Monday, May 31, 2010

The Score: 45 down, 55 to go

Our fridge is full of baggies containing edible odds and ends we need to cook up. Our front porch hosts a few baskets containing edibles we find in the yard. On our trip to Connecticut this weekend, we weeded Thag's mother's ivy specifically to collect the edible weeds growing in it. We stopped the car to collect on the side of the road. We are busy with edibles and are still having trouble keeping up with all this season has to offer.


31. Morel mushrooms--absolutely divine--5
32. Dryad's saddle mushrooms--pungent and chewy--Thag--4, Ooga--1
33. Cattail rhizome flour--labor intensive to process, but sweet and nutty in flavor--5
34. Mint--no description necessary--5
35. Jewel weed--slightly slimy and a bit limp after all the boiling, but mild in flavor--3
36. Sheep sorrel--sour and lemony--easy to use in a variety of recipes--4
37. Wood sorrel--lovely little heart shaped leaves, tastes very similar to sheep sorrel, easy to find--great salad green--4
38. Clover greens--easy to find, hide well in a salad, tough if old--3
39. Milk weed shoots--easy to gather, should be peeled, cook like green beans, get 'em young--4
40. Thistle stalk--use like celery--deep, yet subtle, in flavor--good in sauces--4
41. Black locust flowers--sweet and fragrant, utterly heavenly--5
42. Thistle petiole--use like thistle stalk, but more work intensive--3
43. Burdock petiole--a pain to process, requires two boilings, gentle flavor, easy to incorporate into any veggie dish like a stir fry--3
44. Sumac shoots--we don't think we did these right--supposed to be sweet and juicy--we found them slightly bitter--until further notice, 2
45. Chickweed greens--easy to find, nice lettucy flavor, can be cooked or eaten raw--4

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Processing Wild Plants

We seem to be in the middle of stalk season. Everything wild we've eaten this week has been a stem--either the main plant stem or a petiole (a botanical term for leafstalk). The time for wild greens has passed as the plants toughen up their leaves with clusters of fibers that make them indigestible to all but the most committed herbivores. Since we don't have four stomachs, we are obliged to look elsewhere for our vegetables. The only domesticated plant that I know of which is prized for its stalk is celery. (Asparagus I think of as a shoot, edible only when it's tender and young.) Although their flavors are drastically different, the texture of the shoots we've eaten lately have been quite similar to celery.

Despite any culinary similarities, wild stalks are different from celery in that they all have taken extra processing time. They've needed to be peeled. And I, Thag, the foraging family's dedicated sous chef, am just the man for the job. Peeling, I can tell you, is a time consuming process. Certainly, some of that is due to my inexperience. I imagine our ancestral foragers peeling rinds and removing thorns with the finesse of a cordon bleu chef. As a young grasshopper of the foraging arts, however, I have a long way to go before mastery.

Foraging takes time, and time is one thing that I can never find in quantity enough. When I began this project, I dreamed of quiet Saturdays spent ranging through the woods and fields looking for tasty morsels. The reality is that we have yet another to do list. Surely, it is a labor of love, but it's seldom done at a leisurely pace. We are trying to tack a foraging life onto a civilized one that is already full. Our Saturdays were already packed with work, home, and family. I have even found myself pulling jewelweed by flashlight. The seasons of plants pass by quickly. We've already missed a few edibles that were on our list because we didn't gather early enough. As delicious as they were, the milkweed shoots should have been gathered several weeks earlier. We missed poke altogether. It had grown tall (and poisonous) by the time we we found its shoots. It is a challenge to keep one foot in the foraging world while another foot is busy running the rat race.

I am curious to know about how other would-be foragers make space for a little bit of wildness in their lives. If you're out there, I'd love some tips. Please comment.

Thistle Stalk

“You can eat thistle?” I asked. “Who was brave enough to try that the first time?”

Yes, indeed, the spiny plant is highly edible. And unlike picking the tiny leaves off another tiny plant, the thistle is sizable. A single plant produces a substantial amount of edible substance.

The stalk, one uses like celery. After collecting (with gloves), you peel it and chop it up. It has a deep, earthy, lovely flavor—excellent for accenting sauces dishes with onions and garlic at their base. The following recipe is both.

