Monday, May 23, 2011

Pine as Food

Tough, two needle pine and male pollen cones
small sea beans
We spent part of our weekend at the seashore in Rhode Island, enjoying the break from the rain and seeking out new edibles in a salt pond environment. This is a good time to go, before Memorial Day, because the summer people have not arrived yet, and there is abundant, free parking. Most of the Westerly area beaches and shore is private property with no access, or access only for residents. Shellfishing licenses are required for out-of-staters, but we don't shellfish anyway. Our original search was for glasswort (genus Salicornia), which we found just sprouting up from the salt pond muck. It is our second discovery of pine pollen that was a pleasant surprise.

There were several pines along a sandy road we were following along resident-restricted Weekapaug Beach. They were about 30 feet tall, but appeared somewhat stunted. I tried several sources to identify this species, but my best conclusion is a non-native species, either Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris),  or Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis). Neither grow in this area usually, but are used as ornamental landscaping. The bark of the mature trees are scaly, red underneath. The needles are tough and grow in pairs in the fascicles, about 4 inches long. The older cones do not have a sharp spur on each cone scale, just a bump. I did not notice large seeds in the cones, just thin, flat ones.

 The pines seemed to be doing well in the salty environment where the ocean is just over a single dune. While passing one of the trees, we noticed they were making buds and small male pollen cones, and when we tapped the new growth, a cascade of yellow powder coated our hands. Robert suggested collecting the pollen, he observed that gathering pollen from these pines yielded much more than gathering pollen from cattails.I let him know we had an empty gallon jug in the Jeep, so he went back and got it and fashioned a gathering tool. He cut a hole into the side of the jug, and would place the pollen bearing male cones into the hole, then give it a tap. Most of the pollen stayed in the jug.

Lately we have started just snapping off each mature and some nearly mature male cones from each tree and putting them in a large bucket. We can't possibly reach every male cone because the trees are very tall, so over collection isn't an issue. One home, the bucket is placed in a warm area for a few days for the cones to mature further. We then take a piece of screen material, it is the same thing used to replace damaged window screens, and attach a sheet over the top of the bucket and shake the pollen out onto a very large piece of paper (best to do this outside on a day without wind, otherwise your furniture and shelves get a coating of pine dust!). For use we then start sifting the resulting pollen through finer and finer sifters until it is clear of debris, then spread it out over large platters and allow it to air dry for a few days. Once dry, we store it in glass jars in the freezer to use all year in baked goods and smoothies.

Pine pollen, almond, oatmeal, and banana smoothies

We brought the pollen home and sifted it first through a flour sifter to remove bugs and large debris. Then Robert sifted it through a tea strainer for very fine results. He spread the bright yellow powder on sheetpans to dry in a low oven, then put it in a glass jar in the freezer for storage. So far, we made some cheery, yellow cream-of-wheat, and pollen pancakes. The flavor is not very strong, but subtle. A search on Google brings up some amazing claims as to the nutritional and medicinal values of pine pollen, along with lots of purchasing sources. One site claims "Pine Pollen has over 200 bioacitve natural nutrients, minerals and vitamins"  and will be happy to charge you $29.79 for 2 oz. of pollen.

Food found in the wild, free, but for your labor. The season is short, just about 5-10 days.

We have also made a tea, or more correctly, a tisane from pine needles. The needles of the white pine (Pinus strobus) are slender and fragile, and within easy distance of our house. We gather them fresh and steep them in very hot, boiled water for 20 minutes--don't boil the needles as it will dissipate the aromatic oils in the steam.. The flavor is refreshing and pine-y, and the tisane is full of vitamin C. Robert has also gathered some of the inner bark, or cambium layer of pines and tinctured it in brandy. Gillian also likes to chew on the inner bark as a trailside nibble, and it is full of starches, sugars, and vitamins.

Evergreen syrup added to seltzer or mixed into cocktails is refreshing!

