Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lamb's Quarters Pie


1 pie crust, store bought or homemade

6 to 8 cups fresh lamb's quarters

3 eggs

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 to 1 cup shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese



1) Preheat oven to 375

2) Rinse, chop, and steam (or lightly boil) lamb's quarters

3) Beat eggs in large bowl

4) Mix ricotta, cheese, and lamb's quarters into eggs.

5) Add salt and pepper to taste.

6) Pour lamb's quarters mixture into pie crust

7) Bake for 40 minutes.

This recipe was a 4.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Itinerary for a Near-perfect Foraging Weekend

  1. Begin the day at your local farmer's market and accidentally bump into your good friends and their three year old.
  2. Decide that the kids need a swim and let them romp around in the brook behind the market. Watch them giggle with delight.
  3. Drive out to the foraging spot. Let your daughter run through the wide open fields. Scan the field margins to find wild grapes, wild carrots, and new plants that have beautiful flowers even though they are not edible like virgin's bower.
  4. In an old red pine plantation, find the biggest patch of bull thistle that you've ever seen. Look for the first-year rosettes that you will gather in the fall.

On the way out, pick milkweed pods and staghorn sumac berries.

Stop off on the way home to show your wife the feral mulberry bush on a suburban street right across from a nascent killer black cherry crop. (Thanks Arena.)

Find a loaded grapevine just down the street.

At home cook up milkweed whites. Serve on toast with tomatoes.

  1. Set the sumac berries to soak in cold water for sumac-ade.

On Sunday, go to a free circus and cheer on your friend who does a graceful performance on the hanging fabric.

While at the park, weed purslane out of the public garden for a tasty salad.

Head on over to your friend's garden, gather so many lamb's quarters and amaranth that you think you won't be able to eat it all.

That night, cook up and feast on an amaranth green stir-fry and a lamb's quarter spinach ricotta pie.

  1. Go to bed thinking that everything is right with the world.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Instructions for picking wild blackberries

1) Find a spot teaming with blackberry bushes laden with fruit.

2) Cover every inch of your body with tight fitting garments.

3) Wear a hat.

4) Bring more containers then you think you will need.

5) Pick all the ripe fruit you can see. The sweetest berries are all black, soft, and fall off the bush as you touch them.

6) Get down on your hands and knees and look under the bushes. You will find 3 times as many ripe berries as you have just picked. Fill your buckets.

7) Still on your knees, look right and then left. You will again find many more berries.

8) Smile.

9) Pick until all that clothing and sun get too hot and sweaty.

10) Make plans to do amazing things with your berries like turn them into jam or pies.

11) Eat them all up while looking at recipes!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Three Edible Summer Mushrooms: Berkeley Polypore, Black-staining Polypore, and Chanterelles


I have a confession. Mushrooms scare me. I am even a little anxious about touching them. My mycophagically inclined friends assure me that there are only a few poisonous species and that, for the most part, they are readily identified. Their assurances do little to calm my racing heart when I take a wild mushroom and put it in my mouth. I think that my fear arises from my ignorance. Learning about plants was like learning a whole new language. Alternate, opposite, simple, compound, entire margins, toothed, pinnate, palmate, spike, raceme, head, sepal, pistil, stamen . . . Over the years, I have become fluent in this vocabulary. I've drawn a map of the plant kingdom in my head. I can see patterns that extend across different plant families that make even strange plants somewhat familiar. There are times when I see a new plant that I've never encountered before and know exactly what it is because I've seen its picture in my trusty guides so many times. I have none of this background in mushrooms. I come across a new one, and I don't even know if its the same species as the one across the street.

It gives me a little empathy for those that are trepidatious about trying some of our wild delicacies. Our guests nervously asks, "Are you sure this isn't poisonous," when I offer sumac lemonade or purslane salad. I do not scoff at this hesitation. It is the hesitation of people who live long. Mushrooms remind me of that.

A phone call from our friend Arena is always good news. She is gently introducing us to the world of the edible fungus. She called us this week and offered to show us some of her mushroom discoveries. Friday was pouring rain. Ooga and Baby Yub-Yub, who hadn't taken a nap, had to bail out of our trip. In some ways, the rain is great. The hot, dry summer had made for a frustrating season for the mushroom harvester. But the rain did make for a soggy trip.

Arena gifted us with three precious chanterelles. We drove around our town in my big pickup truck as Arena helped me cut a Berkeley polypore mushroom, showed my the access trails to some good foraging grounds, introduced me to a corner where black cherries are hanging low right across the street from an escaped mulberry, and took me to another site where we cut the tender tips from a black-staining polypore mushroom. Arena, we are so grateful for your help. You are the first inductee to the Foraging Family Hall of Fame.

