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Archive for July, 2010

As you may have read the latest culinary obsession is foraging. That means more people are getting into the hobby of looking for foods in the wild. Now this is how humanity began as far as I’m concerned. It was only after industrial foods were made available that people began buying their foods and eating out more instead of foraging or growing their own foods. Prior to that people hunted, foraged and grew most of their foods. What they couldn’t obtain on their own, they bartered for from their neighbors. Over time people became specialized and communities developed where everyone relied on certain individuals for particular items. That way they could devote their talents to the few things which they could trade for most everything else. But as I said eventually people began doing other types of work and needed an easy less time consuming way to obtain food. With the advent of industrial foods, fast foods and big supermarkets the art of foraging or growing one’s own food began to be lost. As with everything over time people began to rediscover this lost ability and we see the evolution of this latest obsession of foraging. Now there have always been those who never gave up the love of hunting and fishing or foraging for certain wild foods that are traditional to certain regions of the country. Examples would be mushrooms hunting throughout the United States or the local interest in ramp foraging in spring in the regions where they are found. So all foraging did not disappear entirely, but just decreased in popularity. But there has been a history of people who have continued to forage and keep the old ways alive. Now as with everything in this circle of life foraging has become the latest obsession. Thanks to those of us who kept it alive, we have a new generation to teach its values.  I think that is a part of the eat locally and instead of farm to table, it’s now from the land to the table cuisine. Luckily I never stopped doing this and so find this new obsession to be a continuance of my usual lifestyle.

My wild foods knowledge began as a child when my parents introduced me to not only wild foods, but also to gardening and all the processes involved in storing foods to enjoy throughout the year. No matter how much I thought I didn’t enjoy working in the garden and putting up the harvest, I discovered in my mature years that I wanted to reclaim those times and go back to them. I wonder if it was my attempt to capture some of the lost souls I miss, or if I really wanted to feel what my relatives felt as they put away food for the year. I think it was the feeling of satisfaction that I got from putting food up for lean times that was really the reason since I knew where it came from and how it was processed. I guess that means I knew pretty much what it contained and that along with the fact that it didn’t have all those ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce or any extra added preservatives and dyes, I felt it was healthier for me and my family. So gardening and foraging that I learned or at least heard about from my family stuck with me. My first memory of wild foods seems to begin with my mother and grandmother who harvested greens to cook in the spring. The second most vivid memory is of my father and grandfather who hunted squirrels and rabbits for food as well as fished. Those two connections seemed to have been locked in my genes along with all the memories of the gardens we had at my grandparent’s home. As a family we all planted, harvested and shared the bounty of our gardens as well as the wild provender that was procured. They also collected wild berries and nuts that were made into wonderful desserts. So my early beginnings set the template for my adult life. It seems no matter how far I get from those early beginnings that I still go back to them. Although I’ve tasted cuisines from around the world and actually liked most of them, I still go back to my roots and when I cook a meal, while it may take on an exotic form, it is often many of the basic foods from my past — just prepared in a new way. But it also may be a new food cooked in an exotic way that hones my culinary skills since I love new taste experiences.

When I got older and went away to school, I found that I was continuously rediscovering the joys of gardening and foraging.  As a student supplementing my food supply through foraging and gardening provided a wider cheaper selection of food. Over time I grew more and more interested in trying wild foods that I had never had before. As I said earlier my father provided rabbits and squirrels for our table, but deer and turkeys were not very common so I never had any venison or wild turkey until I was in my twenties or older. And in my college days I tasted my first pheasant and wild ducks and geese as well as frogs, crayfish, turtle and many fish that I’d never eaten before. When I lived on the Atlantic coast I discovered more and more seafood and every time I traveled I tried the local foods learning that I liked just about anything I tried. While most of this refers to wild seafood and meats, I have also discovered many new plant foods too. In addition to that I continue to try to grow some of my foods and most of my herbs that I use fresh as long as they are available and then dry for winter use. I’m always adding new herbs to dishes to improve their flavors and give my palate new taste sensations.

