Thursday, May 30, 2013
Some flowers taste like flowers. Others have a floral quality, but taste primarily like something else. The black locust is one of these, its flowers taste like the sweetest of sweet spring peas, though they have a slightly crunchy texture--like celery.
Black locust is frequently used as other edible flowers are used: in baking, or to make syrups. I really don't like to bake, and I wanted to make something that would highlight the pea-like flavors, rather than the floral taste. I also wanted something fresh to celebrate the end of spring. Peas and mint are a pretty classic combo, and cheese makes everything better, right? With wild mint in season, this pretty little appetizer (also good for a light lunch) seemed like a slam dunk. It tastes good, and is attractive an exotic enough to convert even the most hesitant non-forager.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
This is the kind of dish that keeps me foraging. I would go so far as to say it's the kind of dish that represents the lifestyle I aspire to lead: meals made with a mix of wild edibles and high-quality, healthy (mostly) store-bought ingredients. Meals that are quick enough for weeknights, but make dinner feel like a special occasion. Meals that are so good, and so easy, that I will never order take-out Chinese again.
I'm not there yet, but this was a great start.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Identification difficulty: Beginner
When I got formally into "foraging" as an adult, and read about the black locust, it came as a pleasant surprise to learn that this tree and I were already well acquainted. As a very young child, our next-door neighbor had on of these at the side of his house, and I was fixated. I called it the "Tutti Fruity Tree", mainly because its autumn foliage was primarily shades of pink and coral, rather than the more typical red, gold and orange. I loved that tree from late spring (where I would shower myself in the fallen blossoms) through the fall, when it's unusual coloration captivated me. I had even "foraged" as a 5-year old for the fallen bean pods; that is to say, I gathered them up and made mud-pies. I had no idea that the flowers were edible, nor would my parents have allowed me to really eat them, even if I had wanted to.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
|Flowering garlic mustard in mid-May, when it is easiest to identify|
(also check out its distant cousin--the edible yellow rocket in the picture)
You can't help but see this plant everywhere. It's a horribly invasive weed which damages ecosystems by crowding out other native plant species. It's a bully whose numerous seeds spread everywhere, it secrets toxins which poison the fungi native plants need to live, and it can live overwinter, under snow, and get a jump start on the spring season.
It's also a tasty, versatile, and nutritious vegetable.
Whether you are just getting into foraging, or if you have been into wild plants for years, Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is one species you shouldn't pass up. Its abundant, easy-to-identify, every part of the plant is edible, and it's available year-round, and, due to it's invasive nature, gathering as much of it as you want actually helps, rather than hurts, the environment. It's probably the wild plant I eat the most of, every year.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Ok, ok. I absolutely promise that this is my last knotweed post for the year. They are definitely past their prime size, and I had to be very picky and choosy about which stalks I took. And this year the season is a week or two late, usually knotweed is done by early May.
|Knotweed at this height is at the end of its season.|
It can be eaten before it starts to branch, but must be peeled.
Once done, honestly the flavor is nearly identical to tomatillo-based salsa verde. Even my husband, who doesn't care for knotweed, really enjoyed this recipe. And for you localvores out there, knotweed is a great way to get the flavor here in the Northeast, in the spring, when tomatillos would need to be imported.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
While looking for morels this weekend, I was pretty excited to stumble upon a nice patch of wood nettles. Wood nettles, like their more popular cousins the stinging nettles, are nutritional powerhouses--superfoods! They are rich in vitamins A, C, D, and K, and calcium (more than a glass of milk!).
For me, nettles I trust to eat are rather a rarity. Stinging nettles are generally easier to find, because they prefer disturbed ground settings, growing as common weeds in areas that have been touched by human hands. But for this reason, at least in NJ where I live, I never find any I can trust to be pesticide and road-waste free. These gorgeous plants, growing deep in the old-growth forest, were clearly untouched and safe to eat.
|Tasty young wood nettle|
I have had this recipe on my mind for some time, and I rushed home to make it. It's really, really good. It's guilt-free comfort food, a perfect balance of vitamins from the nettles, protein from the quinoa and cottage cheese, calcium from the nettles and the cheese, and minerals from the mushrooms. By replacing some of the cheddar with fat-free cottage cheese (another superfood), we up the nutrition and reduce the fat further while still keeping the oozy cheesy, gooey-ness factor.
