Monday, June 28, 2010

Foraging Report 06/28/2010

School's out, World Cup is on, weather is hot, what else can I say? We have been spending lots of time at the local kid's museums, down at Rocky Neck State Park, at birthday parties, at the movies and in front of the TV.

Our weekly trips to Harkness Park finally yielded 3 bags of linden flowers and bracts to dry for tea. The fragrant flowers smell like honey, and we dry them in paper bags and store them for wintertime tea parties. We were stopped and questioned by several people as to what we were doing, including a pair of elderly Russian ladies out for a stroll. They were happy to see that someone knew what the tree was, and was interested in herbs and plants even in this modern age. The trees are easy to spot from a distance due to their speckled appearance from the lighter colored bracts against the darker green leaves. Lindens are often planted as landscaping trees for their pleasing shape.

White mulberries also ripened, and we picked a few bowls to snack on. They are not as flavorful as the red or black mulberries, and can seem almost watery, but make a good addition to fruit salads, granola, and yogurt. I think they look like a bowl of grubs.

The black raspberries are loving the sun and hot weather, and we often have to compete with birds for the fruit. We don't usually gather these in large quantities, as they can seem especially seedy. We use them fresh in breakfast granola and yogurt. My favorite summer berry, wineberry, is flowering. It is hard to see the small, white flower along the roadside, but we can spot a wineberry bramble patch easily from it's reddish blush. The whole plant is covered in red hairs which may seem soft, but there are still prickers on there too!

We tried some burdock flower stalk. Robert thinks it has an "oaky barrel" flavor, so he curried them. He also is searching for some edible seaweed books. We can gather some seaweed at the shore, like Irish sea moss, sea lettuce and kelp. Most books we can find on the subject are old, and from the British Isles, but we would like to forage some seaweed in Maine in August when we go camping. The garlic mustard is producing plenty of seeds, and they are dry enough to gather and separate from the papery sheaths. Those we add to toasted spices mixtures for curries, and top off breads with their peppery garlic bite.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cattail Recipe - Cattail Chowder

I really like to make corn chowder, since it can be adapted to a lighter, vegetarian meal for us in the summertime. I ran across a recipe in Russ Cohen's book "Wild Plants I have Known . . .And Eaten" for a similar chowder using the male parts of the flower spike on cattails. It sounded interesting, so I made it, using my method and vegetarian ingredients. This soup is so tasty, Gillian will eat a bowl and a half without hesitation. Robert loves it, and so do I. I don't use heavy cream, and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.

Cattail Chowder makes about 5-6 servings

4 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, diced
4 Tbsp flour
2 C. vegetable broth
2 C. low-fat milk
2 C. potatoes, diced
1 celery rib, diced
1/2 C. sweet red pepper, diced
2 C. cattail spike pulp, stripped from the spike
5 bay laurel leaves
salt and pepper

1. Sautée the onion in the butter until it is soft and translucent.
2. Add the flour and stir, cooking about 1 minute.
3. Pour in the vegetable broth and milk, and slowly bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring often.
4. Add the remaining ingredients, and reduce the chowder to a simmer. Cook 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until the potatoes are tender. Remove the bay laurel leaves to serve.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

First of the season . . .

Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Foraging Report 06/16/2010

The normally scheduled reports and foraging forays will be interrupted by World Cup Soccer this month. Robert was willing to sacrifice a day of games to go to a letterboxing gather this Sunday, Where the Wild Things Are, put on by MMACJ. Gillian and I stayed behind at the pavilion, exchanging stamps and playing with lots of kids. Robert went off hiking with Choi and one of The Travellers 4, and he gave them an earful on the edibles they passed on the trails while finding letterboxes. I met some crazy ladies from Maine, littlmoon and GollyGee, Gillian ate far too many marshmallows, and we all went home tired. For potluck, I made some crostini with ramps pesto and some mini pollen biscuits with cream cheese and roasted onion and ramp jam.