So while foraging might be the latest obsession, it is something that has been a part of my life since I was born. I have tried to pass this interest on to my family and friends. In the process I have found hunters who love to hunt, but cannot eat all they get. I discovered that some of the time it’s because they or their families don’t know how or want to prepare it. They help me my providing the excess meat and I in turn try to prepare some for them in return. In addition I have found fishermen who are willing to share their bounty with me too. So I can enjoy more wild foods in this manner. I have discovered many wild plants that my family did not eat and learned how to prepare them. In future blogs I will discuss some of my favorite wild food recipes for both wild meats and plants.

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Okay yesterday I posted pictures of gnocchi and for today I’m adding my favorite gnocchi recipe along with the credit for the recipe —

Pan-Fried Lemon-Ricotta Gnocchi
(from Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen)

1 cup whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (plus extra reserved for garnishing)
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon lemon zest (plus extra reserved for garnishing)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon chopped parsley (plus extra reserved for garnishing)
2 tablespoons butter*
1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:
1. Combine ricotta, parmesan, yolk, zest, parsley and salt in large bowl. Mix well. Sprinkle half of the flour on the mixture, gently turn with spatula a few times to incorporate. Dump mixture on clean, lightly floured countertop. Sprinkle remaining flour on top of the mixture. Gently knead with your fingertips, just bringing together the mixture until flour is incorporated through. This only should take a minute or two. Any longer and you will be over-kneading. (If you are using skim milk ricotta, you may have to use more flour, as there is more water content in skim ricotta.)

2. Divide dough into 4 parts. Take one part and roll into a long, 1-inch diameter log. Cut gnocchi into 1-inch pieces.

3. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter and olive oil. when butter is just lightly browned, add gnocchi in single layer. Fry on one side for 2 minutes, flip. Fry other side for 1-2 minutes. Timing really depends on how big/thick your gnocchi is. Do a taste test: do you taste flour? Not done yet. Serve with a sprinkling of lemon zest, parmesan and parsley.

I live on a mountainside in a narrow hollow and we don’t receive enough sunlight nor have the right space to grow a real garden. However, I love gardening and keep trying to grow something. Last year I tried zucchini and all it did was flower. So I started eating the flowers since I apparently was failing at growing even zucchini. I would mix up some various cheeses which always included ricotta cheese and whatever else I had in the fridge. I would chop up herbs — I seem to succeed at growing most herbs. Then I stuff the blossoms with this mixture of cheeses and herbs and fold the petals over the top to close them. I have been frying some sage leaves in butter until the butter starts to brown and then laying the stuffed blossoms in to brown lightly. I turn them a couple of times so they are browned as evenly as possible. See picture below of stuffed blossoms.

Little wrens are doing well, but it seems impossible to get a picture as the plant gets in the way of getting a clear shot.

Today the mommy cat that was Whitey’s friend came for breakfast. I haven’t been putting food out so I hurriedly put out a plate of food and called her. Surprisingly she came running back and meowed. I told her to come on up and eat and she did with me standing there. I decided to pet her and she allowed that too. Now I think we are friends — that’s a big step given that she used to be so afraid that she’d run if she spotted us looking out the window and not come back for a day. Anyway we’re making progress and I hope if she did have kittens with Whitey, that one of these days I’ll discover a white kitten resembling Whitey.

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Catching Up

So much has happened since my last blog with promises to update you on several things. So I begin, hoping to remember everything. First we had the wildfoods and I took two kinds of gnocchi as I explained earlier. They were very good, but didn’t go over very well. I think many folks didn’t know what they were and there was so much food that they passed them over. However, those who did try them said they were good.
The top photo is the lemon gnocchi that I pan fried in brown sage butter and the bottom photo is the instant potato ones that were boiled and served in a mixed wild mushrooms sauce. I must admit I thought the instant potato ones weren’t going to come together at first. I had to add a little more water and cover them with a bowl and let them sit a few minutes so they would form a dough that I could work with. Otherwise they were falling apart.

Now as for the wren nest, I noticed one baby had hatched yesterday morning, then later another and today all four eggs have hatched. Now the mother is being very attentive feeding the hungry mouths and trying to keep them cool when it gets really hot.

