Round the Old Oak Tree
Monday, September 05, 2011
There are all sorts of nut trees in my neighborhood, but none so plentiful as oak trees . . . which produce acorns. You can’t drive down my street in the fall without getting pelted by these little nuggets. Despite their wide availability, you don’t really see acorn meats for sale at the grocery store—that doesn’t mean they’re not edible, though. They’re good for you, too: 1 oz. of dried acorns has only a small amount of saturated fat, and they’re a good source of copper and vitamin B-12.
Foraging for acorns is the tricky part—the ones on the ground without the caps are likely to be riddled with worms. And some varieties of oak produce acorns high in tannins, which makes them bitter. I won’t bore you with the details of which oak trees produce the best acorns. Other posts have already been written on the topic of what to look for, how to shell them, and the best way to dry them. The real question is this: after you’ve spent the time to gather and prep them, what the hell do you do with them?
All you have to do is beat the squirrels to the oak trees.
Sustainable Saturdays in University City
Monday, July 11, 2011
Foraging! Wine and Cheese! Local Honey! Farmers’ Market! Seed Bombs! Get in this great series of events this coming Saturday! Farm to Table in West Philadelphia.
Saturday, June 06, 2009
As I was taking the pictures for this post, a guy came up to me and asked what I was doing, if I was documenting the weedy scrabble of this vacant lot. That’s the thing about mulberries: the last stands of these tart/sweet, juicy, free berries are in vacant city lots. I have to admit that I love to freak people out by wandering up and eating berries off the tree. (Common sense caution: if you’re not sure that it’s a mulberry, don’t eat it. Go forage with someone who knows.) This clump is at 22nd/Carpenter streets. Different clumps have different tastes—some have not much flavor at all. Wander around until you find one that’s yummy.
You’re Going to Eat What?
Saturday, May 24, 2008
While on a recent field to the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ, I took advantage of some down time (i.e., my students were preoccupied with netting wildlife) to harvest some pickleweed (Salicornia europeae variety rubra). During the field trip, our guide pointed out some of the more interesting and useful plants in the ecosystem – including the fragrant bayberry bush (Myrica pensylvanica), which colonists used to make candles.
It turns out that pickleweed is edible, with a wonderful texture and a briny taste not unlke a brined “pickle” (hence the name, I suppose). Bringing two handfuls home, I found it a wonderful addition to a mixed green salad.
The larger point I am trying to make here is something that when I go to the farmer’s market, I am typically looking for local versions of familiar foods – potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions. Yet, how much edible local vegetation is out there? What possibilities have I ignored through simple ignorance of my ecosystem?
Eat your weeds
Monday, April 28, 2008
Dandelions are popping up everywhere I look lately. They are the bane of my existence in the garden, mostly because they’re so hard to permanently get rid of. Maybe I shouldn’t try so hard and, instead, use the overabundance of weeds to my advantage. In terms of foraging, the dandelion is useful in a variety of ways - from the leaves to the blossoms.
The most common use of the dandelion are the greens. You’ll pay a small fortune for dandelion greens at the market - if you can even find them. They’re great in salads as a bitter green, or fantastic cooked down in a saute or soup or warm salad. Just walk out to your back yard or where ever dandelions are plentiful and pick the leaves off the plant!
Dandelions can even be used for home remedies - dandelion oil is used to treat rheumatism.
There’s treasure in those weeds you keep mowing over - be sure to pick those dandelion flowers and leaves before you mow next time!
Other dandelion recipes:
recipes for invasive plants
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Last week, a friend of mine showed me the APWG recipe page, called Eat Your Weedies. Some of the links there include recipes for garlic mustard soup, Japanese knotwood and apple pie, barberry jelly, and rose hip jam. I know some of us have talked about trying to learn to identify and hunt mushrooms, but most of these invasives are much easier to spot. And, hey, eating invasive plants gives the native plants just a little more of a chance, in addition to being relatively simple to find nearby.
(Lilac shown because I bought a branch of lilac blossoms at the farmers’ market this morning. I don’t recommend eating them.)
Monday, March 31, 2008
I like to head down to the Italian Market sometimes and visit the fish mongers. Sometimes the fish look good and fresh, and sometimes they don’t. Whatever the case, it’s rare that the fish guys have a good sense of where exactly that fish came from…and chances are that it definitely isn’t local.
It is something of a sore point with me that we live so close to the Jersey shore and the waters of the Chesapeake, yet there’s no good mechanism in or around Philadelphia to find local fish. It’s simple to find locally grown produce and meat - farmers are proud of it and they advertise. Why that isn’t the case with locally grown/locally caught fish, I’ll never know.
But let it never be said we can’t take matters into our own hands, especially if you’ve got a husband who likes to fish!
For Philadelphians, fishing for your own food is problematic. I mean, the very idea of eating fish caught in the city limits parts of the Delaware or Schuylkill Rivers is unthinkable. Corporations routinely dump arsenic, untreated sewage, and all sorts of things into our waterways, and I’m on the water enough to know there are a plethora of dead bodies in both rivers. You can eat some of the fish caught in the river, but there’s a severe limit on what you can eat and how much of it you can eat.