Peasant Pasta
(So named for its inexpensive ingredients)

1 box chunky pasta (spirals, shells, elbows, etc.)
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
thistle stalk, chopped, enough to equal 3 to 5 large celery stalks
2 cans tomato paste
1 to 2 cans kidney beans, rinsed

Cook pasta, drain and set aside.

Heat oil. Add onion and thistle. Cook until onion translucent.

Add garlic. Cook 2 minutes.

Add tomato paste and 5 tomato paste cans full of water. Stir until tomato paste fully dissolved. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook until bubbly.

Add beans. Add pasta.

We like it with lots of parmesan cheese! See picture in post on milk weed shoots.

Milk Weed Shoots

Book after book states that milk weed shoots are not just terribly bitter, but also poisonous unless you boil them in several changes of water until they are a mushy green mass. That is why we were so surprised to find our wise leader, Samuel Thayer, extolling the excellence of milk weed shoots, indeed comparing them favorably to green beans!

Master Thayer has spent some time trying to destroy the lambasting of the lovely milk weed plant. He has even eaten it raw. His theory is one that we have heard again and again in our research on wild edibles. Some “expert” mistakenly reported it inedible unless boiled into oblivion. Subsequent authors repeated this adage more or less verbatim. Secondary resources are always inferior. That being said, if I thought the milkweed plant was poisonous, I probably wouldn’t try it raw.

So we followed our mentor’s advice; he hasn’t been wrong yet…

Our milkweed was a little past prime for shoot collecting, but still snapped crisply in our fingers. We removed the leaves, then peeled some and left others untouched. We boiled them for 20 minutes and served them with a little butter.

Baby Yub Yub loved these. And I must say, she does love a good green bean. Thag and I also gave them a five. A nice firm vegetable to add diversity to all our leafy greens. The peeled shoots were far better than the unpeeled ones, perhaps because of their age and size. We’ll have to try again next year with younger plants, but until then, we’re going to gather more and peel ‘em up.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Burdock Root

Wild food is not just a garnish! Yes, the vast majority of edible plants offer nutritious but low-calorie supplements to the otherwise domesticated palatte. They are greens or flowers, tasty but often unsatisfying as a whole meal on their own. Not so the burdock root, or roots in general. Roots and tubers can be organs of energy storage for plants. This is especially true for plants that are biennials, plants that live for two growing season. These plants have an elegant evolutionary strategy. They spend their first year packing away energy the way that a college student might put away money during a summer break. Then the plant will spend all of that energy in a bid for reproductive success, usually by sending up a tall, potent flower. You've no doubt eaten plants that use this strategy, plants like the carrot.

When you eat a carrot, you are basically robbing the college student on their way to school; you are taking the plants stored energy before it can spend it. (This mercenary activity is the way that your ancestors got enough calories to bear offspring.) My metaphor is made with tongue in cheek, but it does serve two purposes. First is a reminder about how important it is to gather roots mindfully. They have a big impact on a plant population. Roots should be taken with gratitude and moderation. Second, biennial roots are best gathered at the time after the energy has been stored but before it has been spent. That means after the first growing season, but before the second.

We had not eaten burdock roots before, but our good friends Rebecca and Ben have. Rebecca showed us the ropes. She prefers to dig them from the loosened soil of a fallow garden with a turning fork. We found that both the inner and outer parts of the root were edible (Sam Thayer again). The sweet and nutty flavor was excellent, and I found that I prefer them, like my carrots, well cooked.

Black Locust Flower--An Amusement Park Snack

This year our team of teachers took our 8th graders to a Six Flags amusement park. It's not my idea of a great field trip, but our kids were psyched. They skittered off to the most intimidating roller coasters and proceeded to wait in line for hours. All for a several second joy ride. I had never ridden a roller coaster, and so, at the ripe old age of 32, I decided to give it a whirl. I went off to go stand in line too. But there, just before the entrance to the Pandemonium roller coaster, was a locust branch heavy with its clusters of white flowers leaning over the fence and beckoning. Unwilling to spend my dollars on the overpriced grease that passed for food in the land of corporate dining, I dashed over and filled my hands with the sweet blossoms and ate my fill during the hour-long wait for the roller coaster. A few quizzical glances were a small price to pay for an otherwise free lunch.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Safeguarding Wild Edible Heritage

I was at work when I heard the news. My friend and colleague had gone to dig leeks at the magical hillside where Ooga and I have gathered for almost a decade now. "Did you know that they are logging up there?"

