Friday, April 29, 2011

Foraging Report 04/29/2011

Ramps leaves
April showers bring . . . May edibles. There has been lots of rain this past week, and not too many sunny days. The late winter and wet spring has produced some very hearty wild food this season so far. We noticed the many, many ramps (Allium tricoccum) patches that we visit have been growing especially thick this year, the stalks of the greens are thick and strong, and the leaves are wider than usual. The leaves are so substantial we have had to gather less leaves to chiffonade and freeze, and have considered stuffing the leaves like cabbage.

Nettle dumplings for soup
Nettles (Urtica dioica) are finally getting tall enough to pick in large quantities. We have several bricks of blanched and chopped nettles in the freezer to use throughout the year. The nettle beer is bubbling along happily, we hope to give it a try next week. We have nettles drying for tea in paper bags. I hope to get more nettles this weekend for soups, and I would like to try the bagel recipe with chopped nettles. We made some vibrant green soup dumplings, and are working on the recipe for sharing.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is another abundant mid-spring green. The flowers on the flower stalks have started blooming, so we won't gather any more of them as they are getting tough. Now it is the triangular leaves near the tops of the flower stalks we can pick in vast quantities and boil as a side dish. I have remarked on how some foragers do not like the triangular leaves or the flower stalks due to bitterness, and we still disagree. Robert and Gillian tend to like bitter things like dandelion and burdock root, but I really do not. I do, however, love the garlic mustard stalks and leaves. I have a hard time even tasting the garlicky properties of the plant, and enjoy the green flavor very much. I suspect that climate, geography, and growing conditions as well as personal taste prevents us all from agreeing on the edibility rating of some plants. Soon after the flowers bloom, in early June, the seed pods will elongate and we'll pick those to eat while they are still green and tender. We really are trying to do our part in preventing the spread of this invasive plant by eating it's reproductive parts.

Dandelion flowers
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) greens and flowers seem to enjoy the abundant rain. Robert picked greens for boiling and flowers for making jelly this week. Picking the flowers for wine or jam is really time consuming, as the yellow petals have to be removed from the flower head without any green bits, which impart bitterness. This task leaves us with aching shoulders and blackened fingertips as we hunch over bowls for hours to end up with enough flower petals for a recipe.

Violets (Viola species) are carpeting lawns and shaded grassy areas. The early leaves are edible, but not our favorite. It is the pretty flowers that get our attention. They can be tossed into any salad, used to garnish desserts or yogurt, and Gillian likes them because they are purple. We picked a large quantity to make some electric purple violet jelly.

Japanese Knotweed, proper size
for gathering and cooking
Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) is just now getting too big and tough to gather. To use the plant in food, it has to be tender, but to make jelly I suppose a slightly larger and tougher plant is acceptable since the pulp is strained out of the juice. The jelly is surprisingly pink, not green as we expected. Robert loves it, I think it is OK, but I tend to not love most of the things we make with knotweed. The taste is hard to describe and compare to other things, it really is unique.

Now is a good time to take notice of fruit trees growing in wild places as they are blooming. We pass by accidental apple trees, landscaped plum trees at parks, and soon will notice the wild cherry trees in bloom.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ramps Recipe - Ramps Pesto Potato Salad

This is a great green potato salad to make in the spring when our bodies are craving green things. I just tossed some cooked russets with ramps pesto and boiled eggs. This would also be tasty served with bacon crumbled on top.

Ramps Pesto Potato Salad          makes 6 servings

6 russet potatoes, diced
1/2 c. ramps pesto
olive oil
2 boiled eggs, diced
salt and pepper
6 strips bacon, cooked and diced

1. Boil the potatoes until tender and drain them Toss the hot potatoes with the pesto, adding a bit of olive oil to keep the salad moist. Add the diced boiled eggs, salt and pepper, and crumbled bacon, if using.

Ramps Recipe - 3 Onion and Beer Soup

This is similar to a French onion soup, although this version is vegetarian. The three onions we used were some accidentally pulled up ramps bulbs along with the greens, spring onion bulbs, and garden chives. The spring onions are the ones you see growing like crazy in the early spring all over people's lawns. The small bulbs are good to pull up very early before they start sending off smaller bulbs. This soup can be a bit bitter, but the addition of the Swiss cheese mellows it out nicely.

