Friday, July 29, 2011

Milkweed Recipe - Stuffed Milkweed Pods

This dish makes a fantastic tray of appetizers, or can be baked in a sauce for more of a dinner dish. Robert does not eat meat, so I made half with bacon and half without. If you wanted, you could fill the milkweed pods with a pastry bag for neater results.

For best results, I use 1 1/2"-2" long pods from common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). I begin the recipe by boiling the washed milkweed pods for 5 minutes. As they boil, some will pop open, and that is fine. Shock the pods in ice water to stop the cooking process and cool them down quickly for easier handling. There is a natural seam running along the length of each pod where it will want to split. Split open the pod and pull out the immature seeds and silk. I spoon the filling in, until the pods are full. Finally, I roll the cream cheese filling exposed in the seam in panko bread crumbs. I serve these warm from the oven.

Stuffed Milkweed Pods              makes 36-40

1 8oz. block of cream cheese, softened
2 T diced red onion
1 jalapeno, diced
salt and pepper
36-40 milkweed pods, boiled and split
panko bread crumbs

optional: 3 T diced, cooked bacon

1. Heat oven to 375°F.
2. Place the softened cream cheese in a bowl and with a heavy wooden spoon, mix in the diced onion, jalapeno, optional bacon, and salt and pepper.
3. Remove the immature seeds and silk from the boiled milkweed pods, and spoon in about 2 tsp. of cream cheese filling, until the pod is full.
4. Roll the exposed seam of cream cheese in panko bread crumbs and place seam side up on a parchment lined sheetpan.
5. Bake the stuffed pods for 15-20 minutes, until the crumbs are browned. Serve warm.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mushrooms Identified - Scaly Vase Chanterelle, Berkeley's Polypore, Old Man of the Woods

Here are some mushrooms we have identified through many guidebooks and with the generous knowledge of Connecticut Valley Mycological Society. We see so many mushrooms that are difficult to identify on our own, so we joined the CVMS to learn techniques and proper ways to gather, identify, and possibly consume wild mushrooms. Robert has photographed several mushrooms, and we try to take spore prints for further confirmation.

Here is a partial list of the books we use:

Mushrooms of Northeast North America: Midwest to New England by George Barron
The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms
Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field to Kitchen Guide by David W. Fischer
Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora

Scaly Vase Chanterelle cluster
Young scaly vase chanterelles
Gomphus floccosus is also known as Wooly Chanterelle, or Scaly Vase Chanterelle. We came across a small group of them at the Salmon River State Forest. It is a funnel-shaped mushroom that tends to grow on the ground in coniferous or mixed coniferous and deciduous forests throughout North America. It fruits from early summer through midfall, and we found it in mid-July. The top is 2"-6" wide, orange fading to yellow-orange, and depressed but soon becoming hollow and sunken like a funnel. The top also has cottony or woolly scales. The underside is creamy-colored and is wrinkled or veined all along the stalk. The flesh is white and fibrous. Spore print is ochre, but we did not gather or print this mushroom. It's edibility is questionable, with many reports of nausea and abdominal pain, so we will avoid eating it.

Gillian holding the Berkeley's polypore
Berkeley's underside and white spores
Bondarzewia berkeleyi is commonly known as Berkeley's polypore. We found this one growing from some tree roots in Salem, CT. It grows in the Northern US and Canada, to Louisiana and Texas from July to October. It has the appearance of several overlapping creamy-white to grey fans growing from a single base. When very young, it looks like white fingers, but specimens can get very large, up to 3 feet across. The undersides of the caps is white with circular to angular pores. The spore print we took was white. It toughens and becomes bitter with age, so we trimmed the outer 1/2" from the edges for a meal. Edibility is based upon the age of the mushroom.

