Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate

On our recent travels through the west, we passed through Boulder (a place I definitely need to spend some time exploring in the future). We stopped by the Pearl Street Mall and took a walk around, looking for a good place to have lunch (we chose Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace, which turned out to be an excellent decision!).

image copyright Almightydad.com

We passed by cute boutique after cool-looking storefront. But the one that caught my eye was The Boulder Bookstore. It was filled with lots of books, fun gift items, and a surprisingly large selection of fair trade chocolates! I wanted a copy of Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring to read on the plane home, and figured this indie bookstore would have to have a copy in stock. I inquired at the desk, and was told that I could find it in the Ecology section. I found Silent Spring, and also made a wonderful additional discovery – Edible Wild Plants: Wild Food from Dirt to Plate, a new book by John Kallas, PhD, founder of Wild Food Adventures.

I have been on Kallas’ mailing list for over 2 years, but have yet to attend one of his amazing wild food events, which are mostly held in Oregon. So I was very excited to find a book through which I could glean some of his expertise in the field of wild foods.

While I love my collection of wild foods books by Euell Gibbons and Jim Duke, I was thrilled to see the detailed information provided on each plant profiled in Edible Wild Plants. Like Gibbons, Kallas goes into depth on just a few plants (only 15 plants, as this book is part of a series he plans to write over the next few years). And like Gibbons, he includes recipes for each plant.

However, Kallas’ book has the added feature of multiple photographs showing each plant during its various stages of development. This has been my major complaint with other wild plant books, in that it is often very difficult to identify a plant based on just one photograph. As Kallas points out in his book, “The same plant can look different not only in this book but in other books, depending on the angle of the photograph, the condition of the plant…” and “While moving through different stages of growth, a plant can transform so much that young and old versions look like different species.”

When I opened the book in the store, it fell open to the first of 17 pages devoted to one of my favorite wild plants, garlic mustard (which I wrote about earlier this year), including 16 photographs and two recipes. I knew I had to buy it!

Parkberry pie: Making use of the season’s mulberry abundance

Last month I wrote a blog post on the wonders of Yard Salad, that is, salad made exclusively from ingredients found in my yard. In the same vein, today’s post features another seasonal, wild harvested ingredient – the mulberry.

The berries of the Red Mulberry look a lot like blackberries. We have a White Mulberry in our yard, which has the same type of fruit, only pure white. For some great photographs and interesting information on the mulberry, The Natural Capital blog has a wonderful post.

Our local park has several Red Mulberry trees, which are considered a weed. But I had read in Euell Gibbons Stalking the Wild Asparagus that mulberries are an excellent and underappreciated fruit, and I wanted to give them a try. So my husband and I went foraging in our local park/nature trail and found several trees that were full of the deep purple fruit.

The ripe berries easily fall off of the tree. Sometimes too easily — we lost many dozens to the stream that ran next to the trees. I was also grateful that I had worn a purple dress, since the ripe berries are very juicy and will stain your skin and clothes.

We easily gathered a quart of berries, enough to make a pie. I found several mulberry pie recipes online, and came up with a combination of ingredients that I thought would result in the best flavor and texture. The lemon juice was definitely a good call, since mulberries are sweet in the way that figs are, without any real tartness. The lemon juice balances out the flavors nicely. Anyway, here is my recipe:

  • 3 cups of fresh mulberries (thoroughly washed)*
  • 1 cup of evaporated cane juice
  • ¼ cup flour
  • Juice of 1 lemon (strained)
  • Double-crust pie shell**

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Combine the first four ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Pour mulberry mixture into an unbaked pie shell bottom. Top with the other shell and poke holes to allow the contents to vent. Bake the pie at 400°F for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350°F and bake for another 30 minutes until the crust is lightly brown on the edges. Allow the pie to cool before serving.

Although I have not made many pies in my life, this was a fairly easy process. And while my pie was not worthy of a cooking magazine cover shot, it tasted great and was a huge hit with my family.

*I did a Google search to see if I needed to remove the stems, and came across a recent blog post on The Southern Urban Homestead that showed that others have been on the same quest! I was happy to learn that I didn’t need to remove the stems, since that would have been hugely time consuming and would have resulted in many squashed berries. The stems didn’t exactly dissolve, but they became tender and unobtrusive to the texture of the pie.

**I found an easy pie crust recipe, which I made. But I ended up using a frozen premade whole wheat shell when I realized that I needed to chill the dough I had made for at least 4 hours.

Strawberry Leaves Forever

Recently, while visiting the local garden supply store, I overheard a woman asking a salesman if he had any product that would kill wild strawberries. I have tons of wild strawberries growing all around my yard, and it made me wonder if there wasn’t some good use for them. I know the animals enjoy the berries. What could I do with them? 

I looked in his book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus and found quite a bit on wild strawberries. Apparently the leaves have extremely high levels of Vitamin C — more per serving than a glass of orange juice.

So, I tried making an infusion from the leaves. I picked about a cup of fresh, unblemished leaves. Then I rinsed them off to remove any dirt. I placed them in a quart jar, and poured 1 quart of boiling water over them, then let them steep for 4 hours. 

The result was a mild tea that tasted something like spinach water. I added some peppermint tea to the infusion to give it a more interesting flavor. I’m not sure that this is something I will add to my regular diet, but it is good to know that, in a pinch, abundant doses of vitamin C are right there for the picking.

Please note: My yard is completely pesticide-free and has been as long as I have lived here. Do not ever make teas or consume plants that have been exposed to chemical pesticides.

How To Make Violet Syrup

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I love the deep purple hues of violets. These beautiful little flowers grow in abundance this time of year, so I took the opportunity to try out one of the recipes from Gibbons’ book, “Stalking the Healthful Herb.” According to Euell Gibbons, violets are “nature’s vitamin pill” containing 150mg of vitamin C per 100g of blossoms, three times the amount of that in oranges weight for weight.

I decided to make violet syrup, since it is healthful and a gourmet addition to desserts or cocktails.

So, I went out into my yard and picked about a cupful of violet blossoms. I did this in the early afternoon on a sunny day, a good time to harvest blossoms and herbs since the sun has dried off any moisture that might have collected on them overnight.

I placed the blossoms in a clean, dry canning jar.

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Then I covered them in an equal amount of boiling water (1 cup). You can see from the photo that the water begins to take on a beautiful light blue hue.

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Then, I let the mixture steep for 24 hours. I then strained out the violet blossoms (and put them in my compost canister, pictured behind the jar). What was left was this gorgeous jewel-toned blue liquid. Violet essence!

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I put the strained liquid into a sauce pan and added the juice of half a lemon, and 2 cups of sugar (the only sugar I had was vanilla sugar that I had made by placing a halved vanilla bean in a jar of sugar and letting it sit for two months — the color was a light brown, which may have affected the color of my syrup). The addition of the lemon juice caused a chemical reaction, turning the blue liquid into a pinkish-purpleish liquid. I brought this to a boil, and cooked it at a low boil for about 10 minutes.

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I then poured the syrup into a sterilized canning jar, and placed it in the refrigerator. The final result is below. I will try this recipe again with less lemon juice. I’m not sure how the taste will compare, but I’d like to preserve as much of the gorgeous blue color of the violet water as possible.

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According to Gibbons, ancient herbalists used violet syrup to cure epilepsy, pleurisy, jaundice, consumption, insomnia and more. He found that it had demulcent and expectorant properties, making it a tasty cough syrup. However, he recommends enjoying just for the pure pleasure of the taste, putting on pancakes, making drinks from it, or pouring some over shaved ice.