Posts tagged: foraging

Nettles!!

By , May 1, 2012

As I mentioned in this post, I found nettles! This was really very exciting because now I can collect my own instead of continuing to purchase my usual dried nettles for tea. And for the very first time, I had freshly cooked nettles and they’re amazing! A mild and pleasing taste. I cooked them in some salted water, and ended up drinking every last drop of the broth too — it was thick and delicious — almost meaty. They’re so good for you, too. High in protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Cooked nettles

Nettles & white beans

And I love nettles tea because it works better than an antihistamine pill for me. This was an accidental discovery; I’m allergic to bee stings, and I get honeybee and ‘mixed vespids’ venom immunotherapy shots every 6 weeks so that my body gets desensitized to the venom. Normally I get a big, itchy 3″ wide welt on each arm where I get the shot, and I take a Claritin pill the morning of the shots to help counteract that. However one day I had some strong nettles tea before my shots, along with the pill. No welt! No redness! No itchy! At first I didn’t realize it was the nettles, until another time when I’d forgotten to take the antihistamine pill and only had nettles tea, and same thing! No welt. Finally I realized it was the nettles tea, and the pill wasn’t even really necessary. So now I make sure to have nettles tea before my shot, and every day for at least about a week afterward. It’s quite magical. If you have seasonal allergies (mercifully, I don’t), you might try nettles tea!

My favorite nettles tea:

2-3 Tbsp dried nettles

~1/2 Tbsp dried mint

~1/2 Tbsp dried lemongrass

In a mug, pour 8-12 ounces boiling water over herbs, cover, and steep about 15 minutes.

So anyway, back to the fresh nettles. I couldn’t believe my luck with finding patch after patch of them, and while I often travel with an empty plastic bag (you never know what you’ll need it for!), I didn’t have one with me on the walk. However my mom had packed snacks in a bag, and thank goodness she had! Precious, precious bag. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to collect any. Disappointing!

I had an empty little sandwich baggie which I used as a glove to pick them, though still got plenty of stings on my wrists. (The stinging compounds are easily neutralized once the nettles are either boiled or dried to a crisp.) I stuffed the bag full, and also took some plants with roots and have planted those in pots outside, hoping they’ll decide it’s a satisfactory location to grow. I’ve read that nettles are particular about where they grow; you might think you have the ideal location for them — but they have the last word.

Do you cultivate your own nettles? Have any growing tips?

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As you can see, the living room was full of nettles for a while. I ended up getting about 3 gallons, dried.

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Homemade Concord Grape Fruit Leather

By , October 17, 2011

I wish I could give you all a piece of this fruit leather to eat right this minute! It has the best, truest grape flavor I think I’ve ever tasted. This leather is sugar free and made with nothing but ripe concord (or “wild”) grapes. And although the process is really easy — and you need nothing except the grapes themselves — it takes time. This is special stuff; the taste is so worth it, and when you take a bite and think about the process from start to finish, you’ll appreciate this fruit leather even more.

I find that it feels really good to deeply savor each morsel of food like this; so different from mindlessly feeding our faces, isn’t it. I bet if we were the ones responsible for the extensive work required to prepare everything we ate, we’d slow right down and savor every single bite!

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Concord Grape Fruit Leather

Concord grapes (that’s the only ingredient!)

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1. Begin by making my Grape Freezer Jam with your concord grapes. But go ahead and leave it unfrozen…or, thaw it out if it’s already frozen.

2. Preheat oven to 200°F. (You could also use a dehydrator.)

3. Tear off a piece of parchment paper the size of your cookie sheet. You could also generously oil your cookie sheet, but parchment is a lot easier to peel the leather off of.

4. Using a spatula, spread your Freezer Jam onto the cookie sheet, taking the extra time to spread as thinly and evenly as possible; it takes a few minutes to get it just right. Spreading it as evenly as possible is important because otherwise some parts will be overdone and other parts will be underdone.

5. Put into the oven and let it dehydrate until the fruit leather is pliable…not wet, but not hard & brittle either. Mine usually takes about 2 1/2 hours.

6. Remove from the oven, cool for a while, peel your fruit leather off the parchment, roll it up, and cut into strips! Store either at room temperature or in the fridge. I like to keep mine in a mason jar in the pantry.

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When I’m on the go and need a good snack, I’ll often pack a roll or two of this fruit leather, along with a bag of homemade kale chips. It’s perfect!

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Incredible Homemade Wild Grape Freezer Jam — Sugar-free & Pectin-free!

By , September 29, 2011

Finally, here’s my recipe for the best wild (or “Concord”) grape jam ever! The flavor really is incredible.

