Jump to content

Stalking (And Eating) The Wild Whatever


zoramargolis
 Share

Recommended Posts

For the second time in a couple of weeks, while walking the dog up the Battery Kemble trail, I found oyster mushrooms (Pleurotis Ostreatis) sprouting on a dead log. These were beautifully fresh, and I gathered about a pound in five minutes or so. I sauteed them with shallots in butter and then added them to a skillet full of chicken meatballs with tarragon, poached in chicken stock and finished with creme fraiche. They have a delicate 'shroominess that seems much more vibrant than commercially grown oyster mushrooms. Funny, I had bought some at Han An Reuhm and cooked them the night before, with a veal chop. The wild ones were definitely better.

In July, I made wineberry jelly, adding some rosewater and almond extract to give it extra flavor. Wineberries are beautiful to look at, but to me they don't have a lot going for them flavor-wise and they have too damn many seeds. I also gathered wild black raspberries while visiting near Gettysburg and put them in pancakes.

A couple of years ago, I found epazote growing wild near Fletcher's Boathouse. I haven't seen any since. I'd love to find it again.

Anyone else into wild food gathering?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I haven't really intentionally gone out looking for wild food - but one of my most pleasant recent memories is from last summer. We were on the way back from a wedding near Solomon's Island, MD, and stopped for a walk around Sotterley Plantation. As we strolled down the Rolling Road (where they used to roll hogshead of tobacco down to the creek) we came across endless raspberry bushes that were full of perfect ripe berries. We ate our way up and down the road and wished we had a basket to fill up for the trip home. They were sweet and juicy and warm from the sun - what a treat!

I also remember picking wild raspberries in the woods across from my grandmother's house on King Street, next to Chinquapin Park in Alexandria. They might still grow there but I think they spray insecticide in those woods now...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All the sweeter, 'cause they are free! I am a wild berry fanatic--when I find some, my husband tells me that the determined set of my jaw and my intense focus are indicators that he'd better just leave me alone until I'm done picking. We call it "an attack of berry-berry"... The last summer we lived in Vermont, back in the mid-seventies, was a banner year for wild berries. I picked enough wild strawberries to make gallons of preserves--each berry is about as big as the tip of your index finger, which gives you an idea of how many hours I spent combing the old meadows for patches of them. Then, there were the dewberries, the black caps, the blackberries, and the wild grapes...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How to Test if a Plant Is Edible:

Only if you are lost on a movie set.

Specifically, the Gilligan's Island set ;)

A counterpoint regarding the aforementioned "Universal Edibility Test".

If you are interested in going directly to the source (as in What Did Native Americans Do?), here are two local sources for relevant skills: Earth Connection, and Mid-Atlantic Primitive Skills Group. I have no direct experience with either, but one of my friends is connected with both.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you are interested in going directly to the source (as in What Did Native Americans Do?), here are two local sources for relevant skills: Earth Connection, and Mid-Atlantic Primitive Skills Group. I have no direct experience with either, but one of my friends is connected with both.

The Earth Connection group offers wild edible plant identification classes that look very intriguing. I took a class like that when I first moved back to Southern California after 10 years of living on the east coast, and learned enough about edible chapparal plants to make subsequent hiking and camping experiences much more interesting for years afterward. I'm going to look into it.Thanks for posting the link!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Glad to be of assistance! Do let me know if you're planning to take Earth Connection's summer edibles class coming up on July 14th. I'm considering signing up for that one myself...haven't gotten my Euell Gibbons on since Boy Scout days.

I happened to run into my primitive skills enthusiast friend tonight (visiting from Michigan) and apart from encouragement, her only other comment was that the last time she took the summer class, she attracted a bevy of ticks from all the tromping around in fields. Equip yourself accordingly.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You're dating yourself ol' man: Euell Gibbons (September 8, 1911–December 29, 1975). Didn't he do a GrapeNuts commercial?
He was the GrapeNuts commercials, for years; I've seen them replayed (maybe early to mid 90s?) as a nostalgia campaign, and it wouldn't surprise me if they resurrect him again before too long. You can't get much more green and earth friendly, and I suspect they've got enough footage of him that they wouldn't have to do a bad CGI job like they've done on Orville Redenbacher.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Glad to be of assistance! Do let me know if you're planning to take Earth Connection's summer edibles class coming up on July 14th. I'm considering signing up for that one myself...haven't gotten my Euell Gibbons on since Boy Scout days.

