Archive for 'Denver'

Warn Your Mother Before She Handles Black Walnuts for You

walnut fingers bandage 450x348 Warn Your Mother Before She Handles Black Walnuts for You

Mom came down with an extreme case of “walnut hands,” replete with blisters.

Mom called the other day to tell me the nuts were falling in Connecticut, and to ask me if I wanted her to get me any. Well, geez, I thought, I would be remiss to look a gift horse in the mouth, now wouldn’t I?

“Sure Mom, that’d be great—how about acorns, hickory nuts, and black walnuts?”

The hickories are a pain in the ass to shell, but I’ll take ‘em and do it anyway. And I like processing small batches of acorns on the countertop after Mom has dried them for me, to leach out the tannins and make flour for yummy acorn pancakes.

Black walnuts (Juglans nigra), however, I’ve used exactly once.

As a young woman growing up in Connecticut I always saw them—the nuts encased in thick, round green husks, making them look like tennis balls, and hanging from tropical-looking pinnately compound leaves—but I didn’t figure out what they were until I was living on the other side of the country. Now that I don’t live close to black walnuts anymore, I’m of course all the more curious. Read the rest of this entry

Cold-hearted Cattail Salads

young cattails Ithaca NY 337x450 Cold hearted Cattail Salads

Cattail shoots ready for harvest outside Ithaca, NY, June 2013. After tugging a few from the pond, I went for the easier-to-harvest shoots in a dry area on the pond’s edge.

The renowned forager and writer Euell Gibbons called cattails “the supermarket of the swamps,” and from that moniker other nicknames have emerged, among them “the Walmart of the swamps.” Although evoking Walmart doesn’t help me to connect with my joy for wild plants, the sobriquets are so given because of all the different plant food cattails (Typha spp.) yield—from the shoots (aka hearts or leaf cores) and flower spikes* to cattail pollen as flour, along with several underground parts, among which the rhizomes require a bit of processing to separate the edible starches. It is also often the case that cattails are quite plentiful where they occur, making them a good choice for a sustainable wild harvest.

Perhaps easiest to collect and process are the shoots or hearts, also known as “Cossack asparagus.” These are best harvested in spring and early summer, prior to the development of the flower stalk (Thayer, 2006), by giving a mellow yanking to the inner leaves near the base of the plant until the soft, white core releases, bringing the attached long green leaves with it. I usually cut the long green leaves off in the field, keeping just the bottom portion to finish cleaning in the kitchen.

The Heart: To Cook or Not to Cook?

Since cattail hearts are described as tasting like cucumbers, I decided to use the comparison to come up with a recipe for Hunger & Thirst’s June recipe share. But the recipe idea I came up with requires raw cucumbers, not cooked ones.

Numerous sources say to eat cattail hearts raw or cooked, though in The Forager’s Harvest (2006), Sam Thayer complains of getting “an itchy, irritated feeling” in the back of his throat when he eats them raw, so he prefers to cook them. I get a little of this sensation but it is not uncomfortable, just a bit strange.

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Creamy Green Yogurt Sauce with Spruce Tips & Dill

spruce sauce eggs asparagus 450x378 Creamy Green Yogurt Sauce with Spruce Tips & Dill

Egg on toast with wild asparagus and creamy green yogurt sauce made with blended spruce tips and dill.

Everybody seems so into spruce tips—those soft, light-green new tips that grow on spruce (Picea spp.) in spring. I’m still sleuthing about trying to find out where that idea on the culinary use of spruce tips came from. Maybe the cookbook Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by Chef Rene Redzepi, from the restaurant that all the chefs are raving about? Or, I just read in Ava Chin’s article—an informative read, BTW—that there is a chapter on conifer tips in The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes (2010) by Connie Green, so that book is now on my wild edible wish list too.