Old Man of the Woods, underside

Cut, staining to red
Strobilomyces floccopus is known as Old Man of the Woods for it's shaggy, unkept appearance. We found a specimen in Groton, CT and saw several more that had been found at Salmon River SF. It grows on the ground in mixed hardwood and coniferous forests from July to October. The cushion-shaped cap is 1"-6" across and is covered with dry, shaggy scales. The underside of the cap is white or grey, becoming darker with age, with large pores and tubes. The flesh is white, but slowly stains red then black when cut. The spore print we took was black. Our mushroom was a bit old, so we did not try it. Younger specimens are edible, although not particularly desirable.
Old Man of the Woods topside and spore print

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Milkweed Recipe - Milkweed Pods and Chickpea Salad

Mid summer is the time to gather the small, soft seed pods of the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in open fields. Milkweed tends to grow in large colonies, and is an important food source for many butterflies and their caterpillars, like the Monarch. Between July and the end of August, the flowers have all passed, and the seed pods are in various stages of growth, often many different sizes on each plant.

Very small pods, about a half inch long are good for pickling or boiling as a green vegetable. Larger pods between 1 1/2 inches and 2 inches long are good for stuffing and baking, or stir frying. Before cooking the pods with a final recipe, they are scrubbed and boiled for 5 minutes. Many will pop open while boiling, that is not a problem. There is a natural seam on each pod that makes it easy to open the pod and remove the immature seeds and silk. The pods are good for eating as long as the seeds and silk are pure white and very soft. Any signs of browning indicates the seed pod is too old and will be tough to eat. Robert likes to eat the boiled insides of the seed pods mixed into other grains, as it seems to melt into a cheese-like texture. I like the boiled pods stuffed with cream cheese and baked, or just plain with a bit of butter and salt.

Here's a recipe for a chilled salad, good for these hot days of summer using milkweed pods about an inch long. I boiled the pods for 5 minutes, then sliced off the stem end before removing the silk and seeds. I cut the pods in half and tossed them with the dressing and other ingredients.

Milkweed Pods and Chickpea Salad                       makes about 3 c.

2 c. small milkweed pods, about 1-1 1/2" long
1 16 oz can chickpeas, drained
1/4 red onion, sliced thinly
1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese

3 T red wine vinegar
1 T fresh basil, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T olive oil

1. Scrub the milkweed pods, and boil them for 5 minutes. Shock them in ice water. Slice the stem ends off the pods and slice them in half, removing the seeds and silk.
2. Toss the milkweed pods with the chickpeas, onions, and feta cheese.
3. To make the dressing, whisk the vinegar, chopped basil, salt, pepper, sugar and garlic together in a bowl. While whisking, drizzle in the olive oil slowly, making an emulsion. Toss the salad with the dressing, and allow it to refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sumac Recipe - Sumac Meringue

We start this recipe by gathering the red, ripe berry clusters from staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) shrubs. The berries are actually very hard and inedible, and it is the acidic and tart malic, oxalic, and ascorbic acids that we will be harvesting from the outside of the berries to use. In about a half gallon of room temperature water, we add 12 clusters. I'll crush the clusters up under the water and swish them about, then allow the concoction to sit for a few hours. The now pink liquid is strained through a coffee filter to remove fine hairs and other debris, and tasted for tartness. To make a stronger concentrate, add some new sumac berry clusters to this same liquid and allow them to sit for another few hours, then strain again. This concentrate is ready to use, or can be frozen in ice cube trays to add to water or save for the winter. We also use this concentrate in the place of lemon juice in some jelly recipes.

Staghorn sumac berries
This dessert is more of a curd topped with baked meringue, rather than a pie, since Robert doesn't really like pie crust. The curd recipe is really easy, no tempering the eggs with the hot sugar, just keep a vigilant eye on the pot and keep scraping the bottom with a spatula. It works really well in individual portion dishes, or can be cooked in one 9" pie pan. You could serve it as a pie, if you use a pie crust. The color will depend on the strength of the sumac concentrate that you use. I ended up with a nice peachy color, but you could add a drop of red food color if you wanted to.