3 Onion-Beer Soup        makes 4 servings

2 c. mixed chopped onions, ramps bulbs and greens, spring onions, and chives
3 T olive oil
2 T flour
1 1/2 c. oatmeal stout beer
1 c. vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
croutons for serving
1/2 c. shredded Swiss cheese

1. Sautée the chopped onions in the olive oil until they are translucent and wilted, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the flour to the pot, and cook to create a light roux. Pour in the oatmeal stout and vegetable stock, whisking to prevent lumps. Bring the soup up to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Serve with croutons and shredded Swiss cheese on top of the soup.

Japanese Knotweed Recipe - Knotweed Wine

This recipe takes a bit more patience, as there is the year-long wait to taste the wine, and a bit more in the way of equipment. An early taste was slightly viscous and very vegetal, but the one year wait really improved the characteristics of the wine, and it was dry, a tad tart, overall a good effort.

Japanese knotweed 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 out-mulch all competitors.

Japanese Knotweed Wine      Makes about 1 gallon

4 pounds Japanese knotweed, leaves removes, chopped
3 pounds sugar
1 tsp. yeast nutrient
juice of one orange
one envelope champagne yeast
1 gallon water

1. Place the chopped knotweed stalks in a straining bag, tie the top off into a knot, and place that in a sterilized 5 gallon bucket.

2. In a large pot, bring the water, sugar, yeast nutrient and orange juice to a boil and pour it all over the knotweed in the straining bag. Let it cool until about 70°F, and sprinkle the champagne yeast over the top. Stir the liquid and cover the bucket.

3.Keep this concoction in the bucket for a week, then strain it into a gallon demi-jon and top it with an airlock. Allow it to sit until the fermentation stops, then decant the wine into smaller bottles for aging.

Japanese Knotweed Recipe - Knotweed Dessert Bars

We put his recipe up last year, but it really is good and the knotweed is at the optimum height right now. This should be made ideally with the thickest, but shortest stalks you can find so they will be fleshy without any woodiness.

Japanese Knotweed Dessert Bars     makes a 11" x 7" pan

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

2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 c. white sugar
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. grated fresh nutmeg
3 c. chopped knotweed stalks, leaves removed

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease the 11" x 7" baking pan.

2. In a food processor, pulse the crust ingredients together to resemble coarse crumbs. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan evenly. Bake the crust for 12 minutes.

3. For the filling, combine the eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla, and spices with a whisk. Stir in the chopped knotweed pieces and coat them evenly. Pour the filling mixture over the warm crust and spread it evenly.

4. Bake 30-40 minutes, until the egg mixture is set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool. Cut into 1" squares and serve.
Unbaked Knotweed Bars

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ramps Recipe - Ramps Bagels

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are an easy item for many foragers to start with. In the spring, areas of wet forest are blanketed with the green leaves that grow mostly in pairs. The leaves are lanceolate, 8-12 inches long, flat and wide. The leaves are smooth and have almost a rubbery feel, and lack veins. When bruised, they emit a distinct garlic smell. Many communities in Appalchia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania hold festivals in the spring to celebrate the ramps, featuring this foraged food in local specialties. The leaves are gathered and chopped up to add to dishes, imparting a oniony/garlicky flavor. Ramps can be found at farmer's markets and in fancy restaurants. We gather them to use immediately, and then clean and chop more leaves to freeze for use all year. We add the chopped leaves to soups and biscuits, and pretty much anything that you would add garlic or onion to, like scrambled eggs, potatoes, dips, and beans.

In autumn, it is the bulbs that are dug up and used like onion bulbs. It may be a bit harder to find the bulbs, since all that is visible is the dried flower stalk, usually still bearing black seeds in clusters of three in an umbel. Push aside the leaf litter and you will see the tips of the bulbs. Sometimes there are clusters of bulbs to dig up.

I had beeen making plain bagels since I came across a recipe on Serious Eats. It seemed like a logical and delicious step to make them flavored with freshly chopped ramps greens for the spring. We eat them with plain and vegetable cream cheese.

Ramps Bagels          makes about 12 bagels

19.25 oz. King Arthur bread flour
2 1/2 tsp yeast
2 T white sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 c. finely chopped ramps greens
12 oz. hot water (120°)
2 T demerara sugar
1 egg, beaten with 1 T water

1. In a food processor with the dough blade, pulse together the flour, yeast, white sugar, salt and chopped ramps greens.

