sea beans

Edible seaweeds

Seabeans: The perfect "pickle weed" of the tide zone

Todays guest post is from my all time favorite favorite foraging book, The Flavors of Home. This amazing book, written by Margit-Roos Collins, is my go to on foraging for wild edibles in The Bay, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about what nature has to offer in our area (I like it so much I even wrote the forward for the new edition!). Check out her post below and make sure to click the link at the bottom to get a copy of your own with a special discount.

Happy foraging!
Iso Rabins
Founder: forageSF


Pickleweed (Salicornia virginica)

Some edible wild plants are hard to find. Not pickleweed. You will find lush stands of it at virtually every marsh that borders bay or ocean waters in this area. In winter and early spring, the plants stay brown even though the surrounding hills are covered in fresh grass. Then in April and May, pickleweed comes into its own. The new growth appears, rejuvenating the marshes with fresh green. Just about the time that your favorite leafy spring greens are becoming too mature to be tasty, the prime season for pickleweed foraging begins.

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Pickleweed looks unusual, so it is easy to identify. Each plant consists of round, branching stems that are divided by joints into individual segments. The leaves and flowers are so tiny that you will probably never notice them. The plants look simple, tidy, and primitive.

This plant's story is bittersweet. A salt marsh is a difficult environment; such concentrations of salt would kill most land plants. Pickleweed dominates large areas of marsh here and on other continents because its succulent tissues can store up water in the spring, when rain runoff reduces the saltiness of the marsh. The plant then uses that stored, relatively fresh water through the summer growing season. Its tissues can also withstand an internal salt level that is much higher than most species could bear (whereas some other salt-marsh species have special mechanisms for excreting the salt). So, at first glance, the plant appears to be a standard ecological success story: adapt to a unique niche and thrive.

The truth is more poignant. Scientists who grew some pickleweed in soil dryer than its normal marsh setting found that it grew faster and better than normal. And the less salty the water they gave it, the more it thrived. It appears that pickleweed would "love" to be a normal dry-land plant, but something in its makeup renders it unable to compete with dry-land species. So it survived by adapting to a hostile setting that its competitors could not tolerate. The cost of the adaptation is that individual plants never grow as luxuriantly as they could if pickleweed had evolved a way to compete directly with the rain-watered land species.

The science of plant ecology is still so young and primitive that we are unaccustomed to feeling tenderness for the hardships of plants, for the drama of their lost potential. For most plant species, we don 't yet have a clue about the nature of those hardships and trade-offs. As we learn more about other species' mechanisms for survival, surely some of the false distance and sentimentality that many feel toward the plant kingdom will ebb, replaced by greater intimacy and identification.

What do you do with a harvest of these odd-looking, jointed stems? Refrigerate it in an airtight bag or container, just as you would any green vegetable. It will stay fresh for three weeks or longer. I ignored some in my refrigerator that long and they tasted fine when I finally got up the courage to prepare them.

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Eaten by itself, raw, it is too salty for my taste, even when it is well washed. However, pickleweed can contribute attractive looks and refined flavor to a salad. My husband and I ate it with lettuce, avocado, scallions, tomatoes, and fresh raw peas. Like the peas, it was slightly bitter and slightly sweet. The pickleweed also tasted a bit sour. We didn't add any salt to the oil and vinegar dressing, since pickleweed contains so much. That way, its saltiness was not a problem and, in fact, tasted good in combination with all the other vegetables.

As you have probably guessed from its name, pickleweed is good pickled as well as fresh. It has been gathered for that purpose from the marshes of northern Europe for centuries. Most of the pickleweed pickle recipes given in books are similar to each other. The recipe given here is a modified version. If you decide to use an entirely different pickling recipe, adapted for cucumbers and the like, skip the brining step. Pickleweed amply reflects its own briny origins.

Making these pickles is fun and simple. And they are pretty! A wedge of ordinary cucumber pickle looks dull compared with the delicate, branching shape of pickleweed and its clear, dark green color. As for flavor, pickleweed pickles taste much like any sweet pickles. The pickleweed's own flavor is completely masked by the pleasing combination of pickling spices, vinegar, onion, and sugar. You can alter the flavor to your taste by reducing or omitting the sugar or by adding bay leaves or other seasonings.

Pickleweed Pickle

Have ready clean half-pint glass jars. I use the ones with coated metal lids and metal screw rims. Half-pint-sized pickles are perfect for sandwiches; if you want even longer pickles, you can double the ingredients and use pint jars just as well. For every half pint of pickles, mix together:

• 1¼ cups vinegar

• 2 1/3 teaspoons whole pickling spices (you can buy them already mixed)

• 2 tablespoons sugar

• ¼ onion, sliced

Boil the mixture for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, wash the pickleweed, and wash and rinse your jars, lids, and rims very well. Just before the 10 minutes are up, rinse the jars in hot water and pack the pickleweed into them so that the leaves stand vertically. Pour the vinegar mixture boiling hot over the pickleweed, filling the jars to the rim. Immediately put on the metal lids and screw them down tightly.