Sumac Meringue                  makes 8 ramekins, or 1-9" pie

1 1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. cornstarch
1 c. cold water
1 c. sumac concentrate
5 egg yolks
1 T butter

5 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 c. plus 2 T sugar

1. Heat the oven to 375°F.
2. To make the curd, whisk the sugar with the cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Add the water, sumac concentrate, and yolks, and whisk until smooth.
3. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook slowly, stirring often with a silicone spatula. The curd will thicken, and allow it to come to a slow boil. Boil the curd for 1 minute, whisk in the butter, then pour into the ramekins or pie plate.
4. To make the meringue, whip the 5 egg whites with a mixer until frothy. Add the cream of tartar, and whip until soft peaks form. Slowly pour in the 1 c. plus 2 T sugar, and continue whipping until stiff peaks form.
5. Scoop the meringue over the hot curd, trying to cover it completely. Bake for 14-18 minutes, until evenly golden brown. Cool, and refrigerate.

Smooth sumac berry clusters

Monday, July 25, 2011

Foraging Report 07/25/2011

Gillian holding the Berkeley's polypore
Boletus bicolor
It has been quite a productive couple of weeks for us. The weather has been a bit unbearable, but foraging near a river is good for an afternoon of cooling off. We went on our first outing with the Connecticut Valley Mycological Society at Salmon River State Forest on July 17th. Even though there had not been a lot of rain, there were at least 50 different types of mushrooms gathered and identified. They collected all the mushrooms they find, not just edibles, to identify and catalog back at the gathering tables. We learned how to best gather mushrooms for easier identification purposes, like try to find several stages of growth (button, fully opened, old) and try to collect some of the growing medium the mushroom is on, like tree bark, moss, or underground source. Many mushrooms have a bulbous bottom that should be collected for ID. The people in this club are very knowledgeable, and usually only supply the genus and species name for each mushroom, for precise identification. We also met many of the members, and looked through some of the books they use. We are looking forward to may more learning sessions. On the day before, we found a large Berkeley's polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi), and brought it to place on a separate table to be identified. We cut a bit of the tender edges off to take home and cook, it was tasty with a bit of cracked pepper and oil.

Common milkweed pods (Asclepias syriaca) are growing large enough to gather. They ripen in stages, so one plant will have tiny pods and too-large pods on the same stalk at the same time. Milkweed tends to grow in great colonies in open fields, so it is easy to get them in abundance. They are messy to pick, since they exude their white, sticky latex as soon as they are cut. Robert uses a plastic bucket, but a disposable bag may be easier. We bring them home and give them a scrub with the vegetable brush before boiling them for 5 minutes and shocking them in ice water. After their quick cooking, they are ready to be used in recipes like pickles, salads, stuffed, or just stir fried with soy sauce. I think they taste a bit like green beans, and we usually can't taste any of the reported bitterness most people worry about. Make sure you have common milkweed, it seems to taste the best.

Smooth sumac berry clusters

staghorn sumac berries
Here in southeastern New England, the staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) have their ripe berries ready for gathering. We just snap the berry clusters off the tops of the shrub into a bag, trying to avoid the clusters that are obviously filled with bugs. As the season progresses, the clusters will become buggier and less desirable. With the hairy berry clusters, we made some sumac-ade to drink on these hot days, and made a much stronger concentrate to bake a sumac curd topped with meringue. We also use the sumac concentrate as a lemon juice substitute when making jelly. The smooth sumacs (Rhus glabra) have red berry clusters, but are not ripe and sour yet.

Himalayan blackberries
Finally, did we mention the berries yet? Wineberries (Rubus phoanicolasius) and Himalayan blackberries (Rubus discolor) have ripened in great abundance. The hot, humid weather has made picking a bit uncomfortable, but we try to get out early in the morning before it gets too unbearable. I made 15 jars of plain wineberry jam, using the same recipe and methods I blogged about last year. The recipe uses low-sugar pectin, and a seedless pulpy juice to make a tart, thick jam. Then I made 21 jars of wineberry-blackberry jam. The color is darker, and the flavor is a bit sweeter and fruitier. I look forward to swapping some jams at the Coventry Regional Farmer's Market Foodswaps, and gifting several to friends.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wineberry Recipe - Wineberry Bavarian

This is a slightly complex recipe, something that would be perfect to bring to a special occasion party to impress the other guests.I made this with wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius), but using other seedless berry purée would work. I did make an 8" round dessert, plus a few more individual portions since I made a larger recipe, but this recipe will need an 8" round springform pan. I also used a thin spongecake to line the bottom of the dessert. You could use ladyfinger cookies, and then also line the sides of the pan with more cookies.

