Wednesday, June 20, 2012

foraging can also be amusing

i just had to share this little bit of amusing foraging inspiration from dark rye.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

foraging at the historical market

at our favorite little museum in randbøldal last weekend, there was a historical market. sunday morning, one of the nature guides led a walk around the museum grounds, gathering various edible plants. the very best one was this - sweet cicely. the seeds have a lovely, gentle liquorice flavor. we used them in a pancake, that we made over the fire when the walk was over.

a bit brown, but delicious nonetheless.

another shot of the sweet cicely. tho' the plant itself looks a whole lot like cow parsley, it's easy to tell it by its strong liquorice scent. the seeds are larger on sweet cicely as well. it can be mixed up with hemlock (highly poisonous) in appearance, but the smell is unmistakeable. if it doesn't smell of anise, it's not sweet cicely.

we also found elderflower (more about that in the coming week, as it's a favorite and merits a post of its own) and lemony, sour wood sorrel.

there was even watercress on the museum grounds. crisp and delicious.

we also found a little patch of wild mint. more gently minty than the kind you can plant in your herb garden, but minty nonetheless. all of these herbs could be put into the pancakes. we liked the sweet cicely best.

they also had a big pot of natural dye going on - a good reminder of another use for foraged plants - they make very nice natural dyes. this batch had been dyed with nettles on saturday and they had added some two-year-old rhubarb stems to the pot on the second day. the wool had been mordanted with alun before being placed in the nettle dye pot.

we're definitely going to be looking for more opportunities to go on guided foraging walks!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

east-west: morels false and real

left: two handfuls of morel mushrooms found during a hunt along the Missouri River in Burt County near Decatur, Nebraska on April 9, 2012. (photo by Mark Davis)

right: false morels, april 15, 2012, denmark

real morels are probably the very best mushroom there is.

false morels convert to rocket fuel in your stomach if not handled/prepared correctly.
i don't think that i dare to eat them, even if i do have a tray of them drying in my cupboard.
mostly because i didn't have the heart to throw them away.
(i think i may have been in the siege of leningrad in another life.)
but also because they were right there in my own forest, in such abundance.
and to throw them away seemed wasteful and somehow disrespectful.

i wrote a little bit about them over here at the time (pre-forage blog) i found them.

mushrooms are probably the most fascinating thing to forage,
but it's best done with an expert.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

east-west: trees

left: spruce tips, may 18, 2012, colorado
right: beech leaves, may 19, 2012, denmark

Asparagus and Hop Asparagus

I found both asparagus and hop asparagus last month. The asparagus were wild, growing in Palmer Park, an urban treasure of trails and open space in the middle of Colorado Springs.
There's food here, but you really need to know where to look.
My friend Suzanne has been foraging wild asparagus here since she was a little girl. We left everything we found this day to others, but it was a great lesson in knowing where to look.
You really don't need recipes for asparagus, wild or domestic. A hot grill and a little olive oil, or a pan with a little butter will do nicely. When harvesting, dig down a little way down into the ground and cut with a knife.
Look closely ...
Hop asparagus are just the new shoots of hops. There are loads of wild hops around here, but most that I've found have been along roads or the railroad tracks on the south end of the Air Force Academy. My husband has harvested some of the hops near the academy, farther away from the tracks, but I wouldn't want to harvest new shoots that may have been sprayed.
New growth hops.
We got these at the hop yard for our favorite brewery, Bristol, at Venetucci Farms. My family is part of a team of volunteer caretakers who are making sure Bristol has plenty of organically-grown, local hops for experimentation and brewing. You have to cut back the first growth of hops so that the plants don't freeze. Second growth hop vines are sturdier and more resistant. Since we cut all of the hops back, I took the shoots (and some leaves) home.
Didn't get to these fast enough!
Unfortunately, this is what my own hop yard looked like the next day, so we didn't harvest our own first growth. But we have so many shoots on our plants that we'll need to cut the smaller ones back a number of times before summer. Like asparagus, you really don't need a recipe for hop shoots. Saute them in a little butter, quickly. They are very tender, and taste like a slightly grassy asparagus. The leaves can be treated as any greens, and cooked fast in a hot pan with a little olive oil and garlic.
Fall harvest.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

dandelions as far as the eye can see

we live out in the country on 17 acres. and most of those acres are currently abloom with dandelions. after a long, dark winter, the bright sunshine yellow of those flowers is as welcome as the seldom sight of sunshine in the danish sky. i actually often joke that there's no word for "sun" in danish because it fell from use and everyone forgot it, but that's a slight exaggeration. there are a few elderly people who still remember it.

