Archive for 'foraging'

Don’t Forget the Tumble Mustard

tumble mustard top1 450x337 Don’t Forget the Tumble Mustard

A tumble mustard top, with a cluster of tender young flower buds surrounded by wispy, soft leaves. Clip the whole thing off with soft stem attached.

If you’re looking to make use of local wild greens, why not give tumble mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum) a try? Tumble mustard—a non-native species from the Middle East thought to have been introduced to North America years ago via contaminated crop seed—is found throughout much of the world, including the continental U.S. and Canada. It can be quite common on deteriorated Western range lands.

You probably know tumble mustard best as one of a group of plants called “tumbleweeds” that detach from their dry stalks at maturity and tumble across the plains on the wind. To make use of fresh tumble mustard greens, however, you need to identify the plant while it is young and lush.

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The jaggedy pinwheel rosette of tumble mustard, starting to bolt.

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Tumble mustard greens stand tall and lush in a Denver housing development.

Tumble mustard, like other mustards, produces a basal rosette of greens. When it lays prostrate on the ground it looks like a fantastic jaggedy pinwheel. The pinnately lobed leaves vary in form, with the lower leaves bearing larger, deep lobes that range from smooth-margined near the tip to toothy near the base. Upper leaves are deeply dissected, but bear thin, spindly lobes, giving them a wispy appearance.

When tumble mustard begins to bolt, and the leaves rise up off the ground, they can be lush and lovely for a spell—perfect for a salad. They are somewhat fuzzy in texture, so I like to chop them up and mix them with other greens.

Shortly thereafter, when flower buds form atop the bolted plant inside a burst of spindly leaves, you can clip the whole top off and blanch or boil it in water to use as a cooked vegetable. Or you can chop this part up too and throw it raw into a salad. The flavor ranges from mild to spicy with a mustardy kick. The thin leaves surrounding the mustard heads are of a fine consistency, as are the tender top portions of the stem. Break the stem above where it toughens up, which you can figure out by simply bending the stalk—the same method recommended to asparagus-pickers.

Foraging author Samuel Thayer explains that the meristem, or fastest growing portion of a plant, is the part of a plant you want to eat (Nature’s Garden, 2010). That is when and where the vegetable is at its best for flavor, calories, and texture.

I was surprised to read that tumble mustard has a low edibility rating at Plants for a Future, one of my favorite online resources for wild edibility citations. My guess is that those who rated this plant may not have been eating the tender, tasty, meristemic growth, but perhaps attempting to eat tumble mustard in a less ideal stage.

I recently collected some nice tumble mustard greens in both Manitou Springs, Colorado and north Denver, so the season is on for foragers in those and comparable regions. We even get tumble mustard up here at 10,000 feet in Fairplay where I live, though the season comes a bit later.

Safe practice dictates that if you are unfamiliar with tumble mustard or plants in general and uncertain of your identification, don’t eat it the first time you identify it. Run it by an expert, or wait and watch the plant through a season. If your tentative ID is correct, the mustard will branch many times as it grows, beginning to assume the round-ish form that as a mature plant will eventually break off and tumble on the wind. It will produce small, lemony-yellow, four-petaled flowers. The fruit/seedpods are long and skinny and protrude in a raceme from the stems.

Not too many people write of tumble mustard edibility, but it is indeed edible and in my opinion not bad eating—just so long as you catch the season right and gather it in a good stage of growth.

Sometimes we foragers get zany for a particular wild food treasure—morel mushrooms or wild leeks, for example. But let us not forget that there are humbler finds to be had, green staples growing in abundance that we can easily incorporate into our seasonal fare. In the case of common non-native species like tumble mustard, there’s the added bonus that we might even be helping native ecology by eating them.

drawn red Don’t Forget the Tumble Mustard

poison hemlock young 450x376 Don’t Forget the Tumble Mustard

Poison hemlock greens can be deadly. It would be a stretch to confuse these with tumble mustard, but don’t. Don’t confuse them with carrots either.


  • Hyperaccumulator: Tumble mustard absorbs soil contaminants such as heavy metals and radioactive waste according to a USDA report by Janet L. Howard (2003). Thus it is unwise to harvest from Superfund sites or locations with comparably risky land use history.
  • Toxic Lookalike: This is a bit of a stretch, but for folks who are new to foraging, you DO NOT want to confuse tumble mustard or any other edible plant with poison hemlock (Conium maculatum). Poison hemlock is common in Colorado’s lowlands and many other regions, and eating it can be deadly. The greens of poison hemlock, like tumble mustard, are split into many lobes. But they are much more finely and multiple times dissected, and much brighter green. Poison hemlock grows to be very tall, often towering over my head, so even in spring when young hemlock greens are low to the ground there are often tall, dried stalks overhead that help with identification. Novice foragers may mistake poison hemlock for some sort of wild carrot due to the similar leaves. Do not make this mistake.

