Edible Plants

Edible Plants

Wild Huckleberries: Natures tart-sweet treasure

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

Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)

Just thinking of huckleberries is relaxing. They are a dependable, democratic berry. Their flavor pleases most people, and enough berries grow here to supply every piemaker who's willing to harvest them.

Huckleberry shrubs grow 3 to 7 feet tall and have small, stiff, shiny leaves that stay dark green the year round. The blossoms are pale pink or white and bell shaped, and the berries turn blue-black when ripe. Basically, they look like blueberries, only smaller, shinier, and darker. Sometimes they are covered with a white bloom that makes them look light blue.

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What tranquil afternoons I have spent at Point Reyes, absorbed in the pleasant tedium of trying to fill a bag with those tiny, dark berries. Except when we compare sacks to see who's ahead, my husband and I are each on our own in the shrubbery, listening to bird calls and letting our thoughts run free. I love to look up and see the ocean sparkling in the distance; thoughts of its long horizons and expansive beaches balance the forest's myriad close-up details. The sunlight makes the grasses shine in the hidden meadow where we eat our lunch. Every breeze finds a voice as it passes through the fir branches high overhead.

Sooner or later, one of us gets bored and is ready to move on. With luck it hits us at the same time, so that neither has to feel like the martyred nature lover. An hour or two of picking is all we need to recapture what we came for. Which is what? Basically, it is time spent outdoors without an agenda -- who cares how many berries we pick? Without deep conversation, or small talk, or any real interaction with another human bundle of desires and demands. Without a certain mileage to be covered, or a need to match paces, or a plant or animal to be found and observed. And because picking the berries is an accomplishment, no matter how small, it frees me from the feeling that I need to make the time count by thinking about something important or making plans. When I pick huckleberries, 1 just exist, like a kid floating through summer vacation.

Maybe you find berry picking fun, or even tedious, but not a transcendent experience. No matter. At least you come home with a bag of berries -- extremely valuable berries, considering the time you have invested in harvesting them -- and now you want to make something delicious with them.

First, you need to pull off any green stems that are still attached. Then put the berries in a pot of water. Swish them around and bits of stem or leaf will float to the top along with the tiny, green berries. Strain those off and then pick out any red, unripe berries. Cleaning and sorting them can be a tiresome chore; do it in good company, if possible.

Any blueberry recipe can be used for huckleberries, except that you will need to add more sugar to get the same effect because huckleberries are more tart. You may find the taste of pure huckleberry desserts slightly thin: sweet and sour but without any depth. My appreciation for the berries increased dramatically when I began cooking them with other fruits. The recipes for fruit pie and dessert sauce are two that we have enjoyed.

I used to work for a lawyer named Barbara Phillips. One night, she invited my husband and me over for dinner, and we brought huckleberries as our contribution to the meal. For dessert, I began making a simple, straightforward sauce with them, to go over her homemade yogurt. Barbara tasted it, her mind started ticking, and soon she had transformed it into something far more subtle and exciting. I have regarded huckleberries -- and fruit sauces -- with a new appreciation after that night.

Huckleberry Dessert Sauce Extraordinaire

• 1 cup huckleberries

• 1 lemon

• sugar or honey

• Cointreau

• cornstarch

Put aside 1/3 of the huckleberries. Put the other 2/3 in a saucepan, crush them with the bottom of a jar or other blunt object, and add barely enough water to cover them. Cook, stirring, over low heat, adding sugar or honey to taste. Add cornstarch, dissolved in a little water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sauce reaches the thickness you desire. After each tablespoon, stir for a few minutes to see what effect it has on the thickness, before adding more.

When the texture is right, add the uncrushed berries. Remove the peel and white rind from a lemon and cut the pulp into small pieces, adding them to the sauce. You'd think that extra tartness would be the last thing huckleberries needed, but the lemon is a tremendous addition.

Finally, stir in some spoonfuls of Cointreau to taste. This orange-flavored liqueur adds warmth, depth, and interest to the sauce, transforming it remarkably. The wild and civilized flavors bring out the best in each other. Bon appetite!

Triple Fruit Pie

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• pie crust

• 1½ lemons

• 1 pippin or other tart apple

• a cup or so of huckleberries

• 1½ cups of Concord grapes

• 1/3 to ½ cup sugar

• cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 450° F. Line a pie pan with any type of crust. Cut the apple into thin slices and cover the bottom of the pie crust with them. Slip the skins off the grapes and reserve the skins. Cook the grape pulp for a minute or two to soften it, and put it through a sieve to remove the seeds. Dissolve 3 tablespoons cornstarch in the juice of ½ lemon plus a little water, if necessary. Mix together the huckleberries, the grape pulp and skins, the cornstarch and lemon, and the sugar -- I like tart foods and use only 1/3 cup; using 1/3 cup produces a normal, sweet pie. Pour the mixture over the apple slices.

