, we went to open areas that we knew had milkweed growing in them last year. Sometimes you can find the dead, dry stalks from last year. The shoots are best picked when they are 6-12 inches tall. At that stage their leaves are still partially closed along the stems. They are tender and can be gathered without a knife by pinching the stalks off. We boiled them and ate most of them plain with a pat of butter and a shake of salt. These are great spring vegetables.

Next come the flower bud clusters. We picked them when the clusters were still fairly tight, the stems of the flowers will elongate and the cluster will become much looser and floppier right before the flowers open. At this stage, the flower bud clusters look like broccoli. We boiled them about 2 minutes and tasted them with butter and a bit of salt. Again, they tasted a bit like green beans, only with a more velvety texture. After an initial quick boil, we keep some in the fridge to add to stir-fry vegetables. Then we cooked them in a quiche and in soups, and they tasted even better. We also made a caper-like condiment with the brined and pickled buds. We did not taste the open flowers yet, although they are edible.

The pods came very early last year with all of the rain in the spring and high heat last summer. Pods on different plants are all in different stages of readiness, so we went out for multiple harvests. The pods we gathered to eat are actually immature, the insides were completely white and the outside green shell was still tender. We picked pods between 1-3 inches long. Robert boiled them for 5 minutes, and some were popping open. We tried them plain, but the flavor was greatly improved when we then chopped and stir-fried them with soy sauce. I also took the boiled pods, split them along their seam, removed the white pre-silk, and stuffed them with a cream cheese, jalapeno and red onion mixture and baked them topped with breadcrumbs. I stuffed some other pods with buttered basmati rice mixed with the cooked pre-silk, and baked those in a yellow pepper sauce. The pods make another fantastic wild vegetable.

For a video about foraging milkweed with Blanche Derby that Robert filmed this past weekend, click here.