Archive for the ‘Foraging’ Category

Urban Mushroom Foray


I’ve been humbled. I knew I didn’t know much when it came to local mushroom – I tend to focus on what I know to be safe: shaggy parasols and shaggy manes – but I didn’t realize what I knew was simply a blip in the insanely geeky, mysterious, intriguing, and often tasty world of wild mushrooms. Last night was my first foray with the Alberta Mycological Society. Oh, how I have erred in not participating sooner. The photo on the left – a bolete. 2 were found last night on our hour-and-a-half walk through Whitemud Creek Ravine. And if you wiki that, yes, ‘porcini’ in Italy or ‘cepes’ in France. I knew these were in our province, but I most certainly did not know they grew in a ravine I walked daily for 2-3 years. Crazy.

Check out the 3 min vid for a taste of what the evening was like. We filled bags and baskets with loads of mushrooms. There were so many kinds, and so many latin names being bantered about that I felt like I was in a foreign country. We have an amazing resource in our provincial mycological society’s leadership group, and I intend on trying to absorb a further teenie fraction of what they know on future forays. And yes, those wanting to left with a bag of edible mushrooms. Yum. Check out some of Duncan’s photos here.

Hyldeblomstsaft. I think.


In 2006 I was in Copenhagen visiting family, and a couple days into the visit they set about making their annual batch of elderflower syrup, or in Danish: Hyldeblomstsaft. I’d never heard of the stuff. It was love at first sniff. I had them dictate the recipe to me and I have had it stashed away since then, hoping to come across elderflower locally.

This year my search for some flowers became more of a priority. I experimented through this past winter with back-sweetening of apple wines with elderflower syrup [IKEA sells a version, believe it or not] rather than plain simple syrup. It’s a lovely match. The elderflower gives the nose an ehrenfelser-gewurztraminer-like high-toned aromatic vibe, and the sugar involved balances the often forceful acidity of the apple wine. It transforms an austere wine, suited to standing up to rustic and fatty things like pork shoulder confit, to something more finessy and aperitif-like that would be suitable for light dishes, salads, fish, etc. It’s also just plain tasty.

What follows is not part of the ‘I think’ in the title. The recipes should be sound. I made two versions: the first from my Marcussen cousins, the second my own creation. Theirs, as most do, include acid of some kind, and involve lemons. I get it. It makes a delightful and balanced product that I had no intention on missing out on. But I also wanted to design something that was suited specifically to back-sweetening apple wine using only locally available products. First was the deletion of lemons since they way are not local, and I’m also not really after a lemon-vibe in my wine. Second to get axed was the acid. If I’m back-sweetening to tone down the wine’s acid, doesn’t make much sense to having any in the syrup. Third was replacing the sugar with honey – more locally available, and also brings some aromatics of its own to the party. That left my version with 3 ingredients: water, honey, and elderflower. Pretty simple.

The ‘I think’ bit is that I’m not 100% sure what I’m working with here is elderflower. I did a pile of research online, and the flowers look the same, but the clusters are different in shape and the leaves look different. Wikipedia says there are many regional varieties and sub-species. I’m rolling the dice a bit. I’m badass. Don’t do this at home. My nose says I’m on the right track, and one cluster of flowers from last night’s scouting aromatized our whole house overnight. The season also seems right – my understanding is that they flower in June and these trees were just finishing up [ie, they were flowering end of June]. Plants are also late this year. If somebody out there can confirm yay or nay on my flower ID, do let me know in the comments. One way or the other, I’m going to end up with a flower sryup of some kind. Hardcore, risk-taking teenie-white-flower syrup action.