I’m not a big jam-maker normally. And maybe that’s because nobody ever told me that jam doesn’t have to be complicated, the way most publications make it seem. This is the easiest jam you’ll probably ever make…because I discovered by accident that you don’t need either sugar or pectin to make it!

And because it’s “freezer jam” (meaning you store it in the freezer), you won’t be sterilizing jars or canning anything. You’ll just be cooking the grapes way down, allowing the natural sugar and pectin that’s already in the fruit to do the job for you. (To give you an idea of how much jam you’ll get, 9 lbs of grapes yields about 1 quart of jam.) Then, you eat it! And if you’re going to keep it around for a while, just pop it into the freezer to extend its life.

This jam is also what I use to make my delicious Concord Grape Fruit Leather. Try it sometime!

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Wild Grape Freezer Jam

Wild, or “Concord,” grapes — nice and ripe. (That’s the only ingredient!)

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1. De-stem & wash your grapes.

2. Put them into a large pot, and turn to medium-low heat. No need to add any water to the pot — they’ll provide plenty as they heat up and burst. Stir frequently to prevent burning at the bottom, and to get all the grapes heated up.

3. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until most grapes have burst. The unripe ones won’t burst.

Cook the grapes until they burst…

4. Turn heat down to low, and simmer, uncovered, until the grapes have cooked down a bit. Turn off the heat and let the grape slurry cool off a bit until it’s handle-able.

5. Strain your slurry through a mesh sieve with holes just small enough to prevent the seeds from going through. A food mill can also be used here; I bought a $30 Italian-made one from Crate & Barrel several years ago to use for this purpose. When it broke, I was actually sort of glad. I went right back to using the circular sieve pictured below, and this continues to be my tool of choice — it seems quicker and more direct, and the irritation of seeds jamming up the mill is not there. I prefer it.

This is the most labor-intensive part of the whole process because you’ll really want to stir a lot and press the pulp firmly against the sides of the sieve to separate all the liquid from the seeds and skins that will be left behind. Really scrape the pulp against the sieve so that you get some of the pulp pushed through the holes into the juice. This seems to help the jam thicken up. This is also a time when you could use a blender. Before pouring the grape slurry into your sieve, pulse it several times in your blender, then pour it into the sieve. You don’t want to blend up the seeds, but the blender does help break up the grapes and pulp, making it easier to strain.

After most of the juice is strained out of each batch of pulp in the sieve, I like to put the spoon down and get my hand in there to squeeze the rest of the juice out of the pulp-and-seeds.

Once this process is complete, you’ll have plenty of soupy liquid and the pile of seeds & skins will be surprisingly small.

Strain your grape slurry through a metal sieve. The large one is nice for big batches, but the small one is my favorite, and what I use even for large batches.

Strained liquid on the right, ready to cook down into jam. The skins & seeds are on the left, ready to be tossed.

6. Now that you’ve got just the liquid, you’re ready to cook it down into jam. Pour it back into the pot and turn the burner back onto low heat. Simmer on low, uncovered, until it’s thick like…jam! This will probably take several hours especially for a big batch. Stir it fairly frequently, especially toward the end when it sticks to the bottom of the pot more readily. And turn the heat down lower when it starts to thicken; you really don’t want to burn this stuff, because of how much effort you’ve put into it. Keep it at low heat. You’ll know it’s done when you can drag your spoon through the middle of it and the track doesn’t fill back in. (EDIT 9/26/16: I have been taking it off heat even before I can see the bottom of the pan while dragging my spoon through it. It has set up well once cooled & refrigerated. So when it’s been cooking down for hours, and looking bubbly and sorta thick, and the volume has been reduced to maybe about 1/3 of the original volume of strained, soupy liquid, try cooling it and it may set up fine for you. I’m going to do more experimentation with this.)

You know it’s done when your spoon track doesn’t fill back in.

7. That’s it! Cool & store in the fridge (it’ll last a couple weeks before starting to go moldy), or in the freezer for long-term storage. You can also can this using the water bath canning method. I have been canning this grape jam for the past several years and it is my preferred storage method. It does, however, tend to crystallize for me (must be the sugars) when it’s canned. I don’t mind, but if you don’t want that, you may just want to keep it in the freezer.

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(Get your family to help you de-stem those grapes!)

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Mint Water: The Simplest + Most Refreshing Drink of Summer

By , July 30, 2011

I’m in love with mint water. It’s the very easiest thing to whip up, with the most cooling and refreshing taste I can think of.

All you need is fresh mint — out your back door, down at the far corner of the yard where you planted it once and now there’s enough to make mint water for everyone in your state. Pick a long sprig or two of it.