Bake the pie at 450° F. for 10 minutes, and then bake it at 350° for another 40 to 45 minutes. The grapes contribute sweetness and rich flavor, the apple adds body and texture, and the little huckleberries give a contrasting texture and their own tartness. Other wonderful combinations are huckleberries with peaches or mangos.

Where and When to Find Them

Marin and the Peninsula are the places to go for huckleberries; they are a coastal species. The best-bearing plants are usually on ridges or hillsides. For example, at one park I noticed disappointingly few berries on the shrubs down along a stream, but only a quarter of a mile up the trail, on the ridge, the berries were numerous.

Because they are so abundant, huckleberries are unusually dependable. No matter what the weather, you can count on finding some. But the quantity and quality of berries varies a lot from year to year. After the extraordinarily wet winter of 1981-1982, for example, they were more grainy and sour than usual, and the small crop was mostly gone by August. In other years, equally unusual, you'll find enough berries in late November to make pies for Thanksgiving. In a typical year, the shrubs bloom from February through June. The first ripe berries appear in mid-July, but the great huckleberry months are August, September, and October. The heavy coastal fogs of June and July have broken up by then, and you can usually count on sunny weather for your huckleberrying expedition. If you live in the fog zone, there's nothing like a September afternoon spent berry picking to make summer seem real again, and not just a sweet memory from other places and other times.

 

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

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. 

 

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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.  

 

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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 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.

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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

 

Edible Plants

Wild Onions: Natures delectable answer to scallions

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!

 

Wild Onion Lily (Allium triquetrum)

Family:  Alliaceae (onion, garlic, lily)

Eurasian Weed


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Wild onions of a sort, are part of the lore and mythology of wild edibles.   Everyone expects them in any foraged dinner of any magnitude, and I get many asking about them in my classes.  This is an Old World and mostly East Coast predilection, where various types of wild onions are available.  In Tennessee where I grew up, in the winter and spring every yard and field would be checked with clusters of a type of wild onion grass.   They were everywhere and were probably the first wild edible I ever tasted.   Ramps of course, a fancy restaurant favorite, are heralded for their culinary experience, but unfortunately are being destructively overharvested in many areas. 

In the Bay Area, however, we really don’t have an abundance of wild onions.  In fact, some would say that we don’t have any at all.   But we do have the wild onion lily, an urban and garden weed that is certainly worth a chapter in the book! 

What does it look like?  Typical onion family look, a monocot, with long grass-like leaves with a flower stalk that shoots up small white, bell-shaped flowers.  Distinguished from other onion family members by its distinctly triangular, wedge, or pyramid-shaped leaves.   All crushed parts of the plant exude a very onion-like odor.   Make sure it smells unquestionably like onion as the death camas lily is a look-alike.

When is it available?   Most of the year, they will go dormant sometimes in very dry or cold weather.  

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Where can I find it?  Lawn and garden weed, parks, suburban woodlands nearly always close to human populations.    If you feel like you are out in the “wilderness” you are probably not anywhere near a wild onion lily.  

How to use/forage:   All parts of the plant are onion-like and edible, the easiest parts to use are the blade-like leaves, use them as you would chives. You can also dig up the corm and eat like a very small onion or use the flower as an edible decoration on a dish.  

Sustainability: This plant can be a super tough and noxious weed once established but isn’t always that abundant.   It is often weeded (or at least attempted to be) out of many lawns, gardens and landscaping situations.  I’ve seen it survive herbicide applications, so beware.   Harvest only when it is clearly growing in large quantities, or only harvest a small amount of the leaves from each plant.   

Much more to learn with their book here: https://aerbook.com/maker/productcard-2066659-4706.html

Edible Plants

Outtakes from this weeks forageSF Wild Food Walk

We started this past weekend's wild food walk by tasting one of my favorite local plants, the 3 cornered leek (or wild onion lily.) Right now they are in flower, and the white clusters of flowers are not only beautiful, but they pack a nice oniony spice. The greens are also edible and are very mild in flavor. 

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We quickly moved onto to other seasonal delicacies. The nasturtiums we saw, which were looking super robust and healthy, had just revealed a couple of early flowers. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible, and have a nice cress-like spice.

