Sunday, September 5, 2010

The score: 92 down, 8 to go!

We are always busier than we intend to be. So since we have not blogged about all of these, I have included brief information about our experiences with some of these plants in addition to a score. I’ve noticed a lot of 3s below which may seem a bit low, but 3 means we like them and would use them again—they simply aren’t sensational. In addition, many plants’ scores change depending on how they are prepared. None of these scores are set in stone, since we’ve tried many of these foods only once or twice.

74. Amaranth greens—we picked these “weeds” out of our friend’s school garden. We prepared them in a stir fry and they are just as good as spinach and swiss chard--4
75. hazelnut—see posts--5
76. rosehips—we collected and nibbled these during our week at the beach in Maine—Yub Yub loves them--5
77. elderberry—in jam—5—in baked goods—2
78. evening primrose—threw them into a salad--3
79. black cherries—nibbled a few raw—have a ton in the freezer—intend to turn into cherry applesauce or stew them up with some maple syrup to stir into oatmeal--3
80. Chicken of the woods: Laetiporus sulphureus—see post--5
81. Lacaria ochropurpurea (purple mushroom)—see post--3
82. Milkies: lacterius hygrophoroides—see post--3
83. Lacterius vulemus—see post--2
84. Slippery caps—suillius granulatus—see post--4
85. wild grape—see post--3
86. flowering red raspberry—a bramble which produces a beautiful, wide reddish fruit, which we mistakenly called thimbleberry for years—drier than most other bramble fruits: Ooga—5, Thag--3
87. yarrow—prepared the dried leaf into tea—we’re not much into herbal teas—this one tastes a lot like chamomile—I dislike chamomile—our score is 2, but if you like chamomile, you will probably like it
88. pineapple weed—prepared this adorable plant into a tea—smells like pinapple when you pick it and dry it in the oven (at super low temps, of course), but smells and tastes like chamomile tea when prepared--2
89. black walnuts—we did not collect any, yet, but Arena gave us some she collected last year which we shelled and pulled the meat from—deeper in flavor than the walnuts in the supermarket—truly remarkable--5
90. hawthorne berries—a lot like rosehips in flavor and preparation--5
91. wild apples—depends on the variety—we find ancient, escaped, and abandoned apple trees everywhere around here—anywhere from a 1 to a 5
92. autumn olives—just coming into ripeness—tangy and sweet—cranberry like in flavor, but much sweeter—so far we have just nibbled them raw--looking forward to cooking them--4

Our goal is within sight, but many of the fall edibles take a lot of processing (like acorns) so we have a busy season ahead. And we have no intention of stopping at 100 just because we meet our goal. Happy foraging.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hobblebush--Viburnum alnifolium

Samuel Thayer writes that he has little experience eating the fruit of hobblebush because it does not grow in his region, and although it is more abundant to our north, a healthy number grow in the shady or acidic hemlock forests of our area. It is kind of exciting to experiment with a plant that our mentor in libris has little to say about.

I spotted this one on a local run just like several other plants I've posted about. (I am training for a marathon, so I've gotten to cover a lot of roadside territory lately.) The red, unripe berries are what caught my eye, but it is the purple-black and slightly wrinkled fruit that I came to enjoy. It's a plant that I'd encountered for years before discovering that its berries were in fact edible and, I would add, quite tasty. I even asked Ooga and Baby Yub-Yub to refrain from eating the rest so that I could get the picture for this post.

Highbush Cranberry--Viburnum trilobum vs. Viburnum opulus

I first spotted them while running down highway five, a brilliant splash of scarlet amidst the tangle of green shrubs on the roadside. I'd never identified a highbush cranberry before, but I knew them when I saw them. It is a strange and wonderful thing that happens when you spend enough time reading field guides and dreaming about the plants in them. I think people who seem to develop a sixth sense about something must all do it this way. They spend so much time learning about, imagining, and telling the stories of the things that they are passionate about that eventually they know something without even knowing how they know it. I knew it was a highbush cranberry. I don't know how. I just knew.

Today, we stopped by the shrub for a closer look. There are several species which share the same common name, one of which is not truly palatable. Which one was this?

Sometimes field guides use differences of degree to differentiated species. They will state that one species is taller, pointier, greener, thicker, or more flattened than another. I find this useful when I am already familiar with one of the plants that's being compared. But I find it frustrating when I've never seen either plant in person before. That was the case here. My field guide said that Viburnum opulus, the species that I wanted to avoid, had "smaller, wider, more dentate leaves, and thinner, darker twigs" than Viburnum trilobum, the species I wanted to eat. It was not much help.

Well, I knew what genus it was in, and I'd narrowed it down to two possibilities. Neither would kill me. "I might as well just try a berry," I thought. I did. It was sour. It had the distinct flavor that all viburnums share which I can only describe as being akin to the sweet and not unpleasant smell of newly rotting apples. And it was quite bitter. I spit it out and looked back at my guide. Yup, that was V. opulus all right. We won't be adding that to our list.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cooking with Elderberries

Earlier this week, I took the elderberries from the freezer, rolled the frozen berries from the stems, rinsed them, and began to cook.

First I made a pie, playing around with a recipe I found on the internet. I used about 4 cups of berries and sweetened them with the last of our birch syrup. It was quite juicy so I added flour to thicken the filling. The finished pie looked and smelled wonderful. But the flavor, seemed okay at first, somewhat like blueberry, but it left a bitter flavor in our mouths that lasted for hours. Thag was ready to give up (he hates bitter things--especially when they are supposed to be sweet). The next day, I had another sliver and was very surprised that after the pie sat overnight it was much better. Thag agrees. I think next time I will mix the elderberries with another fruit and see if this tempers the bitterness.

I made a jam using a recipe I found at that they say is from a book called Food From the Countryside by Avril Rodway. It is the first time I have made jam without a commercial pectin. The recipe uses apple instead, and I was nervous. Commercial pectin recipes are very precise about timing, without them you go by appearance (or you have the right thermometer, which as we know from my clover experiment, I do not). This recipe said that the jam is ready when "a small quantity, put on a plate, wrinkles when cold." This never happened; however, I've made enough jam to know what nearly finished jam looks like and feels like in a pot and that did happen. It jelled up quite beautifully, actually. And it took about an hour which is what the recipe reports.

But considering our experience with the pie, we were anxious about the flavor. We shouldn't have been. It is an excellent jam--quite seedy--which is why, I assume, most people jelly them. I love seedy jams, though, and I hope to make this one again soon.