wild edibles

Edible Plants

Mallow: you've gotta try any plant that has a "cheese wheel"

Todays guest post is from Kevin Feinstein (the leader of our wild food walks), and Mia Adler’s book The Bay Area Forager: Your Guide to Edible Wild Plants of the San Francisco Bay Area. Check at the bottom of the post for a purchase link to their great guide to all things wild and edible!

Common Mallow, Malva (Malva neglecta)

Family:  Malvaceae (okra, hisbiscus, kenaf, marsh mallow)

Eurasian Weed

 

Many readers might have actually eaten this plant before and didn’t know it. The young leaves are often found in good salad mixes that you get at the farmer’s market and even sometimes in stores like Whole Foods, albeit in small (perhaps accidental) amounts. This plant is also called malva, and it is in the Malvaceae family. Okra is also in this family. I ask people in my walks, “what is the first thing you think of when you think of okra?” and 99% of the time I get the response, “slimy,” which is what I’m fishing for, of course.   Mallow is also slimy, or mucilagenous (see below).   It is also in the same family as hibiscus (indeed, mallow flowers look like tiny, weedy, pinkish-purple hibiscus flowers).   Mallow is closely related to another plant, the marsh mallow -- yes, the same plant that marshmallows used to be made from (now they are just chemicals and sugar).    It is also related to kenaf, a plant used commercially and traditionally to make fibers and fabrics. 

 

MallowLeaves.jpg

What does it look like?  Herbaceous perennial, whose mature stalks once gone to seed, typically die back to the ground.   It’s a tough and common weed with a very deep and penetrating taproot, as gardeners will attest to.  The leaves are a bit course and crinkly, with a geranium-like look.   They have no real scent when crushed.  The texture is somewhat unique.   The flowers are small and purple-pink, resembling tiny hibiscus flowers or okra flowers as noted above.   The plant then forms seedpods, that resemble little cheesewheels (especially when green.)   Many of the kids I teach have called this plant the cheesewheel plant as the immature seedpods, or cheesewheels, are perhaps the most tasty and interesting part of the mallow plant.  

 

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 When is it available?  Depending on the microclimate, edible parts of the plant can be available all year.   In warmer, drier climates (think away from the coast), the leaves are good in fall, winter, and early spring (the rainy season.)   The immature pods or cheesewheels, typically April-June.     In cooler, moister microclimates (think near the coast), leaves might be available all year, especially if grazed or weedwacked, and the mallow “cheesewheels” May-September.  

 

Where can I find it?    Disturbed areas:  gardens, fields, parks, grassy hills, forest edges (but usually near people). It is a garden and agricultural weed.    Very common in the Bay Area, you’ll even see it on trails as it regrows from disturbances such as weed whacking or trampling.   Although I don’t recommend eating trampled mallow!   I usually don’t see it in more remote wilderness areas.  


How to use/forage:     Young and medium age leaves are fine to eat in a salad, although they have an interesting texture and not much flavor by themselves.  Old leaves aren’t recommended (because of texture and flavor).   You can cook mallow leaves as a potherb as well.  What I recommend is drying the leaves, crumbling them into a powder, and adding this to soups or smoothies, or gumbo-like dishes.  They will thicken the dish, as they are mucilaginous.   The immature seedpods (cheesewheels) are great snacks raw and delicious like okra if sauteed. 

 

Sustainability:  Considered to be an invasive or noxious weed by many, a very tough and abundant plant.  So I say, go for it.   If you want/need more, let some go to seed, and cut and come again with the leaves.   Mallow is a plant that in some places, such as small farms and gardens, is discarded as a weed.    By eating it rather than it going in the compost, I feel that it is a way of honoring the plant.   If you want to eat this plant and don’t have access to safe local mallow foraging, ask your organic farmers at the market; they’ll know it and might be willing to provide it.  

 

Recipes:  Mallow miso soup.    Mallow behaves a lot like seaweed in a recipe.  So take the miner’s miso recipe (found in the chapter on miner’s lettuce) and replace the seaweed with dried and ground mallow leaves.  