Lydia Marcussen’s Recipe [dictated off the top of her head, from my 2006 travel notes]

20-25 bunches elderflower, 1.25 L boiling water in a non-reactive pot, 1.25 kg sugar, 25 g tartaric acid [Vinsyre in bottom picture, which in Denmark is apparently used for cleaning the bathroom, or drinking], 2-4 lemons, sliced. Shake flowers free of bugs. Make solution of water, sugar, and acid. Add flowers, cover, and let cool. Stir and chill for 2-3 days, twice a day or so. Strain with cheesecloth. Freeze in small containers. Makes syrup or concentrate, add  cold water in winter to make refereshing drinks. Serve with lemon slices. Good with dry Martini vermouth.

My Apple Wine Back-Sweetener Recipe

Equal parts honey and boiling water by weight. About 25 flower bunches per liter of water. That’s it. [Note that some oxidization will occur, not a problem for my end use as brownish elderflower juice isn't that far off color from apple juice/wine.] 

Blanched Dandelions


I’m starting to see dandelions as the single-most misunderstood wild food. People spend much time eradicating their robust roots from their monoculture of lawn. They spend money on toxic pesticides and various pieces of equipment designed specifically aimed at waging war on the dandelion. As I have in the past, I will offer the ultimate solution: eat them. Only this time, my proposed solution comes with an exciting tweak.

Blanch them. It was quite in passing that I decided to toss a plant pot atop an emerging specimen to see what it’d do. A couple years ago I had a bunch of soil trucked in [largely a mistake] and noticed the blanched shoots pushing through the added soil were worth picking and eating – they helped get me into eating dandelions. Turns out the pot idea was a success. A resounding success. I tasted them today and got straight to getting containers upside down around my yard covering any other promising candidates. The blanched leaf-stems I’d experience before were nice, the blanched entire leaf is vastly more worthwhile.

Blanching bitter greens is not new – Belgian endive being perhaps the most famous. Blanching dandelions is new to me, and I’m sold. Big time. Note to self: in the fall, dig up a bunch of rogue dandelion plants, and transplant them together in a south-facing [so they're early] spot that’s easy to cover. Genius. [below: same perspective as shot above, only with pot in place]

Elk Brési w/ Wild Mushrooms & Labrador Tea


When butchering this cow elk in late November, I noticed how particularly perfect the shape and size of the eye of round would be for dry curing. No wonder it’s been done for eons. As usual, here I am, not innovating.

As I had run out of my first ‘test batch’, it was time for a more confident crack at it. Larger piece, thicker piece this time. I used Ruhlman’s  [poor Polcyn, always excluded] ratios of salt, sugar, pepper, and instacure #2, but for aromatics, looked to what I had as wild pantry items. Morel powder, shaggy parasol powder, wild thyme, and labrador tea. Sounded good in theory, but I suspected the labrador tea wouldn’t bring much to the party – that was until I crushed it with a mortar and pestle. Holy evergreen. Lovely evergreen. I hope that shows up in the final product. If so, it may become a standard terroir-driven pairing for me for this item.

So it’ll go into the fridge for a week, maybe two if I’m being forgetful(?) to cure, and then hung in the cellar for a long, long time. I’m going to guess two months minimum, with it being in a good zone for a few months past that. So I should be enjoying this through the summer with zippy salads, cheeses, and cold apple wine.

[update: this piece was scraped of aromatics and cellared March 27th. Told you I'd forget.]

Shaggy Parasol Powder


I imagine most of you have tired of hearing about shaggy parasols by now. I forgive you. But I absolutely must mention one of my coolest new pantry items: shaggy parasol powder. A friend mentioned using dried morels as a powder, and a light bulb went on. I still had some of these left, not really knowing what to do with them as the stems were woody and the caps a little dry for my taste in fresh sautée applications.

The how: onto a sheet pan until they feel dry – a few days. Tough, I know. Then food processer’d them until powdered to the texture you see in the photo. So easy.

The yield is crazy good, and the smell is mushroom-soup-perfection. I’ve been dusting calf moose steaks with it, using it in sauces, and perhaps the oddest application, atop pork head crackling. The heat and the fat in the crackling made the mushroom vibe pop. It will be going into soups, stews, cream sauces for pasta, etc. It’s shelf-stable, locally wild, versatile, and requires no further energy to store it. My cost is essentially nil, but the reward high. I love it. I force everyone entering my kitchen to smell the jar.