"How close?"

"No, I mean they're logging right in the leeks."

Our leeks? How bad? Is it too late? I don't even know who owns them. Don't they know what they're doing? That's got to be the finest show of spring ephemerals in the county. I've got to do something.

Before I continue with this story, I should say that I made two promises to myself last December. I'd had doubts about my life and work. I had felt like I was losing touch with the very things that I had wanted my life to be about. So I swore to myself then that on every day of 2010 I would do two things. I would do some kind of work related to my dreams of living wild off the land, and I would do something to make the world a better place. This event cut so close to my heart. I was obliged by my promise. I had to do something.

Shortly thereafter, I ran down the familiar trials to the leeks. They were indeed cutting there. A wide skidder road ran all along the leek patch. The loggers had cut a few trees, but many more were marked. Much of the patch was intact. There was still time to do something.

I went to the town hall and used the tax maps to find the owner of the property. Then I drove down the road looking for his house. I knocked on the door of an old farmhouse, uncertain of what to say, nervous that the owner might become angry. I had visions of running back to my car while an old farmer brandished a shotgun out of his screen door. I waited on the doorstep. No one answered.

"Maybe it's the house across the street," I thought. That house was a ramshackle trailer with a Confederate flag in the window and gun rack on the truck. "Or maybe I should just try the phone book."

Back home I took a deep breath and dialed the numbers. There was an answer. Yes, this was the person I was seeking. Here goes. "Sir, I know this must seem presumptuous, and I don't want to stick my nose in your business. But . . . you are logging in a rare and sensitive habitat. It's a small spot. Just a few acres. . . anyway, I was wondering if there was a way you could cut trees from somewhere else and leave the trees that are on the more sensitive parts of the property. I'm not against your logging. I know this may not be your greatest concern, but it would be great if we could do what we could to minimize the damage in that one spot."

I braced for it. But I needn't have. The landowner listened carefully. He had no idea, he said. He never went back there, and as long as it didn't cost him any more money with the forester that was fine with him. He gave me the forester's number.

The forester didn't know about the place either. "Do you mean all that skunk cabbage back there?" Skunk cabbage? I guess wildflower ID is not a required course for foresters. But despite any weaknesses in botanical skill, he agreed to let me flag off the area.

That weekend, I tied pink ribbons all along the leek patch, speaking reassuringly to the leeks along the way. Some people write Tibetan mantras on their flags, hoping that the winds will carry their sacred messages up to the gods. My prayer flags are neon pink. There is nothing written on them. But they still bear sacred messages.

Mint, Sheep Sorrel, and Jewelweed

Tonight's menu:

Appetizer--sheep sorrel salad

Main course--Bean and cheese wraps filled with boiled jewel weed greens

Dessert--Strawberries with mint infused birch syrup

The lowdown:

Sheep sorrel is a lemony flavored green which can be eaten throughout its growing season. It is sour and delicious. Our salad was half garden salad greens and half sheep sorrel greens. We have eaten wood sorrel on many occasions and the two plants contain the same chemical (oxalic acid) that gives them their characteristic sour lemony flavor.

Jewelweed greens are as slippery to eat as they feel when you gather them. I (Thag) like the texture. Ooga was not as fond, though we both agreed that they are a solid 3 on our rating scale. The field guides direct us to pick shoots that are shorter than six inches and boil in two changes of water (for 15 minutes total). Ooga efficiently has the next bath boiling in the kettle when the first one is drained away. I remember eating this green in high school as one of my first wild edible experiments. Some hard earned wisdom: Cut the stems in the field rather than uprooting and cutting off the roots later. It makes the plants much easier to process and to clean.

The wild mint was gathered with Arena last weekend, we used it to flavor our birch syrup from this spring. The flavors were delightful over strawberries, and the mint was the perfect compliment to the sweet and slightly astringent birch. All we did to infuse was to boil the mint in the syrup with just enough water to keep the syrup from turning to sugar.