 

cheesewheel .jpg

Bonus Box: Here’s the scoop I give my wild food walkers:  The leaves don’t taste like much of anything.  You can detect a bit of sliminess; it’s not bad, but it’s not really good either. I don’t particularly enjoy just grazing on mallow leaves.  But mix a few in a salad with other succulent greens (such as miner’s lettuce or chickweed) with a good dressing, sure. I could even go as far as 1/4 of my salad greens being mallow, maybe.    So why bother with the leaves?   Mainly because they are super nutritious!   Loads of plant-based precursors to vitamin A, minerals, and other phytonutrients.  Containing this mucilage, the slimy part, it’s a great anti-inflammatory and has many soothing medicinal properties.   Another use of the slimy property, one a chef might argue as being the main reason for eating mallow leaves: they help thicken dishes.  

 

Bonus Box 2:   What Kevin does with mallow.   My favorite thing to do with mallow is cut off a whole plant (it’ll most likely grow back with healthier growth) or pluck one from your garden.  Remember this is a common garden weed.    I then dry the whole plant (it dries really amazingly well).  This the lazy forager’s way:  Get the whole plant and lay it on the counter at home, then in a few days it’s dry.   I’ll then hold the plant over a large bowl or paper grocery bag and with a few quick strokes I’ll partially crush (they are surprisingly brittle) as I strip the leaves off the stalk, removing any yellow, brown or bad looking leaves first.    I then put this into a coffee grinder, and I have a very nutritious green powder that I can use to thicken soups and gumbo-like dishes.   

 

Bonus Box 3: WARNING:  Mallow often inhabits wasteground and can accumulate poisons from polluted soils and waters.   This goes for many of the plants in this book, but much of the mallow I see is essentially inedible because of the sidewalk or parking lot where it accumulates poisons or biological contaminants.   The research suggests that mallow should not be eaten if it has received inorganic fertilizers or runoff.    Don’t be discouraged, though, there’s lots of good clean mallow to go around! 

 

To purchase: https://aerbook.com/maker/productcard-2066659-4706.html

 

 

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

 

Edible Plants

Wild Radish: A spicy and abundant wild edible you need to know!

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.

Happy foraging!
Iso Rabins
Founder: forageSF


Wild Radish (Raphanus sativas)

Common or Field Mustard (Brassica campestris)

Charlock (B. kaber, also B. arvensis)

Mediterranean or Summer Mustard (B. geniculata)

Black Mustard (B. nigra)

I have nothing but affection for these members of the Mustard family. Foraging for them is pure pleasure. Few paths are more inviting than those which lead through waist-high fields of blooming mustard or radish. When I am introducing friends to edible wild plants, these two are frequently the ones with which we begin. Even if they never eat another wild mouthful in their lives, they remember their first bites fondly.

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Radish and all the local mustards belong to the Mustard family or Cruciferae. The family contains an unusually wide variety of edible, cultivated species: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, kohlrabi, rutabaga, and turnips among them. The radish species that grows wild here is the same species as the domesticated radish which is just bred to have a larger root. It was eaten in Egypt even before the pyramids were built and has been raised in China and Japan for at least as long. Most of our wild mustards are also grown as crops for their seeds or leaves. The Latin name, Cruciferae, comes from the shape of the blossoms: four petals arranged like a cross or crucifix.

The blossoms are my favorite part. Though the skies are cool with rain and deciduous trees are still bare, mustard is in its fullest bloom in March, coloring vast fields and orchards pure yellow. Our blooming season begins subtly, with scattered harbingers like the snowy plums, but mustards announce the season's arrival to whole valleys at a time.

There's a story about the introduction of mustard to California that botany writers keep passing on without being able to confirm it. It is fact that the mustards and radish are native to Europe. And we know that black mustard arrived in California sometime during the Spanish Mission period between 1769 and 1824, because its seeds have been found in adobe building bricks from that period. It is legend that the Spanish padres spread black mustard between the southern missions and San Francisco to keep themselves from getting lost. The idea is that they dropped seeds along the way as they explored northward, counting on the seeds to produce a trail of yellow flowers that they could follow home in the spring. At least one respected botanist disputes this tale, saying that the padres simply followed well-worn Indian trails. But I think writers will keep passing the story on as long as possible, because we love so much to imagine it.

Field mustard, radish, and charlock were here by the time the '49ers arrived, so that wave of eastern migrants never knew a California without its fields of yellow in March. Summer mustard came much later than the others and wasn't observed in the Bay Area until 1915.

Radish blossoms also appear in March, with a pastel prettiness that lasts into the summer. Each plant produces flowers that are predominantly white, pink, purple, or occasionally, yellow. The colors are all mixed together in thickly blooming, sweet-smelling patches. Try sitting a while in such a radish patch, head deep in flowers, on a warm April day. Give yourself up to that pastel ocean until it seems utterly natural to be there. If part of you is Ferdinand the bull, this is your chance to wallow in flowers until you are buzzy and light headed with contentment. My Ferdinand self has been happier in radish patches than anywhere else I have been.