When the jars have cooled, test them for a vacuum by pressing on the lids. If the lids do not give under your fingers, the jars are vacuum sealed. Store them for at least three weeks in a dry place out of direct sunlight, and then the pickles will be ready to eat. Try them on open-face sandwiches, since their shape and color are so attractive.

If the metal lid clicks down and up as you press and release it, the vacuum did not form and the pickles will spoil if left on a shelf. (A vacuum denies bacteria the oxygen they need to decompose food.) Put that jar in the refrigerator. You can still enjoy that batch in salads, especially in seafood or chicken salad.

Making pickles is one of the most relaxing types of canning because the dread botulinus toxin can't grow in such strongly acidic foods. Some people like to dilute the vinegar in pickle recipes with water to make a milder pickle. That's fine, but take care that at least half of the pickling liquid is always vinegar. As long as the mixture is at least 50 percent vinegar, it will be completely safe.

 

Gathering pickleweed is satisfying in part because you can snap each piece off neatly at a joint, leaving little trace of your action. Because the stems snap off so easily, walking through a stand of pickleweed leaves an ugly trail of broken plants. If you harvest from the edge of a patch, your work can be invisible.

This plant really is a delight. If you make pickles in the spring, they 'll be ready in time for all the salads, sandwiches, and elegant cold dishes of summer. And come June and July, if you itch to bring home some wild green tidbit, pickleweed will be one of the few still in its prime. That's a great time to head for a marsh and savor its lushness, within sight of the tawny, dry hills.

Where and When to Find It

The best time to gather pickleweed is from April through July, although you may find the tips green and succulent earlier or later, depending on the marsh. For example, at Grizzly Island, large areas are kept flooded until late in the spring. The new year's growth tends not to develop until May. However, the pickleweed in those fields will still be lushly green through August, whereas the stands in less-managed marshes will be drying out by mid-July. In autumn, pickleweed has more to offer your eyes than your tastebuds. As it dries, it takes on new tones, coloring the marshes with broad sweeps of deep red and purple.

Pickleweed grows in most, if not all, of the brackish or salt-water marshes around the Bay Area.

Some of these marshes are small, heavily visited, and thus not good places to forage. Some may be too polluted. Others are clean enough and well able to spare some pickleweed stems. Use your judgment and follow the posted regulations or talk with a ranger. You can enjoy pickleweed's beautiful autumn colors in any of these spots.

 

Link for purchase: https://aerbook.com/maker/productcard-2614623-4706.html

 

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Eat Real

[gallery columns="2"] My Eat Real marathon weekend of sea bean proselytizing is over.  It was great to get out and talk to people about what we're up to, and really exciting to see how into people are.  Foraging is often a lonely pursuit, and I get the feeling that people are often a bit confused about just what it is we're trying to do at forageSF, so getting face to face with people and answering questions about what we're about was great.  So great in fact that I'm going to start a push to get into some local farmers markets. It was originally my intention, but the focus moved a bit over the last year, and it got put on the back burner.  The problem with selling wild food in a certified market (meaning that everyone there is the primary producer) is that no one actually produces wild food.  We forage it, so we are as close to producers as any human gets, but not close enough.  It's a pretty funny situation to be in, what makes the food so interesting to me and to others is the exact reason it can't be sold.  I talked to a couple farmers market managers who seemed to think we could find some common ground, so I'm optimistic.  So look for us at your farmers market soon!

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August CSF

boxpic This months box:

Dried Porcini and Morel Mushrooms (Mendocino/Humboldt Valley)

Dried Mushrooms, left to refresh in water for about 20 minutes, can be cooked just like fresh. It takes about 10 lbs of fresh wild mushrooms to make 1 lb dried.  Drying actually concentrates the flavor of many mushrooms, such as the bolete.  The Boletus edulis mushroom (bolete) was first described in 1783 by the French botanist Pierre Bulliard and still bears its original name. The Porcini, or King Bolete, is always an exciting find in California since they’re rare and delicious. Porcini are great sautéed with a little (or a lot) of butter.

Orange and Foraged Lemon Juice

Foraged in our own backyard, these lemons were rescued from certain rotting.  We got some fresh squeezed OJ and added foraged lemon juice to give it a good sour bite.