I happened to run into my primitive skills enthusiast friend tonight (visiting from Michigan) and apart from encouragement, her only other comment was that the last time she took the summer class, she attracted a bevy of ticks from all the tromping around in fields. Equip yourself accordingly.

I was thinking about it, but have some concerns about the mid-July date. I generally hibernate in air-conditioned spaces during the summer, here in the mid-Atlantic. Hot and humid, not to mention disease-vector bugs make me an unhappy camper. Fall and Spring are better for me--the edible wild plants are going to be different during each season, so it's all good.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just went out with my husband and nabbed 3gal of wild raspberries, which are destined for jammaking once I can get off my duff and get them prepped. (I'm planning to try Rose Levy Beranbaum's raspberry conserve from The Cake Bible--has anybody made this recipe and what did you think?)

Wild raspberries grow in borders of forests and in thicker, lusher fields of shrubs. There are a lot of places like that along roadsides out here in Harpers Ferry, and it wasn't hard to find some patches that hadn't been picked over yet. We also saw a lot of blackberry patches, which we'll return to in a couple of weeks when they've had a chance to ripen and sweeten up a little more. (Most of those still look a little greenish-red right now.) Wild raspberries and smaller, darker and much much sweeter than the standard Driscoll type raspberries I've been buying from Costco recently. They're far tastier, IMO. I'm a little scratched up from the thorns but otherwise pretty pleased with myself right now.

This has me thinking about foraging in general--especially since I am inspired by recently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Do you forage? For what? When and where do you go to get it, and does it take a lot of work?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just went out with my husband and nabbed 3gal of wild raspberries, which are destined for jammaking once I can get off my duff and get them prepped. (I'm planning to try Rose Levy Beranbaum's raspberry conserve from The Cake Bible--has anybody made this recipe and what did you think?)

Wild raspberries grow in borders of forests and in thicker, lusher fields of shrubs. There are a lot of places like that along roadsides out here in Harpers Ferry, and it wasn't hard to find some patches that hadn't been picked over yet. We also saw a lot of blackberry patches, which we'll return to in a couple of weeks when they've had a chance to ripen and sweeten up a little more. (Most of those still look a little greenish-red right now.) Wild raspberries and smaller, darker and much much sweeter than the standard Driscoll type raspberries I've been buying from Costco recently. They're far tastier, IMO. I'm a little scratched up from the thorns but otherwise pretty pleased with myself right now.

This has me thinking about foraging in general--especially since I am inspired by recently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Do you forage? For what? When and where do you go to get it, and does it take a lot of work?

Are these black or red raspberries? In the past, I've found wild blackcaps on roadsides and trail edges in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia at this time of year. Three gallons is a lot! My preference, when making conserves or jams with seed-y berries, like raspberries, blackberries, mulberries and wineberries, is to strain out most or all of the seeds. It's an extra step, and extra work, but it makes for much more pleasant eating and a more refined final product. Pureeing and straining the berries before you cook them will cut down on your total volume of fruit, but you've got a lot to start with. You'll be amazed at how many seeds there are. A typical preserve recipe has roughly equal amounts of fruit and sugar, so you'll still have a lot of jam. Work in small batches, especially if you are using pectin--which I do, because I think less cooking=more flavor.

Foraging is like treasure hunting to me. I lose all track of time when I am in an abundant wild berry patch. My family totally loses patience with me: "Can we please GO now?" "Time to LEAVE." "Come ON, Zora. That's ENOUGH." And I'm: "I'll be there in a minute. There are a few more right back there that I want to get..." It's better if I go alone.

I also think black raspberries are fantastic in pancakes and waffles.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

These are red ones. I haven't seen black raspberries locally, though they are for sale at the Shepherdstown farmer's market so I know they are at least raised around here. We found a lot of unripe blackberry patches...I took some notes on the notepad I keep in my bag so we can return to those in a couple of weeks when they ripen.

We were out there for about 3.5 hours, with breaks to wrangle the baby, drive around looking for bushes, and grab sandwiches. It's hot work, and we're both pretty scratched up despite wearing long pants and such. But damn, it's rewarding. I ate a lot of raspberries today in addition to all the berries I picked.

I'm well aware that my sieve and I will be making friends over the next couple days. I went to the supermarket and bought lids and sugar earlier; I have plenty of jars. I have made many kinds of jam before, but not raspberry because I never wanted to spend that much money to buy them--and I never managed before now to commit to picking enough raspberries to make jam a worthwhile project. We'll see how it goes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We went out yesterday and picked about 2 gallons of wild blackberries. I got pretty scratched up, but at least blackberry thorns are large enough that they come out of the skin if you jerk away from the vine yelping like a little girl the way I do. They were too small and sour last time we went out, but now the ones in sunnier spots are pretty flush and dark. We also got some more raspberries--just a quart or so, for snacking over the next few days.

