Tag: cook

Wild History August Walking Tour + Picnic

Wild History August Walking Tour + Picnic | Raleigh City Farm | August 29, 9-11 AM

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We’ll forage edible wild plants together from the area surrounding Raleigh City Farm and then taste dishes made from the same plants!  We will review foraging guidelines and safety as well as instruction on plant uses and identification. Along the way, we’ll share history about the local area and this month’s theme: Foraging Three Ways.  We’ll talk about three ways to forage in the urban environment: (1) finding edible wild plants in public spaces, (2) borrowing excess edible plants from your neighbors, or (3) planting wild foods at home.  For the light picnic you can expect wild drink teas, local bread, local cheese, homemade wild jams and jellies, wild greens, and a wild treat for dessert!

This month’s location – Raleigh City Farm – provides a great example of growing wild edibles in and amongst your other edible and decorative plants!  Stick around after the picnic to check out their farm stand if you want some more cultivated veggies (open till 12 PM).

Notes:

+Please wear appropriate shoes and clothing for walking outdoors.  [weather-specific advice].

+All participants will be asked to sign a liability waiver for the event.

+Any persons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

 

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Rosebud… I Mean, Redbud…

As we’ve been walking the Raleigh Greenways as part of our 100 Miles in 100 Days series, we have seen pops of bright magenta in the trees all along the way.  This bright pink color is thanks to the Redbud tree, and not only is it lovely, it’s also one of my favorite wild edibles.

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Unlike many of the wild edibles we’ve posted about so far, this one is not an interloper from Europe or Asia; rather it’s a tree that is native to North America.  This is exciting  in part because it seems a rare quality among many of the wild plants we’ve been foraging, but also because it is perhaps a small peek at what the local landscape may have looked like before European colonization of people and of land.  It leads us to explore another part of our local history.

The Tuscarora tribe of Native Americans who made their homes in the Piedmont and coastal regions of North Carolina are probably familiar, at least by name, to those who grew up in the state. They were the people who first encountered the English settlers exploring their land, and they are the people whom the Tuscarora War references after fighting (unsurprisingly) began shortly after contact.

John Lawson was the official surveyor general of the Carolinas, and as part of his job duties, in 1700 he became the first recorded European to explore the area that is now Raleigh and Wake County. Here he is, looking just like he did after weeks living in the woods. Probably. (Image courtesy of Eastern Carolina University.)

John Lawson awaiting his death

In this cool painting, the Tuscarora have tied up John Lawson and two companions so that they don’t run away before being executed. The Tuscarora were initially open to contact with Europeans, but soon became unhappy that so many of them were being raped, tortured, and enslaved by the new settlers. After killing Lawson in 1711, they moved on to attack New Bern, which marked the beginning of the Tuscarora War. (Image courtesy of State Archives of North Carolina.)

While John Lawson was wandering around Raleigh–pre-Fayetteville Street–he encountered what we know as the Neuse River. That same year, the Neuse River’s ostensible namesakes, the Neusiok tribe of Native Americans, were experiencing their last known year of existence. There were only four remaining members in 1700, and they are believed to have been absorbed by the more populous Tuscarora.

Tying this all back to our 100 Miles in 100 Days series, these redbud trees were used by the Neusiok, Tuscarora, and other people who had been living on land that overlapped its habitat. They ate them cooked or raw, and used infusions of them to treat issues like fevers and coughs.

Plant Profile: Redbud

So what are ways we can use this versatile plant today?  The flowers are beginning to dwindle, so get them quickly!  But even if you miss them, they produce another product next – little snow-pea-like seed pods.  This is why it’s important to note where you saw the blooming trees, so you remember where to return for the next harvest!

Old pod from last season.

Old pod from last season.

Description and Habitat.  Redbuds are deciduous small trees or shrubs in the pea family.  They grow in the wild and are also grown ornamentally, so you could see them in forests, along greenways, or even in your neighbor’s lawn.  They generally bloom better with at least some sun.  Look for clusters of bright pink/purple flowers growing in bunches right along the stem or trunk in spring, for snow-pea-like pods hanging from the branches after they flower, and for heart-shaped leaves.