While working with some teens at a summer camp on some foraging lessons, we went out to collect assorted conifers on site to make a conifer syrup. We collected the needles of white pine, hemlock, fir, and spruce and had the kids use scissors to snip them up into smaller bits, and let some of the more responsible kids use a knife to chop the needles. (It's important to avoid yew, which contains the toxic alkaloid taxine. Yew can cause cardiac arrest among other symptoms, so you need to be able to differentiate your evergreen enough to identify yew from other conifers.) The syrup is made by mixing equal amounts of sugar and water in a big pot, then bringing it up to a boil, then simmering it for about 3 minutes. Make sure all of the sugar is dissolved, and then add the chopped conifer needles--we added enough to almost double the volume in the pot, essentially equal amounts of syrup and needles. Allow it to sit covered overnight, then strain out the solids. The syrup can be kept in glass for a short period, but also add a bit of ascorbic acid to prevent the sugar from crystallizing when it is kept for longer periods.

Finally, spruce tips are a wonderful edible in the spring, nice and tender. Gillian loves to eat them raw and right off the tree! They can be infused into syrups, sugar, or even salt as a flavoring. When nice and light green, they can be chopped and added directly into a cookie like shortbread.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Foraging Report 05/22/2011

It has been a rough week and a half for us here in southern New England with all the rain. When we finally got a dry afternoon to head to the seacoast, we were involved in an auto accident that ended our day at the local ER. We are fine, just a bit shaken up.

Last Saturday we took a walk with local forager Blanche Derby in Westhampton, MA on private land. She talked about dandelions, fiddleheads, stinging nettles, mayapples, and other edible and medicinal plants. She then presented snacks made with foraged plants, like knotweed muffins, edible flowers salad, and violet jam. It was a great experience to meet another forager and learn more.

We made some items with the lilac (genus Syringa) blossoms that bloomed in the area. Lilac jelly and candied lilacs look so pretty. The recipe for the jelly is here. Robert picked and boiled up some mulberry (Morus nigra) leaves for the first time. He picked the very young leaves just now unfurling. The taste was very nice, a bit like green beans.

dehydrated nettle powder
We manged to get out to the nettle (Urtica dioica) patch and gather 2 more buckets of the tops. Those we put in the dehydrator overnight, and then pulverized the dry leaves in a coffee grinder to get a fine powder. We used some powder in a bagel recipe with fantastic results, making bright green bagels with a deep nettle flavor. We could use the powder in pasta, dumplings, or bread in the future.

While in the nettle patch we came across 2 different types of thistles (genus Cirsium ) and peeled the flower stalks of their prickers to eat raw. The taste is like celery, and Gillian demanded a lot of peeled thistle. We can gather the flower stalks until the flower blooms, when the stalk will become too stringy.

wild strawberry blossoms
Gillian and I walked around the nettle patch while Robert cut more nettles, and she and I saw lots of future edibles blooming, along with wildflowers. There were wild blueberries (genus Vaccinium), wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana), autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata), wild black cherries (Prunus serotina) and lots of native red and yellow columbines and burgundy trilliums.

glasswort shoots
We finally did make it to the beaches near Westerly, RI. We were in search of glasswort (genus Salicornia), also known as beach asparagus, samphire, or sea beans. We did find some in two salt ponds, as it is a salt-tolerant succulent herb. The shoots were tiny, only about an inch high, so it appears we were too early in the year. We snapped up a handful of shoots, and enjoyed their briny, saltiness raw. We are planning on braving the seashore crowds later this summer to gather some more!

unknown pine,
making pollen
A surprise we came across while exploring the salt ponds of Weekapaug were some pine trees making vast quantities of pollen. Just a gentle tap of the branches let loose a cascade of yellow dust, and we decided to gather some. The male parts of the pine produce the pollen that fertilizes the female parts and make the pinecone. I can't seem to precisely identify what species this pine tree is, it appears to be a Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris). We then looked up pine pollen, and were astounded of the medicinal and nutritional claims made. We added some to cream-of-wheat, and froze some for future pancake making. There is a tiny pine scent in the pollen, not much.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Stinging Nettle Video

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lilac Recipe - Lilac Jelly

Crepes filled with lilac jelly
Lilacs are a delightful spring flowering shrub. There are about 25 different varieties, the main differences being flower color. Light purple is most common, and there is also white, dark purple, pink, variegated, and a double blossom. The flowers grow in a panicle cluster, and many varieties are fragrant. The leaves are opposite in arrangement and are heart shaped. Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is often planted in parking lots and as an ornamental shrub in yards. Make sure the bush has not been sprayed before you gather some flowers.