Next time you get stung by a weed in your garden, whip this up for dinner, you won't be disappointed!
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
The mid-Spring season(April & May) is a great time to get into foraging in the Northeast US. Some of the most popular wild foods are at their peak right now, from the easy to find and ID dandelion, to the time for the famous, elusive morel mushroom.
So without further ado, I present: 9 popular wild edibles of Mid-Spring!
Monday, May 6, 2013
Making herb-infused butter is a centuries-old practice. In the days before refrigeration, hot-houses and airplanes to bring us food from across the globe, butter was used to preserve the flavors, medicinal benefits and nutrition of vegetables and herbs.
Today, it's a great way to preserve the fleeting flavor of ramps, which are only found for a few short weeks in the spring, in only a very small area of our planet, and which--so far--have not been cultivated.
|Ramps: at one time the first green available after long |
winters; the flavor captures the essence of spring.
Herbed butters, called compound butters, are a favored tool of chefs, restaurants & gourmands. In fact, the most famous compound butter is called "Butter à la Maître d’Hôtel" because it was a secret ingredient hotels used in their food to entice the wealthy to keep coming back for more.
A little dollop is wonderful on steak, steamed or broiled with fish, under the skin of chicken or turkey, or just spread on toast. Over time, the rich, herbal flavors completely saturate the butter, which, when melted, seeps into every crevice of meat or flake of fish, to really infuse the taste and aroma.
Friday, May 3, 2013
|One of my best hen-of-the-woods trees, downed in hurricane Sandy|
Most likely the mushrooms will continue to fruit
There has been a lot of talk on Northeast foraging boards about the damage and aftermath of hurricane Sandy, and it's effect on the 2013 mushrooming season.
In this region, 2012 was generally regarded a boom year for the "chicken mushroom" or "sulfur shelf" (Laetiporus sulphureus & cincinnatus); and this may be in large part due to damage from Irene in 2011. Laetiporus species can be either parasites or saprobes (decomposers) on trees and logs. They generally can't get enough of a foothold to fruit on living trees, unless the trees are weakened through other environmental factors, such as insect or human damage; but even if not fruiting, the mycelium (the actual organism that makes the mushrooms) can be present, and just waiting for the right time. . . like if a hurricane knocks the tree over.
|Though this tree is very decomposed, chicken mushrooms can be found on trees that have just fallen, |
and even on living, weakened trees. The year after a hurricane is likely to be very productive.
|Oyster mushrooms, like these, generally don't appear till the |
tree has been dead for some several years.
So now with trees down from two hurricanes, 2013 should be an amazing year for the chicken mushroom. And as those trees begin to decay over the next few years, even more decomposing mushrooms should be able to move in. It may take 5 years or more, but we should see a rise in oysters (Pleurotus species), pear-shaped puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme), dryad's saddle (Polyporus squamosus) & more.
Parasitic mushrooms may or may not
On a related note, all my best Hen trees came down in Sandy. This is probably due in part to the parasite causing rot in the "butt" (base) of the tree. With a weakened core, the oaks weren't able to withstand the force of the winds, and split at their base. (See the above photo).
|Honey mushrooms go right on living,|
well after the death of their hosts.
That said, the majority of gourmet mushrooms neither parasites nor decomposers. Morels, Boletes (including the King Bolete, or Porcini) and Chanterelles are all mycorrhizal, meaning they living in symbiosis with trees. With the death of the tree, the mycelium may die and immediately cease fruiting, unless it has symbiosis with multiple partners. (It's 2013, we don't judge). Even if the fungus survives, loosing one key tree may be traumatic enough to prevent it from producing mushrooms for a year or two.
So that's my take on the next couple of years for mushrooming in the Northeast--barring any further natural disasters, of course. I would love to hear what you think the future holds for foraging mushrooms.