Archive for 'Connecticut'

Seaweeding the Eastern Shoreline

sea lettuce Irish moss CT Seaweeding the Eastern Shoreline

Irish moss (Chondrus crispus), top right, and a species of sea lettuce (Ulva), collected in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

My parents shot me quizzical looks last summer when I announced my plan to gather seaweed in Long Island Sound, off the Connecticut coast. Not only would I collect, but also dry the seaweed at their house so I could take it back to Colorado with me for cooking experiments. I experienced similar incredulity from Connecticut’s DEP Inland Fisheries Division when I asked for a permit to harvest seaweed for personal consumption.

And yet, seaweed collection is a longstanding tradition along swaths of North America’s West Coast, where local indigenous peoples made—and continue to make—seaweeds a part of their diets.

In British Columbia, for example, the Kwakwaka’wakw and Haida packed layers of partially dried and fermented red laver (Porphyra abbottae syn. P. perforata) into tall cedar boxes along with boughs of Western red cedar and then left them for a month, weighted down with rocks, before unpacking and repeating the process several times to make seaweed cakes (Turner, 1997 ed.). They would later tear or chop these cakes into small pieces, soak and boil the seaweed and serve it with the rendered grease of euchalon—a small, greasy fish—along with boiled dog salmon or clams.

The middle and northern coastal First Peoples of the same region gathered herring spawn-covered blades of giant kelp—the brown algae Macrocystis integrifolia—and dried them out to later reconstitute, boil, and eat with euchalon grease or cut into strips for chewy snacks that children could carry to school with them (Turner, 1997 ed.). To protect herring populations, however, this practice is now illegal in most states without a special permit (Hahn, 2010).

Fortunately there are many spawn-free seaweeds—or sea vegetables—in coastal waters around the world, almost all of which are edible, conditions permitting. Read the rest of this entry

Wild Edible Notebook—August 2014 Release!

WEN August 2014 cover 800 343x450 Wild Edible Notebook—August 2014 Release!August’s rains have arrived in the Colorado high country, and with them the mushrooms are starting to flush. I can hardly contain myself. Also recently arrived is—you guessed it—the August 2014 issue of the Wild Edible Notebook! This month’s edition features a travel story to the Rhode Island coastline for clamming, followed by a fungi focus on a couple species of Suillus, a review of New York-based author Dina Falconi’s wild food guide and cookbook, and several recipes to boot.

Subscriptions to the Wild Edible Notebook—a photo-filled glossy available in iPad/iPhone, screen reading PDF, Android-friendly, and print-and-fold booklet form—are just $2 a month. For the first $2 you get access to six issues, including the current one.

Featured in the August 2014 issue:
  • Quahog clams – My family has been clamming for quahogs at the Rhode Island coast for many years; prior to that, my dad and his father clammed in Connecticut. Over the years we devised our own methods, and I am happy to say we are very successful clammers. This story lays bare some of those family secrets, in a photo-documented how-to account.
  • Suillus tomentosus and short-stemmed slippery jack mushrooms – In honor of mushroom season, which has officially arrived in the Colorado high country, I am running my piece on the “Whistling Suillus,” as I like to call the yellow, edible mushrooms that made a lot of noise in my frying pan last year. This piece was originally published here on the blog but has been updated and adorned with many large, informative photographs with captions. I’ve seen a few slippery jacks already this season, and I assume S. tomentosus is not far behind, though those of you in the know might not be all that excited about them… In any case, read up and get ready for a culinary challenge!
  • Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi – This book from Botanical Arts Press (2013) contains labeled full-color botanical illustrations by Wendy Hollender of 50 edible plants, and a cookbook of “master recipes” using wild (and cultivated) plants by Falconi. A wide range of plants can be used in each recipe, meaning that thousands of recipes are possible. The book is a lovingly crafted, healthful celebration of the role wild (and cultivated) foods can play in our lives, as well as a guide on how to do it. Check out my in-depth review in this issue of the Wild Edible Notebook.
  • Recipes – Every issue of the Wild Edible Notebook contains recipes. In this edition, find Mom’s Stuffed Clams and Dad’s Clam Chowder. Also, if you liked the recipes by Dina Falconi that ran last month, there are two more in this issue—one for Herbal Tea Infusions, and another for Wild Grains Salads. I tried the latter with purslane, quinoa, wild bergamot, navy beans, and feta cheese—and found it divine.

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Wild Edible Notebook—March 2014 Release!

