Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Count: 17 Meals and Counting

Here is a list of the meals we've eaten thus far and our analysis of them. The rating scale is as follows:

1: inedible
2: we finished it, but we wouldn't make it again

3: average

4: yummy; we'd be disappointed if we didn't have it again
5: superb; a meal to introduce others to wild edibles

Names of all wild foods we collected are in all caps.

Meals of 2011:

1. Battered, fried PERCH sandwich--4
2. MAPLE honey granola--5
3. DAY LILY salad--3
4. Scrambled eggs with WILD LEEKS--4
5. PARSNIP and potato hash browns--4
6. WILD LEEK soup, French onion style--3
7. Caramelized WILD LEEK pasta--5
8. MARSH MARIGOLD sautee on toast--3
9. WILD LEEKS with cauliflower--4
10. WILD LEEK quiche--5
11. GARLIC MUSTARD stalks in breadcrumbs--1
12. WILD LEEK pesto pasta--2
13. Caramelized WILD LEEKS over trout--5
16. FIDDLEHEAD pasta in cheddar cream sauce--4

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ick! Garlic Mustard Stalks again.

Well, we tried again. We went to a healthy sized patch up here in Vermont. We took a variety of different sized stalks and boiled them until tender. Bitter! And perhaps we could handle the bitterness if it were not all in the aftertaste. Who wants to walk around with that horrid flavor in their mouths! It is conclusive; we just don't like them. But, everyone has a few foods that they just don't like. Garlic mustard is one of those for us.

This is a picture of the garlic mustard in our compost bucket.

Wild Edible Breakthrough

Holy Edibles, Batman! There are suddenly a LOT of things to eat outside. For the past week, we have been eating meals infused with something wild at least twice a day (in large part due to a wild leek quiche we've been having for breakfast).

And it seems we have entered a new phase in our foraging lives--one we have aspired to. Wild vegetables are starting to replace the supermarket and farm stand vegetables that have always been featured in our diets. Last week, in the grocery store, I didn't buy any vegetables because I knew I already had wild edibles waiting to be eaten in the fridge and that new edibles were popping up all over the yard.

This is very exciting for our family. Spring was when we devoted the largest part of our foraging efforts last year, and so we are best versed in the spring plant foods. As the warm season progresses, it will be interesting to see if our new trend continues (as we hope it does). But for now, here's to cheaper grocery bills, more time outside, new culinary creations, and better nutrition!

Wild Leek and Fiddle Head stir fry with organic free range beef--super yummy recipe

Last's night's dinner was a winner! Here's the recipe; it is my own.

Large bunch wild leeks, bulbs and leaves, chopped
Large bunch fiddle heads washed, brown sheathes rubbed off
3/4 to 1 pound stew meat, cut into bite sized chunks
3 TBSP soy sauce or tamari
1 1/2 TBSP corn starch
1 tsp honey
1TBSP red wine or sherry
3/4 tsp black pepper
olive oil

Mix soy sauce, honey, wine, and pepper in a bowl. Wisk in corn starch. Add beef. Let sit.

Add a few tablespoons oil to large frying pan. Add leaks. Cook two minutes. Add fiddle heads. Cook two minutes. Add beef. Cook until beef is done. Serve over rice. Yum!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)--Still not convinced

It is so satisifying to eat invasive plants. We feel like we are doing our (albeit miniscule) part in cutting down the population and getting culinary and nutrition benefits as well. So garlic mustard keeps calling to us; it grows everywhere, smells good, and looks delicious.

But the taste, well...

Last year we tried the leaves in a stir fry and had to pick them out they were so unpleasantly bitter. This year we have done our research and have read that the early leaf stalks of the second year plants before the flowers have arrived should be much, much less bitter--tasty even.

So on our Easter trip to Connecticut (the garlic mustard here isn't even three inches tall) we gathered a bunch. We dutifully stripped them of their leaves, washed them, boiled them for five minutes (until they were tender), and tossed them with toasted buttered breadcrumbs. This should make any vegetable taste good. It was unpalatalbe. Neither of us could eat more than two bites.

So what are we doing wrong? These weren't just slightly bitter; they were horrible--like fully grown dandelion leaves.

There are several possibilities. Garlic mustard just tastes bad. (We are suspicious of this because we've read people we respect who think the opposite.) We prepared them incorrectly. (Again, we followed others' advice.) We got a bad patch. (Possible--we all know there are certain blueberry bushes that produce sweeter berries than others.) Any ideas? Advice? Experience?

I'm ready to write the whole plant off. Thag says we should try again.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Long, cold winter and long, cold spring

This past week, Thag has been on vacation, and we have made the most of our time together, but it has been a cold, wet week. We've been trying to forage, but we are limited in our gathering. We have gathered lots of leeks and the day lilies and orpine are up, but there are no signs of fiddle heads and even the knotweed is too small to gather. This morning an inch of snow accumulated at our house before we left to drive down to Connecticut for Easter.