Cattail Rhizome Pancakes--Rhizomes Completed

One of the things we are learning is that it helps to have the right equipment. In this case--a grain mill.

To process the dried rhizome cores, one grinds them up, easing the separation of the starch from the fibers. This is where the grain mill comes in. Alas, we have none. So we used a food processor, which worked okay. The next trick is to filter the fiber out of the mixture without losing any of the starch which is a very fine dust powder. We used some clean panty hose for lack of a jelly bag which worked fine. We stored the mixture in the fridge until we procured a jelly bag which gave us a bit more.

We were left with a pitifully small quantity of flour--less than 1/8 cup. We mixed the flour with a pinch of baking soda and water to the consistency of pancake batter. We fried our silver dollar cattail pancake in hot butter.

It was fantastic. An unabashed 5! Well worth the extraordinary effort we put in--even more so if we had had better equipment. According to Samuel Thayer, processing dried cattail rhizomes is a lovely way to spend a winter evening when all the other edibles are hibernating. I think we just might do that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Morels and Dryad's Saddle

We met up with Arena about mid-day on Sunday. It was a tricky day for me as Baby Yub Yub was so excited about being outside she refused to take a nap. So I listened to what I could, misidentified some plants, and chased my cranky daughter. Luckily there are two of us (Single parents, I bow down to you in homage of your great patience!). Thag followed Arena and listened to her wisdom.

It turns out Arena forages for much more than mushrooms. She is a foraging expert, with beautifully illustrated journals documenting her foraging journals and an arsenal of field guides. She is self trained and has eaten many more wild edibles than we have. In addition she has kept careful records of where and when she found things. What a role model!

To begin with, we foraged along a quiet dirt road where Arena had found mushrooms before. We discovered some Dryad's Saddle (also known as Pheasant's Back; scientific name: Polyporus squamosus) growing on the bottom section of a tree trunk. According to Arena and our field guides these mushrooms are easy to identify so we felt more comfortable eating them. Unfortunately they were a bit old and are best (as most things are) when young. Arena said we could cut off the outer edge of the mushroom and it would still be fine to eat; unfortunately they were rather wormy. Still we collected a bunch in a brown paper bag and set off.

Next on our list: the prized morel. Said to be among the best tasting of mushrooms, when we discuss our project with people, we are often asked, "So have you found any morels?" Morels are a funky looking little mushroom, with long caps that are deeply pitted. Arena has lots of morel spots to gather from, though she says you never know where they will show up next, and she often doesn't find them in the same place twice. She says 95 percent of all her morel finds are at the base of old, even dying, ash or apple trees.

And that is where we found them. We collected two different types of morels from three different locations, collecting seven mushrooms altogether. Arena reports that some years are better than others and this year is not fantastic. Still, we wouldn't have found any alone. The mushrooms are so small and so well hidden, we would have stepped on them rather than found them ourselves.

Back at home, I carefully cleaned and sliced our mushrooms. Much of the dryad's saddle was too riddled with worms to eat. We sauteed them in separte pans with butter, onion, and salt.

And the verdict is...The morels were fantastic. An easy 5. This is saying something as I have never been a mushroom fan.

The dryad's saddle presented a conundrum. Never before have Thag and I had such a discrepancy in our ratings. I could not palate them. I found them off putting in their smell and flavor, and their texture much too tough. I couldn't swallow them. Rating: 1. Thag loved them. He ate them up and wanted more. He describes them as smelling sweet like cucumbers. He gave them a 4. So, you'll have to try them for yourself.

Mushroom Surprise

This was a weekend fit for the gods! Bright blue skies, light breeze, temps in the low 70s. We only came inside to sleep--and only because we were too tired to set up a tent! On Saturday we came in to find a message on the machine from a woman we've never met. Arena (pronounced Ah-ren-na) had found our blog and wanted to take us foraging for mushrooms. Not only had the gods sent us this perfect weather but also a mushroom guide!

Thank goodness. We are terrified of mushrooms. Thag is a student of Jon Young's Kamana Naturalist Training Program. Jon, who lives out west, drills into his students that mushrooms are not to be eaten. He feels strongly that they are so easy to misidentify that one should not risk death by foraging mushrooms. I have listened to his tapes; he must say it 15 times: Do Not Eat Mushrooms.