Whack ’em against your hand to dislodge any little crawlies. Rinse them off too, if you like.

Pour a glass of water, add ice, crush the mint sprigs in your fist, and submerge them into the water.

When the water gets low, top it up. If you have nice strong mint, it’ll last you through many glasses.

I love this stuff!

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Anyone know of a good source for edible wild greens seeds?

By , April 20, 2011

I received a question from Melinda who wrote: “I am interested to know if you know where I can get reliable seeds of wild greens, such as lambs quarter, nettle, shepherd’s purse, toothwort?”

I know that Mountain Rose Herbs carries seeds for Nettles and Shepherd’s Purse, although I’ve never ordered herb seeds from them before.

Can any of you make a recommendation?

Thanks!!

How To Make Candied Violets

By , April 11, 2011

Here’s an old fashioned spring project to do! Preserve those ephemeral little violet flowers for use as a garnish (on a coconut cake for Easter would be nice…) or for a lovely treat at any time of year — violets have a wonderful taste and will keep for months once they’ve been candied!

The process is simple, and not too time consuming. You can make this a more delicate project by painting eggwhite onto each flower with a paintbrush, and then dusting with fine sugar, but I think I’d only want to dedicate that kind of time if I were making these for a really special occasion!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Freshly picked violet flowers & leaves (having them very fresh will make the project go faster and prevent frustration!*)

Egg white (not beaten or frothed) (use eggs you trust since it’s raw)

Ordinary white granulated sugar (not powdered sugar)

Here’s what you do:

The flowers should be dry. No need to wash/dry them first — just pick them on a dry day and go for it. Dip each flower into the eggwhite. Give the flower a firm shake to get rid of any excess eggwhite. Hold it over a dish filled with sugar, and spoon the sugar over the flower until all surfaces are coated. Let the flowers dry on wax paper, parchment paper, or on a bed of sugar. (A plain baking sheet works too, but the eggwhite sticks, so you’ll have to carefully loosen the flowers with a metal spatula after they’re mostly dry.)

*The most important thing is to have fresh flowers (and leaves if you’re using them). Don’t pick the flowers, put them in a zip-top bag in the fridge for a few days, and then do the project; the flowers will have lost too much moisture and when you dip them in eggwhite, they’ll collapse. See photo below! Very fresh flowers will hold their shape even after being dipped in eggwhite.

Both have been dipped in eggwhite -- the flower on the left was in plastic in the fridge for a couple days, while the one on the right is fresh from the yard. Fresh is best!

That’s it! When they’re thoroughly dry (give them about 24 hours), store them in an airtight container. Room temperature is OK.

Enjoying Wild Foods: Daylilies + Lamb’s Quarters

By , July 8, 2010

Daylily buds

Now that it’s summer, there are lots of forage-able treats in the urban landscape, and today I wanted to highlight a couple of my favorites: Daylily flower buds and Lamb’s Quarters leaves. I often take walks on my lunch break through the neighborhoods near where I work, and munch on these, raw, as I encounter them (picking mindfully, of course). The daylily buds have an unusual, sort of mild spicy taste that grows on you, and the Lamb’s Quarters leaves taste very similar to spinach, and can be eaten either raw or cooked like spinach.

Just be sure to avoid plants growing near busy roadways or areas that are likely to have been sprayed with pesticides (like the grassy areas of parks).

Here’s what Alan Hall’s Wild Food Trailguide says about Daylilies:

Unopened flower buds, opened flowers, and withered flowers may be eaten. Unopened buds boiled in salted water for a very few minutes make an excellent cooked vegetable. Buds and opened flowers can be dipped in batter and fried like fritters. Both open and withered or dried flowers can be added to soups and stews, where they provide body and impart an interesting flavor. The flavor of dried and freshly collected flowers is somewhat different and they should be tried both ways. If flowers are dried for later use they should be soaked until soft in cold water before using. The softened dried flowers will have a slightly genatinous quality. The small tubers can be dug anytime during the period when the ground is unfrozen. Only firm, young tubers should be collected. After digging they should be washed clean of clinging earth and freed of small rootlets. Boiled in salt water they have a flavor reminiscent of sweet corn. They can be eaten raw as a salad and are sweet and crisp with a pleasant nutty flavor.

Lamb's Quarters leaves

Lamb’s Quarters is a member of the Goosefoot family and a relative of Quinoa. You’ll find it growing mainly in poor, disturbed soils and in other weedy areas.

