Friday, November 27, 2015

Foraging: Identifying American Beautyberry: Nature's Pop Rocks!

Happy Thanksgiving! Today's post is a fun, quick one that I should have posted in September or October, when the berries were actually ripe. The house hunt was just very time consuming and I never got around to doing the write-up--sorry about that.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is very easy to identify, easy to spot, and fairly common throughout the South and west into Texas, making it a good plant for new foragers. In addition to finding it in the wild, Beautyberry is also used in landscaping, great for urban and suburban foraging as well.

Identification difficulty: Beginner

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Foraging: Identifying and Eating Purslane (avoid poisonous spurge!)

Purslane: abundant, tasty, very nutritious, and pretty easy to identify--with just a couple pointers!

Purslane, (latin name: Portulaca oleracea), is a wonderful, edible "weed". It's tasty, versatile, highly nutritious, easy to find, grows everywhere and is relatively easy to identify. It's not native to North America, and so is generally considered to be an invasive weed. For those of you with an interest in sustainable eating, choosing invasive species for your meals is one of the most sustainable, locavore options. There's even a word for it: invasivore!

Purslane does have one dangerous look-a-like: the potentially deadly spurges. (Euphorbia varieties). I find that they really don't look that much alike, and there is one tried and true way to tell them apart--making purslane a good plant for even a novice forager. 

With that in mind, I'd like to tell you everything I know about purslane, including how to identify it, how to not confuse it with spurge, flavor profile and some basic cooking tips. 

Purslane quick history

Purslane has spread throughout all of the Old World, (Europe, North Africa, and Asia). I have heard conflicting accounts wether it originated in India, the Middle East, or the Far East. It't eaten fairly frequently through out it's range, especially in the Indian subcontinent. With European imperialism, purslane spread to Australia and North and South America, and it's eaten there too (especially Mexico)--just strangely not in the U.S. or Canada in the modern day. It was apparently eaten in parts of the US as recently as WWII.

Purslane can be found most anywhere, as can adapt itself to a variety of climates, from arid to damp, hot to cold, and sun to shade. (Not including Antartica and other uninhabitable places, like parts of Canada and Russia. :P  Just kidding!). It's a succulent, and can adapt itself to environments that experience the extremes of seasonal monsoons and months-long droughts.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Nature's Housewarming Gift

Just a quick post today, as life has been crazy, crazy busy!

My husband and I bought a house! So excited! But the entire process has completely derailed foraging. . . and social media, and social anything, and basically anything not related directly to buying a home. 

But once it was ours I found a delightful surprise growing all in and around the rock garden:

Purslane!!! This is a favorite of mine, with it's slightly crunchy texture and juicy, green-apple sour flavor. Not sure how I missed it earlier, though I suspect that the owner may have been pulling out "weeds" while he was showing the house. 

I hope it will grow back abundantly. In addition to an interesting flavor and very unique texture, purslane is extremely nutritious. Per cup it has more protein, iron, magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin E  than kale, and calorie for calorie, way more potassium than a banana. It's protein and iron are higher than any cultivated veggie, and it has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant. (source: Wikipedia) 

In the past I've never been able to get much of it, because it tends to grow in two places: people's backyards (and I haven't had one of my own in over a decade) and alongside highways, in parking and vacant lots--places contaminated with exhaust, run-off and other chemical pollutants. So now that I have a source, which in Texas might be available for most of the year, expect to see some recipe experimentation. The Wikipedia page above actually has some great ideas (Greek salad with purslane? Yes please!), so if you have this plant by you, definitely try some fun stuff. Check out my purslane recipe board on Pinterest, for recipes from all over the web. 

Be aware, purslane has a very look-a-like plant, creeping (or spotted) spurge. Once you get to know them, they really aren't very similar at all, but they can be confusing if you look at just pictures--especially pics on the internet. The biggest difference is that spurge has a milky white sap in the stems when you break it, and purslane does not. I'll do a more complete identification in the weeks to come. 

I usually try to keep this blog all business and science, and not personal, but I just have to say how blessed I feel. This year began with difficulties with a new boss that eventually led to me being laid off from a company I worked at nearly 11 years, (and his favorite employee taking my role. . . ahead of 2 others with seniority. . .). Then came 3 months of not even being able to get an interview in the over-saturated Northeast. Money concerns led to marital difficulties . . . Last March my sense of self-worth was lower than I thought it could ever be. I was feeling truly and utterly defeated. 

Since taking the plunge to move to a state with more opportunities, I got a fantastic job at a higher salary with incredible benefits and vacation, all with really amazing and wonderful people to work with. We are able to afford a home of our own here, something which would have been a financial hardship back north. I really can't say anything but "Thank you,  Lord". 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

More Dallas Area Hiking and Wild Plant Foraging

So with the weather cooling off slightly (temperatures of 95, instead of 105!), I'm trying to get outside more again. I'm still exploring the Dallas area, for exercise, interest and, of course, wild edible identification.

Being in an entirely new area and ecology really opens my eyes in a different way as I hike. I realized that back home my brain was mostly queued to look for only a handful of wild edibles--things that I knew well and knew I liked. But bereft of those plants and mushrooms, I'm constantly evaluating everything I see, trying to look for similarities with what I know, and just letting myself enjoy the experience.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Identifying the Most Common Poisonous Mushroom: Chlorophyllum molybdites (the Green-Spored Lepiota)

There is one mushroom which I get shown pictures of, and asked to identify, more than any other. It seems to be the most commonly encountered, or at least most commonly noticed mushroom in any region of the U.S. that I have lived.

Many times the request for information also comes with something along the lines of "it looks like it would be tasty!" And, in fact, this large, pristine, ubiquitous, and frequently abundant mushroom does look like it would be a great meal. . .

But looks are frequently deceiving.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Hiking and Identification of Some Texas Wild Edibles

Cedar Ridge Preserve
So earlier this week, my husband and I decided to try and find some good hiking locations. Cedar Hill, a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth, has both a state park and a preserve. The state park was closed for flooding (not expected to open till the 6th of July!!!) but we were able to have a great hike at the preserve. 

Cedar Ridge Preserve is managed by the Audubon Society of Dallas. It's a gorgeous area, a northern outcropping of famed-for-its-beauty Texas Hill Country. Hills! Yes! One of the few things I'm missing from the northeast is woodland terrain, and the Preserve filled the need--though it's very different from back home!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sooo, Texas

So if anyone's wondering where I've been, and where the usual knotweed, garlic mustard and black locust posts are. . .

I went and moved to Texas! 

I know, not something someone usually does spur of the moment, right?

Truthfully, depending on how you look at it, it's either a spontaneous drop everything and go, or something we've been planning for years. My husband and I have known for a while that we wanted to get out of the expensive Northeast, and when I got laid off, it just seemed like a sign.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Foraged Ramp Pakoras with Tomato Onion Chutney

Apparently this is the first Indian dish I have made for this site, which is strange as Indian is actually the cuisine I prepare most often, about once a week. Indian food is great, especially if you like vegetarian. It can seem daunting to start preparing Indian cuisine, because of the long list of spices and seemingly difficult ingredients, but it's well worth it. And you can get everything you need in one trip to an Indian market. The spices keep for a while, as do things like gluten-free besan (chickpea/garbanzo flour) and basmati rice. Plus the seasonings used, like ginger and turmeric, are incredibly good for you--we are only just starting to fully understand all the health benefits.