books Archives

Book Review: Dina Falconi’s Foraging & Feasting

Foraging and Feasting 340x450 Book Review: Dina Falconis Foraging & Feasting

The cast iron Dutch oven illustration emphasizes the cooking, alchemical, and transformational qualities the book offers for the use of wild food.

My mother-in-law-to-be walked into our apartment and bee-lined it straight for Dina Falconi’s book, Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook (2013), which I had out on the coffee table. The cover is a hand-drawn festival of colorful wild plants, from bulbs to greens to flowers, bursting forth from a Dutch oven to dance on the crisp, white background.

It’s a hardcover book that really is quite lovely in the hand, so I could see why Nancy liked it. She collects and sells antique children’s books, many of which are fashioned with such quality. I love hardcover books with decorative end papers, and this book’s are fantastic—a whimsical, pink-red revelry of Alliums (field garlic, to be exact) drawn by Wendy Hollender, the botanical illustrator who teamed with Falconi on the project. The rest of the book is hewn with similar care, from the full-color botanical illustrations of 50 common edible plants with identification and usage information, to the recipe section that follows.

The seeds for Foraging & Feasting were planted a long time ago. Falconi recalls her earliest experiments in the culinary arts—sprouting grains and beans, and cultivating cashews into cream—in her family’s small railroad apartment in New York City. Later, at summer camp, she made the “life-altering and mind-blowing discovery” of wild mint, berries, and other wild-growing foods.

“For an inner city kid this was surreal—harvesting fresh, vibrant food directly from the earth rather than purchasing items viewed through store windows, separated by store walls, and owned by somebody else,” she writes.

She became enamored of the idea that she could connect with her forbears through food—both the early Americans who foraged for food, and her more recent ancestors, those of Jewish, Mexican, German, Mayan, Lituanian, Austro-Hungarian, and Italian descent. “As a lifelong cook, I have enjoyed creating and eating foods that my forbears may have eaten as a way to celebrate and honor them,” she said. “I guess you could call it soul-filling food, grounding food.” Read the rest of this entry

Lambs’ Quarters Pesto with Sunflower Seeds

lambs quarter Breckenridge 450x319 Lambs’ Quarters Pesto with Sunflower Seeds

Flowers and leaves of this common weed, lambs’ quarters, are edible. It is now in season in some Breckenridge locales. Seek weeds and you shall find.

The other day we tore ourselves away from our computers and headed out into the forest in the fading light to sneak in a brisk walk before bed. I have mushrooms on the brain, always, these days, so I was hoping to find some.

Our neighborhood at 10,000 feet on the mountainside at the base of a ski resort is crisscrossed with trails through the forest—some single-track, others wide enough for two to walk abreast—and most abutting gigantic micro-mansions that I think could make for stellar eco-villages come the apocalypse. But that’s beside the point.

We descended on a footpath first, then turned on a wider path across a bluff. The light was fading fast so I was eager to gain the road, but in that twilight, we were fortunate to come upon two frolicking fox pups. We watched them for a bit before I noticed the lambs’ quarters growing lush near some blue spruce trees, which must have been planted somewhat recently. The lambs’ quarters plants were happily escaping the property of the big house for which the spruces were planted to provide buffer. Read the rest of this entry

Backyard Foraging cover 348x450 Eat Your Ornamentals: Backyard Foraging with Ellen ZachosDid you know that hosta—the large-leaved and oft variegated landscaping plant that the deer love so much—is edible? I had no idea until I picked up Ellen Zachos’ book, Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (Storey Publishing, 2013). Go figure.

The funny thing is that for as long as I can remember, my mom has planted hosta in the rock garden and other places around my childhood home in Connecticut. Every year it’s a battle, because every year the deer eat it. Now Mom will have to protect her hosta from one more pest.

Zachos explains that hostas come in many different colors and cultivars—all edible, though they may vary in flavor. For this reason, she recommends trying a nibble here and there to see which ones you like best, noting that in Japan, the young shoots of Hosta sieboldii are skinned, parboiled, chopped, and served over rice; in northern Japan, H. montana is grown in greenhouses and kept covered to blanch and tenderize the foliage.

“What’s for dinner?” she asks. “Boiled hosta with miso mustard sauce, of course,” she writes, answering her own question.

New, tight shoots are good chopped, stir-fried, and served over pasta or rice, Zachos writes. The mature leaves, on the other hand, should be boiled for 15-20 minutes, then “chopped and sautéed like other greens, in soups or baked in a quiche or pie.” Read the rest of this entry

Practical Herbs by Henriette Kress

pract herbs front 350x450 Practical Herbs by Henriette Kress

Practical Herbs by Finland-based herbal teacher Henriette Kress is ideal for beginning herbalists and available in English, Swedish, and Finnish. It is soon to be followed by a sequel, Practical Herbs 2.

Plant lovers who like free online info might already know the voice of Henriette Kress, an herbalist and herbal teacher based in Finland who has hosted the multilingual website, Henriette’s Herbal, since 1995. It is one of the oldest—and quite possibly the largest—of the herbal websites out there.

