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      Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

      Showing posts with label foraging. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label foraging. Show all posts

      Friday, June 21, 2013


      How did I come to be eating an appetizer of wild nettle sformato with quail egg and morels last Saturday? I blame it all on the influence of Other Ellen, Zachos that is. She's been harassing me about foraging for almost as long as I've known her.
      Granted when Ben and I were looking for the perfect restaurant to celebrate a BIG anniversary, we headed right to the Union Square Cafe. And granted that the chef there is known to walk the half block from the Cafe to the famous Union Square Greenmarket for special local products to feature on his menu, printed daily.
      A walk through the Greenmarket made us anticipate our special lunch even more.
      I blame EZ for my menu choice because having dug and composted hundreds of bushels of nettles and purslane on my flower & herb farm, I would normally want to have nothing more with these horrible weeds. But I trust USC completely and maybe I even trust EZ a little*.
      Using the chopped leaves of the nettle, the sformato is like a custard with the full rich flavor of a spinachy green; in combination with the morels and quail egg it's perfect.

      * She's written a fascinating new book Backyard Foraging, Storey Pub. 2013, that the New York Times reviewer called "extremely appealing", though no nettles appear in it.

      Wednesday, April 17, 2013

      Backyard Foraging!

      This week Other Ellen asked me to tell you about my new book,
      Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn't Know You Could Eat.

      So what makes this book different from all the other foraging books out there?  Well, I approach foraging from a slightly different point of view, perhaps because I'm a gardener by profession, but also perhaps because I'm a little sneaky.  See, I know some people aren't comfortable roaming the fields and mountains searching for wild plants to bring home to feed their families.  So I encourage you to start in your own backyard, where you (hopefully!) already know what's growing.

      Lots of our traditional ornamental plants are also delicious, but somewhere along the way, we've forgotten.  Have you eaten roasted hosta shoots, pickled daylily buds, or baked dahlia tuber bread?  Ever tasted wild ginger snaps or rose hip soup?
      Lest you fear you'll have to sacrifice aesthetics for deliciousness...don't worry.  As a gardener, I understand it's important to have your hosta and eat it, too.  To that end, I've included tips on how and when to harvest both for optimum taste and to maintain the beauty of your garden.

      This is a book I've wanted to write for years, and I had so much fun putting it together, it really didn't feel like work.  Rob Cardillo's photographs are gorgeous and illuminating and the design by Storey Publishing is everything I wished for.  I hope you like it.

      photo by Rob Cardillo

      Thursday, April 26, 2012

      fresh from the park

      What's on the menu?
      violet flowers and foliage for your salads

      spruce tips for flavoring salt, vodka, and simple syrup

      lilac flowers for wine

      all hail the noble poke 
      chickweed: raw in salads, cooked in eggs

       garlic mustard (hurry, as it gets warmer, the taste gets stronger)

      dandelion flowers for wine or cookies (or wine AND cookies)

      Not that I'm suggesting you pick anywhere without permission...
      Let the feasting begin!

      Thursday, January 19, 2012

      Mud Pies & Other Recipes

      I've always loved books. Books were my favorite presents growing up, and as an adult I occasionally buy children's books for myself. It's like catching up with an old friend.

      So imagine my delight when Sara surprised me with Mud Pies and Other Recipes, by Marjorie Winslow, illustrated by Erik Blegvad. Published in 1961, it is self-described as a cookbook for dolls, and it's true, the recipes aren't intended for human consumption. I was fascinated by this book as a child, convinced that if I followed the instructions precisely, I'd end up with something wonderful. Which I did. Although I couldn't eat it.

      No matter. As I thumb through this reprint (thanks to the folks at The New York Review's Childrens Collection for bringing it back into print), I wonder, "Is this where it all began?"

      The gardening, the foraging, the cooking? Maybe the spark was lit by the recipe for Marigold Madness, lo these many years.

      Thursday, December 8, 2011


      (giant Cydonia oblonga v. petite Chaenomeles japonica)

      'Tis the season to cook with quinces.

      I've extolled the virtues of the traditional quince in the past, but these days I'm looking at edible plants from a different point of view.

