Succulents are juicy plants that store water in their leaves, stems, and roots, an adaptation which helps them survive in arid climates or soil conditions. Aloe, agave, sedums and purslane are some examples.
Although “dry” is not a word I’d use to describe the high country right now, it often is dry, and so the timeless succulents are there, now sucking up this season’s water bounty and growing like crazy like everything else.
Two edible succulent plants I collect at 10,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies are stonecrop and roseroot / rosecrown (the latter in fact being two related plants that look similar and grow in proximity to one another.)
All of these plants are thriving right now—although I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Roseroot, Onions and Soy Sauce Debacle
In search of some variety in my wild diet, then, I gathered a big handful of roseroot, the succulent that blooms into a flat, blood-red flower. I took relatively young specimens mixed with very young not-yet-flowering ones.
Oftentimes when I forage this plant, I collect both roseroot and rosecrown together, since they look similar when young and grow near each other.
One major difference between the two (as far as I can tell) is that rosecrown has a roundish cone-shaped pink flower on top, like a clover, in contrast with roseroot’s flat red one. (For a detailed treatment of roseroot versus rosecrown, including a discussion of scientific names, please see my entry from last year: Roseroot is Edible, Who Knew?)
This time, however, I am near certain I took only roseroot. It’s been a while since I consumed this one, so at home I reread my past entry on the subject, finding my account of being “enthralled” by roseroot shoots boiled for 4 minutes then lightly fried with finely chopped onions and soy sauce.
So I tried the same recipe again. I followed it close-to-exactly and the darn roseroot came out face-wincingly bitter. Not just bad, but horribly bad—disgusting, if you will. Another wasted effort on another wasted harvest. Heaven forbid!
I attribute Fail #3 to one or more of the following possibilities:
- Roseroot and rosecrown in fact taste different, with the former being less yummy than the latter;
- The rain has swelled ‘em up full of extra pungent strong-tasting goo.
- I got ones that were too old.
All of this is pure theory, mind you. In any case, it sounds like some further testing is in order, and I know just the guinea pig on whom to do it. Muhahaha.
I do have one standby succulent recipe that always seems to turn out well, however. In essence it is my grandma’s icebox sweet pickles with wild plants mixed in. Here’s the recipe, poached from my other site, etmarciniec.com (and originally from grandma):
Grandma’s Icebox Sweet Pickles (with Wild Succulents)
- 2 quarts cucumbers, thinly-sliced
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- wild succulents
- 2tbs salt
- 1½ cups sugar
- ½ cup vinegar
Wash the wild ingredients and chop if necessary. Thinly slice the cucumbers (leaving the skins on) and the onion, aiming for 2 quarts of sliced cucumbers. Slicing can be done by hand or with a food processor to speed it up. Cover sliced cucumbers, onion, and succulents with water in a bowl and add salt; mix; and let stand for two hours. Drain water and add sugar, mixing until veggies are fully coated with sugar, then add vinegar and mix again. Put in a Mason jar in the “icebox,” which is an old-timey word for refrigerator. Mine keep for a few months in the fridge, though I generally eat them faster than that.
Sweet Pickles with Stonecrop Flowers
The sweet pickles described above are awesome without the wild ingredients, by the way. What the wild stuff adds is texture, sometimes color, and of course the element of mystery—that exotic touch that becomes more pronounced the further disconnected the eater is from nature. Be forewarned, however: Many are those who are frightened by the prospect of eating a wild plant!
But I digress. Sweet pickles with stonecrop (Sedum lanceolatum var. stenopetalum, per Seebeck, 1988) flowers are very pretty, as you can see from the picture. Wash the flowers well lest you get grit in your pickles—and this is one plant that you should definitely not harvest from the side of a well-traveled road, especially a dirt one, a fact I know from experience.
Pickles with stonecrop stems and leaves are nice too; I leave them intact when pickling because they’re pretty. They don’t absorb the sweet stuff as well as the cucumbers this way, but the texture works.
Roseroot / Rosecrown Sweet Relish
I tried making Grandma’s icebox pickles with roseroot and/or rosecrown but found that these particular wild succulents do not lend themselves well to being served whole, the major issue being the texture. Finely chopping, however, can be your ticket to success with troublesome wild edibles, and that certainly is the case with these rose-flowered succulents.
For the relish, follow the above recipe but chop everything fine, including the cucumbers and onions. We ate this with spicy barbecued chicken using a friend’s homemade barbecue sauce. Deelish!