Candied lilacs
 We candied the flowers by brushing them with beaten egg white and sprinkling them with superfine sugar. This was a time consuming process, and should be done on a dry day. The results are pretty, and should make a lovely addition to a cake or cupcakes.

The jelly was made with lots of flowers removed from their cluster. We packed them in a glass cup and added boiling water, and let them steep overnight. The color of the infusion was a greenish-pink, not pretty at all. As I added the lemon juice, the color changed to an electric pink. After cooking the jelly and sealing it in the jar, the color faded to a light yellow, almost clear. The flavor, however, is very floral and sweet.

Lilac Jelly      makes 8- 4 oz jars

2 c. packed lilac flowers
2 1/2 c. boiling water

1. Pour the boiling water over the lilac flowers, cover and allow to cool. Allow the infusion to sit 8 hours, or overnight.
2. Strain the flowers from the liquid using a coffee filter, you should have about 2 1/4 c. liquid.

2 c. lilac infusion
4 T lemon juice
1 box Sure-Jell powdered pectin
4 c. sugar

3. Place the lilac infusion, lemon juice and pectin in a large pot. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a rolling boil.
4. Add all of the sugar at once, and stir to dissolve. Bring the jelly back up to a rolling boil for 1 minute.
5. Remove the jelly from the heat, skim the foam from the top (I got a lot of foam from this recipe) and ladle into hot, sterilized jars. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Foraging with Blanche Derby

This past Saturday we spend a beautiful afternoon on a Wild Weeds Walk with Blanche Derby, an author and producer of foraging videos on YouTube, and a wonderful teacher. We had the opportunity to chat with several wild foods enthusiasts after the event, and had a conversation about professionals and amateurs in a field, and compared the level of love, curiosity, and happiness an amateur brings to their hobby. Blanche may be a learned professional, but she still retains the giddiness and desire to listen and learn and teach of a person who has not become a burnt-out professional. She is willing to have a conversation with her students or participants, and accept ideas or recommendations from them with enthusiasm. Her program ran over the allotted time, but there were absolutely no complaints!

Sheep sorrel
Blanche led the walk on private land (Thank you Judy D!) in central Massachusetts through wet, shady woods, to yard margins, and into some planted gardens and trees. She discussed foraging guidelines, like gathering ethics, over gathering, use of guidebooks, experimentation with small portions of new foods, and creating a seasonal list of where and when you find wild edibles. She also provided a comprehensive list of reference books to help with a forager's education.

Mayapple flowering
Some of the plants we came across were dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), fiddlehead ferns (Pteris pensylvanica), violets, cleavers (Galium aparine), Kousa dogwood trees(Comus Benthamidia kousa), mayapple (Podophyllum pellatum), spruce trees, daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva), nettles (Urtica dioica), tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), wild strawberries( Fragaria virginiana), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetolla), lilacs, elderberries (Sambucus nigra), and sassafras (Sassafras albidum). We discussed identification, when and what parts to gather, and most importantly, what to do with the wild food!

 At the conclusion of the walk, she produced a feast for us to sample some of the wild foods we had just seen. There was a mixed flower salad, greens hummus, knotweed muffins with violet jam, sassafras and spicebush drink, and a mixed nut loaf. We all had a chance to mingle and chat, and had a good time, and seconds of the muffins. Robert and I were very happy to meet another forager, and so many people who are interested in foraging, and hope to attend another of her Wild Weed Walks.

Blanche discussing dandelions
Foraging Mayapple video with Blanche  click here

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fruits are Flowering!