      The ornamental quince (Chaenomeles japonica) is grown primarily for its flowers. When I was growing up we had a beauty in our garden, and my parents told me the fruit wasn't edible. I'm sure they weren't intentionally lying to me. Most people just don't realize these hard, yellow fruit can be delicious.

      Ornamental quince grows well in containers and new hybrids have expanded the flowers' color palette from shades of pink to include orange and red. Please note that some of these hybrids (specifically the Proven Winners Double Take series) do NOT produce fruit. So sad. Were they bred that way on purpose? Did someone think that was a good thing?

      Spring is the pretty time for these shrubs, but fall is when they get interesting. Small ripe fruit looks like lumpy tennis balls. They're often marred by large black spots, but these can be cut away during preparation and do nothing to mar the sour, complex taste and fragrance of the fruit.

      Flowering quince is great for making jelly. It has loads of pectin and jells easily. But why not be a little more adventurous and experiment with membrillo?

      Membrillo (aka quince paste) is a classic Spanish dessert. Most recipes call for traditional quinces, sugar, and water...that's it. I used ornamental quinces, and added a vanilla bean and a Meyer lemon. It's time consuming, because basically what you're doing is cooking all the liquid out of the fruit mixture, which literally takes hours. But boy oh boy is it worth it.

      Serve it with slices of manchego or sharp cheddar and you'll impress the hell out of your dinner guests. After they've enjoyed it and praised your culinary skills, you can tell them you picked the fruit from the flowering shrub on your terrace. If you don't have a terrace, you may be able to score some ornamental quince fruit in your local park. Most people let them fall and rot.

      I harvest from the same spot every year, offering the shrub's owner some jelly or membrillo in return.

      Friday, November 4, 2011

      Sorbus americana

      Growing up I was told mountain ash berries were poisonous. I'm sure the lie wasn't intentional...my family just didn't know any better. They weren't foragers, after all. Realizing I could cook with the berries gave me the thrill of discovery, as did learning that our mountain ash is the rowan of Lord of the Rings fame. It's the little things.

      Mountain ash berries (Sorbus americana) are a classic jelly fruit, tart and full of pectin. Our recent snowfall makes this the perfect time to pick them because the berries (actually pomes) sweeten after a frost. If you live somewhere warm, you can put them in the freezer for a few days to make the fruit more palatable.

      Raw berries are juicy and highly astringent. They also contain parasorbic acid, which can cause indigestion, but cooking converts this to sorbic acid, which is entirely benign. The cooked fruit makes a not-too-sweet jelly, traditionally used as an accompaniment to meat, but it's also good with cheese, the sharper the better.

      As a landscape tree the mountain ash is relatively short-lived, rarely making it beyond 25-30 years old. In a traditional, in-ground garden that might be an undesirable characteristic, but in containers it's perfectly alright. Even long-lived trees need periodic replacement and root pruning in a containerized growing environment. Small white flowers are very fragrant in late spring/early summer, and they attract lots of pollinators to the garden.

      Two thumbs up.

      Tuesday, October 4, 2011

      Grazing the 'Hood

      I know, I know, we've written a lot about The High Line here at Garden Bytes. So sue us. We like it.

      Monday morning I took a new friend to visit: Francesca Yorke, who taught the Garden to Plate photography class I took last month in Santa Fe. It was lovely strolling the park with a companion in photography, each of us finding images that floated our respective boats.

      No surprise that my boat was floated by the surprising number of ornamental plants with edible parts. I'm a little obsessed at the moment, working on my back yard foraging book. But even for me, who sees edible plants everywhere, The High Line was impressive.

      Let's be clear: I am NOT suggesting you graze The High Line! (I promise I didn't pick a single thing.) But take a walk and see what's on the menu. Then use it as a model for your own yard or terrace. You might be surprised by how tasty some of those traditional ornamentals can be.

      Use dried, ground juniper berries in spice rubs.

      The flesh of yew arils (berries) is sweet and juicy. But spit out the seed...it's highly poisonous!

      Sumac berries are tart and lemon-y. You can make sumac-ade, or use it to flavor rum. I vote for rum.

      Both the flower and berries of elderberry are tasty in multiple ways.

      That's right, sedum leaves. Put 'em in your salad.