March 2014 cover 800 343x450 Wild Edible Notebook—March 2014 Release!Wild sea vegetables are hard to come by here in the Colorado high country, so for the March 2014 issue of the Wild Edible Notebook I decided to travel through space and time to coastal Connecticut via several jars of seaweed—Irish moss (Chondrus crispus), sea lettuce (Ulva sp.) and sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima)—that I collected last summer and dried in my parents’ house.

While researching the story I was fortunate to tap into the expertise of Dr. Charles Yarish, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, who promotes the cultivation of sea vegetables as a means to clean coastal waters while also providing good food for the dinner plate. This edition also includes a lighthearted jaunt into wild jellies and things to make with them besides toast. The issue concludes with a handful of recipes using wild foraged seaweeds, including one by West Coast seaweed purveyor Louise Gaudet, as well as a recipe for serviceberry jelly pork glaze by the awesome cook that is my dad.

The Wild Edible Notebook is an ongoing project, started in 2011. It is now available for iPad and iPhone in the Apple Newsstand, or in various PDF formats including screen-reading and 8.5×14” print-and-fold versions at for $1.99/month. Your support makes the continued development of this publication possible, both on the content and technical sides. Big, super-squeezy, wild hugs to those who have already purchased a subscription in support of this effort.

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

Wild Edible Notebook—July release!!

July2013 640 289x450 Wild Edible Notebook—July release!!Well, I made it. Just barely. But today I am pleased as punch to wipe my brow and cross this off my list as I present to you, a few days shy of the end of the month, this hard-fought July issue of the Wild Edible Notebook!

The July 2013 issue is about milkweed, milkweed, and more milkweed (Asclepias speciosa, A. syriaca). It starts off with a story of a road trip east punctuated by milkweed adventures, followed by an in depth look at collecting, preparing, and eating milkweed buds by my dear friend Butter at Hunger & Thirst. Next, monarch butterfly expert Lincoln Brower, who spoke with NPR about declining monarch populations in April, weighs in on implications for milkweed foragers. Then there’s a review of Wildman Steve Brill’s Wild Edibles iPad app, along with an interview with the famous New York City area forager. Last, you’ll find a few simple recipes from yours truly—one that uses milkweed buds, one with strawberry blite (Chenopodium capitatum), and one for spruce tips, which can still be found fresh and green at higher elevations in Colorado. And of course there are always the coloring pages.

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!

EDITED 10.7.13 to reflect the new download procedures.

Black birch experiment

black birch twigs CT 350x262 Black birch experiment

Black birch twigs can be used for tea. Note the horizontal lenticels that look like dashes, as Steve Brill describes them.

It’s now a week into this month’s wild recipe challenge at Hunger & Thirst for Life, and can I just say, I’ve been out of it for eight months and all of a sudden, this game has gotten way harder.

This month, Wild Things is a “Tree Party,” which, despite the fact that it conjures up happy tree house imagery for me, is not as simple as it sounds, because the following tree parts are disqualified, reserved to grace a later contest on their own merits: leaves, needles, fruits, and nuts. So much for the pine nut vodka I was thinking I’d make into vodka sauce.

Instead we are left with “sap, bark (including cambium), pollen, catkins, and resin,” explains Butterpoweredbike, head cheese of the wild recipe share. She expects to receive monographs or recipes for herbal remedies that use tree bark, and syrup from folks who tap trees, in addition to her own culinary experiments with ponderosa pine bark. Read the rest of this entry

New England Foraging Adventure – Part III

chickweed on wood 350x278 New England Foraging Adventure – Part III

Might think about trimming the chickweed better next time.

If I don’t get the rest of this New England story out soon I’ll be permanently stopped up in the blog-hole, though perhaps it’s something a large dose of chickweed (Stellaria sp.) could solve.

I already wrote about chickweed in Part I of this series, I know, but I just read an amusing account in Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants (1985), wherein he first spends an entire hot and humid day prostrate in a chickweed patch gorging himself on the stuff before suffering “the worse case of diarrhea [he has] had to this day,” followed later by his idea to make an extremely strong chickweed tea for a constipated friend—only to discover that it worked so well his friend was stricken with the shits for days.

When I made chickweed for my parents, I snipped it far down the stems, found it too tough and chewy for my liking, and then wrote about it in Part I of this series. Meanwhile I’ve got Sam Thayer (2006) in the back of my head saying, “The deplorable state of information on edible wild plants can be cleared up over time if those who write on the topic exhibit professionalism and follow a few simple guidelines,” one of which is to “not condemn a plant based on limited experience with it.” Read the rest of this entry

New England Foraging Adventure – Part II

poison ivy CT 350x272 New England Foraging Adventure – Part II

Seemingly innocent poison ivy lies in wait, plotting your extreme discomfort.

