2 cups of chopped mushrooms
1 medium onion
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon of ground celery
2 tablespoons of local butter
2 tablespoons of whole milk
2 cups of boiling water
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of sage
1 sprig of rosemary
1 tablespoon of all purpose flour
This recipe calls for chopped mushrooms, but if you like your mushroom gravy lump-free, then you will either need to use minced mushrooms instead of chopped, whizz them in the blender or you will have to purée the gravy with a hand blender once it’s cooked.
It’s mushroom season and while foraging I found a huge stand of bolete mushrooms growing under maple and oak trees on the edge of my forest. I’m a novice forager, so I had FOUR separate people confirm that what I had was edible. Before proceeding to eat any mushroom, you must first be certain of its identity. Seek the counsel of experts as it’s simply not worth making a mistake in this case. Even as my mushrooms are cooking, I’m still worried about eating them. A couple of neighbors have applauded my courage, so it’s safe to assume I will have what I cook all to myself. I will keep readers posted as to the state of my stomach. Over the next month or so, I will be taking some foraging classes, but in the meantime, I wanted to get started and make the most of what my garden had to offer.
If there’s anything quite as satisfying as foraging for your lunch, apart from growing your own food, I’d like to know what that is. Wild leeks, otherwise known as ramps, are having a good season here in the Catskills and many residents have them in abundance on their property this year. Don’t pick too many to ensure that your ramps continue to return every year. If you pick your whole crop they may not grow back. They require literally no maintenance, but you can enjoy them year after year if you take no more than a third of the crop. They smell like onions, have bright green leaves, red stems and you can eat the whole plant. A large ramp about 18 inches in length like the ones pictured below is enough for a two-egg scramble. This recipe calls for the ramps to be mixed in with the eggs.
Wild Leek & Scrambled EggsServes 4
10 small eggs
4 large wild leeks
1 large tablespoon of finely grated parmesan
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of oil
Half a cup of milk
Salt & pepper to taste
Take the leeks, cut the leaves off and put the leaves to one side. Chop the stems finely. Heat a skillet with the oil in it and sautee the stems until soft.
Separately beat the eggs and milk in a bowl until thoroughly mixed and then, add the chopped leaves and parmesan and beat for a few more minutes until mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the butter to the sauteed stems, allow it to melt and mix in with the soft stems. Add the egg mixture to the stems and cook lightly until scrambled.
Country life means throwing on the wellies, sprinting out of the house at 8am ahead of the town mower to save a patch of wild mint and chicory before it’s razed by the town’s enormous lateral road leveler. Their incredible new machine has an industrial rake on it and the monster takes out eight-feet-tall thistles like it’s plucking daisies.
Experienced foragers often say that roadside foraging should be avoided because of brake dust and ice-melting salt, but big buckets of mint make a natural air freshener for musty rooms and workshops. Last year, the slugs got the mint, but they didn’t this year. This summer was a banner year for chicory, which is all over the roadsides everywhere. Get it into water immediately otherwise it will quickly wilt and makes good freshly cut flowers in clear vases for guest bedrooms.
We have a whole field full of yarrow this year, which is an anti-microbial herb with a distinctive aroma that’s reminiscent of anti-bacterial oils like tea tree. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be harvesting the best of it and drying it for use as a tea.
Yarrow is revered in the world of natural medicine with reports of it having universal healing powers, arresting conditions like bleeding, pain, infection, allergies, colds, flu, toothache, and gastro-intestinal disorders like cramps, bloating, indigestion and even urinary tract infections. The herb is an astringent and the liver benefits from yarrow’s bitter components. When taken as tea, yarrow is said to increase the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
It has been a remarkable summer for wild apple trees that seem to be everywhere you look. Much more conspicuous this year due to being so heavily laden with fruit, they’re all full to bursting with apples that are about two inches in diameter and mostly green in colour. Here in the Catskills, bear and deer are going to be feasting on them well into winter. The fruit is very tart to taste but make a superb apple sauce with the addition of sweeteners like honey, sugar or orange juice. They make a fantastic compote with berries. A noteworthy source of vitamin C and fibre, the apples will fit in just about any pie, cake or sauce. Soak them in vodka for a tart cocktail, a replacement for Cranberry juice, or add them to cider.
In season now, are wild strawberries. That’s a teaspoon, so they’re tiny, but delicious. Look for the serrated-edged leaves and if the grass is low, just run your hands over it and you’ll reveal the berries lying against the ground. Notice that the tiny ones have just as many seeds. Don’t worry if you tread a patch into the ground. You should leave some behind to proliferate in the same place next year.
I am told by my pal, Laura Silverman, that spruce tips are ready to go. They are the brilliant green shoots that unfold from growths at the ends of the spruce spindles in May. They are much a much brighter green than the needles on the spindle and stand out in stark contrast to the tree itself. Snip the green shoots off and eat raw; they are packed with chlorophyll and Vitamin C. The aroma of only one of these little shoots is sensational. Literally spruce up a living room, pocket, bag or underwear drawer. They freeze well, so you can get your Vitamin C in the winter too. You can make tea, use in soups and salads. You can also crush them and make a pesto like you can with the garlic mustard. Recipes will be forthcoming over the weekend.
Many foragers, hikers, herbalists and conservationists consider it a travesty that instead of pulling and eating their edible weeds people throw chemical weed killer on them. It’s bad for the water table and our health. Dandelions that are so prevalent in our gardens now are fully edible raw and full of vitamin A. One cup of chopped dandelion is said to have 111% of your daily vitamin A intake, for example.
Marguerite Uhlmann-Bower is a registered nurse, herbal educator and wild foods forager who conducts“weed walks” in which she teaches us how to forage for wild edibles.
How long have you lived in the Catskills?
Manhattan and Brooklyn. I was born in Manhattan and spent part of my young life in Brooklyn. When I experienced the country when I was eleven, I knew that was where I was going when I got old enough.