Driving south was a bit painful. What a diffenence 100 miles can make! Maple, cherry, and willow trees in blossom--leaves sprouting on some trees! All the daffodils in full bloom! We know it will come, but spring has taken a long time coming this year.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wild Leeks with Cauliflower (Allium tricoccum)

Oh, we are in leek heaven here. So far we have made four meals with leeks--and today we will go out and gather more.

Leeks excel in a meal where they are the flavor that stands out. They do best with mildly flavored ingredients that don't mask the sweet and low onion flavor of the leeks. Hence why people often pair them with eggs.

So last night I mixed them with cauliflower--a decent, but not very exciting vegetable--into a side dish that caused us both to go for seconds.

To prepare, saute a large bunch of chopped leeks in a tablespoon or two of butter. Steam or boil a head of chopped cauliflower. Drain cauliflower and add to leek saute. Salt and cook until cauliflower is lightly browned. Yum, yum, yum!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Marsh Marigold or Cowslip (Caltha palustris)--Surprisingly Mild

Samuel Thayer, our most esteemed authority on wild plant foods, has this to say about the marsh marigold. "The problem with marsh marigold greens . . . is that they inherently taste bad. . . Only by adding seasoning, cream, gravy, or other embellishments does cowslip become fit to serve to dinner guests."

I hate to disagree with Mr. Thayer, but we don't share his dismal view of this green. Ooga and I both prefer very mild flavors. We buy mild salsa that is more sweet than hot. We avoid curries and most Indian food. We really like crackers. When we read Thayer's writings on the cowslip, we were trepidatious about this unknown plant. We needn't have worried. Perhaps the plants are less acrid here in New England than they are in the Midwest. Maybe Thayer was hoping for something more exciting. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that anything boiled in enough changes of water (we did three waters) is toned down. Whatever the reason, these greens tasted just fine to us.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Allium tricoccum Ramps aka Wild Leeks aka Holy Yum My Tastebuds Just Melted

Just finished the last morsel of Ooga's fantastic rendition of Katie Letcher Lyle's "Onions with Pasta". What an understated name for such a superb recipe! The book from which it came, The Foraging Gourmet, just earned itself a place of honor in our foraging library.

A few words on ramps.

  1. Wild leeks are not leeks. Wild food guides tend to offer advice like, "Cook like asparagus," or, "Prepare like a potato." However, this often leads the novitiate forager to assume that these delicacies will taste like asparagus or potato. Anyone who has eaten an Asian 'pear' knows that names can be misleading. Most wild foods are unique. You will not find a flavor like autumn olive anywhere but in an autumn olive. That being said, there are patterns of flavor among related plants. Wild parsnips have the wonderful sweetness of their cousin the carrot. Leeks are a member of the genus Allium. Onions, garlic, and (yes) leeks are too. The pungecy that you know in the cultivated varieties is there in the wild leek.

  2. Wild leeks are magical. In our area they only grow in the richest of soils, protected in little valleys. Walking in these places when the forest floor is carpeted in lush green while the rest of the world still sleeps in an unopened bud is like walking in a church. It inspires reverence in the open heart. So many early spring greens are bitter. Wild leeks are delectable.

Last night we had a French-style wild leek soup with some of Ooga's homemade chicken stock. Hooray for this versatile spring plant.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Parsnip Part II--Still Not Dead (Pastinaca sativa)

Wild parsnips and domesticated potato fried in butter--what better side dish could you ask for? The parsnips were awesome. Here's our advice on parsnips.

  1. Be afraid. It's good to take your time keying out things in the carrot family and watching them for a long time before trying them. It's great way to not end up dead.

  2. Wash well. A good nail brush is a must for these twisty roots. We spent extra time scrubbing and were happy for it.

  3. Gather more. For a root vegetable these cooked down a lot.

Cute Things Baby Yub-Yub Says While Foraging

On walking with care--"See deez wild yeeks mama. I be so careful. I not step on them because I am their mother."

On the flavor of spring beauty blossoms--"Hmm, well . . . it's better than carrots."

On raking the forest floor with a stick--"Dis is my job. I am doing my job."

On digging for tubers--"Worm. I want a worm! Worms are so cute!"

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Overcoming Carrot Anxiety--Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

I'm scared of carrots. I don't mean the carrots you find in the supermarket. I am afraid of experimenting with plants in the carrot family (Apiaceae or Umbelliferae depending on how old your field guide is). I fear them with good reason. A single taste of water hemlock (Cicuta sp.) can be fatal. "Some victims chew their tongues to shreds," notes Elpel in Botany in a Day (115). There's just something about this idea that unnerves me a bit. Despite the high stakes, carrot anxiety is a fear I need to overcome. The carrot family contains so much tasty goodness. The poisonous relatives are readily identifiable. You just have to be careful about identifying them. Hence the care with which I approached the parsnip.