I couldn’t find many references as to the edibility of spruce tips aside from tea in my own book collection, but in Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies (2000), Kershaw warns: “Always use evergreen teas in moderation. Do not eat the needles or drink the teas in high concentrations or with great frequency,” though she does not say why. Also she indicates that as an emergency food, “tender young shoots, stripped of their needles, can be boiled.” Later she writes that evergreen needle teas are not advised for pregnant women. Read the rest of this entry

More Whitetop Kitchen Experiments

whitetop tops 450x360 More Whitetop Kitchen Experiments

Whitetop flower bud clusters, used as a substitute for broccoli.

The one nice thing about invasive, edible plant species is that there are more than enough specimens available for kitchen tests, and you don’t feel like you’re dishonoring nature’s gifts when something goes wrong.

Like in my recent countertop honey infused with whitetop flowers (Cardaria spp., Lepidium draba or related Lepidium sp.), which I was hoping would make for a nice, spicy honey mustard condiment. Instead I got icky, pungent, planty goo that Gregg says is smelling up the house.

Fortunately, a few of my other experiments came out pretty good, which is nice considering that I jumped on the whitetop bandwagon a little late this year, collecting one batch in Fort Collins at its prime, pre-flowering, broccoli-like state before the pickings were no longer quite so good. Still, we got a few more meals out of the plant after that, and as the green continues to emerge up here in the high country, there might be another opportunity.

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Baked Curly Dock Chips a la Kale Chips

curly dock chips1 450x337 Baked Curly Dock Chips a la Kale Chips

Curly dock chips on the docket for snack time. The was my first batch, when I went through the effort to remove the midribs from the leaves.

Who needs kale chips when you can have dock chips? For this project—a bastardization of two online recipes for kale chips (Food Network, Allrecipes), I used young curly dock leaves (Rumex crispus) foraged a couple days ago in the outskirts of Fort Collins, Colorado. With the recent rains the dock is looking good, especially if you catch the young, light green leaves shortly after they unfurl, before the bugs have a chance to get to them.

Unlike kale, which is a mustard, dock is in the Polygonaceae family, which includes buckwheat and rhubarb—so the chips are bound to taste different than kale chips to some palates. To my simple one, both give the sensation of a melt-in-your-mouth crisped vegetable, which I find appealing.

One of the kale chips recipes I followed said to cut the leaves from the leaf stems, and to then rip the leaves into pieces. For my first trial I removed them from the midribs but didn’t rip the strips into smaller pieces, which made it easier to flip once they were in the oven. I tossed the leaves in oil and spruce salt and laid them out, not touching each other, on a cookie sheet, baking for probably six minutes at 275 degrees before flipping them over, one by one, using a spatula and my fingers. Read the rest of this entry

Ready-made Road Trip Salad

road trip salad 350x258 Ready made Road Trip Salad

Ready-made road trip salad–my favorite of all the road meals on our inaugural trip with Myrtle the van.

We embarked on a road trip through Colorado, Utah, and Nevada to California’s Eastern Sierra last week. I had a lot of delicious wild greens on hand that I’d collected in Denver immediately prior, and I wanted to eat fresh salad for the duration of our journey through the deserts, so this is what I came up with.

The cabbage was a lazy last minute choice as a base to temper the bitter and pungent wild greens, as we had no store-bought lettuce in the house and I didn’t feel like going out to buy some. I packaged it all up in a big bag, and the dressing in a recycled salad dressing bottle, and served it nearly every day of the trip.

Surprisingly Gregg—who is not much of a salad eater—asked for it every time, and touted my culinary prowess. Score! Read the rest of this entry

My turn to do wild edible gnocchi

stinging nettles in pot 350x233 My turn to do wild edible gnocchi

In Langdon Cook’s instructions, you boil the nettles briefly to remove the stingers. Photo by Gregg Davis.

It’s markdown season at the grocery store, now that the tourists are in absentia for a while, joined by the locals who migrate to parts warmer during mud season too. So it’s time for the good deals—such as the $1 bag of slightly soft “Red Skin Yellow Flesh Colorado Sunrise” potatoes that Gregg and I argued over in the grocery store last week.

