Hundreds of Apples

ruth gregg apple tree 350x262 Hundreds of Apples

Gregg and Ruth pick apples.

I feel so fortunate today for the generosity of people—and the several hundred apples in Gregg’s parents’ garage just waiting to be peeled and made into applesauce, apple cobbler, dried apple slices, and possibly apple jelly. 

We arrived at Ruth’s house in Aurora yesterday afternoon, severe thunderstorms threatening, and with her help managed to pick several bags full while the storm, which was pouring down in another part of town just a few miles away, passed us by without incident. 

We made Ruth’s acquaintance through this blog. After listening to a piece about urban foraging on NPR that welcomed folks to be generous with their wild edibles, she searched online and found us instead. I don’t mind one bit. “That’s because I integrated Facebook and made you findable!” Gregg exclaimed gleefully upon hearing the news. (This is true; thanks be to Gregg for the web savvy.)  Read the rest of this entry

Sweet Pickling Succulents

roseroot 350x262 Sweet Pickling Succulents

Roseroot with blood-red flower buds.

Succulents are juicy plants that store water in their leaves, stems, and roots, an adaptation which helps them survive in arid climates or soil conditions. Aloe, agave, sedums and purslane are some examples. 

Although “dry” is not a word I’d use to describe the high country right now, it often is dry, and so the timeless succulents are there, now sucking up this season’s water bounty and growing like crazy like everything else. 

Two edible succulent plants I collect at 10,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies are stonecrop and roseroot / rosecrown (the latter in fact being two related plants that look similar and grow in proximity to one another.) 

All of these plants are thriving right now—although I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. 

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Free Apples Need a Good Home ASAP

apple tree 350x262 Free Apples Need a Good Home ASAP

Green apple tree photo by Derrick Coetzee. This is not the actual apple tree.

Ruth from southeast Aurora dropped me a line via the blog two days ago offering free green apples from her apple tree, which is going wild with fruit this year. Any Colorado locals are encouraged to take her up on the offer immediately, as the apples are ripe for the picking, in fact falling off the tree at this moment. 

Contact Ruth at 720-217-6394 to schedule a pickup or get directions. 

The timing is good for Gregg and me, too, as we’ll be down Denver way this week and plan to go get some for ourselves, though I don’t think I can handle more than a couple bags full. She believes they are Granny Smiths and they’re 2 to 2.5″ in diameter—good for pies and jams, she says. They’re organic as they’ve never been sprayed.   

If you can’t use any apples yourself please pass on the word lest the fruits of nature’s bounty go to waste.

[Photo is not the actual tree; it is courtesy of Derrick Coetzee, licensed through Creative Commons.]

Seasons Change

cow parsnip petiole peelings 350x259 Seasons Change

Cow parsnip petiole peelings that we discarded.

Harvesting wild edibles is not like shopping at the grocery store, where you can get your favorite fruit or vegetable the whole year long. In the wild, seasons change.

Some time ago I read a story about increased-Twitter-use coinciding with rising depression due to a person’s feelings of “missing out” on parties or social events that someone else tweeted about. Had there been no tweet, there would have been less chance of the person even realizing a party had taken place.

My sister and I talk about this feeling of “missing out” in other ways too. If a summer passes where she hasn’t made it to the beach, the water park, camping, the lake, the pool, and a half dozen other places, she feels like she and the kids have missed out.

I do it with wild edibles. “We have to get some cow parsnip before the season’s over,” I catch myself saying to Gregg, a touch of panic to my voice. For alas, the grocery store cannot fill this need for me.

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Stalking the Wild Artichoke

thistle back yard 350x262 Stalking the Wild Artichoke

One of the back yard thistles we ate.

Don’t get too excited. There isn’t a “wild artichoke” that I know of per se. But there is a pretty good substitute for it, if you don’t mind the risk of getting prickled and are willing to put in a bit of work to get at it.

Weed Demolition Discovery

A week and a half ago Gregg and I were offered the opportunity to clear our beloved weeds from a very productive bed that his parents, who co-own the house, decided to cover with weed barrier fabric and mulch so they could have “at least one thing that’s perfect,” in the back yard, as Nancy explained it to me.

Ensuing depression aside, I headed out there at 5:30 am on the appointed weed destruction day and dug three non-stalk-producing thistle rosettes, taproots and all. I’d been meaning to try thistle roots, though after a few failed experiences both with thistle leaf midribs and taproots (in both cases I’d harvested them at the wrong time of year and from plants that were far too mature), they’d landed themselves near the end of my list.

In this case, however, the baby thistles were going to die anyway, so I dug them up and shoved them in the refrigerator, where I proceeded to ignore them for several days with the exception of the occasional prickly mishap from reaching into the veggie drawer too hastily.

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The Last of the Dandelions

dandelion flower stalks 350x262 The Last of the Dandelions

Surely dandelion flower stalks are good for something..

The last of this batch, that is, in the refrigerator.