That being said, mushrooms are rumored to be the most heavenly of all wild edibles. There are gypsy like troops of mushroom hunters who roam the woods worldwide making decent livings gathering and selling the earthy fungi. Mushroomers often train with their parents and then live long healthy lives eating these prized delicacies.

We decided when we composed our top 100; if we are truly going to become foragers, then we would have to delve into the mushroom kingdom.

But mushrooms are secretive. The hide their dark little bodies deep in the forest, often not coming up in the same place twice. Mushroom hunters prize their small treasures and rarely share their special spots with anyone. So what were we, frightened novices, to do? Wait for the gods to send Arena apparently!

Read our next post to find out about our mushroom adventures!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bracken Fern--Cancer and Precaution

Everywhere I turned on the Internet, I found dire warnings. "Fiddleheads are great, but do not consume the bracken fern, a known carcinogen." But this warning was often extolled right alongside blatant misinformation like, "All other fiddleheads are edible." This last little tidbit was written by someone who I assume had never eaten interrupted fern fiddleheads. Personally, I'd warn someone against this foul-tasting, and seemingly toxic fern long before I ever talked them out of eating bracken. The Internet is awash in misinformation, gossip, and myths perpetuated by well-meaning but uncritical enthusiasts. So how does one find the truth? I don't want to use myself as a test case.

Here's another example: Sassafras is a sweet smelling tree of more southerly climes whose aromatic leaves can be brewed into a spicy tea, but many field guides contain a stern reprimand for those who over-indulge. It has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory rats. What a disappointment! It really was such a first-rate tea.

There are several key pieces of information missing from these overblown reports. First, just because something is carcinogenic or contains known carcinogens does not mean that it is unfit for human consumption. It is my understanding that we consume carcinogens all the time. We breath them in with the air. We eat them with our food. There are trace amounts in the water we drink. To be alive at all, no matter your species, is to be at risk of cancer.

Consider the story of the tropical plant, Coffea canephora, a member of the family Rubiaceae. It contains a mildly toxic alkaloid which acts to prolong the effects of certain hormones in the body, hormones like adrenaline. Many people consume a tea-like beverage made from the seeds of this plant--both to enjoy its flavor and to enjoy the "high" that accompanies the increase of active adrenaline in their system. In the 1980s it was found that consumption of this beverage correlates with an increase in pancreatic cancer. You can read about it in this abstract from the New England Journal of Medicine ( Yet millions of people continued to consume it every day. Perhaps you know of this plant. It's common name is coffee.

(There is an interesting twist in this story. As time went by, subsequent tests failed to confirm the correlation in the study on pancreatic cancer. Maybe coffee was benign after all. Science is the best tool we have for answering such questions, but science takes time and delivers its conclusions with varying degrees of certainty.)

Today, if you search the health news for coffee and cancer, you will find all kinds of claims. Coffee helps to prevent some kinds of cancer (prostate). It increases your chances of contracting others. Other cancers (colon) seem to be unaffected by coffee consumption. Does this conflicting advice ruin the day of most coffee drinkers? No. Coffee drinkers love coffee. Most of them would decide that a slight increase in contracting certain cancers might be worth a lifetime of enjoyment of their favorite beverage.

The question I ask about bracken fern and sassafras is not, "Is there a risk?" All eating, no matter what you choose to put in your mouth involves risk. The questions I ask are, "How great is that risk?" and, "Is it worth it?" The risks posed by most food plants are relatively low. Bracken fern is probably higher than most. This article reviews some of the research which demonstrates the link.

Even so, that risk may still be low enough to enjoy bracken as a regular part of one's diet.
Bracken fern contains a chemical, ptaquiloside, that is known to be carcinogenic to mammals in high doses. The International Agency for Research on Cancer places it in the same risk category as coffee and sassafras. This doesn't mean that if you eat bracken you'll die of cancer; many things that we commonly eat contain carcinogenic chemicals, such as char-broiled meat, potato chips, and all smoked foods. I still occasionally eat bracken fiddleheads. (Samuel Thayer retrieved from )
The rating Thayer is referring to is "Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans". The designation was made in 1987 and so does not include the findings of more recent research. A sampling of other things in Group 2B include: working as a carpenter, the food coloring Citrus Red #2, being around the fumes from automobiles and other engines, pickled vegetables, using talc-based body powder, and welding. Personally, I find the adventure of eating something new that I've gathered wild from forest worth taking a risk that is equivalent to drinking a cup of coffee or eating kimchi.