We're having friends over for dinner tonight, which is a great excuse to make my first blackberry cobbler of the summer. Good times.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I haven't walked the trail in Battery Kemble in a while--maybe two weeks. This morning I found a large clump of laetiporus sulphureus, also called sulfur shelf or chicken of the woods. Really beautiful, bright orange on top and almost neon yellow underneath. I have never found them before, or eaten them, but they are, as you can tell by the common name, supposed to be delicious. Unfortunately, these are too mature to be choice any longer. My mushroom book advises me that while still edible, when mature they will have an unpleasant, sour taste. Dang! I missed the optimal eating window by avoiding the park during the hot weather last week.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I attended a wild edible plants workshop on Saturday, given by Earth Connection, a "School of Wilderness Survival and Ancient Skills" in Somerville, VA. It was quite a small group--three students, two teachers and both teachers' wives, who provided their own expertise. The class was held at the 10-acre property of the school's founder, Tim MacWelch, where he lives with his wife and two young children. It is part of an old farm that has not been farmed in many years, and is growing up with scrubby trees and brush, the old pasture areas full of weeds which provided much of the learning materials.

A different wild edible plants class is offered in each of the four seasons--the emphasis being on what's out there in the wilderness that you can eat if you are starving, and what to avoid that is poisonous or toxic. Since I am primarily interested in choice edibles, I tasted a number of things that I promptly spat out, even though I was reassured that they would not hurt me. One of the other students is an aspiring herbal healer, and she had much to contribute to the discussion regarding the medicinal uses of many of the plants we were discussing, and I was able to chime in with tips about cooking, so there was a very informative discourse going on all day.

Tim had put together a handbook with a photographic field guide of most of the plants we could expect to see, and he had also brought along samples of important fall wild foods that he gathered elsewhere, since he doesn't have them growing on his property: hickory nuts, black walnuts and persimmons. The wild persimmon was the best thing I tasted all day--extraordinarily complex flavor, like a cross between a really good apricot, a roasted fig and a Barhi date. I need to go looking for a source for those! The nuts, alas, I had to pass on because of allergies.

A standout among the weeds was a flower called Pearly Everlasting, also known as rabbit tobacco, which isn't necessarily good to eat, but has a haunting aroma like a combination of cardamom, fenugreek and nutmeg. We couldn't stop inhaling it.

Much of the afternoon was spent in a discussion of gathering and processing acorns. The choice varieties are from White Oaks and Chestnut Oaks, which are the least tannic. And cold water leaching is the recommended method for extracting tannin--the co-instructor, a fellow named Hueston, brought some acorn bread made from acorn meal that he had processed for a week, changing the water every six hours. It still had a bit of background bitterness to it. He hadn't dried or roasted the meal after leaching it--just used the wet paste in the recipe. Better was an acorn-pumpkin cake that was brought to the group still warm, made by Tim's wife Jenn. It was a spice cake made with canned pumpkin, and half acorn flour and half white flour. Traditional methods for crushing and de-hulling the nuts were taught. I found out the bad news: the huge Red Oak I have in my yard, which rains down bushels of acorns on the lawn, house and car is one of the most tannic varieties, along with Black Oak. That doesn't stop the deer from snarfing them up, however. Dogs also find them irresistable.

They also teach wilderness cooking classes, and have an area set up with various types of stone ovens, the framework for a greenstick grill, and a pit, where they cook small game hens and vegetables--it's not really big enough for a large pig--though they could certainly do suckling pig.

In any case, a pleasant day with nice people. I learned a lot. Thanks to ol' ironstomach for telling me about it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you, Zora, for taking the time to write this detailed report! Brings back memories of Girl Scouts.

At this time of year, all I want is to recognize epazote when I see it. The weed must be around this big city.

While I have no desire to eat like Circe's pigs, cf. pages 125 and following should you find the right kind of acorns.

Then, there's Tigger.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do you have a dog?

No, no pets -- and the yard is fenced. I give the greens several good soaks in the sink before I use them to get off any bugs and dirt. When the weather gets warmer, I also like to gather purslane for salads. There are definitely some advantages to having a lawn that is primarily made up of weeds! ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

No, no pets -- and the yard is fenced. I give the greens several good soaks in the sink before I use them to get off any bugs and dirt. When the weather gets warmer, I also like to gather purslane for salads. There are definitely some advantages to having a lawn that is primarily made up of weeds! ;)

I always do a double take when I see common garden weeds like purslane and wild plants like lamb's quarters being sold for high prices at the Farmers' Market.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A question I saw raised elsewhere got me to thinking: Have people here harvested their own pine nuts? It looks to be a pretty labor-intensive process.