Snowboarding, Nettles, & Jerusalem Artichoke Bouyah

mini bouyah soup1 450x361 Snowboarding, Nettles, & Jerusalem Artichoke Bouyah

A hearty soup to weather the weather. The rich bone broth includes stinging nettles pot likker and Canada thistle tea.

My friend’s husband tells tales of growing up in northern Wisconsin next to the Menominee Nation, where as a boy he played with the kids on the reservation. When they got hungry, they’d head to whichever family’s house was hosting that week’s “bouyah,” a Midwestern tradition believed to be of Belgian origin, which in the Menominee households involved an ongoing pot of soup to which new ingredients were added as they were hunted and foraged.

I imagined myself making such a soup the other day as I tossed whatever fresh and dry ingredients I could find into a big pot at the crack of dawn, my first opportunity to play with wild food again after a protracted grand finale to my snowboard-work season that involved great excitement and disappointment when I tried out for a regional team of top instructors.

I didn’t make the team but I figure I had a decent showing regardless—how many 40-year-old women do you know who hit 35-foot kickers? Beforehand, I worked relentlessly on my 360’s, which is probably why I’m so exhausted. (Linked is my “chicken wing backside 360.”)

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Stinging nettles foraged in the Denver area last week before the snow.

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Before I strained the bones and “roots” from the broth, you can see the brown, woody Canada thistle bits. They added a nice artichoke dimension.

In any case, I normally I wear my stress on my sleeve but this time I must have been holding it in because, I swear, less than 30 minutes after I left the team announcement my glands swelled up to fill my throat and my whole head succumbed to a cloud of phlegmy congestion.

A Complex Wild Broth

The early morning cookery was a two-pronged effort, then—a soup to combat my nasty cold, and a much-needed spring cleaning of found and purchased ingredients. Here’s what went into it:

  • Stinging nettle pot likker (Urtica sp.) – First I simmered the bones, skin, and fat saved from a maple-smoked chicken in stinging nettle “pot likker”—a term that refers to the colored cooking water leftover from steaming or boiling greens. We’d eaten the steamed nettles—which came from a wild shopping trip in the Denver area with my friend Butter last week—on a previous night, and I’d saved the pot likker in a jar in the refrigerator.
  • Canada thistle “roots” (Cirsium arvense) – Mostly because they were taking up space on top of the cabinet in the living room, I added a whole mess of dried Canada thistle “roots.” These are not really roots at all, but the underground portion of stems. I’d ripped a ton of this edible invasive species from my yard last fall and dried the woody underground bits for this purpose. At this stage they are too tough for outright eating, but impart an artichoke-like flavor to teas and broths.
  • Alliums – My onion choices included one overgrown store-bought brown onion with attached greens, dried chives, and some finely chopped fresh wild onion greens and dried wild onion bulblets—both from different seasons of the bulbil onion (Allium rubrum) that grows near Butter’s house in the Denver area.
  • Porcini broth (Boletus edulis) – As it turns out, I am not the only broth squirrel in the house, because I also discovered a jar of porcini broth leftover from when Gregg got into my dried mushrooms and reconstituted a ton of them to make a well-endowed pizza. I splashed a bit of the mushroom broth into the soup, but not too much, so as to preserve the other flavors.
  • Salt & pepper

Fabulous Fartichokes

Normally I use potatoes for the starch in my soups, but this time I had in my possession a generous bag of jerusalem-artichokes, the underground, edible tubers of the sunflower Helianthus tuberosus. This native North American species is called “jerusalem-artichoke,” foraging author Sam Thayer explains in Nature’s Garden (2010), not for any Jerusalem-related reason at all, but probably due to a corruption of the Spanish or Italian word for sunflower, “girasol.”

jerusalem artichokes Butter2 450x317 Snowboarding, Nettles, & Jerusalem Artichoke Bouyah

My friend Butter’s Jerusalem artichokes. These are the same species as native wild sunchokes, though the latter may cause more flatulence.

There are wild, native jerusalem-artichokes and there are cultivated varieties of the same species. Mine, again, came from Butter, who has taken to growing them in her front-yard garden.

