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

      Showing posts with label wild foods. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label wild foods. Show all posts

      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!

      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.

      Thursday, October 20, 2011

      mint-y fresh

      I'm obsessing about wild foods these days. Mostly because I'm working with singular focus on the text for my next book (due 12/31!) but also because as the growing season ends I especially appreciate those few plants that are still growing and feeding me!

      Last weekend's meals included chestnut cake, sauteed day lily tubers, and the most troublesome (and ultimately most rewarding) dish: wintergreen ice cream.

      Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a modest evergreen ground cover that comes into its own this time of year. As other plants drop their leaves, wintergreen's glossy green leaves and occasional red berries stand out. It grows best in shade to part shade; in cold temperatures the leaves may take on a reddish tint.

      Wintergreen flavor was the inspiration for Teaberry gum (do they still make Teaberry gum?) and its leaves are often used for tea. Which I find a little boring. So I was happy to locate an on-line recipe for wintergreen ice cream. (I do NOT find ice cream boring.)

      My happiness ended when I MADE the ice cream and it tasted like MAYBE someone had THOUGHT about wintergreen while making the dessert...seriously, barely a whiff of flavor. And that was AFTER I'd tripled the number of called-for leaves and chopped and bruised the foliage to release the essential oils.

      This was an egg-based (custard) ice cream recipe. I thought maybe the strong egg flavor dominated the wintergreen, so next I tried an egg-less (some call it NY or Philadelphia style) ice cream. After simmering more than a cup of chopped wintergreen leaves in the cream/sugar mixture, the flavor was still underwhelming. Slightly stronger, but not what I was looking for.

      Feeling dejected, I returned to the library, and eureka! Thank you, Euell Gibbons.

      Euell wrote about the weak taste of wintergreen tea in Stalking the Healthful Herbs. He inadvertently discovered that soaking the leaves in room temperature water releases the essential oils and creates a strong wintergreen infusion. Some internet sources say the release of flavor takes place in as little as 12 hours. Euell said 3 days and darned if he wasn't right on the money.

      In the end I made a superb wintergreen ice cream with 2 cups of cream, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1 cup of strong wintergreen tea. Sweet, unique, and not on any restaurant's menu. It wasn't easy getting there, but every bite proved it was worth the effort.

      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.

      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.

      Saturday, May 14, 2011

      a passel of poke

      May is a great month for foraging; Spring has hit its stride and wild greens are abundant.

      One of my favorite wild edibles is pokeweed, a delicious, plentiful, and easy-to-identify weed. Poke grows in 40 out of the 50 states and Southerners have long appreciated poke as a food; I think it's time the rest of us followed suit.

      An excellent way to identify pokeweed is to look for the remnants of last year's stalks. New shoots emerge at the base of the flattened, dried stems from the previous year. The old stems may be 4 - 6 feet tall, but edible poke should be harvested when it's 8 - 12 inches tall, preferably showing little or no red in the stem.

      Poke (Phytolacca americana) is a prolific weed, most parts of which are poisonous (roots, seeds, mature stems and leaves). But the YOUNG stalks and leaves are delicious, and perfectly safe when properly prepared. Pokeweed should ALWAYS be cooked before eating. In fact, it requires boiling in several changes of water. I suggest two boils, then a final cooking in a soup, sauté, or egg dish.

      Online research turns up lots of recipes for using the leaves like spinach and the stalks like asparagus. They call for cheese, bacon, and other flavor enhancers, but I suggest starting with a plainer approach. Get to know the taste of the vegetable before you mask its flavor. A simple pokeweed custard is pictured below.

      When picking poke, make sure you harvest away from busy roads in an area that hasn't been sprayed by pesticides. That shouldn't be difficult, considering how widespread the weed is.

      Are you feeling adventurous? Grab your pruners and a harvest bag and pick yourself a passel of poke!

      Wednesday, May 4, 2011

      Swindler Cove, part two

      Let me be clear: I'm not suggesting you go harvest all the edible plants from Swindler Cove! Not only would that be against the law, it would make the park less enjoyable for the rest of the world. But when OE and I were there last week, I couldn't help but notice how many of the landscape plants also had edible parts.

      I'm working on a new book about ornamental plants (and common weeds) with edible parts, and thought I'd show you what a quick walk through a small park has to offer. Perhaps you can find these same plants in your own back yard.

      The garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is nearing the end of its delicious stage. When the weather gets warm, its leaves will be tough and bitter. But right now...mmm...garlicky.

      Ostrich fern (Matteucia struthiopteris) is just slightly past its prime, but a few weeks ago, when it looked like this:

      those fiddleheads were crunchy and sweet.

      Yes, that's right, Sedum. Raw leaves are succulent and fresh out of hand and in salads. Has anyone tried cooking them?

      I didn't really eat the buds off the trees...but I could have!

      (thanks to ESP for the above photo)

      Sprinkle a few on salads, eggs, or as a general garnish. They have a mild, fresh, pea-like taste.

      That's just a first, quick walk of what's out there, ready to grace your dinner plate. Periodic updates, including hostas, lilacs, and juneberries, will be forthcoming.

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