Archive for 'urban foraging'

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.”)

stinging nettles Denver area 450x333 Snowboarding, Nettles, & Jerusalem Artichoke Bouyah

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

mini bouyah soup2 450x352 Snowboarding, Nettles, & Jerusalem Artichoke Bouyah

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—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

Low Cost Meal—Beans & Dried Dock

dock beans tostadas 450x299 Low Cost Meal—Beans & Dried Dock

Tostadas with jalapenos, dock & beans. I did the tostadas in the oven–broiling, flipping, and broiling again before adding the topping for the final broil. Next time, I need to brush the tortillas with oil; what was I thinking?

My fiance and I are seasonal workers. Most of our income comes from a winter job that lasts 6 months. It offers health insurance for that time period, so we jump on it each winter. In December I can finally get my cavities filled, and he can upgrade his glasses and contact lenses.

But summer is always harder on us financially. Health insurance costs skyrocket to $350-400 per month (each) if we choose to extend our benefits with COBRA. We work a lot of jobs and barely make ends meet. By the time December rolls around again, we are emptying pockets and jars and every other nook and cranny trying to cover bills while fixing up the old cars and ourselves and getting ready for another season’s work.

I’m not saying this to complain. We chose this life—up high in a winter paradise where well-heeled tourists own second homes and we would be lucky to one day afford a decrepit miner’s cabin because prices are so inflated. We chose to chase our passions and to work outdoors, instead of spending a lifetime of recurring 60-hour weeks in a cubicle—so in that respect, this is very much the good life. But the financial struggle is ever present. Read the rest of this entry

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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Ode to the Dandelion Hunter

Dandelion Hunter cover 240x350 Ode to the Dandelion HunterThere’s a young woman who hunts dandelions and sundry other edible and medicinal wild plants out of an apartment in Portland, Oregon, relishing reconnecting with nature after a several-years-long stint sequestered indoors, surrounded by a plantless outdoors, working for a New Jersey newspaper.

We happen to share the same name—a similar moniker, anyway, her being Wild Girl, purveyor of the popular wild edible internet weblog,, and me being Wild Food Girl, purveyor of the internet weblog you are holding in your hands right now.

I got really excited about Rebecca Lerner’s recently released Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness (Globe Pequot Press, 2013) after reading Sam Thayer’s early review: “Rebecca Lerner proves that foraging in today’s urban landscape is not only possible, but remarkably productive. In this charismatic and delightfully unpredictable book, she shares her experiences and insights in a way that touches upon the profound without being preachy.”

“Delightfully unpredictable” sounded right up my alley, not to mention “touches on the profound”—and I found both to be true.

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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

Pennycress Honey Mustard recipe at long last

pennycress honey mustard venison 350x333 Pennycress Honey Mustard recipe at long last

Wild pennycress honey mustard on crackers with venison summer sausage.

I’ve done it, Igor! I’ve created a recipe to deal with that monster who’s been pounding down my door for one. Namely, my mom. My mom is a pennycress honey mustard-seeking monster.

My idea for pennycress honey mustard was born first of an attempt to make normal pennycress mustard—if there is such a thing—which comes out tasting okay but not altogether great, I opine. Pennycress has a strong, some say garlicky— though I say distinctly pennycress—flavor. It was the addition of honey, however, that sealed the deal between me and pennycress forever.

I love gathering the pennycress seeds—first spotting the dry, light tan stalks and seedpods that mean it’s ripe for  harvest, then stripping the seeds and chaff into a collecting container. Afterwards walking while directing short, strong puffs of breath into the container, blowing chaff from seeds, albeit into my nostrils and eyelashes. No matter, for a precious prize remains at the bottom, like colors separated from black sands at the bottom of a gold pan—pennycress seeds! Read the rest of this entry

purple tinged yucca 350x253 Yucca and Memorial Day Weekend Go Together Like

Yucca flowers and wild Allium (garlic) in the pan. Note the purple tinge on the outer petals of these otherwise creamy-white flowers.

On Memorial Day last year we were still snowboarding at A-Basin, the snow drifts in the backyard were up to the life-size metal deer’s neck, and the yuccas down Denver-way waited until late June to bloom. This year, the snow is gone except for a handful of high elevation chutes and the yucca is in full bloom down the hill, a month ahead of last year.

Who can understand nature’s whim? Is her massive schedule change a punishment for our squandering of her resources, or is she just in one of her moods? Either way I figure we might as well take advantage of the yucca bounty now while the plants are in bloom.

Both Yucca and Yuca Are Delicious

Yucca is not the same as yuca or cassava (Manihot esculenta), the delicious and starchy potato-like root popular in Caribbean cultures.

Instead, wild yuccas (Yucca spp.), which cover miles of dry zones throughout the Western United States, have edible flowers, buds, and fruits. They are particularly conspicuous when in bloom, their waxy, bulbous white flowers dangling dense upon tall, upright flower stalks. In our local central-Colorado species, Yucca glauca aka soapweed yucca, there is one flower stalk per plant, and the flowers, while creamy white, often have pinkish/purple outer petals upon them. California Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), on the other hand, have “one flower stalk for each arm,” as Michael Moore explains in Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West (2003). Read the rest of this entry

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