The suburbs offer a better solution. In some cases, not much better. But at least you don’t have to worry too much about eating super contaminated three-eyed fish!
In Southeast Pennsylvania trout season started on March 29. Out here in Delaware County, there are a few good spots to fish trout. Saturday morning, my husband took his first fishing jaunt of the season and brought home a rainbow trout and a brown trout. My hero!
We did have a discussion, though, about whether or not you can call a trout caught just a few miles from the house but raised further away local. In this case, the trout that were stocked are from somewhere in Lancaster County and that means they’re probably within our 100 mile radius. But if the fish came from further away, I’m not sure if that would count. Thoughts on this?
After all my griping about not being able to find a reliable source for local fish, I was so happy to have these trout! You just can’t get any fresher than that. I pan-fried them in some butter I made last week, and served the fillets with some lightly cooked baby spinach from, I think, Green Meadow Farm and sauteed mushrooms from Mother Earth Mushrooms. It was fantastic, and I’m looking forward to more freshly caught trout this season!
With April come violets!
Friday, March 28, 2008
I’ve heard it said that April is the cruelest month here in Pennsylvania in terms of locally grown produce. But with April usually comes violets. Around my house we generally tend to start see them popping up around mid-April through the end of May. Most people don’t look at wild violets growing in the yard and think “Hey, I think I’ll eat those!” but foraging for wild violets is a sweet way to get in some early locally grown food.
Yeah, ‘sweet’. Get it? I make candied violets every Spring.
True, candied violets don’t taste like much except, well, sugar. But if you’re decorating a cake, they’re useful to have. Or they’re good just as a snack. And they last practically forever.
Here’s how you do it -
- First, go out into the yard or someone else’s yard or wherever violets are growing and pick a couple big handfuls. Whatever you do, make sure you pick them from places you know haven’t been treated with pesticides or herbicides or any other potentially dangerous chemicals.
- Wash the violets very gently. You can soak the flowers in cold water for a little while or gently swish them in water, as you prefer. Before you start candying the violets, though, you need to make sure the violets are completely dry…so be sure you give them enough time to air dry.
- Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.
- Make egg wash using egg whites from two room temperature eggs with a pinch of water. Whisk the egg white/water mixture until it’s just very lightly a little frothy.
- Crush a half cup of granulated sugar with a mortar and pestle. It doesn’t have to be like powder, but it should be smaller granules
- Grab a small paint brush and a violet. Dip the brush into the egg white and very gently but thoroughly coat the violet flower on all sides. This works best if you hold the violet by the stem.
- Spoon sugar very gently over the violet to coat it on all sides.
- Lay the violet on a cookie sheet and very gently remove the stem.
- Dry them in your 200 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let them cool completely, and then store in an air tight container.
Monday, September 03, 2007
The idea of foraging never occurred to me prior to reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Rather than something normal people do to find food for themselves, it seemed like something weird and foreign…nearly akin to looking in trash cans for food. I’ve always been a gardener, excited by the idea of raising my own food. It seems silly now that I would make such a distinction between things I specifically cultivated for food and food that I might find growing wild. It is especially odd, considering I grew up in an area where there were so many hunters my school district was (and continues to be) closed on the first day of deer season - what else is hunting and fishing but foraging?
Foraging is, in its most basic sense, wandering in search of food. And I have done it without considering it as such - like when I was little and gorged myself on a blueberries from a bush I found in the woods. Lately I’ve been more and more inspired to look for sources of food outside my comfort zone (ie, my garden and the farmer’s market). To help me with identification, I took out Edible Wild Plants of Pennsylvania and New York by John Tomikel from my library.
Before I start searching the city and burbs for edible plantlife on public property, I thought I might start in my own backyard. It’s still foraging in your backyard, right? If the stuff you find wasn’t intended to be food? Well, I’m going to call it foraging. Baby steps to real foraging, maybe.
Many of us have juniper bushes on our property in this neck of the woods. We have three or four giant juniper bushes in the yard. The Juniperus virginiana is an evergreen that is quite common to the area, usually planted as windbreaks or hedgerows. It produces juniper berries, although it’s really not a true berry. It’s a modified conifer cone, so it’s a little scaly. As a rule, you really wouldn’t want to eat juniper berries - most are fairly bitter. However, juniper berries do have their uses!
The juniper berry is the major flavoring used to make gin. As far as I know, it is legal to make gin in your home as long as you don’t sell it. If you’re interested in trying, there are some fairly substantial instructions at Home Distillation of Alcohol.
Beyond their role in making gin, juniper berries are a great flavoring for meat dishes. They are generally used dried and crushed, and are removed from the dish before eating. I have used juniper berries from my bushes in meat marinades. However, I’ve found all sorts of recipes using juniper berries
For more information about how and when to harvest juniper berries, click here.
A word of caution: juniper is a diuretic and can be harmful to pregnant women (it may cause uterine contractions).