Wineberry Bavarian                     makes 1 8" cake

spongecake or ladyfinger cookies to line pan

4 egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. milk, hot
1 1/2 c. wineberry purée
1 envelope unflavored Knox gelatin
2 tsp cold water
1 1/2 c. heavy cream

1/2 c. wineberry purée
2 tsp gelatin
1/3 c. cold water
1 T Chambord liqueur

1. In a mixing bowl, whip the egg yolks and sugar until thick. Add the hot milk, stir. Transfer to a saucepan.
2. Heat the yolk mixture over medium heat while stirring until thick, do not boil. Strain the custard through a mesh strainer into a large bowl and stir in the wineberry purée.
3. Sprinkle the gelatin over the 2 tsp cold water in a small bowl and allow it to get mushy. Melt the gelatin in the microwave for 10 seconds on half power, or place the small bowl in a pot of boiling water until the gelatin has melted. Allow the now-liquid gelatin to cool slightly, then stir it into the custard and raspberry mixture.
4. Place the bowl of raspberry custard in the fridge, and stir it often for about 1 1/2 hours. It will thicken slightly and look like melted ice cream.
5. Whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. With a large whisk, fold in 1/3 of the heavy cream into the custard. Then fold in the remaining whipped cream, and whisk gently until there are no more white streaks. Pour this into the cake or cookie lined springform pan. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
6. To make the topping, sprinkle the gelatin over the 1/3 c. water in a bowl and let it get mushy. Melt the gelatin in the microwave for 15 seconds on half power, or place the bowl in a pot of hot water until the gelatin has melted. Stir the melted gelatin into the wineberry purée and add the Chambord. Pour this evenly over the top of the bavarian. Chill another 2 hours or overnight before unmolding from the springform pan and slicing.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Garlic Mustard Recipe - Garlic Mustard-Mustard

By gathering the small, black and very numerous seeds from the invasive garlic mustard (Alliara petiolata), we can make a few tasty condiments, dressings and spices. This mustard is hot like wasabi or grated horseradish. The burn will light up your sinuses, but the mustard goes well on a sandwich with something fatty like swiss or ham. We also use the mustard like a traditional dijon in dressings and sauces. Try adding it to macaroni and cheese or a bechemel. We keep it in a jar in the refrigerator, and it may need a quick stir before using.

To grind the hard seeds, Robert uses a coffee grinder. The result is a dark brown powder that should be used immediately.

Garlic Mustard-Mustard                      makes about 1/2 c.

7 T ground garlic mustard seeds
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
6 T water
2 tsp agave syrup or honey
1/4 tsp turmeric

1. Whisk together the ground seeds with the salt and turmeric. Whisk in the water, honey and vinegar until smooth.
2. Allow the mustard to sit for a week in the refrigerator. It will need to be stirred before use and the color will darken. Keep stored, covered in the fridge for up to a year.

Garlic mustard seed pods

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Garlic Mustard Recipe - Garlic Mustard Seed Dressing

In the early summer, the garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) goes to seed. That is a great time to do some invasive weed control while out foraging by gathering the large quantities of seeds the plant produces. These seeds that drop now will over-winter and form the basal rosettes in the very early spring next year. Garlic mustard will form dense clusters of plants, making it relatively easy to gather the seeds. Look for the light brown stalks, topped with skinny fingers that are the dry seed pods.

The seeds are black, comma-shaped and about 1/8" long. By pulling along the dry, brittle stems and along the seed pods, the seeds will fall into your hands or a waiting bucket. Many seeds will fall to the ground, but you should not feel like you are spreading the garlic mustard, since otherwise ALL of the seeds would have fallen to the ground and spread the plant naturally.

