Monday, June 13, 2011

Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium album) and Wild Strawberries

Early summer is here! Along with a few crazy hot days and a series of wild thunderstorms, Yub Yub and I have harvested our first garden peas from our garden and strawberries from our strawberry patch. Along with these come fun early summer edibles.

Last week, we went for a foraging ramble with out foraging friend, Arena. Like many foraging treks, it was a bit random. We set out with a general idea of where to go and what we'd like to find and ended up somewhere different picking something different.

Among our finds were some sumac shoots we nibbled on, a nettle patch, and some succulent new wild grape leaves to cook up. We wanted to collect burdock shoots, but we were a bit too early. We gathered a few thistle stalks, but they weren't enough to make a meal from. Our big find was a lovely patch of wild straweberries. We had thought it was a bit early for this, but as Thag hunkered down in a field covered in strawberry plants, he found them--tiny, red, and oh, so sweet. Baby Yub Yub was asleep on his back and as he divvied up his find amongst the three adults, Arena asked, "Aren't you going to save any for the baby?" Neither of us hesitated before saying no. In surprise, she said she would save hers for when the baby awoke. About five minutes later, wake up she did. And I popped a lovely sweet berry into her mouth. Within seconds, she ate all of mine, all of Thag's, and all of Arena's and was asking, "Mama, do you have any more?" Soon we were all hunting for berries just for her and Arena said, "I see why you didn't want to save any. If you did, you wouldn't have gotten any!" Indeed, last year I think I picked a total of ten wild strawberries, and I ate only one! Thag picked more, but he did so when we weren't around!

After the strawberry scramble, we found a large patch of lambs' quarters growing nearby. These are among my favorite edibles. Easy to use. Easy to find. Available all summer. We picked a batch and we use it just like spinach. However, it must be cleaned really, really well. It grows close to the ground and gets dirty easily. In addition, it has a natural coating of a gritty substance that is not terribly palatable. I washed it three times in water and gave it a thorough spin in the lettuce spinner. Then I simply stored it in the fridge, ready for use. This week we have added it to our pasta sauce and cooked it into an omelet. Tomorrow I plan to sautee it with onions before using it to fill calzones.

Happy foraging!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Black Locust Flower Update

My favorite story of the week: the little boy in the picture is Yub Yub's "best friend." We have play dates every week and last week Thag came home with a bag full of locust blossoms which the kids loved and the little boy's mom was excited to try. This weekend, his family attended a high school graduation and his mom forgot to pack a snack. She looked up and saw locust blossoms in full bloom. "Voila!" she said, "Instant snack!"

We have been feasting on black locust flowers all week. The two biggest hits have been adding locust flowers to fruit salad and adding them to an alfredo sauce. Their sweetness really comes through in the fruit salad. The rather bland nature of alfredo allows the locust blossoms to shine as the dominant flavor. To make, simply follow any alfredo sauce recipe. Add a lot of locust flowers--until the sauce is thick with them--remove from heat. Allow to sit and let flavors mingle. And enjoy. Enhanced (as is everything) by parmesan cheese!

We also made a locust flower and corn pancake which was not such a big hit. They tasted fine, but despite adding more locust flower than corn, we really couldn't taste them. They looked great though!

It has been really fun watching the locust flowers change over the last week. We found those with green calyxes sweetest. As the calyx turned to tan, they lost some sweetness though they still tasted okay--however, after their superior predecessors, they were not so appetizing. But you can tell they are past now. Although the trees are still thick with flowers, the smell no longer permeates the air and the ground beneath the trees is covered with a layer of locus flower snow.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wintergreen Berries (Gaultheria procumbens) and Muffin Extravaganza

Wintergreen was one of my first wild edibles. Unlike Thag I did not grow up in a family of hikers. My family's idea of a great day outdoors involves swimming pools, lemonade and steaks on the grill, or, when they feel really crazy, amusement parks. So, when we began dating as teenagers, Thag was my introduction to things like hiking, camping, and mountain top vistas. As we hiked through the woods, I could identify some trees due to a seventh grade botany project, but that was about it. On one of these hikes (which sometimes I loved and othertimes I dreaded, being unaccustomed to bugs, sore thigh muscles, and sweating), he introduced me to wintergreen. Easy to identify with the occasional surprise of a berry hidden beneath its thick green leaves, this became one of my favorites.

Yub Yub knows many plants, and today she was introduced to wintergreen. She and Thag hiked up a local mountain and she delighted in finding these sweet little berries. She loves finding things she can eat outside. Often, if she can pick something herself, she will eat it even though she won't eat the same food when it comes from our fridge. This was true with wintergreen berries. She spit them out when they sat in a bowl on our table, but she ate each and every one she found today. She even commented on this. "Papa, I like some wintergreen berries but not some wintergreen berries."

Up until now, this berry has been relegated to trailside nibbles or salad additions, but this year, Thag collected a lot. In fact, we froze them because we weren't sure what to do with them all. So the other day, when I found them sitting inside the freezer I decided to add them to our favorite corn muffin recipe.

This turned out wonderfully. Sadly I didn't measure the number of berries I added. But if you follow this recipe, I suggest not putting too many berries in. Their flavor really extended to the whole muffin. I fear that if one put too many berries in, they would begin to taste like toothpaste. These, however, were delicious, lightly wintergreeny and wonderful with tea.

Above, you will see a picture of wintergreen corn muffins at right, plain corn muffins behind, and locust flower corn muffins front left. The black locust muffins were good, but unlike the wintergreen muffins, I added too few locust flowers--I should have stuffed them full.

Wintergreen (or Black Locust Flower) Corn Muffins:

2 cups white flour

2 cups corn meal

2 tsp salt

8 tsp baking powder

1 cup maple syrup, brown sugar, or white sugar

2 cups milk

2 eggs

1/2 cup melted butter or canola oil

wintergreen berries and/or black locust blossoms--read post for more info

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease or paper muffin tins.

Sift dry ingredients together. Add milk and eggs (and maple syrup if using instead of sugar. Beat until blended. Add butter. Mix until just blended. Add berries and/or black locust blossoms. Fill tins. Makes 18 to 24 muffins depending on how full you fill them. They freeze well.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The List: 28 and counting

So this is what we've been up to of late.

28: Black locust alfredo--5

27: Black locust and blueberry salad with red clover vinegarette--4

26: Sheep sorrel and white bean pasta---5

25: Nettle pesto--4

24: Dandelion muffins--4

23: Wild Leek pesto risotto--4

22: Sheep sorrel soup--5

21: Elderberry jam tart--3

20: Fiddlehead and nettle soup with tortellini--4

19: Knotweed strawberry cobbler--5

18: Fiddlehead and pork lo mein--4

17: Baked brie topped with dandelion marmelade and toasted black walnuts--5

16: Fiddlehead pasta in a creamy cheese sauce--3

15: Orpine, mayflower, trailing arbutus, and wintergreen berry salad--3

14: Wild leek and fiddlehead beef stir fry--5

13: Caramelized wild leeks over trout--5

12: Wild leek pesto pasta--2

11: Garlic mustard stalks in breadcrumbs--1

10: Wild leek quiche--5

9: Wild leeks with cauliflower--4

8: Marsh marigold sautee on toast--3

7: Caramelized wild leek pasta--5

6: Wild leek soup, French onion style--3

5: Parsnip and potato hash browns--4

4: Scrambled eggs with wild leeks--4

3: Day lily salad--3

2: Maple honey granola--5

1: Battered fried perch sandwich--4

Anyone know how to cut and paste into blogger--that would make this much easier!