A person can get lost reading at Henriette’s Herbal, with essay after essay by Kress and others. The herbal and culinary FAQs alone are troves of useful information, collaborated upon by many, and succinctly delivered. Whenever Kress makes an appearance, there is that distinctive voice with its “gentle wit,” as one writer described it, signed simply, “Henriette.”

For those willing to get lost for days—or months—the tech savvy Kress offers the entire site (a 2.3 GB data disk including 80,102 files) in DVD form for $25.

But for everybody else there is Practical Herbs—her 150-page full-color guide to using medicinal plants, available in English, Swedish, and Finnish, now with a Japanese translation under consideration.

Practical Herbs is ideal for the entry-level herbalist. It starts with an ample how-to section that’s easily read and navigated, covering “The Basics” such as picking herbs, drying herbs, making and using herbal teas, herbal oils and salves, tinctures, herbal vinegar, and herbal syrups.

Safety and sustainability are also addressed in this section, with simple tips like:

“Don’t pick large quantities of an herb you’ve finally located after years of searching. Instead pluck a twig, a flower, and a leaf, and take those home with you. Then double-check what you wanted the plant for, and which part of the plant you should gather for that purpose. Once you’ve identified a plant in the wild, you’ll spot it more easily in the future.” Read the rest of this entry

Wild Edible Notebook—May release!

WEN cover 640 224x350 Wild Edible Notebook—May release!

The May flowers have arrived, and with them, another edition of the Wild Edible Notebook! This issue includes a spring foraging report for California’s Eastern Sierra based on a recent foray Gregg and I undertook in the Mammoth Lakes region, though most of the plants featured have a much broader distribution. It includes a reprint of an earlier blog piece on wild asparagus, plus new photos and informative tidbits. There is also a review of Langdon Cook’s Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager. (The book was published in 2009 but it’s worth a read if you haven’t done so already, especially now that Cook is on the verge of releasing a new book.) As always, a handful of wild recipes conclude the Notebook.  

The procedure for downloading the Wild Edible Notebook has changed. Please visit the Wild Edible Notebook page for information on subscribing to the iPad/iPhone or PDF versions for $1.99/month. Your support makes the continued development of this publication possible, both on the content and technical sides.

To download a free issue of the Wild Edible Notebook and stay abreast of future developments, please join the email list by filling out your info at the very bottom of this website. Thanks!

NOTE: The comments about medicinal uses of plantain in this Notebook were corrected on May 17, 2013 and new versions of the Notebook uploaded. Previously the Notebook stated that plantain could be used as a coagulant and antimicrobial. It appears this information may have been taken from an unreliable source. The Notebook has been updated with Michael Moore’s advice for this plant’s use as a topical application for insect bites in place of what was previously stated. Thank you.

EDITED 10.7.13 to reflect the new download procedures.

Ode to the Dandelion Hunter

Dandelion Hunter cover 240x350 Ode to the Dandelion HunterThere’s a young woman who hunts dandelions and sundry other edible and medicinal wild plants out of an apartment in Portland, Oregon, relishing reconnecting with nature after a several-years-long stint sequestered indoors, surrounded by a plantless outdoors, working for a New Jersey newspaper.

We happen to share the same name—a similar moniker, anyway, her being Wild Girl, purveyor of the popular wild edible internet weblog, www.firstways.com, and me being Wild Food Girl, purveyor of the internet weblog you are holding in your hands right now.

I got really excited about Rebecca Lerner’s recently released Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness (Globe Pequot Press, 2013) after reading Sam Thayer’s early review: “Rebecca Lerner proves that foraging in today’s urban landscape is not only possible, but remarkably productive. In this charismatic and delightfully unpredictable book, she shares her experiences and insights in a way that touches upon the profound without being preachy.”

“Delightfully unpredictable” sounded right up my alley, not to mention “touches on the profound”—and I found both to be true.

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Book look: Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas

Edible Wild Plants 232x350 Book look: Edible Wild Plants by John KallasThere’s a telltale photo of author John Kallas, Ph.D, in his 2010 book, Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate (Gibbs Smith). It’s a faded, 1973 shot of the then long-haired, bearded forager emerging from a swamp wielding cattail vegetables. John Kallas is the real deal. He’s been at the wild edible game a long time; he knows his plants well and has years of experience researching and eating them.

A visually appealing, glossy 400-page book with full-color photographs, Edible Wild Plants is the first in a planned multi-part Wild Food Adventure Series from Kallas, who founded the Portland, Oregon based Institute for the Study of Edible Wild Plants and Other Foragables and its educational branch, Wild Food Adventures (www.wildfoodadventures.com).

The author is a salad lover, judging by all the salad ideas in the book. He also enjoys putting wild edible greens on sandwiches and adding them to myriad other recipes. So it makes sense that Kallas’ first book should centers on greens—specifically, wild leafy greens that love disturbed soil zones.

For readers with farmland, gardens needing weeding or overgrown lots that they hope to forage, Kallas’ book is a superb resource.

In keeping with the current trend among wild edible authors to provide more detailed accounts of less plants (in contrast to traditional identification guides) Edible Wild Plants includes for each plant a detailed and thorough chapter featuring stories of the author’s experience, plant descriptions, photographs of growth stages, and food preparation ideas.

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