i'd never really tried eating dandelions before this year, aside from adding the odd leaf to a salad. i'll admit the bulk of the ones we pick actually go to our bunnies, as they're the bunnies' favorite food. they love the tender leaves and gobble up the golden yellow flowers like candy. bunnies are generally on a pretty healthy diet, so i decided they must be onto something and so i picked a colander full of the bright flowers and decided to give it a whirl.

the most time-consuming part is preparing the flowers. you have to cut off the stems and carefully peel away the little "eyelashes" of green that are stuck there - at least if you're going to make jelly or cordial. i like that amy left a bit of it on for her fritters and i'll definitely do that with the next batch. i think what's probably most important is to get rid of any of that bitter hollow stalk in the parts you're going to eat.

i've done my share of traveling the world and so i'm not afraid to mix flavors and cultures. the other night, i was making a stir-fry with black bean and garlic paste and i wanted a little snack to go with it. we love onion bhajis around here and tho' those are indian and i was making more of a chinese meal, i decided i'd give them a chinese twist by throwing in a bit of 5-spice powder. i had already decided to give them a nordic twist with the dandelion flowers, so what did another layer of culture matter?  i have to say it worked pretty well and i would repeat it.

chinese 5-spice dandelion & onion bhajis

3 medium onions, sliced
generous handful prepared dandelion flowers
2 eggs
120grams/4 oz. plain flour (or gram (chickpea) flour if you have it on hand - you can find it in indian markets)
1-2 teaspoons chinese 5-spice powder
oil for frying

slice the onions and separate them into rings. whisk together the eggs, flour and 5-spice powder in a bowl, then add the onions and dandelions and coat well.  if your egg and flour mixture seems too thick, you can add a another egg (our chickens lay rather small eggs, so i often use an extra one) or a little milk to thin it a bit. it should coat your onions and dandelion flowers nicely. heat up oil in a wok - i use sunflower oil, as it's lighter than olive oil and can tolerate high temperatures better than rapeseed oil. test with a little dollop of dough to see if the oil is hot enough. place spoonfuls of the mixture in the oil and fry in small batches.  serve it with chutney or chili sauce.

i've seen beautiful jellies made of dandelion flowers, but my family isn't into jelly, so the other thing i made with those dandelion flowers i slaved over was a cordial. i like to invent new cocktails and i used this as the basis for an early spring concoction involving vodka, fizzy water and a slice of lemon. it tasted just like a little ray of warm sunshine.

dandelion cordial

1 colander of prepared dandelion flowers
1.5 liters (6 cups) boiling water
1 kilo (4 cups) of sugar
juice of one lemon

place your prepared dandelion flowers in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour over the 6 cups of boiling water. cover with a plate and leave to set overnight. strain out the flowers using cheesecloth and a strainer and place the dandelion tea in a medium saucepan. add the sugar and lemon juice and slowly heat it to boiling. meanwhile, prepare your bottles - i generally run mine through a dishwasher cycle so they're clean and hot. then, for good measure, i rinse them with boiling water from the kettle. then i give them a little rinse with atamon, a preservative. pour in the hot liquid and seal immediately. i usually can fill one 750ml bottle and one smaller beer-bottle-sized bottle with a batch, but that actually varies - based on how much liquid you squeezed out of the flowers and how much evaporates. 

violet cordial and dandelion cordial
there's something about these foraged flower concoctions that is very satisfying. whether you're gathering violets or dandelions and preparing them, it simply takes time. there's no way around it - it takes the time it takes to pick and to prepare. and slowing down and just doing it, without trying to find an easier way or a shortcut is surely good for the soul.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Eating is the Best Revenge