That night we celebrated a sedar meal with our friends Ben and Rebecca who share our interests in wild food and plants. Rebecca is an herbalist extrodinaire (Visit her website at .) and Ben and I share a common background in nature study, tracking, and wilderness survival. Their evening blessing was made over an elderflower mead (so cool) that they made based on a recipe from a book about folk wines that we had rescued from a recycle bin and given them years ago. (We'll write more about that later.) We contributed our portion of the day's mushroom harvest.

Arena had suggested a longer, slower heat for cooking the wild mushrooms, so we set butter in three different pans, covered, and fried them lightly. I didn't check them often enough and overcooked the chaterelles a little. They were still excellent. I can only guess how good they must be when prepared well. The Berkeley polypore produced a lot of liquid. Was it rainwater that it absorbed? Was it an oil from the mushroom itself? The black-staining polypore smelled strongly and left a odor on my hands. Everyone agreed that it tasted like meat. (Later, Arena called and said that she didn't like the flavor and hadn't eaten it. Not knowing what to expect, we'd eaten it to no ill effect.) The Berkeley polypore smelled awesome and Ooga and I agreed that its flavor improved after it cooled a little. (Mushrooms are so weird.)

That evening we talked about mysterious plants, living off the land, work, and traditions. Wild food . . . best served with good friends.
However, after we left, my mushroom neurosis kicked in. Was I feeling OK? What if we'd made a mistake? Some mushrooms shouldn't be consumed with alcohol, right? We'd had that elderflower mead. I was up late that night researching mushrooms in my guides and online. Then something cool happened. I realized that I was creating a map in my head of the mushroom world just the way I had done with plants. I was putting things into groups and learning new vocabulary. I saw myself starting on the journey to mushroom awareness. Oh, the adventures to come.

Elder Flower Mead

Beautiful and tasty.

The Score: 73 Down, 27 to Go

When describing our project to Ben's uncle, he asked, "So has any plant actually gotten a 5? Or are you just eating lots of nearly inedible plants?" He was skeptical that wild food could be yummy. We knew it could, but even we are amazed at how many 4s and 5s we discovered!

46. Lamb's Quarters: use like spinach, versatile and common: 4

47. Common Plantain: tough, cook well, hide in other foods: 2

48. Milk Weed flowers: hard little balls, easy to cook, nice change from greens, we threw them in a savory pancake batter: 4

49. Ox-eye Daisy leaves: A little spicy, the basal leaves are sweeter and easier to gather than the stem leaves, we made it into a tabouli: 4

50. Red Clover flowers: sweet, easy to identify and collect, we made vinegar, iced tea, and attempted syrup, the baby loves them and sucks on them all the time: 4

51. Wild Lettuce: we cooked it well and put it in quesadillas, we have since learned that we ate the most bitter of the wild lettuces and reserve judgement until we try others: ?

52. Wild Strawberries: small, sweet, and succulent: 4

53. Purslane: how did we not discover this great salad green earlier? So mild and tender, we are encouraging the weeds in our herb garden: 5

54. Day Lily buds: A great vegetable, easy to use in a variety of ways: 5

55. Cattail Spikes: We ate them like corn on the cob, sweet and fun, the baby loved them: 5

56. Red Raspberry: no description necessary: 5

57. Black Rasberry: around here even sweeter than red raspberry, but scarcer: 5

58. Crayfish: Our first animal, sweet and mild like lobster, but with a texture more like crab: 4

59. Blackberry: A fantastic year for blackberries! : 5

60. High bush blueberry: 5

61. Low bush blueberry: even sweeter than high bush, but harder to gather: 5

62. Huckleberry: hard little seeds, but otherwise tastes like blueberries: 5

63. Day Lily flowers: superior taste, the best flower I've tasted, but eat in moderation: 5

64. Sumac flowers: tangy and sweet, make into a lemondade: 5

65. Dewberry: much like blackberry, but grow low along the ground: 5

66. Basswood nut: we ate them too soon, but they were sweet and soft, we will keep trying: ?

67. Goose Tongue greens: salty and yummy, they didn't turn out as well when we prepared them ourselves, see post for more info: 3

68. Elder flower: our good friend Rebecca made a mead with them last year. It was fantastic, and I generally don't like alcohol at all. I will make it next year. Rating is difficult. The mead was a 5, but I'm not sure how to rate the flowers themselves.

