Monday, April 30, 2012

Photo Collage - Flowers of Edibles, Edible Flowers

Color! That was my first thought when I saw this photo collage that Robert put together. Then I remarked that that was a lot of photos, and told me there were even more that he had not included. These are photos of two things - flowers of edible fruits and berries, or flowers that are edible themselves. 

Some of these blossoms fall into both categories, like roses that are fragrant and have edible petals and produce vitamin C packed, fleshy hips, and the flowers of the milkweed that are great as capers and eventually turn into the edible seed pods to stuff with cheese and bake. Some blooms are from a more medicinal flower, like the mullein or St. John's Wort. Most are the flowers of berries and fruits: wineberries, may apple, wild plums, wild blueberries, elderberries, wild strawberries, and autumn olives. There are even a few from plants that we dig for their roots, like evening primrose, field garlic, trout lily, dandelion, and Solomon's Seal. Finally, we have the lovely lilacs that can be candied, the black locust clusters that are great deep fried in batter, linden bracts for aromatic tea, red clover that's a sweet, nectar-filled trail nibble, and delicate violets that can be used in syrups and jelly.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Photo Collage - Dandelion

The humble dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a naturalized invader from Europe that is found all over North America and Canada in hayfields, pastures, lawns, parks, empty lots and other disturbed areas. It is  an herbaceous perennial that grows all of its leaves from a basal rosette. Each leaf stalk has a lighter green midrib, and the leaf is often deeply lobed with tips that point back towards the base of the leaf. Flower stalks are hollow tubes, sometimes smooth and sometimes covered with a fine fuzzy wool. Each flower stalk carries a single composite flower head composed of many ray florets, forming the familiar yellow flower that dots the landscape. Shortly after blooming, often the next day, the white, fluffy head of seeds is formed. Each seed is attached to a pappus of fine hairs that works like a parachute to catch winds and disperse the seeds over wide areas. The taproot of dandelion is fleshy and long, becoming woody with age. It is difficult to eradicate dandelions from a lawn because the taproot is difficult to dig up in one piece, often breaking and still managing to grow back. All parts of dandelion exude a white sap when broken or cut.

Dandelion greens are a common food in Italy and France, and we can find them in our local grocery stores alongside the other leafy greens like kale and mustards. There is always a bit of bitterness associated with dandelion greens, but that level of bitterness can vary with climate, time of year, and habitat of the plant. Robert gathers the greens only in the early spring before the dandelions flower, or in the late fall. He gets them from a meadow next to a seasonally flooding river that receives full sun, and quickly boils them to wilt the greens and store them in the freezer for later use, adds them raw to salads, and cooks them in recipes calling for greens. As he will pick about 5 gallons of greens at a time and boil them in a big pot of water, he is then left with a big pot of dandelion tea filled with vitamins, minerals and iron, that he sweetens and chills to drink. When the flowers appear, we pick them in abundance to use the yellow petals in jelly, wine, and added to breads and muffins. Gillian will powder her face with pollen as she munches the flower heads fresh from the field. Robert digs the roots in the autumn to dry slowly in the oven and powder in the coffee grinder, then uses the powder as a coffee substitute. The smell of the roasting roots is similar to chocolate, and the "coffee" is bitter, but really good dressed up with sweetener and cream. Dandelions are versatile, common, and one of our favorite free, organic, and wild foods.

In two weeks, we are taking a little road trip to the Dandelion Festival in Ohio. We are looking forward to sampling some dandelion-filled foods, some music, crafts, and fun for kids. We  ordered the cookbook that Breitenbach Wine Cellars produces in collaboration with the Festival, and it is filled with fun recipes using the greens, flowers and roots.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ramps Recipe - Ramps Langos

Carpet of ramps
Ramps (Allium tricoccum) season is just beginning to reach its peak, and we are able to pick grocery bags full of the aromatic green leaves in less than half an hour. Over the weekend, we ran across some limp and undersized ramps at Whole Foods, selling for $14.99/lb, which must have included the cost of shipping them from California. With the amount that are readily found here, locally, in Connecticut, it is quite a shame to see things like that in a store that supposedly promotes sustainable and local food.

Next comes the cleaning, chopping, and preserving of the leaves, along with many meals featuring ramps. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and breads have been enhanced by some form of ramps in our house since we have been foraging. Most of the leaves we pick will be sliced thinly and frozen, tightly packed in plastic containers to use all year. Some leaves will be dehydrated and powdered for adding to doughs and soup bases. Some more raw leaves will be pureed into pesto, and some just pureed with oil and frozen. The few bulbs that were pulled up by accident will be pickled to last in the fridge for a year. Lots of fresh leaves will be eaten in the next three weeks or so, until they can't be picked fresh anymore this season.