Thayer writes how he cultivated jerusalem-artichokes before ever finding them in the wild; the practice made it easier to recognize wild and feral populations later. Consumed under-ripe, both wild and cultivated varieties can cause “horrendous gas,” he notes, but that of the wild variety is often worse. Long-cooking, from 1 to 6 hours, can help to allay the problem, with fall and winter-harvested tubers requiring a longer cook time than those harvested in spring.

“Wait, did you get those in the farty season or the non-farty season?” Gregg asked.

“I guess you’ll have to wait and see,” I replied.

For this soup I threw a handful of whole, spring-harvested, hopefully non-farty jerusalem-artichokes into the pot at the very start of cooking, so that in the end I think they cooked for 3 hours. I pulled them out when I strained the non-edible stuff from the broth, chopped them into cubes and tossed them back into the cleaned broth with sliced carrots, more fresh-snipped wild onion greens, and chicken bits.

Oh man, I cannot understate how yummy jerusalem-artichokes are in soup! And I’m pleased to say we have no excessive flatulence to report.

Soup to Herald Winter’s Return

I’m happy to have this mini-bouyah soup on the stovetop now—not only for my battered, beaten, cold-stricken body, but also because winter decided to return with a vengeance. After more than a month of unseasonably warm weather that saw plants popping up outside my window, taunting me as I headed to work at the mountain each day, a thick and unrelenting spring storm now blankets the landscape, obscuring my plant friends underneath. So I guess I will sit here, eat soup by the fire, and heal up as I await spring once more.

Wild Edible Notebook—April 2015 Release!

WEN April2015 cover 800 336x450 Wild Edible Notebook—April 2015 Release!It’s early yet for high country Colorado, but with the recent warm weather there are dandelions greening on the sunny side of our house, and chives poking up through the straw. At the park down the street, the field pennycress rosettes are lush enough to eat. It’s difficult to contain my excitement for foraging season as I push through the final days of my winter job, with so much green popping up around me.

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Feral chives at a historic site in Breckenridge, CO. Photo by Gregg Davis.

In celebration of spring’s arrival, I am pleased to announce that the April 2015 Wild Edible Notebook is here, a couple days ahead of schedule. Once again, this Notebook features the work of several foraging writers in addition to myself, making it possible to widen the range of plants featured in the publication to those that do not grow in my immediate vicinity. Here’s a closer look at this month’s edition:

  • A Marriage of Alliums – The genus Allium contains our cultivated onions, garlic, shallots, and chives, along with a big group of wild onions. Wild species can be detected by their distinctive oniony scent. From spring onion greens to underground bulbs to aboveground bulblets, Allium is a useful and tasty genus to know. This piece is an overview of all things Allium, with spotlights on a couple of wild species.
  • Integrating Chives – Chives are often found under cultivation or as volunteers gone feral, but did you know that the same species—Allium schoenoprasum—is also native to North America?
  • Japanese Knotweed: A Tart & Tangy Edible Invasive – Connecticut-based blogger Karen Raczewski brings us her expertise and culinary experience with Japanese knotweed, an edible invasive species whose tart and tangy young shoots can be used in muffins, fruit leather, cold soups, summer rolls, and more. Her husband, Robert Gergulics, provided the stunning photography.
  • More Invasive Knotweeds You Can Eat – Japanese knotweed is not the only large, invasive knotweed you can eat. Here’s an overview of a few related species that can be used similarly.
  • New Greens, Old Recipes – One of my favorite wild food experimenters, Maria Brumm, takes a foray through historic cookbooks to bring us some old recipes for spring greens—including dandelions in sour sauce—along with her interesting insights.
  • “Crazy Forager Girl” Finds Plants, Love – A review of Ava Chin’s memoir, Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal, in which the author finds inspiration while foraging for wild food in New York City parks.
  • Japanese Knotweed Fruit Leather – Fruit leather is a great use for so many invasive Japanese knotweed shoots. Here’s a tasty recipe from Karen Raczewski that kids and adults alike will like.
  • Japanese Knotweed Muffins – Japanese knotweed’s tart flavor also works well in muffins and cakes. This is another nice recipe from Karen Raczewski.
  • Nancy’s Cabbage, Chives, & CheeseBetter Homes & Gardens printed Gregg’s mom’s recipe, which we refer to as “Cabbage Dish,” in the 1970’s. It is a creamy casserole that uses dried chives, so I like to dry chives in summer to use in her recipe, which we always make for winter holidays.
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Read the April 2015 issue by subscribing to the Wild Edible Notebook for $1.99/month. The Wild Edible Notebook is an always-photo-filled, 50-page monthly magazine available in two subscription types: Read the rest of this entry

Wild Edible Notebook—March 2015 Release!