If bits of the dry seed pods fall into the bucket, it is no problem. We take 2 large bowls or buckets, and pass the seeds between the two with a high pour to winnow out the much lighter seed pods, dust, and debris. Then we spread the mostly clean seeds on a sheetpan to dry further for a few days. We keep them stored in a glass jar to use for topping breads, adding to bagels, adding to curries like mustard seeds, to make mustard, and to make a dressing.

Garlic Mustard Seed Dressing                              makes about 2 c. dressing

1 1/2 T dijon mustard, or prepared garlic mustard-mustard
1/2 lemon with rind, diced and seeds removed
3 shallots or 4 ramps bulbs
6 T honey
pinch cayenne
pinch white pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 c. olive oil
6 T rice vinegar
1 T garlic mustard seeds

1. In a hot oven or over coals, roast the shallots or ramps bulbs until soft and charred. Cool.
2. Place the dijon or garlic mustard-mustard, diced lemon, and roasted shallots or ramps in a blender. Blend until smooth.
3. Add honey, cayenne, white pepper, salt, and pulse quickly.
4. Slowly pour in the oil with the blender on, and pour in the vinegar. Add the garlic mustard seeds with a final pulse. Store the dressing in the refrigerator, shaking before using.

Wild Blueberry Recipe - Wild Blueberry Jam

It takes a whole lot of time to gather wild blueberries in quantities large enough to make a single batch of thick, dark, sweet jam. We visited 3 different sites to pick enough, and the jam is worth the effort. I like it spread on scones and bread with butter. Wild blueberries are not quite as juicy as cultivated ones, and this jam is loaded with skins, making a very chunky product. I also always try to use low-sugar pectin. I like to taste the real fruit, but I also like to make sure the jam or jelly sets, since we put so much labor into gathering the berries.

Wild Blueberry Jam             makes about 8- 8 oz jars

6 1/2 c. washed, stemmed, crushed wild blueberries
3/4 c. water
4 1/2 c. sugar
1 box low-sugar Sure-Jell pectin

1. Wash, remove stems, and crush the blueberries by hand or with a potato masher in a large pot. There will be very little juice. Add 3/4 c. water to the berries.
2. Mix 1/4 c. of the sugar with the pectin in a bowl. Add to the crushed berries and bring to a rolling boil, stirring often.
3.  Add all of the remaining sugar at once, stirring to dissolve. Bring the jam back to a boil, and cook 1 minute.
4. Ladle into sterilized jars, seal, boil 10 minutes in a water bath to seal. Cool.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Foraging Edible Sumacs

staghorn stem
staghorn berries
There are 3 varieties of edible sumac in our area of New England--staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), and dwarf sumac (Rhus copallina). Staghorn sumac twigs are covered in soft hairs, similar to a young deer's antlers, and the berries are very hairy. Smooth sumac has a purplish midrib between the toothed leaflets, and smooth twigs. Their berry clusters are usually larger and the berries are smooth. Dwarf sumacs have a winged rib between each mostly toothless leaflet and small, darker berry clusters. The berries are pink, red or dark red when ripe, but are not edible as-is, since there is no juicy flesh like traditional berries. It is the ascorbic acid, malic acid, gallic acid, and tannic acid on the outside of the hard berries that you want to use a a tart flavoring agent in spice mixes and beverages.

UPDATE: There is no oxalic acid on the berries. Thanks to Mike Krebill for clearing that up.

