Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mulberry Recipe - Black and White Mulberry Ricotta Tart

Both the black mulberries (Morus nigra) and the white mulberries (Morus alba) have ripened. From a heavily laden tree, we can pick gallons of berries by spreading a tarp under the branches and shaking the tree. The black mulberries are already on their way past, so we missed our opportunity to make some jam this year. Using the Roma food strainer, we can remove the stems and seeds with little effort to make a sweet, smooth jam. Instead, Robert started a gallon of wine with the ugliest but ripest berries. I picked out enough nice ones to add to this tart, along with some white mulberries.

This recipe is included in our book, available in Spring 2016.
White mulberries

Monday, June 27, 2011

Foraging Report 06/27/2011

Elderberry flower crepes

milkweed "capers"

This past week we gathered  more common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flower buds to make more capers and we kept some in the fridge already boiled to add to our cooking all week. We added the buds to soups, stir fry, and in a cheesy breakfast omlette. Our Monarch butterfly emerged from it's chrysalis today, and I let it fly away. I am sorry we don't have any pictures, but we may see some more when it is time to gather the pods from the milkweed field.

We picked a few more cattail (Typha latifolia) flower spikes to make into more griddle cakes, and to eat boiled on-the-cob style. The season for the flower spikes is almost over, and it would normally be time to collect the pollen next. All the rain this early summer has knocked the pollen off the male flowers before we have been able to collect it. Usually Robert grabs the flower spike and inserts it into a gallon jug in which he has cut a hole. Then he would shake the stalk around, knocking the pollen off into the jug. Some does escape, but not too much. Then he would sift the pollen to remove bugs and debris, and dry it gently in the oven. We usually keep a container in the freezer to use all year, but all we got this year was the pine pollen.

We noticed the elderberries (Sambuca nigra) blooming this past week, but it was difficult to gather flowers between the rainy days. If we tried to pick some right after a storm, all of the fragrance and flavor was washed out, so we waited for a few dry days, and picked a bagful. Robert made a crepe batter with puréed flowers, and served them layered with wild grape jam. He also battered and deep fried some clusters, and Gillian gobbled them up with a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

While taking a short hike in a favorite area, we found some mushrooms that we tentatively identified as tree ears, or wood ears (Auricularia auricula). We will try to get then viewed by David Fischer before collecting any. They are supposed to be tasty cooked in Chinese-style food, and can be dried and reconstituted. There were lots of them on a dying autumn olive tree right off the trail.

We also came across several varieties of wild blueberries and huckleberries (Vaccinium species)growing in rocky, poor soil. Some of the wild blueberries were obviously lowbush, some had much larger leaves, some were loaded with berries, others had few. We managed to find a small handful already ripe, and will return next week to compete with the birds for some berries. At this stage, I can differentiate between the blueberries and huckleberries by breaking open a green berry and counting the seeds. Huckleberries have exactly 10, and wild blueberries have many more smaller seeds. Both are tasty, but there is a more complex sour flavor in the huckleberries, along with a seedier texture since the seeds (or technically, nutlets) are larger than blueberry seeds.

We also had an opportunity to test out the machete I won from the Outdoor Blogger Network and Gerber. I'll write up a full review in a day or two. We used it to clear some pathways of low hanging branches, and cut down a 3" thick black birch (Betula lenta) tree. With the inner curved blade of the machete, Robert was able to strip the bark easily to retrieve the wintergreen flavored cambium layer. We took home a large segment of the tree, which scented the car and house nicely. Robert will try to carve some utensils from the wood. Black birch inner bark can be made into a tasty tisane, and has some medicinal properties discussed by Wildman Steve Brill in a video that Robert recorded recently.
Black birch bark

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Foraging with "Wildman" Steve Brill - VIDEO

Robert and Gillian took a tour with "Wildman" Steve Brill in Cornwall, CT off a spur of the Appalachian Trail. While the trail was steep, Robert was able to film this segment about the Wildman discussing black birch (Betula lenta) along the way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Milkweed Flowers and Butterflies

Monarch caterpillar
We were out picking some more milkweed flower buds in a large, open field filled with milkweed plants (Asclepias syariaca) when we noticed all the butterflies on the open flowers. Milkweed plants will flower in stages, and most plants will have tight flower bud clusters, loose clusters, and fully opened flower clusters on the same stalk. Butterflies are constantly on the move, so Robert had a hard time getting them to "pose" for a picture. We saw some Monarchs, and more caterpillars, and others I don't know the names of. Anyone who can help with these butterfly names and ID?

I think it was orange with the wings open

The little orange one in the right corner

A very large butterfly

Fast and pretty

Monday, June 20, 2011

Milkweed Recipe - Milkweed Flowerbud Capers

We picked slightly looser flowerbud clusters from common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) plants to try to make a caper-like condiment. If you read the ingredients list on a jar of capers, it is mostly salt and vinegar. I looked up some recipes, and adapted them to make one 8 oz. jar of milkweed capers. They are a bit heavy on the vinegar, but tender and tasty.  Robert tried a different recipe, using garlic cloves and a salt brine only, and let the flowerbuds lacto-ferment. Both produced a great little condiment with strong flavors that we can use all year. We store them in the fridge. The capers can be served with some smoked salmon, some rich paté, or cooked into a piccata sauce.