Sticky dough balls, bright green!
Langos (pronounced lon-gosh) is a Hungarian version of fried dough. The dough is made with starchy potatoes and fries up super crisp. Traditional toppings are sour cream, shredded smoked cheese, and a pungent sauce made from shredded garlic, vinegar, and salt. This is street food at its finest, served piping hot from the fryer on some paper, eaten standing up without utensils. The dough is incredibly sticky to work with, and it can be tempting to add too much flour. Each langos is shaped more by patting out the disk rather than rolling it before dropping it in the hot oil. I added some ramps leaves that were pureed in the food processor with a bit of olive oil for smoothness to the traditional dough, and Robert made the topping with finely chopped leaves and stems instead of garlic for more ramp-y goodness.

Fresh from the hot oil, resting on paper towels

Ramps Langos                                                    makes about 8- 8" disks

2 russet potatoes
1 tsp. instant dry yeast
1/4 c. warm milk
1/2 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp pureed ramps leaves
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt

oil for deep frying
sour cream
shredded smoked cheese
ramps sauce

1. Peel, cook, and run the potatoes through a ricer to get lump-free mashed potatoes. Cool to room temperature.
2. In a mixer bowl, add the potatoes, yeast, warm milk, sugar, pureed ramps, flour, and salt. Mix with the dough hook until a sticky ball forms. Let the dough rest, covered, for 1 hour.
3. Punch down the dough and place it on a well-floured cutting board. Divide the dough into 8 pieces.
4. Heat about 1" of oil in a pot to 350°F.
5. Flatten out a piece of dough into a circle about 8" around and only about 1/4" thick. Gently place the dough in the hot oil, pressing down the center with some tongs as it starts to fry. Fry until browned, about 30 seconds, and flip the dough over, frying the other side another 30 seconds, or until browned. The langos will puff up quite a bit.
6. Drain the langos on some paper towels briefly, and serve topped with sour cream, shredded cheese, and the ramps sauce condiment.

Ramps Sauce

2 Tbsp finely chopped ramps stems and leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. water
2 Tbsp white vinegar

1. Very finely chop the ramps stems and leaves, almost into a paste. Place it in a bowl and sprinkle the salt on top, letting it rest for 20 minutes.
2. Add the water and the vinegar and stir. This is a very watery and loose condiment, meant to soak into the langos. Spoon over the hot langos, depending on taste.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Photo Collage - Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) might be one of the first wild edibles we tried a few years ago. It is incredibly abundant her in southern New England, and highly invasive. The flavor is indeed garlicky with a hint of hot mustard, with a bit of bitterness in the leaves at different stages of growth. Garlic mustard is a biennial herbaceous plant, meaning it does not produce flowers and seeds until its second season. Beginning in late fall, and early spring, the first year's growth of kidney-shaped leaves is produced in a basal rosette from a white taproot. These leaves are a bit tough and best suited for pestos and a recipe where they are chopped and cooked for awhile. The second year is when the flower stalk is produced, and the stalk bears triangular-shaped leaves that are more tender, but also more pungent. The flower clusters look a little bit like broccoli and the tiny white flowers are edible, with a hot bite. Shortly after the flowers pass, long seed pods called siliques grow, turning from green to brown. The seeds fall in mid-summer, leaving behind the dry, brown plant stalks.

The entire plant is edible to certain degrees. The white taproot from the first year basal rosette can be dug and grated like horseradish, or chewed raw for a sinus-stimulant! The leaves can be gathered to use like other greens in normal recipes, like a roulade, ravioli filling, or greens-stuffed bread. Using the garlicky and spicy flavor of the leaves to enhance food is done by adding the greens to a more neutral recipe like hummus, or an already spicy felafel. Some find the slight bitterness unpleasant, and that can be lessened by boiling the greens in two changes of water before using the greens. We like to eat the top 4" or so of the flower stalks, stripped of the leaves and stems, and boiled like pasta. We also like to eat the immature, green seed pods with some butter and salt. The seeds can be gathered quite easily in quantity, and we use them in a spicy mustard and dressings, and sprinkled on bread.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Garlic Mustard Recipe - Garlic Mustard Roulade

First year leaves
While garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a completely edible weed, there are some who have differing opinions on its level of tastiness. We like to eat it in all stages of its growth, but prefer the second year's growth of triangular leaves growing along the flowerstalk to the first year's kidney-shaped leaves growing from the basal rosette. We also like to eat the more tender tops of the flower stalk, boiled and served with a little bit of butter and salt. We steam lots of the greens to keep in the freezer and add to other recipes that call for greens all winter long. The root has a nice horseradish-like flavor to be grated into dishes for a hot bite. The small, white flowers also have the hotness of the root, and make a good addition to a raw salad. The black, comma-shaped seeds can be ground to make a hot mustard or a tasty dressing.