One year ago, I had a hunch that the whorls of compound leaves that were sprouting up in our field were parnips. I did not gather them though. I wanted to see them through their whole life cycle. I watched them grow. I studied the second-year stalks. I keyed them out when the flowers appeared. Only then was I certain, but by then the roots had passed their prime. Finally, as the plants' returned their energy to their roots to overwinter (They are biennials.), they were ready to harvest.

When I dug up the tiny rosettes today, about a year after I first spotted their ancestors, the sweet, familiar smell of carrot wafted up from the earth. In a matter of moments and in only three turns of the shovel, I had almost half a pound of promising wild food.

Spring? Forage--Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum)

It was a warm and lovely spring week; the baby and I spent nearly every day all day outside. But today, the first day of Thag's vacation, was cold--39 degrees--and windy. Still we bundled up in our winter things and headed out, determined to make the most of "spring."

We went up to our precious leek field, crossing the ice and snow still covering the shadier sections of trail. The logging that happened this fall significantly reduced the leek cover, but there are still more leeks there than anywhere else we have seen. The leeks were relatively small--about 5 to 6 inches, the trout lilies were only in leaf, and the spring beauties were no where to be seen. It was far from the day dreams I'd had deep within January. But still, they were there; spring must be coming...

When Yub Yub began to shiver, we headed back. The leek smell was wonderful and powerful--when the baby smelled them she said, "Deez smell like onions!"

At home, Thag cleaned the leeks and I prepared scrambled eggs with leeks--one of our all time favorites. So as we huddled under blankets on the couch, drinking our tea, we ate spring.

(Meal 3--rating 4)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Late Season for Wild Foods 2011

By this time last year we had long since finished the maple sugaring season, performed salamander crossing guard duty, taken the taps out of the birch trees (whose sugaring season is after the maple season), found coltsfoot poking up on the roadsides, dug leeks, harvested the tender young shoots of stinging nettle, and gathered fiddleheads from down by the river. The mustard greens (various species) were up. The japanese knotweed had reached the perfect height for gathering. Canada mayflower had unfurled and the day lilies had grown too tough to eat.

Now last year was particularly early, but this year is particularly late. We're still sugaring the maple trees! Everything remains curled up under the soil. I only had my first wild greens today. The fiddlehead down by the river are tough black brown knobs still buried in mud. Our garden remains covered in snow.

Day Lily Greens: A Great Addition to Spring Salads

I like mild greens. It's not that I can't tolerate the bitter ones. I'll eat salads featuring almost anything. I've even acquired a taste for thing like dandelion greens (a taste I probably cultivated because I just thought that it was cool and cave-man-like). But the mild greens, what John Kallas of the Wild Food Adventurer calls foundation greens, are my favorites, especially if they're a little sweet. Enter day lilies (Hemerocallis fulva).

Day lilies are mild and sweet, but what they really have going for them is a great texture. I had my first of the season in a salad today:

half and half day lily and cultivated greens

grape tomatoes


sliced chicken breast


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Maple Honey Granola

It has been a great (and long) maple sugaring season. We are still going strong a full week into April. We're usually all packed up by now, but our taps are still drip, drip, dripping. After Thag emptied all the buckets tonight, Baby Yub Yub kept startling at the plinking sounds at the bottom of the now empty buckets.

This is our fifth boil, and we still have more to go. Yay for the sweet stuff! You never know what kind of year it will be.

So time for Meal Number 1:

Maple Honey Granaola:

8 cups rolled oats

1 cup canola oil

3/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup honey

1 cup walnuts

1 cup slivered almonds


Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease two large cookie sheets (the ones with sides) or use silicone non stick mats.

Mix oil, honey, and maple syrup until well blended. Pour oats and walnuts in a large bowl. Sprinkle with a little salt and stir. Pour liquids over oats and walnuts. Bake about 20 minutes. Stir. Bake another 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Watch this carefully. Cooking times vary. Feel free to lower the temperature if you need to. I have burned an entire batch, and it is an expensive mistake to make!

Remove from oven. Add almonds. Stir. Let cool and harden. Break into small pieces and store in an air tight container.

Feel free to add any dried fruit, seeds, or nuts. We like ours nutty and are using some of the black walnuts we harvested this fall.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

1 Year, 1 Family, 100 Wild Meals

After our long winter hibernation (which apparently started in September!), we have awoken with clear goals for this foraging year.

This year we will attempt to feast upon 100 wild meals. These meals can include any number of wild edibles. Different meals containing the same ingredients (ie. nettle soup, nettle quiche, and nettle stir fry) would count separately. Dinners with two different dishes containing wild edibles will count as separate entities (ie. sorrel soup accompanied by a acorn flour muffins would be two meals).

Whereas last year we were simply trying to encounter new foods, this year our major goal is to try and make wild foods a more substantial part of our diet. Last year snacking on wild raspberries or trying beech nuts would count--this year those foods need to be collected in larger quanities and become part of an actual meal.

In addition, we will attempt to post each Saturday before we go to bed. So look for our posts each week.

And, indeed, the wild season has begun. Sugaring season is currenetly in full swing, and yesterday we found our first dandelion leaves growing along the West River!