69. Chanterelles: Not a good year here for most mushrooms. Too little rain. We cooked up three little chanterelles and they were fantastic: 5

70. Black Stain Polypore: Ben collected with Arena. She called later and told us she felt they were not good. We had already eaten them. They had a strong smell and a distinctly meat like flavor. Not unpleasant, and our reading has confirmed that this is a common description. Would like more info and to try again: 3

71: Berkley's Polypore: Tastes like oysters: 4

72: Mulberry: Looks like blackberry, but much tangier: 5

73: Milk Weed pods: The insides prepared alone are sweet and mild, the buds whole are supposedly similar, but ours were clearly bitter: we need to do more research

It is kind of exciting to write this post. Here we are--mid summer--more than half way to our goal. Summer has presented so many new plants to us. At this point, it could be easy to get a little cocky. However, we've spent as much time recently reading about and identifying plants we will gather this fall as we have gathering the current harvest. This preparation has been a little intimidating. Many of the fall plants are plants we've never eaten and require much preparation as well as some trips outside our immediate gathering area. But we are excited about the adventure.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Goose Tongue Greens

We have the best friends. Last night we were invited to dinner at our Vermont parents' house. Carl and Deb have adopted us and saved us from many disasters.

One of the dishes they served was wild goose tongue greens. Carl and Deb have built a second home in New Brunswick on the Bay of Fundy. They spend several weeks a year there and each summer they collect this marsh sea grass to eat. They prepare it by boiling it lightly. It needs no seasoning as it is naturally salty. We loved it. Deb sent us home with a ziplock bag filled with raw goosegrass greens to prepare at home.

We have had many discussions about whether or not to count plants fed to us rather than collected and prepared by us. Since our tagline is one family, one year, one hundred wild foods, we have decided there is nothing wrong with counting wild plants we recieve from others.

However, this presents an interesting dilemma, and it is especially strong with the goose grass. When we eat a plant collected and prepared by others, we don't really know what we are eating. We have not identified the plant, nor have we seen where it was collected. We are only eating one part of the plant and it is usually already processed. With the crayfish Tifin gave us, identification was relatively easy. Not so with goose tongue.

I have just spent an hour on the computer and in my books reading about "goose tongue." It seems there are a few plants that have this common name, most of them edible, but not the same plant. I found many references to what I think Deb and Carl served us, a marsh grass that grows in the Bay of Fundy with a long history of being eaten by the peoples native to the area as well as French Canadian settlers. The pictures looked encouraging, but I found several different scientific names. It also had an array of common names from the most common passe-pierre and goose tongue to cleavers and goosegrass.

When I checked my Peterson's guide, I found galium aparine (one of the scientific names listed for Deb and Carl's plant), with the common names cleavers and goosegrass. This plant, however, does not seem to be what we ate last night. Though edible, it is not a marsh grass, grows "throughout," and looks nothing like the pictures of passe-pierre I found online or the plant we were served.

I need to do more research on the genus galium as it was the most common one associated with the marsh sea grass. Perhaps that will lead me in the right direction. Regardless, we ate a fantastic wild green, not from our area, that many people eat and enjoy. We will count it on our list, though we aren't quite sure what it truly is. Hopefully, one day we will travel with Deb and Carl, buy a local field guide, and collect this delicious edible ourselves.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blueberries and Basswood: Two Good Reasons Why We Are Not Experts

"It is fascinating to observe how, after only a year or two of avid interest in a topic, some people begin to feel like experts. Whether it is basketry, yoga, or tracking, some people feel the need to be
teaching something almost as soon as they begin learning it."

--Samuel Thayer in Nature's Garden. Birchwood, WI.: Forager's Harvest Press, 2010.

We are not experts. We could go on indefinitely with example to this effect (see our clover disaster post . . . oh, and did we ever tell you the story of the horrible wild lettuce that we ate which we found out later was just not the right species of lettuce) but here allow us to focus on just two.

Reason #1: After our blueberry excursion at our favorite swimming spot. We followed it up with another blueberry picking evening on a warm, dry granite mountaintop. The previous year we had collected a "huckleberry" there and thought that we could add another species to our list. It turns out that all the berries from these plants were dry and sour this year. Maybe they weren't ripe yet? They certainly looked ready. Did we really know what ripe looked like? We decided to check our guides to find out for sure and switched our gathering over to Vaccinium angustifolium, the lowbush blueberry, a plant that we know so well that even if Euell Gibbons himself appeared from the bushes to argue with our identification, we'd be confident that we knew what it was. Boy, were they good too. At the end of our forage, we went around and gathered a branch from each shrub and took it home to our field guides.