Also we monitored the bluebird boxes again this past week. Out of approximately 12 boxes, one had baby bluebird hatchlings. One had wrens and a couple others had either wren nests or swallow nests. We removed the inactive nests. I took a picture of the baby bluebirds which is below.

I will try to get a picture of the baby wrens and post it another day.

Finally I canned tomatoes, then peaches and made some dill pickles and bread and butter pickles. I’ll try to post a picture of them too. Now all I want to can is some roma tomatoes which will probably be on next weeks agenda.

One final note on my stray cat Whitey — a neighbor called to say that he talked to another neighbor who said when she saw the dead cat on the road that she felt so bad she stopped and picked him up. Later that day her son and she buried him in their backyard. That made me feel better knowing that he was buried and not swirling down the waterway from the flood.

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I remember one time we were having our monthly wildfoods meeting and we were thinking Scandinavian lutefisk and I decided to try my luck at making it. My previous experience with it was that it seemed an awful lot like wallpaper paste. But not to be discouraged I looked up a recipe and found that it is often served with a flat tortilla like potato bread known as lefse. Since my plan was pretty much last minute, I looked and looked until I found what seemed like a simple easy lefse recipe that used potato flakes rather than real potatoes. That seemed good to me since I didn’t want to take the time involved in cooking and ricing potatoes for this sudden addition to my lutefisk. I made up the lefse and then our meeting was postponed. So into the freezer went my lefse for the next month. I pulled them out and put them in a tortilla warmer and off I went to the wildfoods luncheon. I made the lutefisk there while I heated the lefse in a microwave oven. I want to report that not only was the lutefisk good, but that the lefse was a real hit that added the finishing touch.

For anyone unfamiliar with lutefisk, it means literally lye fish and it is fish that has been salted and dried often using lye. It is sold in frozen packages which must be thawed and soaked in several changes of water to remove the salt and lye. It is then boiled wrapped in cheesecloth so that the gelatinous fish doesn’t fall apart. Once it is cooked it is salted and peppered and served with warmed buttered lefse. I think when I made the lefse that I made only about one fourth of the recipe and I made smaller tortillas than described here.

LEFSE

Bring to a boil (microwave works fine):
3 cups water
16 tablespoons butter (½ lb.)
8 teaspoons salt
Add above to:

9 cups dry instant potato flakes
3 cups milk
4 scant cups flour

Mix well, make into long roll. Cut into 4 dozen pieces.
Refrigerate in single layers on cookie sheet between waxed paper, layers which have been sprayed with vegetable spray. Refrigerate overnight or until thoroughly chilled. Roll out as piecrust into dinner plate size pieces.
Keep pieces of lefse dough refrigerated until ready to roll them out. Roll out and llift from pastry board to griddle and turn to brown both sides lightly. Stack sheets together and cover with a towel until baking is finished to prevent drying out. Brush with butter and cool, then they may be stacked and stored in zip lock bags.
If sheets have dried, add a dampened piece of towel to zip lock bag, placing it flat over the sheets of lefse before freezing or storing. Thaw and warm in microwave oven in tortilla warmer to serve.

Wildfoods luncheon is coming up Monday again and I’ve been thinking about making gnocchi. Tonight I’ll make some  pan fried lemon ricotta gnocchi with a brown sage butter sauce. I hope that will go together all right. My next experiment will be to make an herb cheese gnocchi with idaho potato flakes and a mushroom sauce to take to our wildfoods luncheon Monday. The other day we went looking for golden chanterelle mushrooms. I found only two; but I recently soaked some of my shiitake logs and they are bearing. Now my plan is to make a chanterelle/shiitake sauce for some homemade gnocchi. I have a pretty good feeling about this gnocchi recipe although I’ve never tried it. Usually gnocchi is made with potatoes, but this recipe uses potato flakes. Remembering how good the lefse was made with potato flakes makes me want to try this version again by passing the cooking and ricing of the potatoes. I’ll let you know how that comes out later and add my gnocchi recipes and sauce after we try them out.

Don is taking a muskrat stew to the wildfood luncheon. It’s rather amazing that my friend in Delaware picked up the muskrats in southern DE and then he delivered them to another friend in northern DE and she put them in our daughter’s freezer so that we were able to pick them up when we visited her. After that long trek across the mid-Atlantic they were made into a special stew and now it will be transported north to share with our wildfoods group.

