Monday, October 16, 2017

Chestnut Recipe- Chestnutella


We have many sources for our local harvest of Chinese chestnuts (Castanea molissima). This has been a mediocre mast year, but we have found plenty to boil for a fresh snack or for a recipe or two, plus have a few pounds in our freezer from last year. Commercial cocoa-hazelnut spread is an inherently unhealthy product filled with modified palm oil and massive amounts of sugar. In this recipe we tried working with natural starchiness and thickening properties of cooked chestnut to make a thick spread that provides a deep chocolate flavor from cocoa powder with a hint of sweet nuttiness. The recipe calls for milk, but in our house we use nut-based or soy-based "milks" for dietary reasons; keep all tree nut milks in mind for allergy reasons. We use a Vitamix blender for an absolutely smooth spread, but a food processor can be used for a grainier spread, or a mortar and pestle can be used as well.


Chestnutella   makes about 4c.

1 c. milk (or almond milk, or soy milk), or 56 g
1 c. plus 1 Tbsp sugar, or 235 g
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 c. boiled, shelled chestnut meat, or about 400 g
1/2 c. cocoa powder, or 56 g

1. In a saucepan, heat the milk and sugar together and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
2. Pour the hot milk and sugar mix into the carafe into a blender, add the vanilla. Add the boiled, shelled chestnut meats about 1/2 cup at a time, blending well between each addition.
3. Sift the cocoa powder into the blender carafe and blend until homogenized. The spread will thicken as it cools, so consider adding a bit more milk to thin it further.
4. Keep chestnutella spread in the fridge. Spread liberally on toast, fill crepes, swirl into ice cream, and use to flavor desserts like brownies, tartlets, and sweet wontons.

  
The spiny husk, leathery chestnut in the shell, boiled and shelled chestnut, and chestnut meat with the papery skin removed

Friday, September 29, 2017

Cooking with Hen of the Woods

Hens roasted with a white miso glaze, served over forbidden and white rice cooked in hen broth

Autumn came a bit early this August and September with very cool nights and comfortable days, stimulating the fruiting of a favorite fall fungi, the hen of the woods, maitake, or Grifola frondosa. Some weekends we are so busy with lectures and walks that we don't have much time to forage for our own pantry, but hen season can get us out in the woods all week long. For about two weeks, we brought home dozens of beautiful hens; then the weather got hot again, making it uncomfortable being out in the woods hauling many pounds of mushrooms. Autumn conditions have returned, so we hope for another hen flush out in the woods of southern New England.

The pores of a hen on the underside of a frond


white spore print
Hens are one of the polypores, meaning if you look on the underside of one of the many fronds, you will see many holes from which this fungus drops its white spores. They don't have a true cap-and-stem appearance, rather they have many branched stems from a main core that are topped with fan-shaped fronds. Hens are saprobic and a mild parasite on hardwood trees as well, causing a white butt rot. They are sometimes referred to as perennial, as they will continue to fruit at the same location until they have exhausted their food supply. A hen of the woods can be collected by cutting them off at their base, and are good edibles as long as they are firm with white pores. They should be left behind if they are getting a yellow-orange mold on their base, have obvious signs of consumption by wild animals, are growing with poison ivy, or have obvious signs of a fungus fly maggot infestation or a serious case of springtails. Respect your wild food and only collect prime specimens!

Hen burgers made from the ground bits

Combined with their abundance, their texture and flavor make hen of the woods one of our  favorite wild mushrooms to find. They are full of umami, a savory taste that can be described as brothy or meaty. It can be substituted for chicken in any familiar dishes, as its flavor is excellent and the texture of hens is substantial. We like to use hens in many regional cuisines, roasted with an Asian white miso sauce, made into an Italian panelle patty, ground and cooked into American burgers (recipe here) or "meat"loaf, a Mexican tomatillo, hominy, and hen stew, or a French-style tapenade (recipe here).

Lots and lots of dehydrated hen jerky, vacuum packed for the year


Hens can vary in size, growth configuration, and color, most likely based on age and growing conditions. Hens can be large and frondy, or smaller and more compact with smaller fronds. Their growth determines their best use in culinary applications: the larger fronds make the best jerky (recipe here), while the more compact specimens slice up nicely into "steaks" for roasting. When cleaning hens for jerky, we try to keep the core as solid as possible, and then slice it up for larger pieces.