WEN March2015 cover800 336x450 Wild Edible Notebook—March 2015 Release!

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Sassafras leaves are dried and pulverized to make filé powder, an ingredient in gumbo filé. There is no evidence sassafras causes cancer.

Okay friends and fellow foragers, the March 2015 Wild Edible Notebook is here! For this month’s edition I am once again proud to feature works by several foraging and herbal writers in addition to myself. Big thanks are due to Wendy Petty, Becky Lerner, and Samuel Thayer for making this possible. Here’s a closer look at this month’s edition:

  • Making Things with Wild Thickeners – There are a surprising many wild thickening agents that can be reasonably substituted for store-bought kinds like flour, gelatin, pectin, and cornstarch. This piece provides an overview, and then gets down and dirty with filé powder, made from powdered sassafras leaves, and common mallow powder, made from the original marshmallow’s common cousin.
  • Does Sassafras Cause Cancer? – You might have heard that sassafras causes cancer, but there’s no proof it causes cancer in humans. Concentrated safrole extracted from sassafras has been shown to cause cancer in rats, but you’re not a rat if you’re reading this, and you’d have to eat a lot of sassafras to get so much safrole. I love my sassafras tea and I’m going to keep on drinking it. What do you think?
  • Foraging Tools on a Budget by Wendy Petty – I am tickled to present another original piece from my good friend Butter of Hunger & Thirst. In this story she describes her foraging toolkit, categorized from least to more expensive, along with how and why the tools are essential to her. Wild food foraging is indeed a thrifty activity that requires little to no financial investment. This story helps to make foraging more accessible to everyone.
  • Usnea Lichen: Powerful Lung Medicine by Becky Lerner – Hello? What’s this? An original piece from the talented writer Becky Lerner, author of Dandelion Hunter (Globe Pequot Press, 2013) and The story is about Usnea lichens–those slow-growing hair lichens you might know as Old Man’s Beard. The piece provides a useful overview of medicinal uses, identification, and even the author’s first-hand experience of the lichens’ spirit properties. I am honored that Becky shared her writing and expertise in this second-ever medicinal/herbal piece to be featured in the Wild Edible Notebook.
  • Book Review: Steven Rinella’s Scavenger’s Guide to Haute CuisineThe Scavenger’s Guide is an oldy-but-goody penned a decade ago by hunting writer and show host Steven Rinella. Here, a youthful Rinella chases unusual game—from pigeons, invasive English sparrows, and wild boar to seafood, fish, fowl, and big game—to create a historic meal featuring 45 dishes from the 1907 cookbook, Le Guide Culinaire, by Auguste Escoffier. It’s a cool adventure—a read that hunters, invasive species eaters, meat-lovers, and creative cooks are likely to appreciate. Also, Steven Rinella has a great sense of humor.
  • Rinella’s Meat Eater is Hunting, for Real by Samuel Thayer – Foraging author Sam Thayer invited me to print his review of a more recent book by Steven Rinella: Meat Eater (2013). The book consists of “real stories about a real hunter pursuing animals for all the reasons that people actually do that,” Sam writes, concluding: “finally, someone who thinks about hunting like I do.”
  • Wild-Thickened Porcini, Barley, & Sausage Soup – I made a big pot of barley soup in a porcini broth, then played with 2 handmade wild thickeners—common mallow powder and filé powder—along with some Cajun sausage. This recipe is the story of that.
  • South-of-the-Border Turkey, Duck, & Acorn Stew – Turkey and duck soup should be good anyway, but try adding acorn flour to thicken it into a nutty, rich stew, plus chipotle, cilantro, and lime for a South-of-the-Border flair. Sooo gooood.
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Read the March 2015 issue by subscribing to the Wild Edible Notebook for $1.99/month. The Wild Edible Notebook is an always-photo-filled, 50-page monthly magazine available in two subscription types: Read the rest of this entry

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

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.

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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:

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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 Edible Notebook—September 2014 Release!

WEN September2014 cover 800 343x450 Wild Edible Notebook—September 2014 Release!Last night we had the in-laws-to-be over for dinner and I set out two jars of jam to accompany the chicken, each made from a different species of wild-foraged gooseberries. One was red, mild, and sweet; the other deep purple, tart and tangy. In the fridge we have two more jars—one syrup and one sauce—each made from a different species of wild currants.

