Archive for 'urban foraging'

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.

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, www.firstways.com, 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.

Read the rest of this entry

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

Wild Shopping Spree — Denver

musk mustard Colorado 350x262 Wild Shopping Spree    Denver

Don’t eat the grass; eat the musk mustard.

Try as I might to remember, I almost always forget my shopping bags when I go to the grocery store. I rarely forget them, however, when I go into the wild.

It’s a good thing too, because Friday’s foray among the wild former farmlands of Denver’s outskirts was a shopping trip to remember; I found so many awesome “deals” [read: free green food] under the capable guidance of my dear friend, metro-area forager, Butterpoweredbike.

The Mile High City was bursting with plant life, the ground dappled with sunlight streaming through new foliage and flowers on the trees. “Stop. Listen. Do you hear that?” Butter asked. “It’s the sound of the wind through leaves. It wasn’t like that a couple days ago,” she mused happily as we skipped back with our afternoon forage of nettles (Urtica spp.) and musk mustard (Chorispora tenella).

I had managed to sting my injured knee through the hole in my pants while collecting the nettles, but Butter gave me a handful of mallow (and grass) to chew up and spit onto it. After weeding the grass from the handful, I did as instructed, and it seemed to do the trick. Afterwards we were nibbling musk mustard on the side of the trail when two gents walked by and said, “Don’t eat the grass, girls! That’s for the dogs.” Tee hee. Read the rest of this entry

Dock Time is the Right Time

dock cream cheese spreads2 350x264 Dock Time is the Right Time

Two dock cream cheese spreads–one with garlic, the other with salmon.

I never would have thought it was already dock (Rumex sp.) time of year again were it not for my friend Butter and the pristine metro-Denver-area suburbia full of wild green vegetables where she resides, in contrast to the still snow-covered High Country in which I dwell. But on March 7 she wrote to me: “Knock knock! Who’s there?” and then answered her own question: “Dock!”

“It was close to 70 here yesterday, which melted the last of the snow from the ground,” Butter wrote. “I took a ride today (once again in the 30′s and snowing), and surveyed the ground. The dock plants in the sunnier areas of the fields have leaves which are 1-2″ long! I estimate that in about 2 weeks, they’ll be long enough to pick the first leaves.” Oh, Front Range Denver, I sighed. It’s like the Garden of Eden.

Sure enough and earlier than predicted, Butter picked her first batch on March 14. I know because she squealed happily to Facebookland about it, announcing plans for “a nice coconut-laced dock curry.” Honestly I am more excited than jealous.

For those who do not yet know, Butterpoweredbike mans a monthly wild food recipe-sharing event and this month she’s chosen her beloved Rumex to star in it. Send in your dock recipes or post about them and send her a link to participate, or just check back at the month’s end for a wealth of cooking/foraging ideas. Even wild food greats like veteran foraging-vegetarian, Wildman Steve Brill out of NY, sometimes participate. Read the rest of this entry

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