Much of the fun in all this flower appreciation comes from eating the blossoms and privately savoring their down-to-earth, unflowery flavors. Mustard buds and blossoms taste just like raw broccoli heads. And those sweetly pink radish flowers have a decidedly radishy bite that warms the mouth and makes them doubly irresistible. Try sprinkling a handful on a vegetable dip. What a joy it is each time we find something (or someone) with a combination of positive traits that cuts across the usual expectations. Radish blossoms have that refreshing quality, with a look and fragrance that's ultrafeminine and a taste that's salt of the earth.

The plump, wild radish seedpods are good raw in salads, to be consumed by true radish lovers; they pack enough of a punch that I wouldn't recommend them except to people who voluntarily eat cultivated radishes. Mustard seedpods are long and thin and lined with the proverbially tiny seeds. Black mustard seeds are the ones traditionally used for mustard, though the others can be substituted. The Romans crushed and mixed them with a little new wine as a condiment; later cultures used vinegar as the binder.

When fully ripe, the seedpods split open. If you want to make mustard from the wild seeds, you need to gather the pods just before they split. I have not done this, but the recommended way is to gather the still closed, upper pods from plants whose lower pods have already opened.

Dry the pods on a clean surface for several days, then flail them to break them open and release the seeds. The dry seeds can be ground in a blender to make powdered mustard. Mixing 1/4 cup of the powder with 2 or 3 tablespoons of water, vinegar, or beer will produce a very hot, Chinese-style mustard sauce. To make the milder American style, follow the recipe in any basic cookbook, such as Joy of Cooking.

radish.jpg

Radish and mustard leaves are among the first greens to appear after the rains begin. Along with miner's lettuce, dock, and chickweed, they are my favorite wild greens -- abundant, tender, tasty, and easy to harvest. It is likely that the mustard varieties vary somewhat in their flavor, but I haven't paid attention to which ones I was eating so can only tell you that all the mustard greens I have tried have tasted at least okay and usually quite good. One book mentions that charlock leaves are particularly tasty, but that's the least common mustard in this area. I generally prefer radish to mustard greens, so if you don't like mustard greens be sure to give radish leaves a chance to please you.

By November (October in rainy years), you can go to mustard and radish areas and find a thick covering of healthy new leaves, about a foot high. The young leaves can feel rough, almost prickly, but that quality disappears with even brief cooking.

Both types of leaves are large and irregularly lobed. The flavor is better in winter, before the plants flower, although I have eaten and enjoyed them after flowering began. Raw, the leaves are slightly peppery and can be good in salads if they are chopped coarsely. Steamed until tender, they become milder in flavor. Radish leaves lose their radish taste completely. Mustard greens keep a trace of bitterness but it is not objectionable. Both greens taste best with a squeeze of lemon or a splash of vinegar.

I like to make a simple, crustless quiche with these leaves. It is good hot or cold, and makes a fine light meal or picnic food. You can use wild radish and mustard leaves in any of the ways you would use the stronger-tasting grocery-store greens such as cultivated mustard or kale. Like their domesticated peers, they are loaded with Vitamin A.

Radish or Mustard Pie

• 1 onion

• 4 to 6 cups radish or mustard leaves

• 1 cup grated sharp cheddar

• 1 cup grated mozzarella

• 2 eggs

• nutmeg, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce

Chop the onion and saute it in a little oil until tender. Rinse the radish or mustard leaves (or a combination of the two) and chop coarsely.

Add the leaves to the onion and stir them over low to medium heat until the leaves have wilted. Whisk the eggs until lightly beaten.

Then, in a 9-inch pie pan, cake pan, or ovenproof frying pan, combine the onions and greens, the grated cheeses, and the eggs. Add nutmeg, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce, all to taste. A thin layer of grated cheddar sprinkled over the surface gives the pie an especially pleasing color.

Bake the pie at 375° F. for about 30 minutes or until the top begins to brown. Slice it and eat.

Where and When to Find Them

Finding mustard in bloom is no problem in any Bay Area county, for it is common to abundant and widespread throughout the area in disturbed or cultivated ground. The great displays tend to be in agricultural areas, although not always. At Ft. Cronkhite in Marin County, the hidden oceanside vale (toward San Francisco from the main valley) is solid yellow in March. The farming region of Brentwood and Byron in the East Bay is good, but my favorite mustard displays are those along Route 1, near Half Moon Bay. The vast, bright fields are framed between the Coast Range and the Pacific in what must surely be one of the most beautiful agricultural settings in America.

