Archive for 'Denver'

A Fall for Thick, Rosy Hips

Rosehips Pence 2013 Gregg Davis A Fall for Thick, Rosy Hips

Red rosehips stand out against the yellow fall foliage and white aspen trunks in the Colorado high country. Photo by Gregg Davis, 2013.

Legions of soft, plump, frost-kissed rosehips hang heavy upon their slender, prickly stems. Many are perfectly ripe, slipping off the ends of their branches with a soft, orange gush, leaving a sticky paste to be licked off the fingers.

First I made rosehip sauce, by cooking the hips down in enough water to cover and then mashing the softened fruits through a screen to save the liquid paste while discarding their itch-causing seed hairs. I sugared the filtered stuff gently and cooked it down to thicken.

But the rosehips continued to call to me after that, so we headed out under overcast skies for a second batch, visions of whole dried rosehips for wintertime teas dancing in my head. Plus I wanted to de-seed a small batch to dry for use as rosehip “raisins” in granola, and to cook down another fresh batch into my first attempt at rosehip soup, a popular dessert in Scandinavia and Iceland (Hahn, 2010) that I read about in a couple different books.

rosehip ripe 450x337 A Fall for Thick, Rosy Hips

After a frost or two, rosehips often turn a translucent red, a sign that they are ripe and ready for harvest.

We had the forest to ourselves that day due to the inclement weather. Gregg busied himself putting his camera away every time the skies opened to release short bursts of light drizzle, and then pulling it out again when the rain let up. But the views were gorgeous nonetheless, the floor of the aspen grove dappled with the yellow leaves of the season’s change, while more fluttered in the breeze—green, yellow, and red in contrast with the backdrop of so many tightly-packed, tall, white trunks.

The rose bushes were interspersed, a few still green but most turning yellow and gold, making the bright red hips all the more evident upon them. Some hips were tiny, others nearly an inch in length. Some bushes were tall; other came up only to my calf. These traits varied as we walked, as the aspect of the hill and growing conditions changed from dry slope to wet gulch, shade to sunny exposure.

I aimed mostly for soft hips, plucking them from branches and depositing them into my bag as we walked, leaving more hips upon the branches than those I picked, and spreading out the harvest so as not to denude an area. In total, I got maybe a gallon—enough to dry a couple pints and still have some left over to play with in the kitchen.

By the end of the hike, a light snow was falling. This truly is a magical place. Read the rest of this entry

Wild Edible Notebook—October 2014 Release!

WEN cover October 2014 800 343x450 Wild Edible Notebook—October 2014 Release!We clambered through the underbrush in an overgrown lot and parted the spiny branches of wild plum to glimpse a wonderland of apple trees plump with every size, shape, and color you could imagine. These were not trees bearing malformed, feral apples grown from seed, but a forgotten orchard of once carefully tended apples—plump red apples and tart, juicy green ones, tiny candy-like red-and-yellow striped apples and big, spotted red ones. It boggles the mind that these heirloom apples, far more special than the commonly cloned varieties you find in the grocery store, could be free for the taking. We tasted each variety, marveling at the myriad flavors, and giggled as we gathered the fallen fruit.

This month’s issue of the Wild Edible Notebook, just released, features adventures with found, free, feral apples. Next is a piece on the wild mustard peppergrass, followed by a review of Langdon Cook’s book, The Mushroom Hunters. As always, wild recipes conclude the magazine. Here’s a closer look at the October 2014 edition:

apples feral orchard Colorado 450x337 Wild Edible Notebook—October 2014 Release!

Feral heirloom apples foraged from a forgotten homesteader’s orchard.

