Archive for 'non-native'

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.

wild plums Denver Fruiting Forward

The wild plum season wasn’t good last year, but this year the plums are going off. Elevation estimate 6,000 feet, North Denver/Front Range adjacent. I have a good friend to lead me to such bounty.

Speaking of which, have you tried her Old Farmhouse Plum Ketchup? Click on through for that recipe, and lots of good info on “ditch plums,” as she likes to call them.

perfect apple Fruiting Forward

In the midst of the thorny plum thicket there were apple trees too, many different varieties so loaded with perfect, plump apples that the branches near touched the ground, the fruits of a long-forgotten orchard overrun by the urban jungle. There were plenty on the ground ready for eating, no need to bother the tree just yet, my friend insisted.

abandoned orchard apples ground horiz Fruiting Forward

And then … can you say pears? Consider yourself lucky to find a tree dropping its fruit. There’s no need to let the pears rot on the ground either. Even the ones with bruises and holes can be quickly cleaned with a knife and dropped into a simple, equal parts sugar-and-water syrup, then refrigerated or counter-fermented, she taught me. We ate days-old zingy pears with a spoon, and poured slightly fermented pear liquid into sparkling seltzer and drank our pear sodas like queens.

pear haul park Denver Fruiting Forward

Later, back at home, I made a baked fruit crumble with mixed plums—not just the wild ones, but also some cultivated, powder-blue Italian plums her friend John invited us to harvest. “Pick the hell out of them,” he said, so we climbed deep into the weedy thicket to get at the difficult-to-reach plums, leaving the easily gathered ones to other hands. They hung plump and perfect under the dark green foliage, plentiful as grapes, their otherworldly color making me feel like I was foraging in a cartoon world of endless wonder.

Italian plums processing Gregg Fruiting Forward

 

The mixed fruit crumble used both types of plums, along with spoonfuls of zingy pears. I whizzed up a quick topping in the food processor, cutting butter with flour, brown sugar, and oats.

(My grandma’s apple crisp recipe, upon which all of my crisps and crumbles are based, says to bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. We tried this in the toaster oven, however, and ended up having to add 20 minutes or so, bump the heat to 400, and broil at the end to brown it. Maybe the actual oven would be easier next time, heh.)

In addition to the crumble and my own giant batch of zingy pears, I have a semi-spicy, Japanese-chile-infused plum sauce in the works, apple slices drying, and a daily diet of super-ripe tiny plums bursting with sweet wonder juice. A heaven of fruit and flavors, gleaned from once lovingly tended, now wild spaces.

drawn green Fruiting Forward

Much of the inspiration and information underlying this piece comes from my good friend, the talented forager and cook Wendy Petty, blogger at Zester Daily, and Hunger & Thirst, where she is known as “Butter” or my moniker “B” for short. She is based on the outskirts of metro Denver and is an excellent resource for Denver and Boulder-area foraging enthusiasts in Colorado.

This piece was helpful to me in learning the differences between crisps, crumbles, cobblers, and buckles: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/18/crumble-cobbler_n_3455487.html

Gregg Davis took the bottom photo of me processing the Italian plums. They were more of a striking powder-blue on the tree, but alas, my iPhone shots did not come out.

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

Venison meatloaf with sock berry glaze

venison highbush cranberry meatloaf 350x262 Venison meatloaf with sock berry glaze

Venison meatloaf glazed with an ornamental highbush cranberry tomato glaze.

Call me a “bitter-plant apologist,” but I’m pretty pleased with myself for this, my first foray into cooking with Viburnum opulus, the highbush cranberry that is the escaped ornamental cousin of the much-celebrated native species.

Says Sam Thayer in my go-to guide, The Forager’s Harvest (2006):  “The two native highbush cranberry species, Viburnum edule and V. trilobum, are generally highly esteemed for their flavor, while the introduced European V. opulus has terrible fruit.” And this: “The European species is extremely bitter, accentuated by other bad flavors, while the native type tastes very much like cranberries. In fact, European highbush cranberries are so terrible that I don’t even consider them edible, despite the claims of some bitter-plant apologists—and frost emphatically does not improve their flavor.”