The spring-blooming mustard species that colors these vast areas, common mustard, begins flowering in February and is at full strength in March. Black mustard does most of its blooming between March and May. Summer mustard flowers primarily in the summer (did you guess?), although you will see it along trails and roads and in vacant places from spring through early fall.

Radish is common to abundant in Marin and on the Peninsula. In the East Bay, you will find more of it between the shore and the first row of hills than further inland. One beautiful radish patch is at the end of Pierce Point Road on the Point Reyes peninsula. It has enough of the flowers to sweeten the air. Other fine radish displays probably grow within a few miles of you, wherever you live in the Bay Area.

Radish blooms from March through October, depending on the location, but in most areas, April and May are its peak months. The Pierce Point Road patch is at its best in May and turns brown by June, but nearby, radishes bloom all along the path to the beach much later in the summer.

The seedpods of both species appear soon after the plants begin to flower and continue to be available for months. The leaves are at their best from October or November until the end of February, and are most abundant in January and February.

 

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

 

The Rain has come! Mushroom season has begun!

Well this is exciting! After what seems like years without any rain, we finally got some water. Good all around. The farmers are happy. The gardens are happy. But most importantly for me, the mushrooms are happy. Rain means that all throughout the forests, as we speak, mushrooms are growing....probably not quite above the surface yet, that takes a few days...but they're there. Getting ready to poke their heads up through the pine needles and fallen leaves, just waiting to be discovered. I cant wait!

Join our mushroom expert Patrick Hamilton and find the secret spots where the mushrooms live. We have classes coming up all throughout the winter, from this weekend through December, on the Marin and Sonoma Coasts. See you out there!

Tickets and dates here

Recipes, Edible Plants

The Wonderful Wonderful Ramp

pickled ramps

pickled ramps

Ramps are special. We have wild onions in California, but they don’t come close to the taste, texture, and versatility of ramps (don't get me wrong, we have wild mushrooms that East Coasters would kill for). Since all the wild ingredients I use for The Wild Kitchen are local, the closest I ever get to using ramps is the wild onion.  Our wild onion is essentially a scallion, which is how I treat it.  Good chopped up and sautéed, with nice white flowers that I use for garnish. A ramp is a whole other animal.

The roots have a biting onion flavor, and bulblike crunch that begs to be pickled. The greens, which can be grilled, broiled, sautéed or seared, have just the right amount of the bulbs onion aroma, but a great texture that really rounds out a plate. They are a perennial (grow back each year), and the plant that gave Chicago its name. Chicagou was the word for ramp in the local dialect, and an abundant plant in the area when the city was being settled.

I’m back for a week visiting my mom in Plainfield, and wanted to take advantage of the best foraging season on the East Coast.  The prime focus for me was ramps. The woods are amazing in Vermont. The smell of the trees, moss, gurgle of creeks, shade of the maples.  All with the bonus of an abundance of plant and animal life on the forest floor.  I love California, but you just don’t get the same experience in our woods.

toothwort leaves

toothwort leaves

I grew up in Vermont, but my foraging career really started with wild mushrooms on the west coast, so I enlisted the help of a local expert to help me find my prize.  Annie is a local gardner/naturalist/friend of the family, who was nice enough to show me one of her prime spots. Not that they’re hard to find in VT. Ramps (or wild leeks as they’re called here) are everywhere. It would have taken me days to pick even half of what I saw.  Along the way she introduced me to some edibles I’d never heard of.

One was toothwort. It's a 3-leaves low growing plant. It has thin dull green leaves with serrated edges. The roots (and leaves to some extent) have an uncanny horseradish flavor. It’s pretty amazing actually. If I do a dinner in Vermont, this is definitely going to be included on the menu. Maybe a toothwort wasabi with local freshwater trout sashimi….Another thing that Annie introduced me to was the edibility of violet flowers. They don’t grow in abundance, so I would feel uncomfortable collecting them for a Wild Kitchen dinner, but they were great to try. They taste like wintergreen. Pretty cool. Another plant that grows here in abundance is wild ginger. We have this in CA, but I don’t see it much where I forage. There was a bunch on our walk, so I grabbed some of that too.