2. Add the hot water slowly through the chute, and contnue processing until the dough is elastic, about 30 seconds.

3. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover and let it rise for 1 hour.

4. Divide the dough into 12 portions, about 2 oz. each.

5. Prepare a water bath by mixing 16 c. of water with the demerara sugar and bring it to a rolling boil in a large pot. Heat the oven to 500° F.

6. Shape the portioned dough into 7" snakes, pinch the ends together to form bagels. Alternatively, form balls with the portioned dough and poke a hole in the middle. Widen the hole with a few fingers. Allow the shaped bagels to rest on sheetpans sprinkled with cornmeal for 10 minutes.

7. Boil up to 3 bagels at a time in the water bath, cooking for 30 seconds on each side. Tranfer the boiled bagels back to the sheetpan and brush with the eggwash.

8. Bake the bagels for 15 mintues, flip them over on the sheetpan, reduce the heat to 350°F and cook them 10 minutes longer.

Japanese Knotweed Recipe - Cold Dessert Soup

This recipe is based on a Hungarian recipe for a chilled sour cherry soup. The soup is smooth, served cold as a dessert. The color is a lovely shade of spring green, and the soup would look wonderful garnished with some violets. This was a real taste surprise.

Chilled Japanese Knotweed Dessert Soup     makes about 6 servings

4 c. chopped Japanese Knotweed, leaves removed
4 c. water
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
10 T raw or demerara sugar
1/2 c. sour cream

1. Combine the Japanese knotweed, water and the cinnamon in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, covered. Remove the knotweed from the heat.

2. Whisk the sugar into the saucepan, mixing until the sugar is dissolved.

3. Purée the knotweed mixture in a blender. Pass the purée through a fine sieve or through several layers of cheesecloth to create a smooth texture and remove any large pieces.

4. Whisk the sour cream into the hot soup. Chill and serve.

Garlic Mustard Flower Stalks Taste Great!

Garlic mustard stalks
In the spring, the second year growth of the garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) really takes off. First a few clusters of basal rosettes appear, meaning a bunch of leaves growing on stems from the ground. Then very soon afterwards, a flower stalk will shoot up. It is topped by a cluster of unopened flowers that look like a small broccoli flowerette, and there are a few triangular leaves growing on the stalk. Before the stalk gets too tall, about 5-8 inches high, we pick them in bunches and cook them as a wonderful green side vegetable with dinner, dressed with butter and salt.

We ordered a great reference book by John Kallas, in Oregon, called Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. He has lots of information about leafy greens in the wild, but we disagree with him regarding the bitterness of garlic mustard. In our experiences here in southeast Connecticut, the flower stalks are not bitter at all, and we give them a gentle 3 minute boil to wilt the leaves and stem. The triangular leaves that grow on the flower stalk later in the season, even when the seed pods are present, taste much better to us than the kidney-shaped leaves that grow from the basal rosette all year long. We make a pesto from the tough basal leaves, where the peppery taste is stronger. We even like the green seed pods lightly boiled and served with butter and salt.

We have also managed to make a great mustard condiment from the hard, black seeds. The taste is very fiery, like a horseradish, while the color is a dark brown like dijon. Robert ground them in a coffee mill, and mixed the ground seeds with vinegar, salt, water and honey to make a strong mustard.
Garlic mustard seed Mustard

Foraging Report 4/24/2011 and Ramps Rant

Cleaned nettles
The 3 Foragers spent Friday, Earth Day 2011, driving around a few small towns here in southeast Connecticut looking for some of nature's bounty. We stopped in Columbia and picked 2, 5-gallon buckets of stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) to dry for tea and cooked most of it to keep in the freezer for use later in the year. Robert also started a 5 gallon bucket of nettle beer.

Evening Primrose roots
Robert dug up a bunch of evening primrose roots (Oenothera biennis), and we scrubbed and boiled them. I don't think they taste great on their own, they have a slightly acrid aftertaste, but I am thinking they would cook up well in a soup, or sautéed like homefries. He grabbed young roots, so they were not too stringy or tough.