I have tried it. Once. The edible pine nuts we all love so much come from a variety of pine called the piñon pine, which grows at fairly high altitudes, in limited areas of the world. We used to visit a place called Mount Pinos, in the San Gabriel mountains about sixty miles northeast of Los Angeles. We liked to camp there in the spring and late fall and cross country ski there in the winter. In the fall, I used to forage for wild rose hips--the rosa rugosa was abundant, and I'd make rose hip jam and dry them for tea. Piñon pine were also very abundant, but my experiment with harvesting cones and extracting the seeds was frustrating. The cones are tough and spiky and the seeds (pine nuts) are all but impossible to extract. My understanding is that the indigenous people who relied on them as a food source used fire to roast the pine cones first, which made it possible to crush the cones afterward and get out the nuts. I am not sure how the Chinese and other bulk producers extract the nuts.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A question I saw raised elsewhere got me to thinking: Have people here harvested their own pine nuts? It looks to be a pretty labor-intensive process.
Yes, on land owned by a Tuscan count whose death was keenly anticipated by squatters who occupied one half of a small stone cottage, my friends, two rooms on the other side. Maybe a 30-minute bus ride outside the city walls of Florence where the air turns from stifling, mosquito-filled humidity to a cool breeze and in the distance, bells clang in the morning as flocks of sheep advance to graze.

Lia, named for a local beata (not quite saint) who Fra Filippo Lippi painted in the frescoed semi-dome in the apse at Spoleto, showed me how to pry open the seed case and identify which ones, fallen from the tree, were worth picking up. She was about five at the time. Foraging for pine nuts was a game she played with children who lived nearby.

Not as labor-intensive as gathering saffron or wild rice. Not much more than harvesting other nuts, I imagine. The setting, company and watermelon after dinner were more memorable than the taste of the nuts, I confess. Local and fresh, of course, better than the stuff sealed in plastic on supermarket shelves.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Raspberries are bursting off the brambles this week all throughout the Maryland countryside...I didn't even know I had one in my front yard, along with a blackberry bramble. Not a lot of mulberries left on the tree at this point, but far tastier than the watery ones up there a month ago.

Saw a fair number of small pawpaws beginning to develop on the trees along the C&O...must remember to look for those in legal locations later in the year.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Raspberries are bursting off the brambles this week all throughout the Maryland countryside...I didn't even know I had one in my front yard

Have you tasted them? My guess is they are wineberries, which are introduced and ubiquitous. Wild black raspberries are fairly common along roadcuts in nearby Pennsylvania, but I haven't seen wild reds.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Have you tasted them? My guess is they are wineberries, which are introduced and ubiquitous. Wild black raspberries are fairly common along roadcuts in nearby Pennsylvania, but I haven't seen wild reds.

Oops, good catch Zora...they were wineberries. And yeah, I ate a few handfuls.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Two days ago, we went over to Battery Kemble to get some chestnuts that J had seen when he was there birding. He also had seen a mushroom growing at the base of a tree that he wanted to show me. He didn't know what it was, but when I saw it, I did: hen-of-the-woods, also known as maitake. There were four of them together, but we just took the one that looked youngest. It weighed close to five pounds. (in order to give a sense of the size of this hotw, we put our favorite paperback mushroom guide next to it--the yellow line along the edge of the book is an eight inch measure.)

img4513a.th.jpg(click on the image for a better view)

I cut off about 1/3 of it, cut off the stems and sauteed it with shallots and then stewed in cream for about 30 minutes. They do need a lot more cooking time than agaricus mushrooms like criminis, but are similar to wild oyster mushrooms in that way. Very tasty.

We also found a bounty of ripe wild persimmons around the base of the tree that I found a few years ago, and I gathered a bagful and made a delicious wild persimmon quick bread. 75% of the flour was ground fresh from the Loudon County wheat berries that I bought at the Dupont farmers market, Farm at Sunnyside eggs, and flavored it with a little bit of Heinz's fresh ginger. Okay, I did grate in some orange zest from CA and a teaspoon of dark rum, but it was mostly local. And delicious. I purposely went very light on the spices/flavoring, so that the persimmon flavor could really shine through.

