Sunday, August 29, 2010

Foraging Report 08/29/2010

Walking along a lake today, we smelled grapes. Grapes? In August? You bet, and I picked 4 gallons of them, purplish-black, large, and yeasty smelling. We came home and made 2 batches of jam immediately. This season is so early, since we do not usually see grapes until late September or early October around here.

Another super early fruit is the autumn olive. There is great variability between bushes, almost like they each have their own personality. Ripening times and taste vary between bushes, even ones right next to each other. We have managed to pick enough already for one batch of jam and some fruit leather. Today we introduced the bush to someone who was chatting with us while we picked grapes, and then we gave him his own bag to gather some. The fully ripe and sweet bush was right alongside many totally green-berried bushes.

Robert manged to grab 3 very large puffball mushrooms, and we are going to try to have them confirmed by David Fischer. We have his book "Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America" and he will personally answer emails about mushrooms. We upload pictures and spore print photos to him, and find his website very useful

Robert went out to pick some more elderberries for another batch of elderberry-sumac jam made with sumac juice. Smooth sumac is wonderfully acidic, and easy to spot with it's bright red berries. The color of the sumac-ade is not quite as red with the smooth sumac as with the staghorn sumac, it is a bit more orange. We always have a container of the sumac-ade chilling in the fridge. Robert also tried a jelly made from the sumac with a sassafras infusion. The result is a amber colored, spicy, tart jelly that he and Gillian love.

We also went out this past week to pick beach plums(Prunus maritima). We got 3 gallons, and made 35 jars of reddish-purple, pulpy jam filled with the tart skins. This is a very tasty jam, perhaps my new favorite flavor. There were lots of the small plums left over, so we made a black cherry-plum wine.

A few more edibles we noticed were spicebushes, with their bright red, peppery berries, and wintergreen. Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries taste like tart allspice, and can be chopped and ground and added to recipes. The twigs and leaves can be gathered fresh for teas. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) berries are high in vitamin C and make a great breath refresher. The leaves can be used fresh or dried for an invigorating tea. Wintergreen contains methyl salicylate, which is a compound related to the active ingredient in aspirin, so chewing the berries or drinking the tea can help with minor pain.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jelly Tally 08/21/2010

The growing season has been running a bit early this year, a few weeks for most wild edibles in our area of southeastern Connecticut. Berries have been very abundant, benefitting from the excessive rains in spring and oppressive heat of summer. Wild cherries and plums are also around in large numbers. We picked rosehips at the shore earlier than expected, and some autumn olives are already red and sweet. We missed the wild blueberry and huckleberry season completely since it was too hot to be outside picking berries, so maybe next year. Still to come: wild grapes and autumn olives, maybe some mint, and something with all of the apples we have found growing at old farmsteads. The jellies, jams and butters we make are usually jarred in 1c (8 oz) jars and 1/2c (4 oz) jars. The jellies are clear and firm. Our jams are cloudy and filled with fruit pulp and sometimes skins, but no seeds, and are firm. The rosehip butter contains no pectin, but is thick and spreadable like a soft butter. They will make wonderful gifts!

Jelly Tally 2010

Wineberry, seedless jam 8-1c 5-1/2c

Blackberry, seedless jam 15-1c 4-1/2c

Wineberry-Blackberry jam 12 1c 4-1/2c

Sour wild black cherry jam 5-1c 1-1/2c

Wild black cherry jam 6-1c 6-1/2c

Rosehip jelly 16-1c 10-1/2c

Rosehip butter 10-1c 8-1/2c

Elderberry-Sumac jam 6-1c

Mulberry jam 5-1c

Beach plum jam 20-1c 8-1/2c

Sassafras-Sumac jelly 9-1c 6-1/2c

Sassafras honey 3-1c
Violet jelly 2-1c 1-1/2c

Rosehips Recipe - Rosehips Jelly

The size of the red or orange ripened fruit (the rosehip) of rose plants varies according to species. Multiflora roses are highly abundant along fields, producing pretty clusters of white roses, but tiny, fleshless hips that are only good for the birds. Most cultivated roses produce beautiful, complex flowers that are not appropriate for eating due to pesticide and chemical applications. The roses and rosehips we search for are the Rosa rugosa species, also known as beach roses or wrinkled roses. The flowers usually have 5 petals and are pink or white, and are fragrant and edible in salads. It is the orange-red, large fleshy rosehip that we seek out in the late summer for jelly. The fruit tastes a bit like apricots, and is rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, malic and citric acid, fructose, and zinc.

The Rugosa rose is an invasive species, originally from Japan. It grows well along sandy dunes on the east coast from southern Canada to North Carolina and west to Wisconsin and the Great Lakes. It can be useful to prevent dune erosion on beaches, and makes good cover for wildlife with its many prickers and dense foliage. We found some beautiful ripe rosehips along the Westerly, Rhode Island beaches much sooner than we expected to. It seems they are following the trend this year of ripening earlier than usual. We had placed a Foraging Rosehips letterbox at Hamonassett Beach in Madison, Connecticut, but it went missing this spring.