The downside? I didn’t make more earlier in the season when I was tossing woody stems and ‘past’ caps. Never again.

Shaggy Parasols – in November


I don’t quite get it. I must be doing something right.  It’s likely just the year. I not only got a serious feed of these in July, then again in September, but then they came again in…November??? Just to be clear, they’re all from my small city lot, and I didn’t try to grow these – they grow ‘wild’. They actually showed up the end of October, it snowed, froze, I thought they were toast, but then took a look this week and noticed they were hangin’ out, waiting to be picked. Crazy. A few notes to self:

Shaggy parasol caps are AWESOME along with rare pan fried game tenderloin. It’s as if they knew they had to hold on into early November when the game enters our home in droves.

The white granular stuff in my soil that I thought was a result of the previous owners’ dog piss or some other soil disease is apparently mushroom related. They grow where that stuff is.

Drying them is genius. A friend suggested making mushroom stock from dried morels + my freezer is packed + I don’t normally use much of the stem or bulb that is in the soil = I’m drying the stems and small caps + will make mushroom stock with them. Genius.

***Don’t die eating wild mushrooms that you haven’t ID’d and blame it on me. Wild mushrooms can be vile-nasty-toxic, and this is my disclaimer that it’s not my fault if you mess up and get disastrously ill based on the information above. I’m just sayin’.

I’m Thankful for This Soup


I’ve been really grateful for the abundance around me lately. I feel a little like I’ve won the lottery [I don't buy tickets]. This soup kind of summed up my happiness of late. It’s a purée of winter squashes from my former lawned front yard, with celery and leek from my backyard garden + a whack of chevre from Holly. Atop it is a dollop of goat yogurt, wild lobster mushrooms a friend hooked me up with, some burdock root [from the garden] that was sautéed with a little bacon made from Nature’s Green Acres pig. This soup defined a moment, was unique, dynamic and tasted lovely. Every last bit of it was made from the garden, or from food received from a friend.

One of the things I’ll be grateful for this thanksgiving is for the relationships I’ve been building in the local food community. It has made every meal, no matter how small, more meaningful. Just like killing an animal gives you a deep respect for the use of its meats,  or growing your fruits and vegetables makes you love them that much more – so does having a close relationship with the folks that produce your food increase your connection to and enjoyment of their foods. Strange comparison, perhaps, but it’s true.

Amidst all the reasons to support your local farmer directly – health, chemical avoidance, sustainable ag, quality, freshness,  organics, whatever – community was not something I anticipated harvesting from doing so. And for that, I am grateful.

Highbush Cranberry Wine – 2010


Last Wednesday evening, upon light prompting [read: suggestion] from friend Valerie, I headed back into the bush to pick another round of the abundant crop of highbush cranberries. I’d picked 20 lbs already. I really didn’t need more. But only a few days prior, I’d been out to En Sante Organic Winery and Meadery [who are going to be undergoing a full-on name change and rebranding btw - that's right, you heard it here first] to shoot their From Local Farms episode that’s in editing at the moment. Xina [their winemaker] let me try their lineup, including their Kalyna wine [ukrainian for highbush cranberry], which for some reason is not listed on their website. I will fully admit, I was a bit shocked. It was impressive. It was akin to a rosé with loads of structure for an orchard wine. I find orchard wines tend to, okay nearly always,  lack in the structure department, so this opportunity is key in my homewinmaking/blending adventures. I had to try to make some.