  • Feral Apples – This story features “wild” apples—from a romp through an overgrown Colorado homesteader’s orchard, to feral apples (Malus spp.) across the country and how they came to be. There is also a nod to our native and introduced crab apples.
  • 5 Peppergrass Mustards – In this piece, we peruse peppergrass (Lepidium spp.), which you might know as “poor man’s pepper.” While many authors recommend using the green seedpods of this plant, this story centers on the dry mustard seeds, which I used to make an Oktoberfest sampler plate of tasty mustard condiments.
  • Recipe: Spicy Beer Mustard with Peppergrass & Pennycress – Of all the mustards I made, this one came out best. Make it as is, substitute store-bought mustard seeds, or add your own spicy twist.
  • Review of The Mushroom Hunters – Those of you pining for mushroom season, as I am already, may find respite in The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America (2013). For his second book, Langdon Cook turns investigative reporter, joining pickers on dangerous missions to “hostile” patches, sellers on their day-to-day business, and chefs and restaurateurs in forage-friendly kitchens from Seattle to New York, to paint a picture of the wild mushroom trade from deep, dark forest to pricey plate.
  • Recipe: Pico de Gallo Fruit Salsas – I love chips dipped in freshly made pico de gallo salsa, but fruit adds an entirely new element. We tried this recipe with foraged pears, found apples, and leftover scraps of wild black currants, all with great results.
  • Recipe: Sweet Pickle & Apple Relish – This recipe uses Grandma’s icebox pickles, plus apples, for a yummy sweet relish you will relish.

Read this issue by subscribing to the Wild Edible Notebook for $1.99/mo

The Wild Edible Notebook is an always-photo-filled monthly magazine available as an iPad/iPhone Apple Newsstand magazine; a screen reading PDF; a tall, skinny, “Android-friendly” PDF; and my favorite, the 11×14” PDF print-and-fold booklet. The subscription is $1.99 a month through Apple for the Newsstand magazine, or for access to all the PDF versions here at the blog. When you subscribe, you get access to 5 or so back issues in addition to the current and future editions. Here’s how to do it: Read the rest of this entry

Fruiting Forward

wild plums cold morning1 Fruiting Forward

We went for wild plums in the cold, misty morning, gathering them with fingers freezing and lethargic, my feet squishing in icy, wet boots. It was worth enduring the thorny thicket, the musky scent of catnip tall around us, to come home with 20 lbs or so of plums, without making a dent in the patch. Read the rest of this entry

Wild Greens & Potato Pie with Kochia

greens pie Gregg picture 450x299 Wild Greens & Potato Pie with Kochia

Wild greens and potato pie–great for dinner, even better for breakfast! Contains wild mustards and kochia greens. Photo by Gregg Davis.

I’m having wild greens and potato pie for breakfast again, as I have for the last two mornings. You wouldn’t think greens mixed into mashed potatoes in a pie crust would be all that exciting, but I am definitely smitten.

The inspiration came from Ellen Zachos’ book, Backyard Foraging (2013), which I spent two hours walking around the neighborhood reading the other afternoon. It’s an easy read with lots of nice, clear pictures—great for gardeners with a penchant for ornamentals, because it includes edibility information for landscaping plants like hosta, spiderwort, bishop’s weed or goutweed, and mountain ash among others, unlike many foraging books that center only on weeds and/or native species.

Zachos writes how her yiayia (her grandmother) grew up in the mountains of central Greece, where wild edibles were an important part of village diets. Specifically, she recommends trying the leaves of the aggressive landscaping plant, bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria), as a filling choice for Greek “pita,” or pie. Her recipe for hortopita, a less well-known cousin to spanakopita, involves an ensemble of phyllo dough, wild greens to replace the spinach, feta cheese, cottage cheese or Greek yoghurt, and eggs. It sounds absolutely divine. Read the rest of this entry

Wilted Wild Greens with Lemon & Chive Flower Buds

wilted greens above 450x299 Wilted Wild Greens with Lemon & Chive Flower Buds

Wilted wild greens with lemon juice and sweet wine, mmm.

A simple plate of wilted greens, kissed with fresh-squeezed lemon juice and a dash of sweet wine—doesn’t that sound wonderful? I daresay this one came out just right, judged a winner not only by my taste buds but the better half’s astonished declaration: “These are gourmet,” he enthused, his surprise only thinly veiled.

Whereas in the past I have often kept my various wild-foraged veggies separate so as to bring out each one’s individual flavor, here I think I nailed a good combination of strong-flavored wild greens.