Second year leaves and
flower stalks
Some people may be turned off by the touch of bitterness found in the leaves, but we find it adds a depth to food to have the bitter taste along with savory tastes. Boiling the leaves two times in clean water would be an option to removing the bitterness, rather than cooking something with raw leaves and disliking the bitter flavor of the recipe. Garlic mustard might not be for everyone, but it is nutritious, highly invasive and easily gathered in quantity. Add it to standard recipes that call for greens, like spanikopita, scrambled eggs, Indian saag, in a green hummus or felafel, and in pesto. Here is a recipe for a roulade, made with the blanched and chopped leaves. The center of the roulade can be filled with cheese, other cooked vegetables, or perhaps some cooked, shredded chicken breast along with the cheese for a hearty meal.

Garlic Mustard Roulade                            makes one 12" roll, about 8 servings

1 pound garlic mustard greens, flower stalks, and flowers
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. granulated garlic
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites
2c. shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Heat oven to 425° F. Prepare a sheetpan with parchment paper.
2. In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the garlic mustard greens for 1 minute. Shock the greens in ice water to stop the cooking process, and squeeze as much water from them as possible.
3. Add the cooked greens to a food processor. Add the nutmeg, salt,smoked paprika,granulated garlic, black pepper and egg yolks. Pulse until the garlic mustard greens are finely chopped.
4. In a mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. With a spatula, fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the greens mixture, mixing until no more whites are seen. Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites, until the mixture is uniform.
5. Spread the garlic mustard and egg mixture evenly on the parchment paper covered sheetpan, leaving an inch of exposed paper around the entire edge. Bake until the egg is set, about 12-15 minutes.
6. Loosen the roulade from the parchment paper. Sprinkle the top with whatever you are using as a filling, or just cheese.
7. Starting with the wider side, roll the roulade up like a jelly roll, ending seam side down. Bake an additional 10 minutes to melt the cheese and warm the filling.

Garlic mustard flowers

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hen of the Woods Recipe - Mushroom Burger

Last autumn was a fantastic hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa) season for us and many others in our region. Attending our weekly forays with CVMS gave us many opportunities to learn more about when and where to hunt for this great edible fungus. It was so abundant last year that people were giving it away every weekend, and we found many of our own giant, tender and tasty mushroom clusters. We dehydrated a lot, and froze many gallons more of the cut up fronds and solid cores. During the winter, we have been eating our bounty regularly, making gravies, stuffing breads, and making these hearty vegetarian burgers for dinner.

For this recipe, I used rice since I had it already cooked in the refrigerator. Any cooked grain can be used, like quinoa or barley. I started with frozen fronds and thawed them. The mushrooms released quite a bit of water that I squeezed out of the fronds before placing them into the food processor. This flavorful water can be used to make a vegetarian gravy later or just discarded. The amount of breadcrumbs varies, depending on how wet the fronds are, so use enough to make the burger patty hold its shape.

Mushroom Burger                                   makes about 8-12 patties

2 c. thawed Hen of the Woods fronds, excess water squeezed out
1/2 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp oil
1 c. cooked grain (rice, quinoa, barley)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3-5 Tbsp breadcrumbs

1. Heat the oven to 400° F. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper or oil the pan.
2. In a food processor, combine the squeezed mushroom fronds and onions and pulse until finely ground.
3. Heat the 1 Tbsp oil in a saute pan over medium heat, cook the ground mushrooms and onion for 5 minutes, stirring often, until browned.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the cooked grains, salt and pepper. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature.
5. Mix in beaten eggs and enough breadcrumbs until the mixture holds together. Form the patties and place them on the prepared sheetpan.
6. Bake the patties for 8 minutes, flip them over, and bake 5-8 minutes longer, until browned. Serve on a bun with burger condiments.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Photo Collage - Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed is very prevalent and highly invasive in New England. Its point of entry into the United States was through Boston as an ornamental, and it has spread into 39 of 50 states. In the early spring the shoots begin to pop up from the bases of last season's growth, as it spreads mainly through rhizomes in the ground. The hollow stalks grow quickly, unfurling leaves at each "joint" beneath a papery sheath until they reach up to 12" tall. The stalk is green, and often speckled red, looking similar to rhubarb. The leaves have an odd, flat base on the stem end and are simple, oval and pointed. Large stands of Japanese knotweed are easy to spot by the forest of tall, dead stalls left behind from last season.