Vinegar Milkweed "Capers"                       makes 1-8 oz. jar

2 Tbsp. salt
1 c. water
1 c. milkweed flower buds

Vinegar pickling juice:
1/2 c. white wine vinegar
1/4 c. water
2 tsp sugar
2 bay laurel leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme

1. Wash the milkweed flower buds to remove insects. Boil them for 2 minutes, shock in ice water, and squeeze to remove excess water. Pack them into an 8 oz. canning jar.
2. Make the salt brine by bringing the water and salt to a boil. Pour the hot brine over the flower buds. Cover the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 3 days.
3. Drain the salt brine from the jar. Make the vinegar pickling juice by boiling the vinegar with the sugar, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Pour the hot vinegar over the flower buds and allow to cool.
4. Cover the jar and refrigerate for 3 days. The capers are ready to use, keep refrigerated.

Lacto-fermented Milkweed "Capers"                            makes 1-8 oz. jar

1 c. milkweed flower buds
1 c. water
1 Tbsp.  salt

1. Wash the milkweed buds, boil them for 2 minutes, shock in ice water, squeeze to remove excess water,  and pack them into an 8 oz. canning jar.
2. Mix the water and salt together, mixing until the salt is dissolved. Pour the brine over the flower buds and cover.
3. Allow the buds to ferment at room temperature for 6-7 days. The liquid will appear to bubble out, so keep the jar on a plate. Keep the buds submerged at all times, using a weighted lid inside the jar, otherwise mold will be produced.
4. Taste, and store in the refrigerator in the brine.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Foraging Report 06/19/2011

While the growing season is still late, the edibles are finally coming in. We had gathered tightly closed milkweed clusters to cook with all week, adding them to a quiche, soup, making "capers" from the buds, and vegetable stir-fry. The flowers are opening now, and the smell is lovely. Blanche Derby has mentioned she eats the flowers raw from the plants, and we have heard of people frying the flowers in tempura batter. Our Monarch caterpillar has gorged himself on fresh milkweed leaves all week, and made his chrysalis. We hope to see the butterfly emerge in 10 days or so.

Along the seashore we gathered petals from the roses (Rosa Rugosa) to make into a highly fragranced sugar syrup to add to drinks. The color is a pretty dark pink, and the flavor is as strong as the fragrance. Robert also picked some of the green rosehips to try a pickle. We have some pretty pink rose petal wine bubbling away in a gallon jug, we hope to drink it next spring.
Cattails (Typha latifolia) are sending up their flower spikes, and they are easy to gather in abundance from a marshy area. Gillian loves to eat the flower spikes boiled and topped with butter. I pinch off the pulp from the male part of the flower and use it in recipes like griddle cakes and chowder. The flavor is similar to corn.

We were finally able to find some wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) in quantity, and made 2 small jars of jam. The flavor and fragrance of wild strawberries is so much stronger than what you can buy at the grocery store, but it takes a very long time to pick a lot. Some of the tiny berries are the size of peas. Robert also gathered some elderberry flowers (Sambucus nigra) to make syrup and crepes. The bushes are heavy with flowers, and it is easy to spot the large, white clusters from across a field.

We ended our week with a walk with "Wildman" Steve Brill out in Cornwall, CT. The walk was along a spur in the Appalchian Trail, and was very steep. He talked about partridge berries, burdock, garlic mustard, spice bush, low bush blueberries, black birch, and others. We were familiar with most of the plants he talked about, but learned sweet cicely (genus Osmorhiza) and common parsnip (Pastinica sativa). Robert brought home a large Reishi mushroom to dry for tea. Video coming soon!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cattail Recipe - Cattail Flower Griddle Cake

So may parts of cattails (Typha latifolia) are edible. The early shoots are edible as a vegetable in early spring. Pull apart the leaves when they are about 2' tall to get to the tender heart, and eat it like bamboo shoots, chopped raw in salads, and pickled lightly. The flavor is very similar to cucumber. Cattail flowers are a good source of bright yellow pollen in late spring in southeastern Connecticut. We gather and sift the pollen and use it as a nutritious supplement in baking throughout the year.

Gillian and the sheathed flower spikes
This is an easy recipe using the pulp from the cattail  flower spike in mid-spring. When we gather them, the flower spike is still sheathed in a single leaf. We cut the flower spike and bring it home to peel, but be aware that there are usually lots of tiny black beetles hiding inside the leaf, so peel them outside. I then pinch the darker green male portion of the flower along the stem, and the pulp flakes off easily. I cannot get much off the female flower, so I don't bother. I can still boil up the female flower and let Gillian chew on it like cattail-on-the-cob. For this particular batch we had some glasswort (Salicornia) from the seashore on hand, and I added it for a salty crunch. We served these like appetizers, with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Removing the male yellow-green pulp from the spike

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

Cattail flower stalk; male portion
on top, female portion on the bottom