“They’ll go bad,” he said.

“I’ll use them all once,” I countered, throwing them into the cart.

Everything gnocchi without moderation

A few days later, as the universe would have it, I came into a wealth of dried nettles and porcini. I won’t say how I came by them, but you can probably guess. So it was logical that I should decide to make nettle gnocchi. Read the rest of this entry

Wild Edible Notebook—April release!

WEN April 2013 640 226x350 Wild Edible Notebook—April release!Good news! After nearly a year on hiatus, the Wild Edible Notebook is back!

This first-time April edition centers on everybody’s favorite wild food—dandelions. Though snow still covers the ground here in the Colorado high country, the dandies have been up in Denver for a while now, and it seemed a safe bet for foragers in other locations too. I also included a piece I wrote on spring foraging in the Denver area last year. Although the season’s change is taking its time this spring (thank goodness), my hope is that this will at least get you thinking about all the delicious wild food that awaits. There’s a review of first-time author Rebecca Lerner’s recently released book, Dandelion Hunter, a wild edible poem from correspondent Brad Purcell, and a handful of recipes to boot.

I’m not going to lie to you—this issue contains recycled blog content, so if you’re an avid reader of this site, some of the text may strike you as familiar. Still, I included a bunch of as-yet-unseen photos to sweeten the deal while I wait for my own local wild food to sprout.

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.

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EDITED 10.7.13 to reflect the new download procedures.

Pumpkin, nettles and beer, oh my!

acorn squash nettle beer soup2 350x316 Pumpkin, nettles and beer, oh my!

Acorn squash, nettle, and beer soup, perfect for warming up after a wet spring snowstorm. I won’t be putting the seeds on top again, however, because they lost all their crunch in an instant.

I’ve had a request so I hereby present two squash nettle soups, both made with ingredients that are out of season here at 10,000 feet in the Colorado high country.

The first—a pumpkin, nettle, and beer soup—I made in November after receiving the gift of a pumpkin on our doorstep after a friend in possession of one needed to unload the big squash so as not to leave it in his car while he flew out of town. I am certainly not one to kick a tall pumpkin fairy in the mouth.

The idea of pairing stinging nettles (Urtica sp.) with squash came to me originally from Rebecca Marshman, the youngest chef on BBC America’s Chef’s Race, whose acquaintance I made during the filming of the third episode. She made a divine nettle minestrone with nettles gathered by her teammate, Sophie Michell. To make something like it, she told me to start by sautéeing onions and garlic, then to add small chunks of pumpkin to the pan for “a beautiful color,” and to put all that into the soup along with chicken bouillon, chopped potatoes, carrots, and some kind of beans.

So my recipe borrows from Rebecca’s idea, but is a creamy soup, with Parmesan cheese and a few brewskies to boot. It is an adaptation of an adaptation of a Moosewood Cookbook recipe followed by another one from the internet. I thought the nettles would make a good substitute for chicken broth. Read the rest of this entry

wild food 030 350x262 Bent on pulverizing Short stemmed Slippery Jack’s bad rap

Wild chicken stew with slippery jack powder.

Lately I’ve been powdering my dried wild mushrooms, batch after batch and species after species, then attempting to use the powders in various kitchen concoctions.

First were the porcini (Boletus edulis), from which I made a divine sauce, followed by not-so-bad hawks wings (Sarcodon imbricatus) venison marinade and cream sauce. Short-stemmed slippery jacks (Suillus brevipes) were a logical choice after that—in part because I have so many, and in part because I refuse to believe them inferior despite their reputation.

I went through a phase obsessing about Suillus brevipes this fall.

Said me on the Facebook: “Not to harp on the (short-stemmed) slippery jacks or anything, but I’m growing very fond of these guys. I’m tempted to say they rival Boletus edulis, but I think Butter at Hunger and Thirst might have my head for it.” (This because Butter is such a porcini fanatic as to pass up the short, slippery dudes.) Read the rest of this entry

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