Sunday, June 6, 2010

Spring Foraging

By Nicole Sugerman

A foraging how-to might seem a little off-base in this newsletter, because foraging is not farming. However, I think it is wholly relevant. For me, being a small-scale farmer is entirely based around the belief that me, my community, and my world will be healthier and happier if and when we create a local food system based around self-determination and community autonomy. Fostering community self-sufficiency with regard to our food supply involves not only actively growing as much food locally as possible, but learning to eat and use the plants that already grow around us. So, I have compiled an incomplete list of some of the wild foods I am foraging at this time of the year.

I forage for mulberries by looking at the sidewalk. A good tree will have ripe, dark, big berries staining the ground; some drop their fruit prematurely, and some have small, poorly defined berries. The other key to mulberry success is finding a tree with branches low enough to reach! I just scout for a while—there are enough mulberry trees around that one is sure to fine some that are reachable.
While the mulberry is not the most flavorful or sweetest berry, it can be a delicious addition to pancakes, muffins, or over ice cream. Here is a recipe for my favorite thing to do with mulberries:

Mulberry Pie
3 cups mulberries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon milk
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
-In a large bowl, mix berries with sugar and flour. Place mixture into bottom pie crust. Dot with butter and then cover with top pie crust. -Crimp edges, cut slits in upper crust, and brush with milk. Let pie rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
-Bake pie in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
-Remove pie from oven and let sit on wire rack until cool.

Stinging Nettles
Stinging nettles are a little difficult to harvest, but are well worth the effort. Highly nutritious, nettles can be eaten as a green vegetable or used medicinally. I even tasted a nettle mead that a homebrewer made last week. Harvest while wearing gloves, because the sting does last a fair while. When cooked or dried, nettles lose their sting.

Nasselsopa, Scandinavian Nettles Soup:
• 10 cups washed nettle leaves
• water to cover
• 3 Tbsp. butter
• 1/4 cup flour
• 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
• 3 cloves finely chopped garlic
• 1/4 cup chopped chives
• 2 cups chicken or beef stock
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. white pepper
• 1 tsp. dried thyme
• 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
• 2 cups light cream or half-and-half
• 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped or cut into slices, for garnish

Harvest a plastic bag-full of fresh stinging nettle leaves, about 10-12 cups, and wash.

Use slotted spoon to carefully place washed nettle leaves in large saucepan, without touching them. Add water to cover, and bring to a low simmer. Blanch leaves for 10-15 minutes, until tender (Note: they’ll be safe to touch once blanched!)
Place blanched nettles with one cup cooking water into food processor and chop finely (don’t puree them). Discard the rest of the cooking water.

Heat butter and flour together in saucepan over medium-high heat to make a light roux. Lower heat to medium, add chopped red onion, garlic, and chives, and sauté until onion is opaque.

Whisk in stock, salt, white pepper, thyme, and nutmeg, stirring until roux is well-incorporated. Stir in processed nettle mixture, then gradually whisk in light cream or half-and-half. Heat until warmed through, about 10 minutes.

Pour into soup bowls, garnish with chopped or sliced hard-boiled eggs, and serve.
Yield: 4-6 servings.

Nettles Tea:
Soak fresh or dried nettle leaves in boiling water. This tea can be used to treat asthma, allergies, urinary infections, regulating blood sugar, and intestinal problems.

Chicory Root
I have been excited this weekend to see the first chicory blossoms, alerting me to the fact that I should begin to harvest chicory root. Nina and I first made chicory coffee two years ago together, and the result was delicious. Chicory has long been an additive to coffee to ‘stretch’ the coffee in lean times, but is also delicious on its own. You can harvest your own chicory roots by digging up the flowers that grow by virtually every roadside (be sure to watch for soil contaminants!) It is a deep blue flower that grows on a long, dark green stalk.

Chicory coffee:
Wash the roots and cut into thin discs. Place in a 300 degree oven and roast until completely dry. Roots will have an aroma of chocolate. Grind in your coffee grinder, and drink mixed with coffee, alone, or in herbal mixes.

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