      Young sassafras (the autumn leaves above are too old), when dried and ground, make file gumbo.

      Rose hips are very high in vitamin C and make a great jelly.

      Thanks for the acorns, noble oak!
      (Thanks for the sign, Manhattan Mini Storage.)

      And thanks to The High Line for showcasing so many useful/delicious plants, of which the above are a mere smattering.

      Wednesday, September 28, 2011

      Martha Stewart's Harvest Show

      When Martha Stewart decided to do her first harvest show ever, she put out a call for audience members to bring baskets full of their home grown bounty. Colleague Kathy Jentz (Washington Gardener Magazine) requested three tickets, then invited us two Ellens to come along.

      (ESP & KJ)

      A line of eager gardeners reached halfway down the block in front of Martha's Chelsea studios. Some baskets were truly impressive, others just confusing. (Like the guy who brought leaves and seedpods of Ricinus communis. Really? Sure, they're pretty, but also deadly poisonous. He didn't seem to have a clue.)

      Kathy brought a bumper crop of okra, tomatillos, and ground cherries.

      O.E.'s basket overflowed with herbs and photogenic rose hips.

      Mine was fully foraged: mushrooms, sumac berries, crabapples, dandelion greens, silverberries, houttuynia, bayleaf, and a demi-bouteille of lilac wine.

      Alas, the subtleties of my wild edibles were lost on Martha's minions. They fell for the gardening equivalent of the blonde cheerleader with big boobs: overflowing baskets of corn, squash, tomatoes, and peppers. We smart girls with great personalities were relegated to the upper reaches of the studio audience.

      I was able to interest Emeril with my wine as he walked through the audience looking for ingredients to use. He took it, but didn't end up using it in his dish and never gave me an on camera nod. Yes, that bugged me, but it was my own fault. I shouldn't have brought something I wasn't willing to part with...I just expected an appropriate thank you in exchange.

      Once I recovered from the unanticipated agony of flashbacks to the cattle calls of my twenties, I was able to sit back and enjoy both the bounty and the message. Baskets overflowed with gorgeous edibles, Martha and Emeril whipped up two vegetarian dishes (sans wine!), and we watched a special remote segment on the recent National Heirloom Exhibition in Sonoma, CA.

      It was great to see heirloom vegetables, seed saving, and non-GMO crops get the press they deserve from someone with a platform as far-reaching as Martha's. I've admired her for years and was pleased to see that she is as strong, articulate, and quick on her feet as I hoped she would be. So kudos to Martha for celebrating the harvest with her television audience. And next time pick one of the smart girls. They're way more interesting.

      Monday, June 20, 2011

      what's ripe this week?

      Pyramus and Thisbe lived in ancient Babylonia. Their houses shared a wall, and being neighbors, Pyramus and Thisbe knew each other from around the neighborhood. Despite the fact that their parents were enemies (or perhaps because), they fell in love.

      From the moment the young lovers declared their intentions, they were forbidden to see each other. They could only communicate by speaking through a crack in the wall that joined their houses. Secretly, Pyramus and Thisbe arranged to meet at midnight, by a spring at the foot of a white mulberry tree outside the city.

      Thisbe arrived first, and as she waited, a lion came to drink from the spring. The lion was fresh from the kill, covered with blood. Thisbe ran away, and unnoticed, her veil fell to the ground. The lion picked up the veil in its bloody jaws, then dropped it to drink, and moved on.

      When Pyramus arrived, he saw the bloody veil and the lion’s footprints and jumped to the worst possible conclusion. He blamed himself for Thisbe’s death, grabbed his sword, and plunged it into his heart. His blood flew high into the air, onto the mulberry fruit, turning it from white to red. More blood flowed into the earth and was taken up by the roots of the tree, turning the remainder of the berries red.

      Soon, Thisbe circled back to the tree. She wondered if she was in the right place, because the berries had changed color, from white to red. When she saw Pyramus, she grabbed his sword, plunged it into her own heart, and with her dying breath swore they would be buried together and that the mulberry tree would henceforth bear red fruit as a tribute to their ill-fated love.

      It’s a messy, bloody story and mulberries are a messy fruit. It’s not unusual to recognize a mulberry by the splattered fruit covering the ground under the tree. When I see a splotchy sidewalk like this, my heart skips a beat. Why? Because smushed berries on the sidewalk below mean tasty berries up above.