Wild About You Soup: A recipe

This recipe is a 5!

Wild About You Soup:


1 carrot, chopped

1/2 onion, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

bracken fern fiddle heads (ostrich fern are fine)

cattail shoots, cleaned and sliced

nettle leaves, wood or stinging

4-6 cups broth, chicken or veggie, homemade preferred

1 pound tortellini, cooked and drained (optional)

Saute carrot, onion, and garlic in butter until soft.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Cook 10 to 20 minutes to let flavors steep.

Add wild veggies and cook until tender, 10 to 20 minutes.

Add tortellini.


Note: Nettles need not be cooked first. The boiling broth will take the sting out of them almost immediately. Add any amount of wild veggies you desire.

Violet Honey: A Recipe

We love violets. And they are plentiful. Our friend, Rebecca makes violet honey for herself and as gifts each spring.

Collect lots of violets.

Fill a mason jar with them.

Smother with local honey.

Let sit for six weeks.

The violets will condense into only about an inch at the top of the jar. Stir before serving so violets are well incorporated and spread on toast, muffins, or sweet bread.

Marsh Marigold--An experiment

Marsh marigold is one of the first green plants to show its face in the spring and in some spots in New England it is quite plentiful. Unfortunately, we haven't found any big patches nearby. Our housemate thoughtfully gathered a bag for us when she visited her family's summer home in northern Vermont.

Marsh marigold is quite pretty--with big yellow flowers and large, lily pad-like leaves. But when we read reports of how to prepare it we were skeptical. Could something that reportedly tasted so bad actually be called edible? The plant is exceedingly bitter and needs to be boiled in several washes of water before a final boil of 20 to 40 minutes before it is even palatable. But we need 100 edibles, so we tried it.

After boiling it for a few minutes in a first boil, we tried a nibble to see just how bitter it actually was. None present was able to swallow the green, but two of us thought it had promise. I was more scared than before. I even needed to wash my mouth out.

We boiled it again. Rinsed. Boiled again for 30 minutes, and then our friend, Rebecca, had a great idea. She cooked up some Indian spices in coconut oil and made a dahl out of it. We served it over Jasmine rice. We looked at the slimy green mass and dolloped small mounds on our plates. We tasted. wasn't bad. I even had seconds.

But the marsh marigold experiment brought out a great discussion. How did anyone ever discover such a plant was edible? What would compel someone to keep experimenting with something that was so bitter in its raw state. Why would you cook something so incredibly time and energy intensive for an end product that is just okay (and looks disgusting)? It is one of the first greens of the season; if I were truly starving, perhaps I'd be prone to try it. We also wonder how many nutrients are lost in the crazy cooking process? Good "food for thought."

The Score: 30 Down, 70 To Go

Well, we've been eating a lot but not posting enough. Spring finds us very busy. Thag is in the end of the school year rush, and Baby Yub Yub wants to spend all day outside, and I, trying to be a good cave mama, am accomodating her--leaving little time to play on the computer.

So here is our updated list. Posts on flavor and recipes will follow.

22. Dandelion Flowers--Versatile and pretty. The flavor is sharp, but not unpleasant--3

23. Cattail Shoots--delightful cucumber flavor, but unique texture--slightly slimy, smooth, and crunchy--easy to incorporate into recipes, but fine raw-- 4

24. Pine Shoots--edible, yes; enjoyable, not really--tastes like eating a Christmas tree; could be used as an herb for flavoring if you really like Christmas--2

25. Basswood Leaf Greens--mild, sweet, used as a lettuce, but not crunchy like lettuce, rather soft and fluffy--3

26. Bracken Fern Fiddleheads--we put these in a soup so their flavor was not very distinct--nice crunchy texture--3

27. Wood Nettle Greens--Yum! Yum! Milder than stinging nettle--a great cooked green--use like spinach--4

28. Marsh Marigolds--Surprisingly edible after all we read about its horrible flavor; needs to be cooked into oblivian, but with the right flavoring, not unlike cooked spinach--3

29. Burdock Root--chewy and sweet--yum--4

30. Beech Leaf Greens--See basswood leaf greens--slightly more feathery--3

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pine Shoots: Edible 24

Back in college, Thag and I read in Peterson's Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants that one can take the fresh shoots of the white pine and turn them into a candy. So we followed the directions and did just that. This seems to be one of the cases where a writer writes about something they've never done. I would not call them a candy--maybe a garnish--the kind a person admires and then puts on the side of their plate.

