It’s spruce tip season: fresh, new tree growth at the tips of the branches of evergreen conifer trees present as vibrant, brilliant green nuggets about the size of a nut, varying between the sizes of a peanut and a pecan. They are instantly recognizable as a completely different color than the rest of the needles on the branch, from a distance looking like a Christmas tree has come down with forest chicken pox. For the past few weeks, they have been encased in a papery brown or fleshy red covering (that ejects clouds of a dense, yellow pollen when shaken), which they are now shedding to reveal the green tips. Continue reading
54F by mid-afternoon, chilly but warm in the sunshine once the clouds cleared late afternoon.
Foraging is not only an excellent way to supplement your diet, but it reduces your carbon footprint. I hear a lot of people complaining about climate change and foraging is a way to be some part of the solution. Eating whatever’s in your garden is the best way to put your money where your mouth is. Why have that salad sent from California when you have wood sorrel, dandelion greens, ramps, thistle roots, winter cress, burdock, plantain and wild lettuce on your property? Don’t spray your weeds; eat them. Some hardcore carnivores would be surprised to find that these foraged greens have any nutrition at all, but if you spend dark winters watching the deer battle on through a driving blizzard at zero degrees, knowing that they only eat vegetation, you have all the proof you need. Foraging is fun and hiking is the best exercise, gentle enough for everyone. Sorrel is has the taste of spinach with a lemony zing. Spruce tips, which are out now, are a little unusual with a taste reminiscent of citrus.
Forsythia, which is in bloom at the moment, is a shrub that produces gorgeous bright yellow flowers in the spring before its leaves start to shoot. After attending Rob Handel’s Wild Edibles class last week, I discovered that I had a huge forsythia bush on my property and that now is the time to make forsythia syrup with the flowers on this shrub.
Last night, Rob Handel, chef at Heather Ridge Farm, impressed a large crowd packed into the Catskill Center with his knowledge on wild edibles and foraging. After conducting a talk on how to incorporate wild vegetables into our diet by producing tinctures, ferments and syrups, he brought out some delicious, earthy, wholesome food to taste that made the taste buds come alive.
Endive stuffed with porcini mushroom pate topped with ramp pesto accompanied by carrot, burdock root and garlic grass salad (pictured above).
A pickled milk weed pod
Forsythia Syrup with Soda
Some of the ingredients in last night’s tasting were foraged recently: forsythia is available now and ramps are coming up. The nettle soup was fresh and exquisite. Some ingredients were preserved; the pickled milk weed pod tasted like a larger, yet much more subtle, caperberry. The crowd was so large for this event, not only because Rob is so knowledgable, answering everyone’s follow-up – and non-follow up/general experience – questions with ease, but because wild edibles are becoming very popular. Gradually, people are turning away from traditional foods and taking a keen interest in the wildly diverse tastes of foraged herbs, funghi and vegetables that they can find on their property like garlic mustard, burdock, nettle leaf, sumac, dandelion, sheep sorrel, milk weed, porcini and more. This kind of rare, unusual – and FREE! – food excites the taste buds. Plus, it’s fun to forage. Rob recommended a few books, one of which was The Joy of Foraging by Gary Lincoff.
60F by mid-afternoon, clear skies and sunny with a slight chill in the air.
A bit of homework: this handy beginner’s guide to mushrooms of the North East teaches the beginner how to take the first step in making positive identifications. It can’t hurt to swot up early: last year, I found a small crop of Bolete on my property and made a mushroom gravy with them. I had no idea at the time that they were King Bolete, forming a symbiotic relationship under a conifer tree and a coveted mushroom in the foraging world, up there with chanterelles, black trumpet and oyster mushrooms. The Bolete were as big as my foot and tasty. A neighbor down the hill found some huge puffballs at the time.
Authors Walt Sturgeon and Teresa Marrone take pains to state that their simple guide is only the beginning of your foraging career. The book is very easy to read because the mushrooms are sorted by appearance with very good, clear photographs. Some of the mushrooms appear with their poisonous look-a-likes and color-coded references. For example, Chanterelles can easily be mistaken for poisonous Jack-o-Lanterns. There’s a great deal to learn about mushrooms but this tiny guide is an excellent teacher.
Bolete Mushroom Gravy
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 Eggs Serves 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.
Wild red raspberries are plump and juicy this year. Get them before the bears and slugs do. Look for low lying bushes with leaves that have serrated edges.
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.