      There are several different kinds of mulberries: black, white, and red. All mulberry fruit start out white. Ripe red mulberries are almost black. Confused? Don’t let that keep you from picking. A mulberry is ripe when it falls off the tree at the slightest touch, no matter what color it is. If you have to tug it off the branch, it’s not ready.

      Mulberry fruit look a little like blackberries, but slimmer and smaller. The easiest and fastest way to gather fruit is to spread a sheet or tarp under a tree and shake the branches. But since most of my mulberries come from public parks, I resort to a slower method. I pick with a rolling motion, barely pulling on the fruit. Gently turn the fruit between two fingers; if it doesn’t come off with the slightest pressure, I leave it for next time. You can harvest mulberries for 3-4 weeks, since the fruit doesn’t ripen all at once.

      Red mulberries (Morus rubra) are native to the eastern U.S. White mulberries (Morus alba) were brought here from China as food for silkworms; the worms failed but the tree remains. Some people consider the white mulberry invasive, but when a tree is as generous and delicious as this one, I cut it a little slack. White mulberry trees may have different shaped leaves on the same tree, which is pretty unusual in the tree world. The black mulberry (Morus nigra) is European; in the U.S. it’s hardy only to zone 7.

      As often happens when I forage in the city, people stop and watch. They want to ask what I’m doing, but they feel a little shy. (That’s how I know they’re tourists. New Yorkers either don’t care or aren’t shy.) I usually offer the spectators a few berries, but only the bravest accept. Do they seriously think I’d poison them on the streets of New York City? Do I look crazy?

      I don’t mind when they refuse. It means more berries for me.

      Mulberry Pudding
      -Two cups mulberry pulp, liquified in a blender (Any type of mulberry is fine, but the red mulberries make a deeply colored pudding that looks as rich as it tastes.)
      -Three Tbs. instant tapioca
      -1/3 cup sugar
      Combine the above ingredients and let them sit for five minutes.
      In a saucepan, bring the mixture to a boil that can’t be stirred down, then remove from the heat and allow to cool for 20 minutes.
      Pour into serving bowls. This pudding can be served warm or cold, whichever you prefer. Try it with a little whipped cream and a few whole mulberries on top.

      Tuesday, June 7, 2011

      It's June...

      and that can only mean one thing. Actually, it can mean about a million things, but today it means Juneberries.

      Depending on where you live (and where you forage) you might find them ripe right this minute. Or you might wait till next week. Either way, Juneberries are easy to harvest in quantity and can be enjoyed in many and various ways:

      -straight off the tree (juicy and sweet but not too sweet)
      -in jam, jellies, pies, or any way you might use a blueberry
      -in wine (shh...I'm drinking it as I type)

      The Juneberries (Amelanchier canadensis) in Brooklyn Bridge Park are ripe and ready now, but the trees I have staked out in Manhattan (in Central Park and on a few terraces) still need several days to achieve perfection.

      As Marie and I picked yesterday afternoon in BBP, we dodged the park rangers in their electric carts. Not sure whether they would have ticketed us or not, but why take a chance? In the PA State Forests, you're allowed to remove a gallon of berries or nuts per person per day. Alas, I know of no such rule in NYC. Anyone?

      A man and two women stopped to ask if what we were picking was edible. I resisted the temptation to pop a berry in my mouth while saying, "No, they are highly poisonous." Instead I stopped them from picking red berries (the berries ripen to purple-blue) and offered them each a berry from my bag.

      Further north, under the Manhattan Bridge, the Amelanchier looked to be a different species (maybe alnifolia) and they tasted like dirt. Which just goes to show you...taste before you harvest.

      This was my first visit to the section of park south of the BB (Pier 1 opened about a year ago) and it is worth a visit . Whoever designed it has my respect. Lots of native, lots of edibles:

      Daylily buds at the perfect stage for pickling or eating like green beans.

      Blueberries should be ripe in a few weeks.

      Bayberry leaf (Myrica pennsylvanica) was perfect for harvesting.

      If anyone asks, just say you're pruning, not picking. Potato Potahto.

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