Vegan hen sausages with a potato pancake and pickled ramps

The bits leftover after culling the biggest fronds for jerky get ground up for burgers or a loaf. We also dehydrate a lot of the smaller pieces to use all year in gravy and soups, or saute and then freeze the small bits for use all year. The smaller bits also work very well in our vegan sausage recipe (recipe here). Overall, hens are an easy and delicious fall fungi forage!

Hen tapenade
Tomatillo, hominy, and hen stew
Duchesse mashed potatoes filled with cooked hen bits, baked until firm

Wild rice and hen soup
Baked ravioli filled with hen and goat cheese

Monday, June 19, 2017

Summer Classes, Walks, and Lectures for 2017


The 3 Foragers have several educational presentations and walks coming up this spring in the Connecticut and Rhode Island area. We are available for seasonal edible plant programs, fungi ID classes, invasive plant talks, and guided walks throughout the year. We work with libraries, nature centers, summer camps, land trusts, and garden clubs to educate the public about conservation and responsible harvest of wild foods. Please check back to find classes as we add to this growing list of classes and walks. Contact us at  kraczewski@comcast.net.



Seashore foraging: wild mustard seed pods, beach peas, sea beans, mustard flowers, beach plums, rose hips, bay leaves


Edible Wild Plants of Summer Lecture June 24, 11:00 am-12:30 pm, Mary Loontjens Memorial Library, Narragansett, RI 02882 (401) 789-9507


The summer months are a bounty of ripe berries, nectar-laden edible flowers, amazing edible plants along the seashore, and edible mushrooms that can carpet the forest floor after warm, rainy days. Learn how to identify, sustainably harvest, and prepare the wild foods of summer, from beach plums to invasive wineberries, including some of the choice summer fungi like chanterelles and the myriad of pored Boletes. Explore the edible wild plants that grow along the seashores as well! Join The 3 Foragers as they teach the edible plants and fungi of summer with their original photos and recipe ideas featured in an educational slideshow. Free admission, registration appreciated.


Edible Wild Plants of Summer Lecture June 29, 7:00 pm-8:15 pm, Scranton Memorial Library, Madison, CT 06443 (860) 245-7365

Hot eats in the summertime! Berries ripen for sweet desserts, fresh greens can be added to your summer salads, and the mushroom hunting is in full swing. Learn how to identify, sustainably harvest, and prepare the wild foods of summer, from beach plums to invasive wineberries, including some of the choice summer fungi like chanterelles and the myriad of pored Boletes. Join The 3 Foragers as they teach the edible plants and fungi of summer with their original photos and recipe ideas featured in an educational slideshow. Free admission, registration appreciated.


Edible Wild Plants of Summer Lecture and Walk July 8, 10:00 am-12:30 pm, James L Goodwin State Forest Education Center, 23 Potter Rd, Hampton, CT 06247 (860) 455-9534

We return to Goodwin Forest for the seasonal summer edible plants program, featuring fresh berries, seaside foraging, wild greens, edible flowers, and gourmet summer mushrooms. Learn how to identify, sustainably harvest, and prepare the wild foods of summer, from beach plums to invasive wineberries, including some of the choice summer fungi like chanterelles and the myriad of pored Boletes. Join The 3 Foragers as they teach the edible plants and fungi of summer with their original photos and recipe ideas featured in an educational slideshow. Please call Goodwin 860-455-9534 to register, space is limited. Cost: $5.00 for the public, free for Friends of Goodwin and CFPA members


Edible Wild Plants of Summer Lecture and Walk, July 15, 1:00pm-3:30pm, Bushy Hill Nature Center, 253 Bushy Hill Rd, Deep River CT 06417 (860) 767-2148 x 604

Please see program descriptions above. Fee: $5.00 suggested donation per adult, registration appreciated


Mushroom ID for Beginners Class and Walk August 5, 10:00 am-12:30 pm, James L Goodwin State Forest Education Center, 23 Potter Rd, Hampton, CT 06247 (860) 455-9534

Does it have gills, pores, or teeth? Is it growing on wood or the ground? And most importantly, Can I Eat It?? The 3 Foragers present a program on Mushroom ID for Beginners, where they will explain the steps to take and the terms to know when trying to identify mushrooms. After the slideshow and talk, we'll head outside to explore a small part of Goodwin and try to put the newly learned skills to the test.