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Harvest.   Redbud blossoms can be harvested in their unopened bud stage or in bloom.  You’ll notice them blooming from late March to mid April.  When the flowers die back, the trees set small snow-pea-like pods that are also edible.  Get them when they are almost as long as your thumb but while they are still tender before they turn tough or dry out.

Small new pods beginning to set as flowers fade.

Small new pods beginning to set as flowers fade.

Flavor and Use.   Flowers and pods both have a very pea-like flavor and lend a delicious fresh crunch to salads, wraps, and sandwiches.  Unopened blooms can be pickled like capers, and blossoms can be made into jellies.  Eat seed pods as you would snow peas.  Young leaves are also edible raw or cooked.

Wild Flower Summer Rolls

Think of these as your new favorite portable way to eat salad.  Adding edible wild flowers to these makes for a stunning presentation as the colors show through the transparent wrappers.

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Prepare any of the following filling ingredients so that they are ready to assemble:  

spring greens, foraged or not (lettuce, baby kale, pea shoots, chickweed)

carrots, cut into matchsticks

mint and cilantro, torn in pieces

edible wild flowers, such as violets and redbuds

peas or redbud pods, fresh or blanched

rice noodles, prepared according to package directions

Now you will need your spring roll rice paper wrappers.

Dip them in warm water (about like bath water) until just starting to soften and bend (they will continue to soften as you work).

Lay out flat on a smooth work surface (note wood surfaces tend to stick).

Layer a mixture of fillings of your choosing from above in the center of the top third of the wrapper.

Stretch and fold top of wrapper down to just cover ingredients. Then fold in each end like a burrito.  Finally, roll contents to bottom of wrapper, keeping ends tucked in.

Serve with dipping sauce of your choosing – such as a spicy ginger-garlic peanut sauce [make by blending ginger, garlic, peanuts/peanut butter, soy sauce, and oil together to your desired taste].

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Fresh Herbs in Winter: Wild and Homegrown Alternatives to the Supermarket

You may not think of winter as a time to write a post about fresh herbs, but that’s exactly why these beauties below fit into our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.  Winter may seem like the hardest time to find fresh herbs, making us all resort to those horrible clam shell herb containers at the store where you pay five dollars for a bundle of herbs you know you could grow so easily in the summer or find a bundle four times that size for half the price at your local farmers’ market.

This may lead you to attempt growing herbs indoors, something I have had mixed success with, often resulting in scraggly, slow-growing plants.

Alternatively, you may notice that many of your perennial herbs, although slow growing, live on outdoors well beyond the first frost date.  The piles of mint, onion grass, bee balm, catmint, and lemon balm below were all picked in January, well after many frosts.

Winter Herb Harvest

Another option is to attempt a cold frame or low tunnel outdoors to keep a few small stashes of herbs growing through the winter.  Cilantro does particularly well in that environment, like my little almost-picked-to-death cilantro in my low tunnel below.

Low Tunnel Winter Cilantro

If none of these options sound appealing to you, don’t count out the wild herbs!  Below are two of the most common wild herbs you’ll find around – two that I’ll bet you’ve either eaten or at least crushed and smelled before – noting their aromatic properties but hesitating to cook with them.  Why hesitate?

Onion Grass (aka Wild Garlic)

When I first moved down here, I remember someone pointing out “onion grass” to me, and I thought, no no, that’s just chives that have gone rogue into someone’s yard.  I didn’t realize that chives had a more wild cousin that really likes to get around.  It’s an easy mistake to make, and a happy one!  Because it shows how interchangeable the two can be in cooking – why spend $4.99 on that clamshell of “fresh chives” when you probably have a patch of onion grass in your lawn you’ve been trying to eradicate for years?

Wild Garlic

Description and Habitat.  “Onion grass” grows in clumps of green chive-like tops with a bulb at its base made of several smaller “cloves,” much like garlic.  You can find it in just about any lawn or field or along any roadside.  The strong onion/garlic scent is a good indicator that you have the right plant.

Harvest.  To harvest, you can simply cut off whatever leaves you need.  Feel free to give it a full haircut; it will grow back.  Alternatively, if you want to harvest the bulb below, you can pull up the whole plant. Just be sure to leave a couple bulbs from the clump in the ground so you can come back to your spot in years to come.