From there we quickly saw oxalis (sour grass) also with a beautiful and tart edible flower. Miner's lettuce, although soon to be gone for season, was still looking succulent and delicious. Chickweed, growing right next to it, was still in its full green glory as well. We only moved about 10 feet before finding stinging nettle, mallow, yellow dock, black sage, and wild radish. We finally made it a little further before discussing the virtues of the only edible fruit we found, the black nightshade. None were quite ripe though. 

Many other plants were discussed, mostly edible. We barely traveled 200 feet before we realized there was enough there for an amazing salad, full of succulent mild greens, radish and nasturtium spice, onion flavor, flowers for visual appeal, and a tart component in the oxalis. This is why Spring is my favorite time of year!

Kevin Feinstein

Recipes, Edible Plants

A seaside feast: Recipes and foraging tips for Sea Beans

Nutritious, Delicious Sea Beans

Admittedly, sea beans (Salicornia) look very little like actual beans, but these hardy, salt-loving succulent plants should be included in every coastal forager’s diet. Sea beans are also called sea asparagus, samphire greens, glasswort, and pickle weed. Estuaries and bays are a favorite habitat of sea beans and they are an easily recognizable wild plant: they grow about 1 foot high, have no real leaves, just fleshy, segmented stalks, and are a bright green color. They can be foraged in late summer though early fall.

 

Adding Sea Beans to Your Table

Sea beans have become somewhat common at farmer’s markets in coastal areas, but it’s not hard to forage for them yourself. Identification is quite easy and harvesting a basketful of sea beans can help to perk up your meals for a week. Tasting somewhat like salty asparagus, sea beans can be used raw or cooked to add a distinctive flavor to your dishes. While sea beans have been used in Europe and the Far East for centuries, Americans are now catching on to this ‘new’ vegetable.

Raw sea beans can simply be added to your favorite salad while you’re preparing it, along with the other ingredients. However, there are some delicious ways to cook sea beans as well.

The simplest way to cook sea beans is to simply sauté or steam them. Glasswort can also be cooked just like you would cook spinach, but be sure that you don’t overcook this vegetable as it will lose most of its flavor.

If you want to add some real distinction to your table, there are several recipes that use sea beans that will definitely perk up your palate:

Roast Halibut, Sea Beans, and Clams: This makes 4 servings. Always remember to use sea beans gathered during the summer; by autumn, they are developing interior strings.

·      4 pieces skinless halibut, 1¾ inches thick

·      2 cups sea beans

·      14 to 18 canned clams (keep the liquor)

·      ¼ tsp salt, 1/8 tsp black pepper

·      1 tbsp. olive oil

·      ¼ cup shallot, chopped finely

·      ¼ cup unsalted butter

·      4 tsp lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 450 F.

Add sea beans to 2 quarts of boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Drain, cool in ice water, and then pat dry on paper towels.

Drain the clams, but keep the clam juice.

Dry the fish fillets with paper towels then sprinkle them with the salt and pepper.

Using an ovenproof skillet, brown both sides of the fillets in olive oil in the heated pan. Once both sides are browned, slide the skillet into the oven and let the fish roast for about 10 minutes.

While the fish is in the oven, sauté the shallots in the butter until they are just soft. Put in the clam juice and lemon juice and bring to a gentle, simmering boil. Now add the clams, cover the skillet, and cook for another 2 minutes over a low/moderate heat. Remove from heat.

Arrange the halibut fillets on plates and surround them with sea beans, clams, and sautéed shallots.

Enjoy.

 

Sea Bean Side Dish: Sea beans gathered or purchased during summer and early fall, will be much more palatable than those from later in the year – as the year wears on, sea beans will become fiberous as they begin to flower. When the tips become red you’ll know sea beans are beginning to flower and go out of season. Although still edible, they wont be as good.

·      2 to 3 cups of fresh sea beans, cut or broken into pieces

·      1 to 2 cloves of garlic, chopped

·      3 to 4 tbsp. of butter

Melt the butter in your skillet over a medium-high heat, taking care not to burn the butter.

Add the sea beans, stirring constantly, and then the chopped garlic.

Sauté the sea beans and garlic until they become tender then remove the skillet from the heat.

Serve as a side dish with your favorite ocean fish.  

 

Sea Beans Are Good for You

In addition to tasting good, sea beans also provide quite a few nutritional benefits and supply the following:

·      Vitamin A

·      B Vitamins

·      Vitamin C

·      Iron

·      Calcium

·      Iodine

·      Bioflavonoids

Using sea beans in your cooking will not only add a new dimension to the flavor of your meals, but will also provide you with a number of healthy benefits.

 

 

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