Garlic mustard flower stalks
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is sending it's flower stalks up at a fast rate. We snap off the stalks at about 5 inches and just boil them for a few minutes to wilt them, then toss them with some butter and salt for an awesome green side dish with dinner.

Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) is also growing fast, and we have tried a cold soup that was surprisingly good, and I have a jelly recipe in the works.

Ramps leaves
We also went ramps (Allium tricoccum) picking at 2 large patches. While driving and hiking between Norwich and Glastonbury, we passed at least 15 patches that we had not noticed before. I read that New York Times article this week about ramps and their supposed decimation due to overpopularity and overharvest to feed foodies in NYC. I think it is a pile of alarmist rubbish, and I am personally insulted that someone would accuse the 3 of us of overharvesting ramps, and proceed to tell us how we should be doing it. Some guy digging up 20,000 pounds of plants with roots attached versus the 3 of us gathering the greens only in the spring is not even comparable. I thought I had stated several times that in the spring, we only pick the green leaves, and don't even come close to gathering 10% of a patch. You would be hard pressed to even see where we took some leaves, we gather so little. It is during the spring that the bulbs are using their energy to grow leaves and make new bulbs, so the onion bulbs are small, not worth digging. In the late autumn we dig the bulbs, and then only what the 3 of us will use and eat. We made more pesto, some onion-beer soup, potato salad, and ramps bagels with Friday's harvest.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ramps Recipe - Ramps Pesto

Ramps Pesto

This pesto is quite tasty and pungent. Robert like to spread it thickly on a slice of bread, I like it over hot pasta. The ramps greens can be quickly blanched and shocked in ice water before processing to soften the garlic burn, but we find it is fine used raw. We then freeze 4 oz. portions in small plastic cups to use all year.

This recipe is available in our book, available Spring 2016.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ramps Recipe - Chinese Style Pancakes

Ramps pancakes with dipping sauce
I ran across a similar recipe on one of my favorite food-based websites originally for Chinese style scallion pancakes. I simply substituted chopped ramps stalks and greens for the scallions. Robert says they taste like MORE. This is as good as wild food can be. The method might sound like a lot of work, but trust me, it took me longer to type up the instructions that it takes to roll and fry the pancakes.

Roll out dough, coat with sesame oil

Roll up dough

Twist up the rolled dough into a snail, pinch end
Squish it flat, then roll it out again

Add another coat of sesame oil

Sprinkle on the thinly sliced ramps leaves

Roll it up again, twist into another snail, pinch the end, then squish it flat again

Roll the pancake out a final time

Fry it up in a cast iron pan until browned on both sides

Ramps Pancakes--Chinese Style    makes 4 pancakes, about 6 servings

2 c. all purpose flour
1 c. boiling water
toasted sesame oil
2 c. chopped ramps stalks and greens

1. Place flour into a food processor. With processor running, pour in 3/4 c. boiling water. Process 15 seconds, until a ball forms around the blade. You may need to add up to 1/4 c. more water to form the dough.
2. Transfer the dough to a bowl to rest 30 minutess at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator.
3. Divide the dough into 4 portions and on a lightly floured surface, roll one into a circle about 8" in diameter. Brush a thin coat of sesame oil over the dough circle, and roll up the circle like a jelly roll.
4. Twist the roll into a snail shape, and flatten the snail with the palm of your hand. Roll it out again into another 8" circle and brush again with sesame oil. Spread 1/2 c. chopped ramps over the surface of the pancake. Roll again like a jelly roll, and again into a snail. Flatten the snail the final time, and roll into a 7" round circle.
5. Repeat for the remaining dough to end up with 4 flat pancakes.
6. Heat some oil in a sauté pan until very hot. Place one pancake in the hot oil. Swirl the pan around and cook the pancake about 2 minutes, keeping the pancake moving so that it will not stick. Flip over with tongs, and cook the other side an additional 2 minutes, until both sides are blistered and golden brown. Cool the pancake on paper towels to absorb extra oil. Cut each pancake into 6 wedges. Repeat with remaining 3 pancakes. Serve with soy-based dipping sauce and/or sour cream.

Dipping Sauce

2 T soy sauce
2 T rice wine vinegar
1 T finely chopped ramps greens
1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
2 tsp. sugar

1. Mix all ingredients together, let sauce sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.