The mulberries in our area ripened, and Robert went out early in the morning to fight with the birds. He picked enough to make 8 pint jars of jelly, and I made some mulberry filled cookies. I got the recipes from a new book we bought, "Wild Seasons: Gathering and Cooking Wild Plants of the Great Plains" by Kay Young. It is a nice book with some stories about what people have been doing with wild edibles for many generations, along with some really good recipes. We don't live in the great plains, but most of the edibles discussed in the book are available here in Connecticut. Some books we buy seem like they are geared towards specific areas of the USA or even other countries, but we recognize most plants talked about in other books.

We took another quick drive out to Harkness Park to check on those lindens, but still no flowers! We are also watching a white mulberry tree there, and I suppose it will have ripe fruit within the week. On the way out, we noticed the cattails were full of pollen, so we donned some big boots and collected another cup or so. We also collected some male flower spikes, since that chowder I made last week was so tasty and Gillian just loves eating the spikes boiled like corn.

We added to the winter tisane supplies with some more pineapple weed and some elderflowers that are drying on a sheetpan. Robert picked a sackful of orach greens, and cooked them up like creamed spinach, declaring them better than spinach.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Milkweed Recipe - Crustless Milkweed Flower Quiche

Common milkweed has several different edible parts during different seasons. Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) grows in open fields and is an important food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars. It is a tall perennial herb that rarely branches, thus helping to differentiate from branching dogbane, a poisonous lookalike. The stem and leaves are covered in fine hairs seen through a magnifier, a second characteristic that can help differentiate from dogbane, which is smooth. The leaves grow in opposite pairs on short stems, and are generally 4-9 inches long ovate shaped. All parts of the plant exude a white, milky sap when broken.

In spring, the shoots can be picked until they are about 14 inches high. At this stage, most of the leaves are not unfurled or fully formed and the stem is tender enough to break off. It is very important to positively identify milkweed shoots from dogbane shoots by looking for the fine hairs on the stem. We boil the shoots for about 15 minutes, making them tender and removing the milky sap. The flavor is similar to green beans.

Later in the spring, the flower clusters will appear at the top of the plant. They look like broccoli florets, but when cooked, taste more like buttered green beans. We have picked them at a tightly clustered stage, and when the flower heads loosen up. Both were delicious when cooked for 7 minutes in boiling water. I used them in a crustless quiche recipe adapted from a recipe from Russ Cohen. I think they would also make a great soup, or addition to a pasta primavera.

The flowers bloom in summer and are sometimes pink, white, purple, or a combination of the colors. They can be boiled or steamed for 3 minutes, then dipped in batter and fried like tempura. The five petals of the flowers bend sharply backwards, and in front of each one there is a lobe pointing forward to form the showy looking part of the flower. Each plant produces several clusters of flowers, but each flower will not form a pod, only 2-5 per flower cluster will mature to a milkweed seed pod.

In late summer, the flowers will die and the pods will appear. They look like green, spiky teardrops and will eventually grow to3-5 inches long. When they are about an inch long, gather the pods and cook them whole. As they grow bigger but before they are fully grown, they can be gathered and the insides can be removed and the pod can be stuffed like a pasta shell. In a milkweed pod that is good for consumption, all of the seeds inside the pod will be completely white. The pods are best cooked and eaten soon after gathering so they do not get tough.

Crustless Milkweed Flower Quiche makes 1-9" x 9" pan, about 9 servings

5 eggs
4 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
salt and pepper
1 C. cottage cheese
2 C. shredded cheddar cheese
4 Tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. cooked milkweed flower buds

1. Heat oven to 350° and grease a 9" x 9" pan.

2. Whip eggs until frothy.

3. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the eggs are set and the top is browned.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What Every Forager Needs

I went out on this wonderfully cool Tuesday to do some maintenance on one of our letterboxing series, What Every Forager Needs in Scotland, Connecticut. I had a few reports of one of it's parts missing, and brought a replacement with me for #7: Shovel. I also checked on the logbook, and the series is doing great. Let's chat about this list of tools we use while foraging!

1. Gloves: We bring 2 sets of gloves with us when foraging, one is a heavy duty gardening glove set, the other is slightly rubberized. The heavy gloves are a bit bulky, but useful to push into berry thickets. The thinner, rubberized gloved provide excellent protection from nettle stings.

2. Containers: We save and re-use the plastic containers from the grocery store that you buy strawberries or mesclun mix in. They provide good protection for delicate berries, and keep you from mushing them up by piling them too deep.