I stayed up late into the night with my keys and my hand lens trying to figure out just what these "huckleberry" plants were. Now, I feel pretty handy with a good key. I know the differences between spike and racemes, between bundle scars and petioles. But I could not tell what these shrubs were. I couldn't even tell if they were a kind of blueberry or not. In fact, in the one species that I was dead certain was a blueberry, I couldn't even seem to find the defining field mark, tiny warts that supposedly speckle the stems.

At some point I decided that I'd need more help than my trusty field guides and went to sleep.

Conclusion: OK, so maybe this isn't the best story of my inexpertise. Blueberries and their relatives are not the easiest plants to key out to species. However, the story does illustrate clear limits of my plant knowledge. I am not a professional botanist. I am just a guy who really loves plants and likes to learn about them whenever he can.

Reason #2: We took Baby Yub-Yub wading in a nearby river during the hot afternoon and sat in the shade of a bridge while we ate our lunch. While Yub-Yub chased the local dogs through the shallows, I noticed a basswood tree growing along the shore. It's flowers had passed, and beneath the leafy wings that used to shelter the blossoms, there were now little green nuts. I'd thought I'd read somwhere that these nuts were edible, so I filled my hat and took them home. Sure enough, according to several of our edible plant guidebooks, basswood nutlets were tasty if impractical to process. So I started to peel and eat the tiny white nutmeats. I thought they tasted mild. Ooga thought they tasted . . . . unripe. Truth is, we don't know if they're unripe or not. Should we wait until they turn brown and hard and fall to the ground. So far we've felt no ill effect, but I'd prefer not to find out the hard way by eating a bunch of unripe fruit. I've already done that with apples before when I was on a survival campout in August. Sure, they looked round and tender, but after eating three or four I felt nauseated the whole afternoon.

Conclusion: Ooga and I are at a very early stage of familiarity with most of the plants that we eat. Although we are comfortable with identification ("huckleberries" excepted), many of them, we've never eaten before. It's a lot like our daughter who is just learning how to tell whether a blueberry is ready or not by its color. Or perhaps a more apt metaphor would be that time I bought an Asian pear at the grocery store because I'd never seen anything like it and . . . hey, I like pears. Well, for those of you who don't know, Asian pears are nothing like the familiar pears from the orchard farmstand. We tried cooking it as suggested by the short description at the grocer, but it didn't really pique our fancy. Do we write off Asian pears as something we don't like? Do we assume that we prepared it incorreclty? Do we even know if it was ripe or not?

Think of all the specialized knowledge we have about everyday foods we know:

Leave those green bananas on the counter for a few days before you eat them. Don't eat the potatos raw. You don't need to refrigerate rice, but your milk won't last long if you don't. The apple core is tough and not necessarily worth eating. Lately, I've been very aware of our inexperience. Although we are learning a lot from this project, we are not experts. We are stumbling toward knowledge by fits and starts. It is a great place to be. We are full of wonder and enthusiasm. We are constantly being startled and surprised and delighted by new discoveries.

Mr. Thayer, we are in no hurry to become experts on wild food. We are novices and amateurs. But amateurs are motivated by love (amare in Latin from whence the word amateur came). Forgive us if we are too anxious to share through this blog the excitement we have found.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Blissful, Blueberry Day

As if our lives are not busy enough, Thag has decided to run a marathon in September. Sundays are his cross training day, and this past Sunday I got to go with him thanks to an impromptu babysitting stint by our beloved housemate (What are we going to do when she moves to Kazakhstan? (yes, she is really moving to Kazakhstan)).

We went to our favorite swim spot and dove in. The water was amazingly warm thanks to the hot, hot weather we've had. In the midst of our swim, we climbed upon some glacial erratics surrounding the lake and ate handfuls of wild blueberries.

Clover Disaster

Again and again we come upon the realization that owning the right tools would make this project easier and more enjoyable. In this case it was a candy thermometer.

In late June, I decided to take advantage of the end of the clover blossoms by making clover syrup. I’d read several recipes and they sounded easy and delicious. In most recipes, you make an infusion of the clover flowers, let this sit for a long time, and then add sugar and boil it until it is a syrup. The trick is not to boil it too long or it becomes clover candy. Also, do not put your finger in the boiling syrup to test it. If you do (and I did) the burning hot syrup will harden on your finger and you will have to peel the candy off your finger and leave it in ice water for the rest of the day. Then, you will have to clean out the pot with the hardened candy in it.