First, I used chive flowers and buds. Chive flowers aren’t exactly wild, but in my book, feral, garden-escaped chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are as much a score as native wild onions and garlics. They certainly might be more sustainable. I figure if you can get your hands on some escaped chives, you might as well grab them and call it “foraging.” That’s what I did—except the chives in question had not actually succeeded in becoming feral, due to the pruning efforts of Gregg’s step-dad Jim. The chives used in this recipe, therefore, were rescue-foraged from Jim’s garden, where their budding and flowering tops were soon to go the way of the weeds in the compost bin. I figure they make good practice for wild cookery anyway, since the flowers are so unique. And, this way, when the chives come up of their own accord at the historic site down the street, I’ll be ready. I imagine you could substitute the flowers, buds, or other parts of a variety of wild onions/garlic/leeks (Allium spp.) for equally good results. Read the rest of this entry

Tumbleweed Salad

tumblemustard salad ID 450x299 Tumbleweed Salad

A close-up look at wild salad.

Just when I think I know everything there is to know about wild mustards, I find another one to eat and then do happy kicks about. This time, I am excited about tumblemustard (Sisymbrium altissimum), which you might know better as tumbleweed, because at maturity when it dries out it detaches from its stem and tumbles on the wind, spreading its seed about.

There are numerous species of plants that do this and are referred to collectively as tumbleweed, so don’t just go eating any old tumbleweed just because I said I like it in salad. Tumblemustard (S. altissimum) is a mustard family member, related to broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and other mustards. It starts from a spirally basal rosette of long, many-lobed leaves that are quite different in appearance from the frilly, smaller leaves that appear higher up when the plant bolts. They are mustards so the flowers, generally lemon yellow, are four-petaled. Read the rest of this entry

Orache is Not the Same as Lambs’ Quarters

orache plant2 450x337 Orache is Not the Same as Lambs’ Quarters

Orache looks a lot like lambs’ quarters, to which it is related. But, it’s a different plant.

One of my absolute favorite wild veggies is orache, an herbaceous, annual member of the genus Atriplex that grows in the alkaline soil of Denver, Colorado and surrounding areas. Oraches are salt-loving plants, so in addition to salt playas in landlocked regions, species can also be found along coastlines and even along roadsides where the soil or sand is saline.

Orache looks a lot like the edible wild spinach “goosefoot” or “lambs’ quarters” (Chenopodium album and related), so much so that when I posted a Facebook picture of the orache I was eating, along with a caption that said “orache,” more than one person commented how much they liked lambs’ quarters!

Both orache and lambs’ quarters have green to greenish-blue leaves that are covered, particularly on the underside and growing tips, with a white, mealy substance upon which water balls up and runs off. Like those of the goosefoots, the flowers that come later don’t look much like flowers at all, but rather small clumps clustered on the upper parts of the stems.

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Wild Edible Picnic

gregg picnic sm 404x450 Wild Edible Picnic

A stop for a look around by the reservoir on our way home.

The season’s change is upon us, even here at 10,000 feet in the Colorado high country. The snow has started to melt away, leaving the detritus of last year’s tourist season in its wake—the bottles and bits of paper and crumpled, dirty cloths and tons upon tons of dog leavings. But there are also green things emerging from under the blackened snow drifts; the promise of foraging season is nigh.

We celebrated with a car picnic, which I dreamed up to get Gregg out of the house, as he is now in week four of his mandated six weeks on crutches after his second knee surgery, or our third consecutive knee surgery as a couple, depending how you look at it.

That morning I whizzed around the kitchen to whip up some food to pack along, aiming to use up as many of the wild ingredients, both fresh and preserved, as I had on hand, since I am still, if somewhat lazily, under the spell of spring cleaning. Then we took a happy drive in the sun to the north end of the county, me reading aloud selections from Richard Mabey’s Weeds (2010), Gregg checking out the spring scene around us and announcing each vista one after the other—a kayaker kayaking, a fisherman fishing, a tall eagle’s nest, a person on horseback, baby cows. Then we camped out alongside the river and had a look around at the first signs of spring’s emergence at 8,000 feet—once in a very small, crutched radius, and the second time a longer but faster solo mission by yours truly while my better half napped—before retiring to the Vanagon, whom we call Myrtle after Gregg’s late grandmother, for the honorary unfolding of her picnic table for the first time this season.

Among the dishes I set out was a pasta salad, the piece I worked hardest on, and a wild garlic-onion cream cheese spread, which though super easy I thought I’d messed up, but over which Gregg went absolutely gaga regardless. Read the rest of this entry

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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