3. Knife: Robert carries the knife. It is useful in cutting shoots from things like sumac, japanese knotweed, and cattails. He also uses it to cut open fruits for identification. I don't think it is anything fancy, but it is bigger than a pocketknife.

4. Water: We carry water for obvious reasons, like drinking, but also for washing roots and rinsing out our mouths if we taste something yucky. We use those stainless steel refillable bottles, and carry a few with us.

5. Magnifier: This tool comes in handy to positively identify certain edibles. Some wild foods have poisonous look-alikes, and the only way to distinguish the two is by looking for tiny hairs on stems, or holes in leaves. Milkweed shoots look exactly like dogbane shoots in spring, but one is very good to eat and the other will make you sick!

6. Bug spray: Mosquitoes and ticks can ruin anyone's hiking adventure. Deep, moist woods and marshes breed the mozzies, and open fields and grassy areas hide the ticks.

7. Shovel: We carry a small gardening shovel, one with a narrow, pointed tip. It is great to dig up roots, and we have used it to dig entire plants to bring home. Some people carry a folding camp shovel which has a much wider blade. Even Gillian carries a little toy shovel.

8. Books: We only carry a few books with us, but our library at home is growing. We have 35+ foraging books, some more herbal use and identification books, a bunch of cookbooks about wild edibles, and some preserving and jellying books for wild foods. Our favorite books that are worth the carrying weight are Samuel Thayer's two books "Nature's Garden" and "The Forager's Harvest". We also like Russ Cohen's lightweight book "Wild Plants I have Known. . . and Eaten". Another good guide with photos is "Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide" from Sterling Publishing. One of our favorites, even though it is an bit large and heavy is Steve Brill's "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants".

9. Bag: This should be amended to "bags" since we will carry bags inside of bags. These usually cost very little in the way of weight, and we can always use more bags. We carry a few ziplocks, some plastic grocery bags, some paper bags, and some canvas or cloth bags. Ziplocks are good for dirty items like roots, so you can seal up the dirt before it gets everywhere. Plastic grocery bags are good for leafy items and bulky items. Paper bags are good for mushrooms, and things we will bring home to dry inside a paper bag anyway, like bay laurel leaves. Robert also sometimes uses a basket tied to his neck or waist to carry foods while picking, and will then dump the gathered food into a bag to bring home.

10. Mentor: We did not just one day decide we would go into the woods and eat leaves. Sometimes we would find something like blackberries and talk about how good they were, and one day we decided to try to find something Robert calls "bear onions", which I know as ramps. The species in Europe are different than what is found here, but the taste is the same. Then we got some books, and tried to find some classes, which led us to Wildman Steve Brill. We take walks with him when he is in western Connecticut, and have foraged in his classes in all seasons. Sometimes there is a chance to hear a forager speak at a library, or at a farmer's market. Next we need to try to find someone to show us some mushrooms! We like to walk with friends and casually identify plants with them, and most people we encounter show lots of enthusiasm and curiosity about edible plants, so perhaps one day we could be mentors for someone else.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Foraging Report 06/06/2010

It was another good week for foraging, and we made plenty of observations about what is in season, blooming, coming soon, and what has passed us by for this year. We went back out and picked more wild strawberries, many more this week than last. I washed and hulled them, them crushed them with a bit of sugar to make a chunky sauce for a forager's breakfast this weekend. We ate cattail-pollen pancakes with wild strawberry sauce and had home fries sautéed with ramps bulbs.

Later that day, we headed to the HerbFest in Somers, CT to hear some music by Echo Uganda and attend a Wild Edible Walk given by Russ Cohen. We already owned his book "Wild Plants I have Known . . . And Eaten" which is published by the Essex County Greenbelt Association in Massachusetts. He is a good, clear speaker, sprinkling in his own personal anecdotes and experiences about the edibles we viewed. We did not learn any new plants, but did learn some new things about the plants we already knew. He went over the basics that we observed at the site, like autumn olive, nettles, grapes, mulberries, sumac, and curly dock.