There are approximately 200 currants and gooseberries of the genus Ribes in the world, all native to the northern hemisphere, including 55 species in North America, about 15 of which are scattered across the Mountain West, Thomas Elpel explains in his new book, Foraging the Mountain West (2014). Not all have wonderful flavors, and some have sharp spines on the berries themselves, such that gloves are required to process them. But there are five species of currants and gooseberries that I enjoy on a regular basis here in the Colorado high country.

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Golden currants along the Blue River, yum.

The September 2014 Notebook, just released, features my photo-illustrated excursion to collect, process, taste, and eat these berries, followed by a similar foray into edible wild mushrooms. Here are some details on this month’s contents:

  • Currants & Gooseberries – This story features five species of currants and gooseberries I enjoy on a regular basis here in the Colorado high country—the spiny, red-berried mountain gooseberry (Ribes montigenum); the spiny, purple-berried whitestem gooseberry (Ribes inerme); the non-spiny wax currant (Ribes cereum); the non-spiny trailing black currant (Ribes laxiflorum), and the non-spiny golden currant (Ribes aureum). I hope you will find the pictures particularly helpful.
  • Coastal Black Gooseberry by T. Abe Lloyd – Then, for you West Coasters, there is a piece by wild-edibles blogger, teacher, and author T. Abe Lloyd, whom you might know as “Arcadian Abe,” on the coastal black gooseberry (Ribes divaricatum).
  • Ribes RecipesRibes recipes in this edition include Gooseberry Syrup and Gooseberry Sorbet, made by wild food writer Hank Shaw from spiky Sierra gooseberries (Ribes roezlii); and another of my dad’s famous marinades and glazes, this one made with wax currants.
  • Mushroom Foray – August was a good month for hunting mushrooms in the Colorado high country, and it looks like we’ll have some fun with fungi in September too, so I also included a mushroom foray in this edition. I undertook this most recent journey with my parents as houseguests, and it was interesting to see how they did in the field identifying and field dressing mushrooms, so they are an integral part of this piece, which aims to introduce new mushroom hunters in particular to four wild mushrooms. The photo essay is a major part of this story, which starts with a quick look at the many species of mushrooms lined up in my fridge and laid out to dry on nearly every surface of my apartment, before diving deep into short-stemmed slippery jacks (Suillus brevipes), Rocky Mountain porcini (Boletus edulis), large and small puffballs of the Calvatia and Lycoperdon groups, and brown-scaly hawk’s wings (Sarcodon imbricatus).
  • Porcini Recipe: The edition concludes with one of my favorite mushroom recipes—Porcini Roasted in Miso Garlic Butter by my favorite wild food cook, the blogger Butter of Hunger & Thirst. The recipe is rich and addictive, just like her writing.
placeit1 450x337 Wild Edible Notebook—September 2014 Release!

You can read the Wild Edible Notebook on your iPad/iPhone in Apple’s Newsstand, view a PDF on other devices, or print and fold the magazine into a cool booklet on 8.5×14 paper.

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The Wild Edible Notebook is an always-photo-filled monthly magazine available in several formats including Apple’s Newsstand for iPad/iPhone; a screen reading PDF; a tall, skinny, “Android-friendly” PDF; and my favorite, the 8.5×14” PDF print-and-fold booklet. The subscription is $1.99/month through Apple for the Newsstand magazine; or $1.99/month here at the blog for access to all the PDF versions. When you subscribe to either, you get access to 5 or so back issues in addition to the current and future editions. Here’s how to do it:

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Dad’s Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup

porcini bun 2014 Gregg Davis 450x351 Dad’s Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup

A porcini bun pushes its way through the duff in a spot everyone doubted but me. Told you so, family!

My early porcini spot finally started fruiting a couple days ago, a full month behind last year’s schedule. My guess is that the mushrooms decided to wait for my parents’ arrival in Colorado. After so many trips to check for them, Gregg doubted I’d find any, but there they were, pushing their beautiful, bun-shaped, brown-red forms through the duff.

Last year, the season seemed almost past when my parents arrived for their annual summer trip, but there were still mushrooms enough for Dad to make his creamy mushroom soup. He made it with porcini (Boletus edulis) along with lesser mushrooms including short-stemmed slippery jacks (Suillus brevipes) and yellow, blue-staining Suillus tomentosus, noting that for best results, a mix of mushrooms is best.

Later, I adapted the recipe to use strong-flavored hawk’s wings mushrooms (Sarcodon imbricatus), both kinds of Suillus, and beef broth, with excellent results.

Hopefully you can enjoy this adaptable recipe with whatever mushrooms flavor your dreams. Read the rest of this entry

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