Sea beans (Bolinas)

Pickle weed is a small succulent, with leaves that are waxy on the outside and full of moisture on the inside. Its leaves are long, thin, and round, like little fingers. Pickleweed flowers between April and September, but its tiny yellow flowers can only be seen upon careful examination. Pickle weed grows in the low- to middle-tide zone in the marsh, which means that it gets covered up by water some of the time.  It’s delicious fresh as a garnish, or if you want to get creative in the early morning hours, check out the recipe below.

Wild Foraged Bay Leaves

The very same bay laurel leaves that you see (and smell) all over California, can be used in cooking. The aroma is a bit stronger than store bought, so use sparingly in your favorite soups.

Wild Foraged Blackberries

That’s right, collected just yesterday…they’re delicious.  We had to exercise some serious self control not to eat them all as we picked.  These blackberries come from Mendocino county.

Seabeans Sauteed with onions

This week we wanted to give you an idea of a good way to cook those seabeans you get so often in your box. Here they are, sautéed with some onions, garlic, pepper, and just a pinch of sugar to cut the saltiness. Hope you like them.

Wild Foraged Mint

Use this just like regular mint, the taste is a bit more intense with the wild variety.

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Seabeans four ways

sea beans 4 ways In lead up to the Eat Real festival next weekend, where forageSF will be selling in the marketplace (come visit!), I'm doing some recipe experimentation. We're going to be there on Saturday and Sunday, near the Embarcadero st entrance to the marketplace (not sure if that's a good location, never been to Jack London Square).  We are also going to be there on friday for the foraging/canning exchange, where I will give a seabean cooking demo, as well as have wild food experts on hand to answer all your urban edible questions.

Eat Real is letting eat vendor sell one product, and since sea beans hold a special place in my heart (and since I'm going foraging next week for them) I figured I'd go with that. I'm going to be selling both fresh and packaged, and I'm trying to decide what the perfect recipe is.  Today I did...Seabeans with garlic, seabeans with garlic and lemon juice, seabeans with garlic, ginger and sesame, seabeans with garlic, ginger, sesame, onions and porcini.

I settled on the porcini.  It's great how the mushroom and onion flavors mingle with the saltiness of the sea beans, and it also makes it more of a dish, adding the veggies and fungi. Here's what I did....

Since it's the off season for local mushrooms, I used dried porcini.  I actually prefer porcini dried in some instances, the dehydration really concentrated the flavor.

1 oz dried porcini

2 shallots - sliced

2 cups sea beans

butter

olive oil

2 cloves garlic - minced

1 inch plug ginger - minced

First, soak porcini for 15-20 minutes in cold water, then slice thin.Heat a mixture of butter and 1 tbsp butter over medium heat, then add onions, cook until onions start to caramelize, then add garlic and porcini, stirring often to make sure garlic doesn't burn. A line cook trick is to throw a small splash of water into the pan if you see the garlic starting to brown.  Now you add the sea beans, stir to incorporate, and then turn heat to low, cover, cook 8 minutes. take off cover, turn heat up to cook off any liquid. serve. easy and delicious, good as a side.  Sauteing seabeans is a great way to eat them, because it takes away some of that intense saltiness, and lets the other flavors creep in.

If you want to see how I do it, come check it out, friday at 6 pm at jack london square...check the Eat Real site for exact address.

Recipes

Naturally fermented seabean pickles

all in a row

I'm convinced that seabeans make a great pickle.  They're already salty, crunchy, so small that the pickling mixture soaks through them pretty quickly, but so far my experiments have not been super successful...too much vinegar, not enough salt, too much garlic, not enough dill.  I'm starting from scratch, and this time, am using the naturally fermented method.

Rather than vinegar and pickling spices, this method uses only salt,water, garlic.  Dill and other flavorings can included to taste, but this time I used only the above. Vinegar free pickles are the traditional way of making pickles. Rather than trapping out bacteria via vinegar (basically making an antiseptic brine where nothing can live), naturally fermented pickles actually grow their own beneficial bacteria.  This serves several purposes. 1. it makes them deliciously tart, 2. it keeps out bad bacteria, and 3. the pickles are actually good for you. The same kind of good bacteria that lives in yogurt (Lactobacillus) grows in these pickles, helping your digestion and immune system.    All good things.  Without further ado, here's what I did today....

What I used:

1 cup Sea Salt

11 cups filtered h20

2 cloves garlic

1.5 lbs sea beans (also known as pickleweed or samphire)

My trusty Makers notebook ( a gift for being in the makers faire)

gallon jar (mine was not widemouthed, but thats ideal if you have one)

my stuff

What I did:

1.Cleaned the jar with a splash of boiling water

2. Mixed 11 Cups water and 1 Cup Sea Salt (old wives tale says that you should be able to float an egg in the brine...I generally find old wives to be right, and this brine passes that test)

my jar

3.took out egg.