Please call Goodwin 860-455-9534 to register, space is limited, there will be NO walk-ins allowed. Cost: $5.00 for the public, free for Friends of Goodwin and CFPA members



Mushroom ID for Beginners Class and Walk August 12, 10:00am-12:30pm, Ansonia Nature and Recreation Center, 10 Deerfield Lane, Ansonia CT 06401 (203) 736-1053


Does it have gills, pores, or teeth? Is it growing on wood or the ground? And most importantly, Can I Eat It?? The 3 Foragers present a program on Mushroom ID for Beginners, where they will explain the steps to take and the terms to know when trying to identify mushrooms. After the slideshow and talk, we'll head outside to explore a small part of Ansonia Nature Center and try to put the newly learned skills to the test.

Fee: $5.00 per adult, registration required, class size is limited



 






Monday, May 29, 2017

Late Spring Seashore Foraging




Last weekend we made a trip down to coastal Rhode Island to visit a barrier beach and an inland tidal marsh to check the progress of several seaside edibles. The majority of coastal areas in Connecticut are fiercely private and ocean access is very limited all year. Up until Memorial Day, lots of the Rhode Island shore is easily accessed and the beaches haven't become "private" for residents only, and all of the state beaches haven't started charging yet either. It was cool and breezy, but still warm enough for bare feet in the sand!

Beach plums flowering


The beach plums (Prunus maritima) are flowering profusely this year, which is a great sign for us. The last two summers we had fairly bad beach plum harvests because of late frosts that killed most of the blossoms in the spring combined with a horribly dry summer that stunted any fruit. We are all out of beach plum jam and wine in the pantry and look forward to the harvest in late August. Beach plums are essentially little plums that grow wild among the dunes, wonderfully concentrated and wild in flavor. They are often no larger than a quarter, and have a single pit inside. In good years we can fill our cooler in about an hour; then it takes us an evening or two spent in front of the TV watching something on Netflix while we pit them all by hand for cooking and eating. Totally worth it!

Beach roses flowering


Beach roses (Rosa rugosa) have put out new compound leaves, their prickles are ready for unsuspecting bare feet, and the pink and white flowers are just starting to open. We do collect the fragrant petals to use for syrups and teas, but it is the hips that provide a great food source. In this species of rose, the hips are large,1--1 1/2" wide. We carefully (prickles!) pick them once they have ripened to deep orange or red in the summer, cut them in half to scoop out the hairy seed-like structures and any caterpillars inside, and can eat them raw, make jam, a fruity sauce, fruit leather, or dehydrate them to use later. Their flavor is sweet-tart, and very similar to apricots, and they are wonderfully high in Vitamin C.

Small sea beans in the marsh

Seabeans (Salicornia maritima) is a salty treat that can be eaten raw, plucked from tidal areas. They are also called glasswort, samphire, or sea aspargus. They are juicy, succulent, annual plants that are very salt tolerant and have a great crunch. We use them raw mostly to season foods as the salty component--chopped into grain salads, topping savory fingerfoods like deviled eggs or blini, and mixed into dips. We also pickle some to use all year.

Male pollen cones

The red pines at the beach were a little ahead of their traditional schedule when it came to pollen production this year, likely due to an unexpected heat wave earlier in the week. We gather the male pollen cones and bring them home to collect the nutritious pollen. They get dried, tossed about to loosen the pollen, and sifted to remove debris, then we keep the pollen in the freezer to use all year in batters and smoothies.

Bayberry flowers and immature leaves


Bayberry shrubs are flowering (Myrica pensylvanica) and starting to put out new leaves. The flowers don't look like a traditional flower, rather like little pine cones on the stems, but the leaves already have the savory, spicy smell. These are not the same as Mediterranean bay leaves, but our native eastern North American equivalent. We use them like traditional bay leaves--in soups for flavor. While they are tender now, they will get tough and leathery in the summer, and can be collected and dried to use all year. We also collect the hard, grey berries later in the summer to extract a natural wax from their outside, and have used it to make fragrant candles.

Visit the eastern seashore now to look for plants to collect later in the season. Beach days aren't just for the kids anymore!