So this year, we were at a loss with what to do with the pine shoots. I searched on line to find a better "candy" recipe. I found no candy recipes at all. In fact, I only found one obscure recipe for pine shoots at all--a pine shoot, hazelnut, salt dip for chicken. This sounded better than the candy, so I decided to experiment.

I took 1/4 cup pine shoots, a tablespoon of walnuts, a tablespoon of pinenuts, and some salt, whipped them around in my mini food processer until well ground up, and used them as a rub for some chicken legs. I rubbed the meat and let sit in the fridge for several hours before baking. I poured a little melted butter over the top before putting into the oven.

Thag, our housemate, and I all ate the chicken. It had a distinctive piney taste. If you like fresh herbs, you might very well enjoy this meal. It was certainly edible; on our rating scale it was more than a 2, but not quite a 3. All three of us agreed we would have preferred the meal without the pine shoots, but we finished it nevertheless. Needless to say, I think our pine shoot experimentation is at an end. This edible will not be in our cooking repetoire.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Putney Wild Food Festival

Our small town of about 2000 souls is quite progressive, and this year, in perfect timing with our adventure, our local co-op put on a wild food festival. When we heard about it through a friend, we knew we had to attend.

We arrived not really knowing what to expect. We set up our puny little table among big booths with lovely tents for shade. We laid out our homemade poster, my jams and dandelion muffins for display, a few bowls of edible plants we’ve been using, and some business cards with our blog information. We spent the next four hours talking non-stop. At times, we were each speaking to six people or more. Thag led a seminar on keying out plants and foraging ethics; over 15 people attended. We ran out of business cards, and so many people asked to buy my jam, I decided to sell it!

Our friend, Rebecca Golden, had a booth beside us. She is an herbalist and has long been a partner in our wild adventures. She gave out samples of her wild nettle pesto which was such a hit that she had to buy more crackers to serve it with. We made her pesto for dinner and have printed her recipe below. Rebecca’s website is .

We left the feeling great. We’d love to share our adventures with more people and hopefully the festival will expand our blog audience.

Nettle Pesto:
Makes 1 cup

1 cup packed fresh nettles
1 cup other wild greens (lamb’s quarters, violet greens, dandelion greens, etc.)
2-4 cloves garlic
½ tsp salt
¼ cup nuts (walnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds) Local black walnuts or chestnuts would be great, too.
¼ cup parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast
¼ to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Place nettle leaves in boiling water. Cook slightly until sting is gone.
Place nettles and other greens in food processor or blender and blend until well chopped. Add garlic, salt, nuts/seeds, and cheese/nutritional yeast. Blend well. Add olive oil. Blend again. Enjoy on bread, pasta, carrots…

Becoming a Forager

This morning, the baby and I walked out into the yard in our pajamas. The air was fresh and warm and the sky threatened thunderstorms. As the cats followed us out to the woodpile, I saw that our small hill was covered with violets. Yub Yub and I quickly began to collect. I wanted to try a variation on the violet jelly I made a few weeks ago.

This impromptu collection caused me to reflect on our project. Foraging is becoming an ingrained part of our lives. I think Thag has wanted this from the beginning, but for me, this project was just a bit of fun, sampling new things, a way to be united in something new and exciting. But it has become much more.

I am thinking about wild foods in new ways. Yesterday we ate wild foods at each meal, and when I packed a lunch for Thag, usually an assortment of leftovers, I found that our leftovers all had wild foods in them. The other day at the store, I bought something to go with a wild plant rather than searching out a wild plant to go with something in the fridge. And this morning, I found myself collecting from my yard to experiment with and extend recipes I’ve already tried. I’m excited to find that my relationships with the wild plants is changing and expanding. Perhaps we are really a cave family after all.