One of the things I noticed about foraging in New England that does not present a problem here at 11,000 feet in the Colorado High Country is the seeming ever-presence of poison ivy (Toxicondendron radicans). One morning, overjoyed to find false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum sp.) growing in abundance in the forest around my parents’ Connecticut house, I borrowed a trowel and headed out to dig up some rhizomes, only to find each and every plant intricately intertwined with poison ivy.

Poison ivy is not edible. And, unless you are one of the lucky few not (yet) allergic to T. radicans, coming in contact with it can instigate a blistering, itchy rash. I know first-hand how potent the roots can be, having developed a nasty case after a day digging in the not-yet-leafing-out plants as an archaeology student in college. My hands and arms were so bad that the Health Services department insisted I had contracted scabies. Inhaling fumes is a thousand times worse—the unlucky sap who accidentally burns it in a campfire and then huffs the stuff should be rushed to the hospital immediately, as the rash can develop internally throughout the body as well. Read the rest of this entry

New England Foraging Adventure – Part I

garlic mustard CT 262x350 New England Foraging Adventure – Part I

Garlic mustard, busy invading

“There’s a reason why the pre-Columbian population of Colorado was low,” wild plants author Sam Thayer once wrote me, referring to the relative lack of edible wild plants in this semi-arid land compared to lusher parts of the country. How dare he? I recall thinking—though truth be told, here at 11,000 feet in the Colorado High Country, the new spring growth is still less than an inch tall; meanwhile the rest of the country is happily chatting it up about their bountiful spring forage, whether dock and dandies, redbud flowers and milkweed shoots, chickweed and sorrel, and so forth.

Honestly, though, I’m not sure I could handle the abundance.

Take my recent New England trip for example. I arrived in Connecticut mid-April, just as the trees were newly leafing out. One walk with mom down our old country road renders me speechless. There are so many plants I want to try—plants I recognize from my books, plants that nearly every other forager knows well and uses often, plants that I have not had opportunity to try since Wild Food Girl was born.

I conclude that I need a few years out east, not two weeks interspersed with family visits, to get down and dirty with all these wild plants. Especially when my 7-year-old niece purportedly complained to her mother: “With all the wonderful plants in New Hampshire, how will I be able to get enough time to play with Aunt Erica since she loves plants so much?”

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Wild Beach Pea Stir Fry with Dandy Flowers

Lathyrus japonicus 350x262 Wild Beach Pea Stir Fry with Dandy Flowers

Lathyrus japonicus on the shore in Old Lyme CT.

I ran into an old high school friend at the beach in Connecticut the other day. She was busy chasing around her two toddlers who kept trying to pick the pretty purple flowers in bloom amidst the dunes. “Don’t pick those flowers,” she admonished. “Don’t go in the grass. We need to keep the dunes healthy.” She was right, of course—because sand dunes and the plants therein often play an important role in protecting the land against storm surges—but at the time I was glad she hadn’t seen me picking pea pods from those same dunes just a few hours earlier! 

The purple-flowering plant that captured the children’s attention was also the one that had captured mine—Lathyrus japonicus, the wild beach pea. Lee Allen Peterson (1977) puts the range of this plant as the east coast of the United States south to New Jersey, in addition to the shores of the Great Lakes, Oneida Lake, and Lake Champlain. Plants for a Future, the U.K. based “resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants,” expands the range to include sandy coasts from Alaska to northern California, western and eastern Europe, and eastern Asia/China.  Read the rest of this entry

Zen and the Art of Acorn Processing

acorn meats skinned 350x262 Zen and the Art of Acorn Processing

After a long, cold winter working two jobs on top of my reckless pursuit of other passions, I came back to my wild food obsession fully the other day over a handful of acorns.

The acorns were from last fall’s visit to Connecticut. Mom and I gathered them on an ill-fated hike before getting lost in the 1,000 acre forest behind my childhood home—a forest I once knew every inch of that is now riddled with confusing new paths from an abandoned housing development.

Mom had in fact collected some acorns for me earlier that fall, but apparently they require refrigeration or immediate drying (Thayer, 2010) lest they begin to rot. So when I visited in October of 2010, we tossed out the first batch and gathered a second in the forest behind the house (before leading ourselves astray and walking in circles, in the rain and growing darkness, for the better part of an hour).

I refrigerated that second batch until my departure for Colorado, then carried it on the plane in a cooler bag and commenced to drying the acorns on a cookie sheet in front of the woodstove here at 11,000 feet in the Rockies. They were supposed to dry to the point that they rattled in their shells. When that didn’t happen, I considered throwing them out. Instead, I forgot about them for about 7 months. Read the rest of this entry