The dark green serrated leaflets are heavily veined, or wrinkled, and there are 5 to 9 leaflets on each leaf. The stems are covered with straight, grey prickles, although younger stems are more hairy than prickery. The flowers are large and usually occur singly in summer. They have a whorl of 5 pink or white petals with yellow stamens in the centers. The rosehip forms under the flower in the late summer, turning from green to reddish-orange when ripe. The hips are filled with many seeds and fine hairs that we remove before working with the remaining fruit. We find that the hairs are a serious skin irritant, so we recommend using gloves when scooping out the innards of the rosehip.

Once we clean the seeds and hairs from the rosehips, we can use the fruit for a few purposes. Robert likes to chop them in the food processor and dry them for tea. We also made some wonderful jelly-23 jars! After the rosehips are simmered, steeped, and hung in the jelly bag to extract the juice, I am left with a large quantity of soft fruit. I then purée that fruit to make rosehip butter-18 jars! Robert also dried some rosehip seeds to make a tea high in vitamin C. We ended up with so many rosehips from our day at the shore, we had enough to make a 3 gallon batch of rosehip wine that is still bubbling away on the counter.

Rosehip Jelly makes 6c.

8 c. cleaned and de-seeded rosehips
6 c. water
1/2 c. lemon juice
1 box Sure*Jell pectin
3 1/2 c. sugar

1. Clean the rosehips by removing the stems, the flower ends, the seeds, and inner hairs. Place the cleaned rosehips in a large pot with the water.

2. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook 1 hour until the rosehips are soft. Mash the rosehips and allow them to cool.

3. Hang the purée in a jelly bag and allow to drip for an hour. You will need 3 cups of rosehip juice.

4. Add lemon juice and pectin to the rosehip juice in another pot. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Add all of the sugar at once, and bring back to a hard boil for 1 minute.

5. Remove the hot jelly from the heat, skim the foam from the top. Place the hot jelly in jars and process.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A few observations about Maine letterboxing. . .

Mudflingin Fools were not joking when she told me the mosquito is the state bird.

Lots of boxes! Lovely views!

Creeping myrtle looks a lot like lowbush blueberries.

Camping at Thomas Point Beach is super fun. I need to sign up for next year's event.

Eating clams dug from the mud flats by Ford at 9PM with lots of melted butter= divine.

Letterboxers are a brave and generous bunch when it comes to trying our foraged fare. From the potluck food to our jams, I think everyone had a taste!

There are a lot of partridge berries in Maine. There are also a lot of chokecherry trees. Oddly, there are very few autumn olve bushes in Brunswick, making it difficult for me to describe what they are to curious people.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Foraging Report 08/04/2010

Still plenty of blackberries to harvest, so we get a bit every time we are in the area of the blackberry patch. The recent wet and warm weather has made some of the berries rot and some ferment on the canes, but there are still lots to pick. We also came across a nice patch of dewberries this week. Dewberries (Rubus eubatus) trail along the ground on a vine as opposed to growing on upright canes. They are also much smaller than most blackberries.

We finally came across some wintergreen while out letterboxing in the Salmon River State Forest. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) has a very strong wintergreen odor in the leaves and the berry. The berries are still green, but will ripen to red in the autumn. Gillian really liked this small plant for it's minty taste.

Smooth sumac berries are ripening and getting wonderfully sour. We picked a bunch after the "lick-test" to determine which were ready. This requires us to lick each bunch before cutting it from the shrub. We added cold water and let the sumac sit for a few hours to make some sumac-ade. The staghorn sumac makes a deep red liquid, but the smooth sumac is much more abundant in this area. Dwarf sumac is still in the flower stage.

We visited Westerly, Rhode Island to scan the beaches for some Rosa rugosa rosehips, and were very happy to come away with about 12 pounds. They seem to be very early this year, and wonderfully worm-free. Robert cleaned out the seeds and inner hairs and I made one batch of jelly, and he is drying the rest for tea. The flavor of ripe, fresh rosehips is similar to apricots, fruity and tart.

We also came across an aberrant bush of autumn olive that was completely ripe. Most bushes still have hard, dark green, completely unripe berries at this time of year. We plan on making more jam later in the autumn, along with fruit leather.

Elderberries are ripening, and we tried a batch of jelly, but it failed. It has not jelled yet, so we can use it as an elderberry syrup. Robert also made some purslane pickles from the purslane growing in our tomato bed. He happily weeds out the grass, but leaves the purslane weeds to flourish along with the wood sorrel and orach.

We are leaving this weekend to go to New Brunswick, Maine for a letterboxing gathering. Party time! We are bringing some cattail pollen biscuits filled with wineberry jam, and ramps biscuits filled with roasted onion and ramp jam and kielbasa for the Friday night potluck. Yum! Robert is bringing some extra jams to sell, and if you hike with one of us, you can get a free and fun foraging lesson!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Common Milkweed

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a food source that gives several edible parts during different times of the year. This 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.

Dogbane vs. milkweed, look for the hairs under magnification

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 8 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. Then we cooked them in a quiche and in soups, and they tasted even better. We did not try the open flowers, although they are edible.

The pods came very early this year with all of the rain in the spring and high heat this summer. Pods on different plants are all in different stages of readiness, so we can go out for multiple harvests. The pods we are gathering to eat are actually immature, the insides are completely white and the outside green shell is 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.