Here’s what Alan Hall’s Wild Food Trailguide says about Lamb’s Quarters:

Lamb’s Quarters leaves make an excellent potherb that is considered by many people to be superior to spinach. And like spinach, it loses a great deal of bulk in cooking so an ample supply should be collected. Young plants are best, but this plant continues to put up new shoots that can be used well into summer. The leaves are not bitter, and the cooking water need not be changed. Seeds can be collected by rubbing them from the spikes into an appropriate container. They are available from the time they are dry in the fall until they drop, often well into winter. The seeds are extremely abundant and it is possible to gather several quarts in less than an hour. Winnow out the husks and trash, and then grind the seed into flour. Since the seeds are very hard, grinding can be difficult: the seeds slip away from the grinders in hand mills (although kitchen blenders work well). To get around this, it helps to boil them until they are soft, then mash up the softened seeds and allow them to dry out before grinding. The flour produced from the seeds is very black. It is good for making pancakes, muffins, etc., and can be used by itself or mixed with wheat flour. The mush produced by boiling seeds until they are soft can be eaten as a breakfast cereal or emergency food.

And don’t forget about Purslane! It’s another nutritious weed with a lovely mild lemon flavor that’s also growing abundantly at this time of the year.

The “Salad Taco”: A New Way to Eat Your Greens

By , June 3, 2010

Salad Taco drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. Ready to be folded up and eaten!

We’re all familiar with the taco salad. It’s present at almost every single potluck I’ve been to. But this is a salad taco, and if your kids don’t enjoy eating veggies, this might be a novel way to present salads. The salad taco idea came about because I like to forage in my garden, picking lettuce leaves and adding bits of whatever else is growing — onion tops, baby chard, cilantro, dill, oregano — and then folding it all up like a taco to munch on.

Today, though, I decided to give the whole thing a little more formality and class. I cut up some avocado and added tomato, along with some other garden goodies — dill, cilantro, and green onion. Drizzled with some homemade balsamic vinaigrette and then folded up and eaten like a taco, it was fantastic!

Apart from using your fingers as salad tongs (which was my preferred method as a kid), this seems like a more efficient way to consume a salad. And loads more fun than trying to use a fork to spear micron-thin lettuce leaves (not to mention a cherry tomato).

You could even take this idea to the ‘next level’ by doing a salad taco buffet at the dinner table — little bowls with different vegetables and toppings that you spoon onto lettuce leaves, and then drizzle with your choice of dressing.

Vegetable ideas: cucumbers, shredded carrots, radishes, tomatoes, green onions, red bell peppers, avocados, sprouts, fresh herbs.

Topping ideas: sunflower seeds, blue cheese, dried cranberries, chopped pears, toasted pecans, hard boiled egg, crumbled bacon, bits of ham, croutons, feta cheese, kalamata olives, black beans, raw cheddar cheese.

Dressing ideas:

– Balsamic Vinaigrette (Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, thyme, basil, salt, pepper)

– Blue Cheese Vinaigrette (Apple cider vinegar, olive oil, crumbled blue cheese, powdered dry mustard, salt, pepper)

– Greek (olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper)

– Salsa & Sour Cream for a Mexican-style dressing

Kids or not, this makes salad-eating way more fun! 😉

How to Make Snow Ice Cream

By , December 2, 2009

Having been born and raised here in Colorado, I’ve had lots of wonderful experiences in the snow over the years. I love the snow! Sledding, shoveling the sidewalk, cross country skiing, building snowmen, and getting excited when the really big storms hit. And…making snow ice cream! That’s a sweet memory from all the way back to early childhood. It’s awfully easy, and the main ingredient is free! But it’s also a special treat that can only be made when it snows enough! This is how my mom and I have always made it:

Snow Ice Cream

Fresh, clean snow

Milk (Whatever you have. Whole milk is nice, and some cream is even nicer.)

Maple syrup (or sugar)

Vanilla extract

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First, set out your ingredients. You’ll want to work fast once you bring the snow inside.

Once it has snowed at least a couple inches, go outside with a large bowl or pan. Scoop up the cleanest snow you can find, being careful to not scrape along the grass…and avoiding dog pee, if applicable!

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Now, there aren’t any measurements for this recipe. You just sort of eye it, mix it up, taste it, and adjust. Into the snow, pour some milk, add some sugar (any sugar will work, though I especially like maple syrup for making snow ice cream), and then add a little vanilla.

Mix it together with a spoon and taste. Add more snow, milk, sugar, or vanilla if needed, until it tastes good to you. You’ll get a feel for the ingredient amounts once you make it.

Serve it up and enjoy immediately before it melts. It doesn’t really hold up in the freezer since it will pretty much freeze solid. Enjoy this ephemeral, wintertime treat!

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