4.added sea beans and garlic (I didn't have any dill, but I'm sure that will make it that much more delicious)

5.the reason for using a wide mouth jar is that you need a way to keep the veggies underneath the brining solution while it sits.  The best way to do this is to get a plate that just fits into the jar, and use a rock to weigh it down. My jar has a tapered lid, so I couldn't do that.  My solution (a very elegant one I gleaned from a woman at the makers faire...Rachel I think (sorry if you're reading this) ) is to fill a plastic bag with water, seal the top, and squeeze that through the jar. It acts to keep the seabeans down, pretty cool.  It's really not ideal, because you don't necessarily want plastic sitting on your food for that long, but works in a pinch.

6. that's it! cover the jar, and let it sit in a dark place for a while. Check them after 1,2,3 weeks, this way you can taste as the flavor develops. These should keep for about a year.  I'll update in a week, see how the experiment is holding up. Make sure to keep track of what you did, so you can change/repeat it next time.

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Recipes

Dilly Sea Bean Pickles

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Sea Beans are great, I love their salty crunch.  Also called pickleweed, Sea Beans are known scientifically as Salicornia europae variety ruba, and are halophytic (salt loving) plants. When I try to describe how they taste, I always "the Sea".  It reminds me of warm days spent by the coast. That's what's so great about foraging, getting to hold onto the time you spend outside, rather than just a memory, you're reminded by foods you bring home.  Sea Beans can be found in salt marshes up and down the coast.  If you're harvesting them near the city, be careful that it's not from a polluted area, the bay's got more of those than not.  Often used as a  garnish in restaurants, sea beans can be eaten raw, but they're so salty that a full plate is not that appetizing. I try to find other uses.  They are great sauteed with butter and garlic if you're in a hurry, but if you've got time (6 weeks or so), they make a great pickle.  Crisp and salty, their thin build lets the picking mix penetrate all the way to the center, totally masking the Sea Bean flavor.  Experiment with different concoctions, but my favorite is dill.  Great with fish, or in egg salad.  Pics are a bit blurry, I guess the iphone isn't perfect.

To make Dilly Sea Beans, you'll need.....

-1/2 pint mason jars (you can use larger ones, but I like standing all the sea beans up in the jar, and this size is perfect for that)

- Garlic (optional)

- Fresh dill

- White vinegar

 

1.     The first step is to sterilize your jars. This isn't a super crucial step since we're using vinegar in the pickling (a soap and water wash is probably fine), but it's a good habit to get into, and becomes more important when making naturally fermented pickles.

-Fill the jars half full with H20.  Place in microwave on high for 5-8 minutes, and forget about them for a bit.  I'm generally not a fan of the microwave, but if you want to kill things, it's the place to put them(kinda makes you wonder what it's doing to your food).  This is a good time to put your lids and rims in some water to boil, they should boil for about 10 minutes (don't put them in the microwave!...unless you want to have a really good story about explosions in the kitchen)

2.   Next step is to get your ingredients together.  Peel your garlic and....well that's about it, it's super easy.  If you want to get a bit OCD, and want your finished product to be a work of food art, the envy of your peers, and a testament to the validity of the  dominant power of the human race on our small planet, you can pick out the long sea beans and arrange them in piles according to size and direction, if not, that's cool too.

3. Make a cocktail of 1/2 h2o, 1/2 vinegar (figure out how much you'll need to fill the jars), and boil.

4.  Get the jars out of microwave, empty the water.

5. While that heats up, place a sprig (mostly leaves) of dill and optional garlic clove in the bottom of each jar, and then fill with sea beans.  I like to stand them all up in one direction, for vanities sake.  Then place a sprig of dill on top.

6. Once vinegar boils, fill jars, leaving 1/2inch at the top of each.

7. Place lids on jars, making sure the edges are clean.

8.  Now one more boil, place jars in a pot with water to 3/4 height of jar. Boil for 10 minutes.

8. Done! So easy, so delicious. Well, I guess not quite done.  After they cool check to make sure the lids don't pop, if they do, the vacuum didn't seal, and they should be put in the fridge to pickle. Place the jars in a cool dark place, and let sit for 4-6 weeks.  You can use these in the same way you would cucumber pickles. Sandwiches, egg salad...well I suppose you know how to use pickles.  Last thoughts : They're Great! Make them! Also, I'm going to be at the maker faire in the homegrown village, may 29th-31st showing people how to make these, as well as limoncello. Come say hi.

Western Vinigar is local, right?

Western Vinigar is local, right?

Beauty has no price

Beauty has no price

Dilly

Dilly

Getting ready

Getting ready