Flavor and Use.  You can use the grass like you would chives, and the bulbs like you would garlic (although their small size makes this difficult).  The grass itself is much more garlicky than chives, so I like to use it to lend that flavor to some classically garlicky uses – like this pesto below and the seasoned salt at the end of the post.

Wild Greens & Nuts Pesto

Warning:  This pesto is addictive!  You will scoop it on everything, and if you take it to a party, it will not come back with you.  It may just be my favorite wild food recipe I have under my belt so far…

Wild Greens and Nuts Pesto

Recipe:

2-3 handfuls of wild garlic greens, roughly chopped

2-3 handfuls of wild cress greens

1-2 handfuls of wild nuts (hickory, pecan, and/or black walnut)

2 large pinches salt

olive oil

Combine wild garlic greens and wild cress in a food processor with wild nuts of your choosing.  Salt well.

Pulse until they are well mixed, and then begin to drizzle in olive oil while the food processor runs.  I like mine heavy on the olive oil until the mixture turns from looking like separate ingredients into a smooth creamy paste, as the oil emulsifies into a totally different texture (see picture above – there’s nothing dry or leafy about that pesto!).

Scoop into a bowl and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, some wild leaves, and/or nuts.

Note: if you don’t have a chance to forage wild herbs for this, arugula and garlic with sunflower seeds will make another delicious version.

Ground Ivy 

One of my uncles was visiting a few months ago, helping us out on some backyard constructions projects.  When those were in ship shape, he asked, now what are you going to do about all this ground ivy?  (Our entire back “lawn” is ground ivy).  To which I replied, eat it!  We love our ground ivy lawn…  it’s beautiful covered in purple flowers in spring, durable, and smells delightfully herby when you walk on it or mow it.

Even better yet, you can eat it, and it’s tasty!  It could have made it into our Wild Winter Teas post, as it’s a member of the mint family, high in vitamin C, and brews a good cup.  But I like it even better featured as an herb for cooking.  Historically, it was used for eating, as medicine, in the beer making process by Saxons before hops were introduced, and by various other peoples in cheese making as a substitute for rennet.  How versatile!

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Description and Habitat.  Ground ivy grows in trailing runners up to about four inches tall.  Leaves are roughly heart-shaped and scalloped (see picture above), stems are square shaped (due to its membership in the mint family), and it gets small purple flowers in spring.  Ground ivy gives off a distinctly herby, almost minty sent when crushed.  You’ll find it in your lawn, along greenways and roadsides, and in fields, particularly where it is somewhat cooler and shady.

Harvest.  You can pull up entire runners of ground ivy or snip off individual leaves.  I generally “harvest” when weeding it out of my vegetable beds.  Ground ivy is considered a non-native invasive species in the U.S., so harvest away!

Flavor and Uses.  Ground ivy has a scent/flavor somewhere between mint and a mild, greener rosemary.  You can put it in soups and salads, make tea out of it, or use it as a fresh or dried herb.  The flowers look particularly pretty in salads in spring.

Wild Seasoned Salt Rub

This recipe for wild seasoned salt has about a million and one uses.  Rub it on chicken, lamb, or beef before roasting.  Toss it with pasta and Parmesan for a great side; add white beans, and it’s a main course.  Dry it and bottle it for a unique wild holiday gift!  Another bonus:  this is one more way to use your citrus peels.  Zest peels before juicing (it’s very difficult to do after) and dry to be used later in seasoning rubs like this one or in desserts.

Wild Seasoned Salt

Recipe:

Zest of 2 lemons, grated

1 bunch of Ground Ivy leaves

1 bunch of Onion Grass

2 Tbsp Sea Salt

If using immediately, mince ground ivy and onion grass and combine with lemon zest and salt (pepper optional).

Wild Seasoned Salt Ingredients

If you’d like to dry and store this as a wild seasoned salt, dry grated lemon zest, whole ground ivy, and onion grass (in your oven or toaster oven on its lowest setting is one good way).

Crumble ground ivy and onion grass (or pulse in a coffee grinder), and combine with dried lemon zest and sea salt.

Store in an airtight container somewhere dark and cool.  Use as you would the fresh version.

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