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Sad Day

Yesterday was such a sad day for me — A neighbor called to report that my special golden eyed white cat that I befriended a couple of years ago had been seen dead along the road. My husband searched for the cat, but a torrential rain had flooded the road and washed him away. We had bonded with this very distinctive cat that we fed daily and named him Whitey. Now Whitey is running freely with all the other spirits that have passed on. I can’t help looking out the front door hoping to see him, but in time I will accept the loss. Whitey was so loyal and yet so independent. I will miss him.

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Seventh Day

Today is Sunday, and so I thought I’d try to catch up on what’s been happening around here. I’ve been picking my zucchini squash blossoms so I could stuff them and fry them to eat. Yesterday I mixed up some shredded cheese, some tofutti, a little mayonnaise, and some middle eastern yogurt with a medley of chopped fresh herbs. I used sage, thyme, tarragon, peppermint, parsley, and chives. I stuffed each blossom with as much of the mixture it would hold without splitting. Then I folded the petals over the top and fried them in a little butter turning them as they browned a little. They were so delicious and each of the various flavors burst in your mouth while eating them. We had them along with some Russian Borscht that my husband made. The borscht was very much like venison stew and while tasty, unlike any borscht I’ve ever had before.

Today we’re back to broiled tandoor chicken, steamed green beans and some other delight for dinner.

I didn’t mention that a little wren made a nest in one of my baskets of Achimenes that I have growing on the porch banister. I thought some leaves had blown onto the plants and as I started to pick them off, I noticed that it wasn’t just a leaf or two, but rather an organized bunch of leaves, moss and other debris from around the yard. On closer examination I discovered it was a carefully constructed nest containing one egg. Now how am I to water that plant without disturbing the nest — very carefully I guess. The next day there were two eggs, then three the next and finally four. It’s been very hot and usually there isn’t a mother wren sitting on the nest, but in the morning she’s usually there. I question her choice of nest sites for more reasons than it’s a plant as we feed stray cats on the porch and one of them often sits on the banister. Didn’t this mother wren notice that? Now I guess I have to guard her nest when Whitey’s here. I know he will only do what he’s wired by mother nature to do. By this time next week I should be reporting baby wren hatchlings. I know they and the mother feeding them will gain Whitey’s attention. See wren nest in my plant below. I know it’s difficult to see, but I bet Whitey can find it easily.  It’s not easy getting a good picture without disturbing the mother wren.

Wren nest

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Over time I plan to discuss many unusual foods or food combinations that I have cooked and eaten. Some of these are wild, some are home grown and others were purchased at the grocery or specialty store. After giving this idea some thought, I’ve decided to make it seasonal but to present it so that you may try it. That means I’ll describe foods a little before they are available so you can have the recipe in hand before you gather it in the case of wild things. I will also try to add pictures of wild foods since identifying wild plants correctly is very important. For some wild foods the time you pick it is important too and that will be explained.

Our dinner last night and this evening is grilled venison burgers and vegetables. Last night we had more of the grilled eggplant like I described in a previous post. Tonight we’ll have a mixture of grilled eggplant, zucchini, home grown shiitake mushrooms and fresh mixed peppers (bell, Italian, hot and sweet, etc). We’re lucky in that we get plenty of venison each year and neither of us hunt. That means we have friends who love to hunt, but don’t eat all they get. I have found that it helps to can some venison and mixed vegetables to share with the hunters.  That has forced me to work on my canning techniques and it pleases the hunters to have something that all they do is heat and eat. I can pints of the venison meat cut up into cubes and can a mixture of vegetables in quarts. To make soup one just mixes a pint of meat with a quart of vegetables and seasons it to their own taste. Since the deer population is so large where I live, hunting is one way to lower their numbers to prevent overpopulation and a great way to get lean chemical free red meat (actually we pay to have the meat cut up and packaged — but you know what I mean). I have come to prefer vension over beef anyway. So all year long I make various vension dishes that have become family favorites. It is my intent to share some of those great recipes via my posts.

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