A few years after we moved into our home in Colorado, my husband and I laid an enormous flagstone patio and pathway. It took us most of a summer to get the slope right and fit the stones in place. Rather than putting gravel between the stones, I opted to leave it natural, imagining the Woolly Thyme, wild strawberries, and Johnny Jump-ups growing between the flagstones. Those flowers have a foothold, but the gaps between really are the perfect habitat for dandelions.
Free Food
I kept after the dandelions for a few years. But I have a neighbor who loves them. When the wind blows, it drops the seeds from her dandelions right onto my patio. Fighting the dandelions is futile. Eating them is much more practical.

According to the USDA, dandelions are one of the best vegetable sources of beta-carotene, rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamine and riboflavin, and protein. All of the dandelion is edible, from flower to pesky root.

Earlier this month, when the flowers were just beginning to take over the yard, my son Berg brought me a big bowlful, and asked me to fry them for him.
Trimmed for Frying
Trim the stems and the greens off the base of the flowers (those little leaves can be tough and bitter). 

Dandelion Fritters
1 cup flour 
1 tsp baking powder
Generous sprinkling of seasonings (I used thyme, red and black pepper, salt and garlic powder)
1 cup buttermilk

Whisk together the dry ingredients, then add the buttermilk. Fry petals in a hot skillet with fat of choice (I used a combination of olive oil and butter). If you press the flowers face down, they will fan out. Remove to paper towels, salt as needed, and eat while hot. 

When you tire of frying individual flowers, dump the rest in the batter and make fritters. 

Children eagerly take their vitamins if you fry them.
I wanted to try to mirror Julie's nettle pesto, but that would have meant a drive down the pass, and we were staying home this weekend. We had rain and snow on Friday, with lots of fresh new dandelion shoots when the sun came out on Saturday. 
Wash dandelions as you would any greens, in a sinkful of cold water.
Dandelion Pesto
Large bunch of dandelion greens, washed and spun dry
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup toasted pecans
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Olive Oil
Salt to taste

Whirl up the ingredients in your food processor, adding a thin stream of olive oil until you make a paste. I like to use pecans when making pesto from bitter greens such as dandelion, which can stand a little more fat. I also use pecans when making pesto from radish leaves and cilantro. We have a friend whose mother owns a pecan farm in Alabama, so we buy them in bulk from her every fall. 
Pesto Mis en Place
I put the result on a grilled pizza Saturday night. 

Pizza Dough (adapted from Alton Brown)
16 ounces flour (My favorite for baked goods is Blue Bird, milled in Cortez, Colorado. Thanks to Suzanne Burkle for introducing it to me!)
2.5 teaspoons dry yeast
1 Tablespoon salt 
12 ounces warm water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
.5 Tablespoon molasses

Whisk together the dry ingredients, and combine the wet. Add the wet to the dry, mixing and then kneading until it pulls together. Put dough into a clean bowl with a little olive oil, and turn the dough to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least six hours. Remove dough and let warm an hour or so before making pizza. If you're only making one pizza, just take out a third of the dough. I've kept this recipe in the refrigerator for five days, and the flavor only improves.

Preheat grill to 400, and make sure that grates are very clean. 

Cut dough into thirds. Work into a 12-inch round with your hands or a roller, on a floured board. Move pizza to a floured peel. Brush top of pizza with olive oil. Flip onto hot grill. Let cook 3-4 minutes. Brush uncooked top of pizza with olive oil, and flip over. Spread pizza with pesto, and top with red onions, roasted yellow peppers, and fresh mozzarella. Cover grill and let cook another 3-4 minutes, until cheese has melted.
Grilled Pizza with Dandelion Pesto
As any gardener knows, picking the yellow flowers and trimming back the leaves of the dandelion only leads to more flowers and leaves. If you're trying to rid your yard of them, this is maddening. If you're going to eat them all summer, it's comforting to know that they will never really go away.