Late spring brings out the blossoms on shrubs, trees and bushes of summer berries. This is a good time to identify a patch of wild edibles, and keep your eye out for the highly prized fruits and berries. In most cases, your only competition will be birds and squirrels, and fresh fruits usually freeze well for later use.

ornamental plum flowers
Plum trees (Prunus species) are often planted in cities and in parks as ornamentals. We find them in several store parking lots and in a local riverside park. The fruit is usually ignored, falling to the ground and rotting, but we don't mind gathering from low-traffic areas. Beach plums (Prunus maritima) may not have flowered yet, but will soon. They prefer the sandy soil of the dunes, and are cold hardy and salt-tolerant. We find them along the shoreline in southeastern Massachusetts in late August. Flowers on plum trees grow on short stems in clusters of 1-5 flowers, each with 5 petals. The colors of the flowers can be pure white or different shades of pink, and are usually fragrant.

autmn olives flowers
Autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata) are flowering, and you see them mostly along roadways, along field margins, and in abandoned open spaces. They are invasive, originally from Asia. Autumn olives usually grow as shrubs, but can reach the size of a small tree. There is a very large one located at the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, RI near the seal tank. The flower is whitish-silver when it first opens, but it yellows as it gets older. The flowers are arranged in clusters in the leaf axils all along the branches, and the appearance is pretty. The red berries are ripe in late summer or early autumn, persisting through the season.

wild blueberry flowers
Wild blueberries and huckleberries (Vaccinium species) are producing their bell-shaped flowers. The flower can range from white to pink or even shades of light green. In this area of southeastern Connecticut, we can find wild low bush blueberries, high bush blueberries and huckleberries all growing next to each other. They seem to prefer poor, acidic or boggy soil, and rocky outcrops. I use two methods to determine whether I have found a blueberry or a huckleberry bush, but have not been able to get into the specific species identification. Blueberries have many small seeds throughout and a dry, papery leaf. Huckleberries have exactly 10 larger, harder seeds arranged in a circle and have a golden resin on the backside of the leaves that you can rub onto your fingers. Both have a 5 petaled crown at their bottom and are various shades of blue, purple or black. Both berries ripen in July and we love to eat all blueberries and huckleberries we find.

wild strawberry flowers
Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) flowers are carpeting areas of yards, fields, and especially under power lines where the vegetation is kept low. It is a perennial herb, spreading through it's roots. The leaves are toothed and tri-foliate, and the flower is white with a yellow center. Pay attention to where you find these clusters of flowers, since the fruit that ripens in June is the most fantastic strawberry you will ever have. The fruit is small, only about the size of your fingernail, so the harvest is sometimes only a handful. The taste is concentrated and intense, nothing at all like a supermarket berry.

wild black cherry flowers
Wild black cherries (Prunus serotina) are blooming in central Massachusetts, but not quite yet here in Connecticut. Black cherries are a native species, very common in our area. They grow along roadsides and along the edges of fields, and often in large groups. The flowers are white and fragrant, growing on a raceme of about 40 blooms. The fruit will ripen to black in late summer, and can be used for jams, drinks, and flavorings. Each tree has it's own taste, so if at first you think the cherries are too sour, try another tree from another location.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Foraging Report 05/11/2011

Garlic mustard and ramps felafels with garlic mustard hummus
Another couple of weeks have passed filled with foraging for early greens, and now we have added edible blossoms to the mix. We have been working on some more recipes, especially jellies, and some ideas on what to do with all those greens.

The nettles (Urtica dioica) have really grown high. We clip the top 3 sets of leaves, and are willing to eat that much of the stem, before it gets too tough and stringy. We blanched more of the greens and put them in the freezer for use in the winter. Soups, risottos, Indian aloo saag (potatoes and nettles), quiche, and crepes were cooked, and we made a batch of nettle beer from the cooking liquid used to blanch the nettles. There was no grain or hops involved, but plenty of citrus, sugar, and beer yeast. The result is drinkable, but I wish it retained a bit more carbonation.