We only found a few chestnuts, but there are quite a few more still ripening up in the tree. And I'll make several trips back to the persimmon tree--there are thousands of them still way up high in the branches, and you can't use them until they are dead ripe enough to fall--wouldn't be able to reach any of them anyway.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[We also found a bounty of ripe wild persimmons around the base of the tree that I found a few years ago, and I gathered a bagful and made a delicious wild persimmon quick bread.

how do you get the skin off? i dislike it as it's slightly bitter. and growing up we had a persimmon tree and we never ate them b/c 1) the skin issue and 2) by the time they fell off, 90% of them squished and cracked a bit when they hit the grass, so we didn't want to eat them. -do you just eat the squished one, or cull through them for the intact ones?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

how do you get the skin off? i dislike it as it's slightly bitter. and growing up we had a persimmon tree and we never ate them b/c 1) the skin issue and 2) by the time they fell off, 90% of them squished and cracked a bit when they hit the grass, so we didn't want to eat them. -do you just eat the squished one, or cull through them for the intact ones

If I used only intact ones, there wouldn't be enough. Each one is the size of a golf ball--wild persimmons are a lot smaller, and the skin isn't tough like domesticated varieties. I rinsed them, removed the stems and then ran them through a Foley food mill to remove the seeds. Then I used the pulp. It is astonishing how much natural pectin is in the wild persimmon--by the time I had finished using the food mill, the pulp in the bowl was a solid, jelly-like mass.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

^There were persimmon trees all over the place where I lived in Illinois. Now I count on my Mom to send me the cultivated ones she grows in Florida. Some of the newer varietals come close to the flavor of the wild ones, but they still aren't as good.

My running trail has a big chestnut tree on it, and my running buddy and I have been benefiting from it, although we do look a little ridiculous running with full pockets. In addition to the persimmons, I get a yearly box of Florida chestnuts, but I always want more after my freezer stashes run out.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If I used only intact ones, there wouldn't be enough. Each one is the size of a golf ball--wild persimmons are a lot smaller, and the skin isn't tough like domesticated varieties. I rinsed them, removed the stems and then ran them through a Foley food mill to remove the seeds. Then I used the pulp. It is astonishing how much natural pectin is in the wild persimmon--by the time I had finished using the food mill, the pulp in the bowl was a solid, jelly-like mass.

The wild 'simmons I forage aren't even as big as a golf ball. The tree is so tall I can't pick them, so I have to pick them up out of the grass, brush off the ants and grass clippings, but even so, I like them so much I try to ignore the fact that the lawn was almost definitely sprayed. I do rinse them and peel them and just eat the meat when they are dead ripe and soft. Mmmmmmmm.

Government property, and that's all I am saying.

If the tree were shorter, I'd try cloning. If the owner was an individual, I'd ask to use a ladder. As it is, I feel lucky just to get the fruit.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The wild 'simmons I forage aren't even as big as a golf ball. The tree is so tall I can't pick them, so I have to pick them up out of the grass, brush off the ants and grass clippings, but even so, I like them so much I try to ignore the fact that the lawn was almost definitely sprayed. I do rinse them and peel them and just eat the meat when they are dead ripe and soft. Mmmmmmmm.

Yeah, golf ball wasn't the best size descriptor--they're smaller than that. But the aroma and flavor are complex and ambrosial, aren't they?
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ideas for dandelions, which seem to be particularly abundant this season, and garlic mustard, the one weed I *don't* have in my yard (until now, because I just jinxed myself). I'm going to try juicing the dandelion flowers instead of soaking/pressing them. I figure everything will be nice and green after this rain passes.

Edited to add a link to this fun, compendium sort of website with many wild-plant recipes. My mother always said that if you hate a weed, eating it is the best revenge.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My favorite thing to do with dandelions is add a large amount of the leaves, sauteed with red pepper flakes and lots of garlic, to a lentil soup, to make a sort of stew. the lentils pair well with the leaves' bitterness. and though this could be purely placebo effect, as i once read that dandelions were considered a spring tonic and full of minerals, i really do feel better after eating this. and lperry, that site is great! so many things i didn't know you could eat, even after reading every euell gibbons book out there!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not really wild, but there is a small army of daylilies creeping through the fence from my neighbor's yard, and I've found lots of recipes online.  I've had the dried flowers in Chinese cuisine, but never the tubers or shoots, and I don't want to spend a lot of time on something that isn't that great to eat.  There's "edible," and there's "delicious."  Anyone thinned the daylily beds for dinner?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...