And it’s not just dandelions, either; I’ve run out of my entire fresh bounty of wild edible plants, having spent my Fourth of July weekend embroiled in other pursuits—a tandem, costumed A-Basin snowboarding pond-skim with Gregg being one of the highlights—plus entertaining old friends-turned-gypsies who rolled into town in their beat-up RV as well as working an intensive new summer job writing A&E stories for our local paper, The Summit Daily, the noon deadline for which I have one story to go but can no longer resist taking a break to draft this short piece about dandelions.

So as I was saying, I ran out of wild edible plants—and to some extent, things to say and words with which to say them, so I’ll try to use just a few words now.

This exciting entry is about what we had for dinner last night, which was turkey burgers, oven-fried red potatoes with finely chopped dandelions, and “dandelion noodles.”

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Elkslkip Green Curry to Die For

elkslip green curry 350x313 Elkslkip Green Curry to Die For

Green curry with elkslip and dandelion flowers.

Thai curries are among my absolute favorites, but until last night I’ve had very little success with them. What a wonderful coincidence that the same night I decided to sacrifice my latest batch of elkslip (Calthus leptosepala) for an experiment with a normally-unsuccessful-dish (especially because Gregg made me promise while gathering the elkslip leaves that we’d make then into dip) that it would turn out so remarkably well.

I can’t take credit for the green curry paste, which is manufactured in Thailand by Namprik Mersri Ltd. We picked up a can of it last summer at Bangkok Asian Market in Fort Collins, Colorado. That stuff is extremely spicy, so I mixed spoonfuls of it with a can of coconut milk until it was to my liking—which ended up being fairly spicy with just under half a can of curry added.

My recipe also calls for a handful of finely chopped dandelion flowers. These were a last minute decision and it would probably be just fine without them, however, I really liked the way they added a hint of golden yellow to the otherwise green curry.  Read the rest of this entry

Dock and Dandelions Are My New Staples

whole dandelions 350x296 Dock and Dandelions Are My New Staples

I steamed these beautiful dandelion specimens whole.

Collecting dock and dandelions has become almost second nature to me this season. I use ‘em up and then when I’m out walking the dogs I notice a dandelion here or a dock patch there, snip or pull and voila—they’re in my bag and back to the house at the ready for whenever I need them. This season there’ve been few gaps in the dock and dandelion provenance. Many thanks to mother earth for these free, organic staples.*

Dock in Alfredo Sauce with Pasta

“Every time we eat dock for dinner, we’re saving $3 on a bag of spinach,” I tell Gregg, who sautéed and served a good-sized batch with Alfredo sauce over pasta the other day. “Not to mention there’s less likelihood of getting salmonella!”

“I love dock,” Gregg responded. (As we have seen, however, pretty much anything in cream sauce seems to do the trick.)

The western, large-leafed dock (tentative ID: Rumex occidentalis) that grows in wet areas near our house makes an excellent vegetable. It takes only a few minutes to collect a decent amount from a good patch, and it’s easy to wash. Just chop it up and it cooks real nice!  

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Stir Fry on the Wild Side

wild everything stir fry 350x279 Stir Fry on the Wild Side

A delicious and attractive wild stir fry.

Yesterday I experienced the somewhat unique problem of having too many bags of wild edible plants in my refrigerator and not enough “normal” food with which to make lunch. So I improvised—and it worked out surprisingly well.

When In Doubt, Stir Fry 

My most successful stir fry in recent months, then, involved sautéing finely chopped red onions and fireweed shoots for 10 minutes in olive oil, then adding yucca petals and Mertensia leaves, sautéing for another 5 minutes, and serving with noodles.

Normally I add a sauce to my stir fries, but this time I didn’t season it at all. Yucca was the dominant flavor, followed by the onions and olive oil. The fireweed shoots made for a nice, crispy texture, and although the Mertensia leaves lost the mild oyster-like flavor they have when raw, upon cooking they turned a beautiful bright green that made the dish look fantastic.

Here are some more details on the wild ingredients:  Read the rest of this entry

Soup or Candy, Cow Parsnip is Dandy

large cow parsnip leaves 262x350 Soup or Candy, Cow Parsnip is Dandy

Large conspicuous cow parsnip leaves.

We foraged another batch of cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) the other day. It is very plentiful where it’s plentiful, showing up in large bunches amidst the willows alongside the stream at approximately 10,500 feet where we go. Again, I reach in and snip the new, unfurling or still rolled-up leaves, petioles (leaf stalks) and all, one or two per plant.

I love the scent of cow parsnip, although both the smell and the taste are acquired—such that some authors, like H.D. Harrington, called cow parsnip “rank-smelling,” and after trying it indicated in Edible and Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains (1967) that “the taste was fair but a suggestion of the rank and unpleasant (to us) odor still lingered.”

If you’ve never tried cow parsnip before, I recommend a dish like the Kathryn G. and Andrew L. March’s (1979) tried-and-true boiled cow parsnip with raw onions, butter, and soy sauce. Even with these added flavors, you get a good sense for what cow parsnip tastes like, because it certainly does have a strong taste. Unique, wild and woolly, strange, and interesting are among the adjectives that come to mind. Gregg himself was uncertain about cow parsnip for a while, but has since embraced it.  Read the rest of this entry

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