Garlic mustard
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) flower stalks have bolted and the flowers are blooming. Entire roadsides, fields, and yard edges are carpeted with the small, white, 4 petaled flower clusters. We eat the flowers and unopened flower buds, even though they seem to have a more fiery flavor than the rest of the plant.The top leaves along the flower stalk are more triangular then the basal kidney-shaped leaves, and more tender. They get a quick boil, and are chopped up and added to a number of recipes like hummus, felafels, scrambled eggs, and quiche.

Lambs quarters
Lambs quarters (Chenopodium berlandieri), sheep's sorrel (Rumex acetosella), and chickweed (Stellaria media) are growing in our raised garden as weeds, along with dandelions (Taraxicum officinale). All four make nice additions to salads, or can be puréed into creamy dressings for salads like potato or egg.

Japanese knotweed, violet, and dandelion jellies
Some of the edible blossoms we have now are violets (Viola species), dandelions, lilacs (Syringa species), and garlic mustard flowers. We made jelly from the violets, lilacs, and dandelions, and candied some of the violets and lilacs.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) shoots in protected areas are coming up. Robert gathered a few and boiled them for 5 minutes and we ate them with some butter and salt. I think they taste a bit like green beans, with no bitterness at all. In the same small, protected area, he found a few wild asparagus stalks. Cattails (Typha latifolia) are growing, but are still to small for us to gather the hearts.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Garlic Mustard Recipe - Green Falafels and Pita

We try our hardest to eat all of the garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) that we can. It is a highly invasive species that can overrun an environment. There are many recipes to add it to, most any place you add spinach. The garlic mustard may contribute a peppery or slightly bitter taste, but the bitterness can be tempered with a quick 5 minute boil of the raw greens before you chop them. Here we add them to a baked falafel, along with some ramps greens. I bake my own pitas, but store bought ones work just as well. We stuff our pitas with feta, shredded lettuce, salted cucumbers, red cabbage, pickles, olives, falafels, shredded carrots, and tzatziki sauce. These falafels are baked instead of fried. I also start by soaking raw, dried chickpeas overnight, and don't even cook them before blending them in the food processor.

Green Falafels                   makes about 35 falafel patties

1 c. packed, chopped raw garlic mustard greens
10 green ramps leaves, or 1 small onion, chopped
1 T fresh cilantro, chopped
2 cans chickpeas, or about 3 cups raw, soaked chickpeas
1 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
2 T ground cumin
1 T ground coriander
2 T flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 c. breadcrumbs

1. Heat the oven to 375°. Place the greens and chickpeas in a food processor, and blend until chunky.
2. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, spices, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, and process until a thick, slightly chunky paste forms. You may need to add more olive oil, you want the mixture to be scoopable.
3. Scoop the mixture into patties, about 2 Tablespoons for each patty. Coat the falafel in the breadcrumbs and place on a baking sheet. Spray the falafels with a light coat of olive oil cooking spray.
4. Bake for 20 minutes, flip over and bake 10 minutes longer. Serve with pitas and fillings.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Stinging Nettles Recipe - Nettle Lentil Soup

Stinging nettles
Because of the extra cool, extra late spring, nettles are at the perfect stage for picking in southern New England right now. Nettles (Urtica dioica) are a perennial herb growing on a hollow, stringy stem. The leaves are coarsely toothed, papery, 1-3 inches long, with a pointed tip and are shaped a bit like an elongated heart. All parts of the plant contain the stings, which are like mini hypodermic needles filled with formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine and other nasty things to irritate your skin. Pick the shoots in early spring before the small, greenish, inconspicuous flowers appear by using gloves. In a large patch, it is easy to fill a large paper bag quickly.

The sting disappears with cooking or drying. You can steam the leaves, but the stems can be too tough and fibrous to eat. We also add the leaves directly to cook in soup, chop them up to use in quiche or spanikopita filling, or eat then lightly stir fried as a green. The stems and leaves can be dried in a dark place to use for an herbal tisane in the winter months when the "green" flavor is a welcome one. Nettles contain wonderful amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, beta carotene, and provide an excellent source of plant-based protein.

Nettle soup with focaccia

This recipe is available in our book, available Spring 2016.
Stinging nettles patch