Edible sumacs are botanically related to cashews and mangoes, so those with allergies to them should also avoid sumacs. Edible sumacs are also related to poison sumac (Rhus vernix), which has drooping, white berry clusters and shiny leaves. Poison sumac can produce rashes and itching in people with a sensitivity, and should be learned so you can avoid it. We don't often encounter poison sumac, as it prefers a wetter environment than the edible sumacs, like swamps.

smooth sumac leaf

dwarf sumac leaf

Sumacs grow as tall shrubs in cleared areas, along highways, and old fields. The shrubs grow in dense stands and have alternate, feather-compound leaves divided into leaflets. When cut, the plant exudes a white latex. We have noticed that the three varieties ripen at different times, with staghorn berries turning red in July, smooth sumac berries ripening in August, and dwarf sumac berries ripening in September and October. It is important to gather the berry heads when fully ripe, and before it rains since the rain will wash away the tart flavors. We check for ripeness by simply licking a cluster, or rubbing a wet finger in the berry cluster and tasting our finger. Many berry clusters can be gathered and dried in a paper bag, then stored in airtight containers for use throughout the year.

A tart, pink, lemony drink can be made from the ripe berry heads. Soak 5-8 ripe berry clusters in 8 c. room temperature water, crushing the clusters in your hands. It is important to NOT use hot or boiling water, as it will dissipate the acids. Allow the berry heads to soak for a few hours, and then drain the liquid through a fine cheesecloth or coffee filter to remove the hairs and other debris. Smooth sumac usually makes the darkest pink drinkand staghorn sumac makes the most sour drink. Add sugar or honey to taste, and chill the sumac-ade. A stronger concentrate can be made by soaking more berries in the same water, and the concentrate can be frozen in ice cube trays to add to your glass of water instead of a lemon. We have also used the concentrate as an acid substitute in jellies, and similarly to lemons in sumac meringue pie.

smooth sumac berries
The berries of the smooth sumac can be gathered to make a spice mixture used in the Middle East known as za'atar. The berries are ground with a mortar and pestle with oregano, salt, toasted sesame seeds and thyme. The spice can be added to meats or brushed onto pita breads. Robert also like to chew on the new spring shoots of sumac that are tender and green. They are peeled and cut to make sure the tough center has not developed and eaten raw.

Here's a link of Russ Cohen discussing sumac late last autumn.

smooth sumac ripe berry heads

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wild Blueberry Recipe - Sweet Stuffed Rolls

Tiny wild blueberries (genus Vaccinium) take quite an effort to gather in quantity. The bushes may be a few inches off the ground or taller than our heads. Each bush also presents many variations in leaf shape and size, and the quantity of berries is different between bushes. The berries ripen in stages, so you may have to return several times. Wild blueberries tend to grow in very poor, acidic soil, or abandoned open fields where other shrubs are staring to take over. Here is a recipe for a sweet, yeasted roll stuffed with blueberry filling. The roll is soft and scented with vanilla seeds. The recipe makes about 18, and they did not last a day in our house between the three of us.

Sweet Blueberry Stuffed Rolls              makes about 18

1 1/2 c. wild blueberries, washed
2 T water
2 T sugar
2 T cornstarch mixed with more water to make a slurry

1 tsp. yeast
1/2 c. milk, warmed to 110°
2 c. flour
3 T sugar
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
7 T cold butter, cubed

1 egg, beaten

1. To make the filling place the blueberries, sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil.
2. To make the slurry, mix the cornstarch with about 4 T water to make an opaque liquid. Pour this slowly into the berries, stirring constantly. Add just enough to thicken the filling, you will not need it all. Allow the filling to cool to room temperature.
3. To make the dough sprinkle the yeast over the warmed milk and let it sit for 5 minutes.
4. In a stand mixer bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt and vanilla together with the paddle. Add the cold butter cubes and mix until crumbly. Add the milk and mix until a dough forms.
5. Change the paddle for the dough hook, and knead the dough until smooth, about 5 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
6. Heat the oven to 325° and line a sheetpan with parchment paper.
7. Roll half the dough into a rectangle about 1/4" thick and about 5" x 16". Scoop about 1 T of filling onto the dough in small scoops down the center of the dough the long way, leaving about an inch between the portions. Egg wash the edges of the dough and between the filling portions, and fold it over in half. Cut between the filling portions, to make a small ravioli shaped roll. Press the cut edges with a fork to seal. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
8. Egg wash the tops and cut some small slits in each roll. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until browned.
9. When the rolls have cooled, you can glaze them or sprinkle with powdered sugar.