There's been some recent press on the over harvesting of ramps on the east coast, given their sudden spike in popularity.  As far as I can tell it’s more theoretical than realistic. People see them in stores, so immediately assume they are being decimated. From people I’ve talked to up here, it hasn’t become a problem. I always live by the motto of never taking more than a third of whatever plant I’m harvesting, that way I can be sure it will be there when I return next year.

field of ramps

field of ramps

I dug ramps for about 15 minutes and had almost more than I could carry, so I headed home. I washed them and cut off the bulbs, and for the next 3 days I ate the greens at every meal. Tossed in garlic and olive oil and wrapped in tin foil on the grill, sautéed with salt and garlic with my eggs in the morning, and cut small and used raw to spice up potato salad.   Even then I had a ton left.  Since there was no way I could eat them all before I left (and because I wanted to bring some back west), I decided to pickle the bulbs. Most of the pickles I do are what are known as quick pickles. Basically hot brine that is poured a vegetable, and used within a week or so. I wanted to try something different with these, so I decided to do a proper can.

If you’re reading this blog, I imagine you have some experience canning, or at least understand the fundamental ideas behind it. If not, also cool, we’ve all got to start somewhere.  The basic idea of canning is to submerge a veggie (or meat) into a hygienic environment (often vinegar), then boil the jar to create a vacuum that will push out any excess air. This creates an anaerobic environment where bacteria cannot grow, so preserves food longer. These pickles will last at least a month, or until you’ve eaten them all (which will probably be sooner):

You’ll need:

Food:

2C white vinegar

4C water

1C white sugar

2T mustard seed (“T” =Tablespoon and “t”=teaspoon)

1T fennel seed

2T black peppercorns

4 piece wild ginger root

2T kosher salt

4 piece toothwort root (both optional of course, but if you don’t use them add a small piece of fresh horseradish)

2 lb fresh ramps

Equipment:

4 - 12 OZ canning jars

Water bath canner (if you have it. If not a pot large enough to fit the jars will suffice)

Tongs

1 medium pot

Baking pan or Pyrex casserole

clean ramps

clean ramps

  1. First you want to get your liquids boiling, while they heat up you’ll have time to clean your ramps. Fill your pot with all your picking ingredients (minus the ramps). Bring them to a boil, then turn off heat. Fill your water bath canner up 3/4 with water, and boil. If you are using a pot, fill with water (leaving room for the area the jars will displace). Preheat your oven to 350F

  2. Sterilize your jars: An easy way to sterilize jars is wash them with soap and water, then bake them on sheet pan in the oven at 200F until you’re ready to use them. Got that tip from Slow Jams. http://www.chow.com/food-news/59073/the-easiest-way-to-sterilize-jars/

  3. While those are heating up, clean your ramps. First give the ramps a good wash, peeling off any discolored skin on the root, and snapping the root (not the bulb) off. Then cut off the bulb just above where the green of the leaf begins. Save the leaves. I personally think they’re just as delicious as the bulbs. You can sauté them up for a side dish, or put them on sandwiches. Really delicious.

  4. Now you want to fill your jars. I try to stand the ramps up, with the bulbs all facing down, but that’s really just an aesthetic choice. Just make sure there’s an inch clear below the rim of the jar. Pour over your nearly boiling pickling liquid, adding a root of ginger and toothwort, as well as a spoon of spices, to each jar. Screw on the lid.

  5. Now for the can. If you’re using a regular pot, you’ll want to make sure the jars stand up straight, but that they don’t touch the metal bottom. There are fancy grills they sell for this, or you can do what I do, and put a dishtowel in the water to line the bottom of the pot. Just make sure it’s as flat as you can make it. Place the jars in the water, turn down to a simmer, and “cook” for 15 minutes. Make sure the water covers the jar (this is how you force out the air), add hot water from the tap if it needs it.

  6. Take jars out with tongs, allow to cool, and you’re done! A lot of words for what is actually a pretty simple process. Clean veggies, put in jars, cover with vinegar, and force out air. As they cool you should hear a popping sound of the lid suctioning down. You might not hear the sound, but check to see that the lid is pressed in, that’s how you know the can worked.

If you make this recipe, give me a comment and let me know how it went. I haven’t tried it with the toothwort yet, and I’m definitely excited to see if the wasabi/horseradish flavor comes through. Also, if you've ever pickled the greens, let me know how that went. That's what I'll try next. Ramps!

Iso

dirty ramps

dirty ramps