Another berry just about ripe is the mulberry. We saw a few trees in Somers, CT with dark red fruit, but the white mulberries near our house are not ready at all. Robert says they are called "tree strawberries" in Hungary. Maybe in another week we can get them

The American lindens are blooming, but the European species we are watching are not ready yet. We will gather the flowers and the lighter colored bract attached to the leaf stem to dry for a fragrant tea. We noticed the elderberry flowers are starting to bloom at the roadsides, and will go out later this week to gather the umbels for wine, fritters, and some other recipes. We gathered a big bag of pineapple weed to dry for tea. While out one afternoon, we visited our favorite ramps patch and saw the maroon flower heads growing from the shady ground. The flowers are not open yet, but will open to small white umbels.

We saw that the common milkweed is also starting to flower, and collected the tightly clustered flower heads to eat. We boiled the broccoli look-a-likes once for 7 minutes, and they tasted wonderful, a bit like silky green beans. I then tried a recipe with the cooked flowers that was like a crustless quiche and it was very quickly eaten. It is too late to search for the shoots of the milkweed, and soon we will gather the immature seed pods.

Cattails are at the flower-spike stage, where the flower spikes are still enclosed by the reeds. We cut off the flower spike, both male and female parts, and bring them home to clean. Once peeled, you can see the lower, lighter green female part and the larger, darker green male part of the flower spike. I cut them apart and cooked them for 15 minutes for cattail-on-the-cob. There is not a lot on the female parts, but the male parts provide some mealy, corn-like starch. Gillian really enjoyed these! Later, the male part of the flower spike will be covered with pollen we can collect, while the female part of the flower spike will mature into the "hot dog" spike most people recognize. I am planning on cooking a chowder with the remaining male flower spikes we have.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Foraging Report 05/31/2010

This was another good week for foraging, and we added 2 new plants to our growing list of edibles. Having a long holiday weekend also allowed us to hide 9 letterboxes.

We knew it was getting time to check for strawberries, since we transplanted a few wild plants near the house, and picked some ripe ones. We made a trip out to the Salmon River State Forest to a very accessible patch of plants growing in a field. We did get a handful, but in another week they will be better, as there were still blossoms on some plants. Along this same are were some pineapple weeds, a lovely little herb we pick for a tea. The flower heads look like chamomile flowers without petals, and smell exactly like pineapple when crushed. Some more abundant greens here are yellow wood sorrel and sheep sorrel, since they like the open area. It is here that we also planted 4 letterboxes, Foraging Sorrel Series, on an unmarked trail along the Blackledge River.

On a quick afternoon trip down to Harkness park, we picked a sackful of red clover flowers to dry for tea, found a few asparagus plants growing wild, pulled some young cattail stalks, and noted we were too early for gathering linden blossoms. Most linden trees planted in Connecticut are the American variety, and while they still make a pleasant tea, the European varieties planted at Harkness are more fragrant.

Around the house Robert noticed some common mallow. The hairy leaves are edible if cooked, and the small seed head is edible raw when young and tender. It is referred to as the "cheese". We'll look for more plants to gather a large amount for some serious tasting.

We picked a bunch of wild garlic flowers to eat, and pulled some garlic heads from the soil. I think I'll try to make a braid if I can find enough around here. Robert gathered a big bowl of smilax to cook with some oil and soy sauce, and it was very tasty.

On another day we headed up to Thompson to look for some letterboxes, hide some letterboxes, and forage. There was some re-enactment camping happening on the west side of the Thompson Dam, and we visited the site and learned a bit about primitive camping and cooking outdoors. On one old paved road on the west side of the Dam, we planted 3 Foraging Japanese Knotweed boxes. We passed some very mature knotweed along the sunnier sections of the old farm road. We also found some nettles, hickory trees, orpine, black cherry trees, black raspberries, cattails, and grape vines. Down below the dam, while searching for another box, I found a great spot to hide Foraging Wild Grapes and it's bonus along a short trail to another small dam. There were 2 families of 8 Canada geese each hissing at me down there! I hope these boxes get lots of traffic at the upcoming letterboxing gathering in June. Here we also found a few big clusters of cleavers. It has some velcro-like properties in that it will stick to a cotton shirt or bag. We ran around throwing them at each other, playing a silly forager game we now call "Cleavers". This herb can be juiced and drunk as a body cleansing herbal remedy, or the leaves can be cooked in soups.