We gather the stalks when they are 3"-10" tall, as they become tough and stringy as they get too much taller. At the smaller sizes, the stalks can be peeled to use raw, or cooked many ways into recipes. Most of the recipes we have developed are sweet, as the tart flavor of knotweed pairs well with sugar. Jelly, dessert bars, muffins, wine, cold soup and tapioca are some ideas for a sweet dish, and we recently tried it raw and savory in a wild food-filled summer roll. Gillian will chew on a raw stalk while we are out, and likes to sip the water that accumulates in the lowest hollow joint of the larger plants.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Photo Collage - Ramps

Robert has been putting together some photo collages with the extensive library of photographs he has taken over the last few years. In April, we look forward to the ramps (Allium tricoccum) poking up their leaves through the forest floor. Ramps are fairly common here in southeastern Connecticut, and we gather the leaves from several large patches. We don't usually bother to dig the bulbs, since that will kill the entire plant and ramps are slow to reproduce. Four years ago, we transplanted 12 bulbs into a patch of dirt outside our back door, and today 12 plants still come up. The bulbs have not yet divided to produce new plants, and all of our attempts to germinate ramps from seeds have failed.

It is the green leaves that we do almost all of our cooking with. They are tender and easy to cut into thin slices for recipes, and sometimes large enough to stuff like cabbage leaves. The flavor of ramps is a funky onion and garlic blend. We add them to biscuit and bagel recipes, soups, any mixed vegetable stir-fry, and make a pungent pesto from the raw leaves. I mixed some chopped leaves into softened cream cheese to spread over toast in the morning with a side of scrambled eggs and sauteed ramps.Our spring favorite is a Chinese-style pancake filled with ramps. The chopped greens store well in the freezer if packed tightly into a container, and we have successfully dehydrated and powdered the leaves to add to pasta dough.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why Forage Wild Edibles: Free Food, Organic Nutrition, Survival Prep, and Fun

Each person, family, or group comes to wild food foraging for different reasons. Some do it for education, some for survival, some for a sense of community, some for food, and some for fun. I suppose we, The 3 Foragers, do it for all of those reasons listed, and perhaps a few more. We forage wild edibles together as a family, and sometimes with other like-minded friends. We forage mushrooms communally with a mushroom society for the camaraderie and education. We forage with experts to learn more, and perhaps share something we have learned through our own trials and experiments. We understand the benefits to identifying edible and poisonous plants in a survival situation, whether in an apocalyptic sense, or a simple lost-in-the-woods scenario. And we love to cook and eat what we find, photograph the food, and share our experiences. It is through our background stories that we have arrived at this place and time as a foraging family.

Wineberry Bavarian
As a child, I grew up in semi-rural southeastern Connecticut, I am born-and-bred New England, and I love this geographical area of the United States. I read Ranger Rick magazines as a child, which showed me the natural world around me, and introduced ideas like conservation, responsibility, and beauty. I had an uncle who hunted for food and foraged for mushrooms on family property, the same property I hiked often. Even through the consumerist 80's and selfish 90's, it never took much to convince me to take a walk in the woods. For many years, I worked in several professional kitchens doing pastry, so I feel I have a decent understanding of taste, food presentation, and recipe construction. For the last seven years I have been a stay-at-home mom, keeper of the household, and participant in our foraging and cooking endeavors.

Originally from Hungary, Robert's interest in the local edible plants of Connecticut is what triggered our wild food education. As a boy, he fished and foraged in the countryside near his childhood home, and was exposed to the wildcrafting of a more domestic culture. His family fermented wild and cultivated fruits into peasant wines, and planted an extensive garden full of fruit trees and fresh vegetables. He has also worked in a professional kitchen. His main hobby before foraging for wild food was photography, and the skills he learned while photographing beautiful scenes and objects has carried over to the work he does now with the plants and food pictures. His interests include bushcraft, wildcraft, and survival preparedness. Robert also creates some of the recipes we post, and he certainly likes to eat the wild foods we learn about. He follows a vegetarian diet, along with our daughter, and sourcing organic, nutritious, sustainable and delicious vegetables and wild foods are important to him.

