Still Waiting On Spring…

I check my neighborhood dandelion and pokeweed patches on a regular basis, but there is no new growth yet. A little impatient to get this year of experiment off the ground, I pulled a dandelion leaf last week, but it was apparently old growth, as it was unbearably tough and bitter. I’m looking for topics to cover during this stretch, so this week’s post will be about my limited foraging experience as of now. I’ve already covered purslane, walnuts, and rosehips, but here’s the rest of what I’ve tried so far…

Grapes

These are easy and unintimidating. My one attempt at making wild grape jelly was a failure, but the fruit is edible if not delicious out of hand, and I’ve used the leaves as an addition to pickling brine (it is reputed to keep pickles crisp) and for stuffed grape leaves.

Greens
I expect this to be my biggest area of exploration this year. I’ve nibbled, and I’ve had commercial products using wild greens, but I’ve never assembled a salad or pot of greens from foraged food. I’ve tried watercress, which grows in streams, and sourgrass, the very sour clover-looking weed that crops up in disturbed ground, but that’s about it.

Vegetables

Outside of greens, my vegetable experience is even more scarce. I’ve found wild asparagus while hiking, but not when it was in season. I’ve seen milkweed and burdock, but haven’t eaten them yet.
Berries

As a child, my mother would take me to a blackberry patch on the grounds of an old county jail, where we would pick gallons of berries to freeze. Since then, I make note of any bramble patch I see, and revisit it when it is bearing. I’ve got 2 or 3 areas in my neighborhood that didn’t produce well in last year’s drought, but I’ll be checking them again this year. There’s also a mulberry tree, but I haven’t worked up the nerve to ask its owner for picking rights. I don’t know what to do with mulberries, anyway. They aren’t very good out of hand, and I’m not sure what to cook with them.

I occasionally come across a low-profile wild strawberry patch in an open field, and there are few pleasures greater than a wild strawberry in season. They are hard to spot, but their jagged leaves and tiny white daisy-like flowers are distinctive if you know what to look for. I revisit any patch I find every week starting in June, waiting for them to come into season.
Nuts

I’ve tried chestnuts, beechnuts, and acorns raw, and they weren’t very palatable. It’s my understanding that white oak acorns are better than the tannin-rich red oak acorns, but I haven’t had the chance to try them. I’ve found a white oak grove, and am looking forward to harvesting this year.

Meat

I’m not a hunter, but as a child I gathered frogs for the legs. My father cleaned and fried them, so I missed that part of the experience. We also caught crayfish to eat. With the current state of Michigan’s waterways, I’m not sure I want to get back into eating from a stream.

Herbs

Wild onions, wild mint, and spearmint.  I’ve never really used them in a culinary way, though–just something to chew on.

I think that’s it.  The crocuses are up, but the the weather report predicts snow and freezing temperatures for the forecastable future.  I’m not sure we’re getting a spring this year.

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