That said, my friend Butter—who coined the term “stinky sock berries” to describe the stinky, foul-tasting V. opulus— is a convert, having once discovered their abundant, ripe fruit near-glowing on its branches when most everything else nearby had turned brown with the change of seasons. She’s collected them ever since. 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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Nothing Left to Do but Self-Medicate

willow bark 350x262 Nothing Left to Do but Self Medicate

Probably not enough dried willow bark for pain relief.

This is great—not only did I jump off a bush (on my snowboard) in an attempt to skip over some rocks to a mogul that turned out to be solid ice and hear my knee go “crunch,” such that I am suddenly confined to home awaiting an MRI, but I am also coming down with a cold, sore throat and cough and all.

But, please, don’t read “This is great” as sarcasm. I honestly feel blessed by the universe—for now, jobless once more, I have opportunity to test my wild medications upon myself, not to mention the free time to write about it.

I figure I’ll start with the cold today and save the knee for next week. After all, it seems a little foolish to mend bones and ligaments until one is certain they are arranged in the right place. At present my right knee cannot straighten to save my life (though in landing that leap three days ago it did flex very much in order to do so). Read the rest of this entry

Spring Foraging in the Hudson River Valley

morels fiddleheads 336x350 Spring Foraging in the Hudson River Valley

Wild foraged fiddleheads and morels purchased from a health food store.

It’s been a number of years since I made it out east in the spring—and what a spring it is! Apparently it’s been raining more than usual, such that the outdoors is carpeted in lush new green growth the likes of which I seldom see. Coming from the Colorado high country, where snow still covers the forest floor, I have to admit I’m not sure where to begin. 

Gregg and I headed first to Woodstock, New York, to visit my friend Aurora. The Hudson River Valley where Woodstock is located is truly an Eden of wild foods, a fact that she pointed out has been the case for thousands of years—and the reason so many native people relied upon this area for hunting and gathering. Granted, many of the plants that now flourish in these parts were imported by early settlers, but I am overwhelmed by the abundance of wild edibles I have an encountered. 

In the Hudson River Valley we found the following plants ripe for the picking (in addition to many other that are not in season): stinging nettles, garlic mustard, mint, clovers, cleavers, goosefoot, mallow, burdock, several varieties of dock, a few late fern fiddleheads, sorrel, wild carrot, dandelion, plantain, and milkweed shoots. I helped Aurora weed some of these plants out of her garden and ended up with a cooler bag full of wild edibles. Later, on the forested grounds of my Alma Mater, Bard College, we found wild ginger, mayapples not yet fruiting, spicebush, and sweet cicely.  Read the rest of this entry

dandelion clover spinach salad 350x262 Dandelion Spinach Salad with Red Cabbage and Clover Petals

Dandelion spinach salad with red clover petals and red cabbage, delicious!

Ok, I can’t stop myself—I must boast about yet another rousing success with these delicious fall dandelions I keep finding up on the mountainside. Whereas I served the last batch finely chopped in a yummy marinated salad, I served these latest dandelion greens chopped coarsely and fresh-tossed with baby spinach, red cabbage, red clovers, and a delicious soy-based homemade dressing. Gregg was very impressed.  

Without further ado, then, here is the recipe: 

Salad Ingredients:

  • Baby spinach greens
  • Dandelion greens and leaf stems, coarsely chopped
  • Red cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • Red clover flowers, finely chopped

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Two Variations on Marinated Dandelion Salad

marinated dandelion salad asian 350x301 Two Variations on Marinated Dandelion Salad

Marinated dandelion salad option 1 involves soy sauce.

Not to go overboard on the fall dandelions or anything, but last night’s fresh marinated dandelion salads came out so good and were so fast and easy to make that I figured I’d write up a short post about them. The recipes start out the same and then it is simply a matter of picking one sauce or the other depending on the recipe you’re going for. 

Ingredients: 

  • 1.5 cups dandelion greens or thereabouts
  • 1.5 cups red cabbage or thereabouts
  • 1 medium onion
  • Soy sauce (option 1)
  • French dressing (option 2)

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