So 20-some lbs of fruit later, I was in. Picked up a couple tips worth sharing from Xina. 1. No need to wash/rinse/sort the fruit. Into the press they go as-is. This saves loads of time. 2. The fruit is not fragile. It must be the acid. Or the stink. These things sat in a bucket in my heated basement for almost a week, and it was hard to tell when I finally got to them today. I think grapes would have rotted. Tip 3, this one from me: 3. make a cheese with berries as you see in the picture, press, then re-form and press again. They don’t let up their juice as easily as crushed apples, say, so be patient. My 20 lbs or so turned into roughly 5L of juice. I topped up the 11L carboy with water, took the SG, then chaptilized to get to 12.5%abv. Even diluted, the pH was very low: 2.96. Suggests searing acidity in the straight juice, and means this is a good candidate for low-sulphite [or no-sulphite if you roll like that] wine.

I like rosé. I like high-bush cranberries. I like structure. If all goes well, I’m going to have one mean local wine in the cellar.

Below: the resulting pommace post-press. Valerie had suggested trying to dry the berries – a great idea. I’m going to try de-seeding the skins and drying them for a dried-cran-esque element to game dishes. Other shot: the straight juice.

Highbush Cranberry-fest


I’d had enough of reading about Karlynn‘s foraging successes, especially having spent far too much time harvesting far too few berries of the low-bush variety. Rather than a sheet pan one layer deep of low-bush, roughly the same amount of time spent picking highbush yielded 21 lbs of fruit. As you can see in the photo, highbush cranberry grows rather tall, into loose trees up to 15+ feet tall, and will fruit throughout the tree, resulting in many, many clusters of about a dozen berries per. It adds up fast.

We picked on a trail we used to walk daily for years, so my wife and I know it well – where the good spots are for every type of wild berry or mushroom one might want to harvest. This year, we didn’t make it half way to the first good spot, because the fruit was EVERYWHERE. I could have spent a week straight picking in that ravine, and likely still have fruit to pick. I get this strange fervor that comes over me when berry picking – I can’t stop. I get zoned into what I’m convinced is a genetically programmed bliss when foraging,  something pushing me to keep going, despite all logic suggesting I have enough. It’s strange, but fun.

So I made some jelly. Rather, I failed at making jelly. So I have syrup, which is okay by me. More importantly in my mind, I had enough juice [I juiced it in my fruit press], that I decided to try a small batch of wine. Very exciting, as I love the concept of pairing game meats with fruit wine from the bush where the game animals live, and have never made highbush cranberry wine. Coincidentally, I was at En Santé Organic Winery and Meadery a few hours after pitching yeast into the wine, shooting their ‘From Local Farms‘ episode, and I had the opportunity to try their highbush cranberry wine for the first time. It’s distinctly representative of the fruit, akin to a rosé with all kinds of structure on the palate. Orchard and wild fruit wines can lack in the structure department, so this was an important discovery for me. The opportunity to blend that structure into other wines – like saskatoon – is quite intriguing.

So thanks, Karlynn, for the kick in the butt to get out there. Turned out to be one of the best years I can remember for yield.  And there are still loads of berries out there – so get out and pick  all that free, local, wild food before the season ends!!!

Low-bush Cranberries


At a recent farm stay over the weekend, the smell was everywhere – that pungent, somewhat stinky odor…not of manure, but of fall cranberries. I looked, and looked, and looked – nothing. Until I looked down instead of up. I’m good and used to harvesting high-bush cranberries, and even have some planted in my yard, but have never come across the low-bush variety, although I knew they existed. Hardly breaking 3′, they took a while to find but once we did the plants themselves were everywhere. The bad news was these low bushes yielded a small fraction of what a mature tree-sized [12-14'+] highbush variety will put out. After a good effort at picking, only a sheet pan one layer thick was the result. It was like picking wild blueberries. But I’ll take it.

For details on making jelly, check out Karlynn’s recent write up on the high-bush berries. My spartan yield will be enough to flavour a few sauces, garnish a few plates – but again, I’ll take it. These little things are vastly underrepresented in our regional food culture. People dig stinky cheese – perhaps it’s time to embrace the stinky berry.