#wildfood #foraging #beachforaging #the3foragers #beachplums #rosehips #seabeans #samphire #pinepollen #bayberry

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Spring Fungi of Connecticut


As we are not usually successful morel hunters, we are beyond thrilled to find more recently after a CVMS foray. We  hiked with a couple of friends and shared the haul, along with jelly ears and marshmallow-stage hemlock reishi. 

Foragers Asparagus, Ramps, and Morel Risotto

Since we don't get many morels (Morchella americana) each year with which to experiment and cook in various ways while fresh, we usually simply dehydrate them to concentrate their flavor and use at a later date. 

Savory Cornmeal and Ramps Waffles with Morel Madeira Gravy

With the two dozen or so we have found this year, we did manage to make some Morels in Madeira Gravy over Savory Ramps Waffles, and some Morel and Asparagus Risotto.
 
Wood ears

Jelly ears (Auricularia auricula-judae) are the black fungus you eat when you order hot and sour soup. Their flavor is pretty non-existent, but they have an interesting crunchy-jelly texture in stir fries and soups. There are a few dark brown jellies that grow on wood, but only true jelly ears have a fuzzy "top". The other jellies (Exidia recisa or E. glandulosa) are edible as well.


The immature hemlock reishi (Ganoderma tsugae) are tender and solid when still small and pure white, a decent edible, but nothing special. Simply pan fried and hit with some salt, they crisp up nicely. Once they grow a bit more and start showing the orange-red varnished outer coating, they are too fibrous and bitter to eat, but can be collected and used as a medicinal mushroom.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Japanese Knotweed Cooking and Recipes

Strawberry-Knotweed Bavarian

The flavor of Japanese knotweed is often compared to rhubarb or tart green apples, but it also has an earthy, green flavor as well. In our experiences, people either really like it or really dislike it based on the preparation. We tend to use it in sweeter recipes like cakes, jelly, or syrups, but we also use it in savory recipes like pickles, grilled with a miso marinade, or raw in a summer roll.

Knotweed sliced thinly and eaten raw in summer rolls

Japanese knotweed is a really invasive perennial plant that spreads through aggressive underground rhizomes. It looks similar to bamboo because it has a hollow stem and joints that form cross walls inside the stem, but knotweed is not related to true bamboo. The shoots emerge looking a bit like asparagus before the leaves start to unfurl, and will be green but deeply mottled or spotted with red. It can grow up to 12 feet tall or more, and will have multiple branches along the main stalk. The leaves of different species can appear slightly different; some are shaped like an elongated heart, while others are shaped like the blade of a shovel with a straight back edge. In the late summer, pretty sprays of white flowers emerge, a great source of food for bees. Once pollinated, knotweed produces winged seeds that may persist through the winter. The dried stalks will also last through the winter and it is one of the easiest ways of finding a patch of shoots by looking for the skeletons of last year's knotweed.

Sweet banana bread with Japanese knotweed added

The season to harvest Japanese knotweed shoots in southern New England typically lasts about two weeks when the shoots are less than 10"-12" tall. Once the shoots start to branch out and the leaves have all unfurled, the stem becomes quite tough and woody--not suitable as food. When the knotweed in the southern portion of Connecticut gets too tall, we can start driving north to find shorter shoots to collect and cook. Knotweed doesn't freeze well when raw, but can be dehydrated to make a tart infusion to drink, or can be stewed with sugar and frozen in measured portions for later use in recipes. It can also be salted and preserved but will need to be rinsed and soaked to use in recipes. Flavored syrup and jelly made from knotweed will last all year until spring comes around again to start cooking with fresh knotweed.

Knotweed jelly

Besides using Japanese knotweed shoots as food, the rhizomes are used medicinally as they are high in resveratrol. Knotweed may also be useful in treating Lyme disease by fighting off the Lyme spirochetes and providing anti-inflammatory support for the body. We even use the older, dry parts of knotweed to make biodegradable straws or for use as chopsticks when hiking or camping and we forgot utensils. As kids know, the hollow segments of the dried knotweed stalks also make excellent blowguns, but don't tell mom I showed them!

Knotweed muffins
To find many of our Japanese knotweed recipes click HERE.

Raw Japanese knotweed in a spicy coconut-red curry sauce

When very tender, knotweed can be eaten like a crunchy vegetable

Knotweed syrup