Gillian foraging cattail flower stalks
Gillian's puffball
While she is only 7 years old, Gillian is an active, enthusiastic, and willing member of our team. It really is amazing to see how children learn and understand the world around them, and she remembers almost all of the wild foods we have found. Of course, she prefers the sweet handfuls of ripe berries over bitter greens, but she also appreciates the funky garlic flavors and sweet sap directly from a tree, along with the savory mushrooms we hunt. Her proximity to the ground and boundless energy make her a great foraging companion. When we travel, she always comes with us to experience the wild world around us, and her appreciation for food made with wild edibles is commendable.

Honey Mushroom Paprikas
As we continue our education and wild food journey, I hope we can share our enthusiasm through food, recipes, photographs, and personal stories. Not all aspects of bushcraft or wild food foraging are for all people. From watching silly survival shows on TV and lighting campfires with friction, to taking walks with wild food educators, to sharing educational displays at the local library and writing a blogger's column in the local newspaper, we enjoy dabbling in most aspects of the genre. Our daily menu usually includes something either freshly foraged, or something foraged that we previously froze or dried or preserved some other way. What would you rather eat: a bowl full of boiled dock for purity's sake, or a tasty lasagne made with a layer of nettles and ricotta? While not every recipe we post is exclusively made from wild food, we add wild food to most meals we create. Sure, you can eat black locust blossoms straight from the tree, unadorned, simple and wonderful, but we'll also show you how to make doughnuts, flavored syrups, wine, and a dessert custard with them!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Japanese Knotweed Recipe - Knotweed Muffins

Japanese knotweed (Polygonatum cuspidatum) has a great tart flavor, and it goes well in sweet baked goods. Here is a simple recipe using knotweed stewed and mixed into a muffin recipe. These are good for breakfast with a smear of butter, or cut and toasted. If you double the recipe, you'll have enough for a 9" x 5" loaf of quick bread.

Japanese Knotweed Muffins                                           makes 8 muffins

1/2 c. sugar
2 c. chopped Japanese knotweed stalks
1/4 c. water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 c. oil
1 egg
1 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 325°, place baking papers in a muffin pan.
2. In a saucepot, combine 1/2 c. sugar, the chopped knotweed stalks, 1/4 c. water and 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring often. Allow the stewed knotweed to cool. There should be about 1 c. stewed knotweed.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg with the oil, and stir in the stewed knotweed.
4. Sift together 1 c. flour, 1/2 c. sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Stir into the wet ingredients in the large bowl, do not over mix.
5. Fill the muffin papers about 3/4 full. Bake for 24-28 minutes, until the top is set and springs back when touched. Cool and serve with butter, or toasted.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Japanese Knotweed Recipe - Knotweed Summer Rolls

Since Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) is so common and highly invasive here in southern New England, it is easy to find in quantity in the early spring. It is best picked as a tart, toothsome shoot before it gets much bigger than 8" tall. As it grows, it get tough and stringy and more difficult to incorporate into a recipe. We have made quite a few sweet recipes with knotweed, like dessert bars, jelly and tapioca. Here is a savory idea made with raw, sliced knotweed shoots to eat as part of an early spring, edible weed dinner.

We added some other spring edibles as well, all of which are optional or have similar common substitutes. Any Thai style sweet-sour-spicy dipping sauce is great on the side, and most of the more exotic ingredients are available at an Asian grocery store. To dip and soften the rice paper wrappers, I use a large pie plate filled with warm water. It is a good idea to have extra wrappers, since they may rip. Depending on how full you make the wrappers, there will be 6-8 rolls.

Japanese Knotweed Summer Rolls                                       makes 6-8 rolls

6-10 8" Vietnamese rice paper wrappers
3 oz. bean thread noodle cakes
1 c. thinly sliced Japanese knotweed shoot stems
1/2 c. chickweed greens, or parsley and cilantro leaves
3 Tbsp dandelion flower petals
2 Tbsp chopped ramps leaves, or chopped scallions
4 Tbsp shredded carrots
Thai dipping sauce

1. Soak the bean thread noodles in hot water for 10 minutes, until they soften. Rinse and drain well.
2. In a bowl, add the chopped knotweed, chickweed greens, dandelion petals, ramps, and carrots to the bean thread noodles. Toss well.
3. Soften the rice paper wrappers in warm water for about 15 seconds until they are pliable. Place on a smooth surface.
4. Take about 1/2 cup of the noodle filling and place it in the center of the top third of the wrapper. Fold over the top of the wrapper to cover the filling, then fold in the two sided toward the center. Now roll the filled wrapper towards the bottom, enclosing the filling completely. This may take some practice!
5. Chill the summer rolls for 15 minutes, and serve with a spicy-sweet Thai dipping sauce.