Day Lily Flowers and Day Lily Buds

Oh sweetness! These clearly rank a five. I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying these.

Now you may be thinking, "Day lilies are not wild." Well, yes and no. They are a cultivated plant, but they escape easily and thrive on their own. We count anything not planted as wild. (And, encouragingly, most of our wild food guides and cook books count them too!) The unfortunate thing about day lilies is that they love road sides. We prefer not to collect along the road as petrochemicals, rock salt, and pesticides collect there. But it is where we found all the wild daylilies.

Several weeks ago, Thag and I collected day lily buds. I prepared them in a white wine and butter sauce and they were divine.

This weekend, we collected both the buds and opened flowers. I made the stuffed day lily blossom recipe in Ronna Mogelon's cookbook, Wild In the Kitchen. So rich, and so fantastic. For a main dish, I created a day lily risotto using both the buds and the flowers. Everyone loved it, included baby Yub Yub.

Unfortunately, shortly afterwards I was sick to my stomach and our housemate was ill all night. Both Thag and Yub Yub were fine. We aren't sure what to attribute our illness to. It would seem it was not the day lilies as we all ate them. However, our housemate and I have not seen each other much and these were the only foods we ate in common that day. She and I do not have any other food allergies or sensitivities. Has anyone else had any bad experiences with day lilies? They are a superb food so I'd hate to discount them.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rasperries and Black Rasperries

The berries are here! The ultimate in foraging yumminess. Baby Yub Yub has an uncanny ability to spot berries. Perhaps it is her height and, therefore, her unique viewpoint. She combs the yard looking for these delights. "More, Mama, more!"

It is a superb berry year. We have had lots of hot, sunny weather and little rain. We always find wild red raspberries, and the perimeter of our yard is flush with wild blackberries (not yet ripe), but we often have to search out the black rasperries. Not this year!

I am teaching summer school right now, and each day at recess, my first and second graders scan the black raspberry plants around the playground looking for the berries that have ripened overnight or the few they missed the day before. To them foraging is just as fun, if not more, than playing on the playground equipment. They love the hunt and the reward at the end. Some of them eat each berry as they find it. Others hoard them up in their sweaty hands until they have enough to toss a handful into their mouths, the sweet berries exploding all at once in their mouths.

I make tons of jam. I love to go to our local orchard, pick ripe berries, come home, and can away. Every year, I plan to collect wild berries and make wild jam, but it is simply too much fun to eat them as we play outside. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Crayfish--Freshwater Seafood

I know the scientific names of most every plant that we eat. But all I know about these critters is that they taste good. Our housemate, Tifin, harvests them by trap in Caspian Lake in northern Vermont. She says that the crayfish are not native there and that they have altered the lake ecosystem dramatically, causing some species to go extinct and others to swell in number. She brought us a Tupperware full of little red crustaceans. Like lobsters, their red color is a sign that they have already been cooked.

She taught us the way to pull off the tail so that we would get the meat most easily. It took a few tries, but both Ooga and I got the hang of it. They are dressed almost identically to the lobsters my parents would cook on New Year's Eve when I was a kid: a slit down the tail, clean out the organs, break the shell (exoskeleton) to get the meat inside. The main difference is that these guys are so small that much of the meat that I dig out is not economical to get. It feels like a waste to throw edible stuff into the compost, but it doesn't really make sense to spend hours scraping tiny scraps into the bowl. So we stick to two parts: the tails and the claws of the biggest individuals. After pulling the tails off and slitting them open, we clean off the yellow organ which Tifin says accumulate toxins like a liver. The lake is probably clean, but we figured not to eat the stuff anyway. Next we split the top half of the tail from the bottom to reveal a long thin vein which is not really a vein at all. It's the colon. It's edible and probably not unhealthy to eat, but I agreed with Tifin that there is something disconcerting about eat a . . . well, you get the idea. When all is done, we got about 100 g of meat for about 20 minutes worth of work between the three of us. Tifin's experienced hands did the lion's share of the work. Ooga and I asked for pointers. We all had a good time.

Tifin adds mayonnaise to the meat to make a salad which she spreads on bread for sandwiches, but Ooga and I ate them like shrimp with toothpicks and cocktail sauce. They tasted like shrimp but milder and softer. Tifin was hoping for a 5 rating. I give it a 5 too, but Ooga gave it a 4. No matter the rating, I bet that our Stone Age ancestors would be delighted with this catch-- as were we.