Author Archives: Alex

The Common Milkweed

What a gorgeous Thursday! I have the day off and the weather has cooperated splendidly. What else could I do but take a walk with my Edible Plants field guide and see if I could find something to eat. I thought I would walk from my parents house in Cascade up to the new Cascade Burton Park and see what I could find.

My afternoon stroll had only began before I was bent over examining the leaves of a whole bunch of Common Milkweed growing alone the slope of a drainage pond behind The Family Fare strip mall. I had remembered Milkweed coming up in my perusing through the pages of my field guide. Sure enough Common Milkweed is an edible plant and is considered to be very tasty.

The Common Milkweed

Milkweed is very easy to identify with its big broad meaty leaves and tall stem. It also bleeds a milky white sap wherever broken much like watery glue. The white liquid is very bitter tasting and mildly toxic so before Sam and I eat our Milkweed we’ll have to Boil it in several changes of water.

Just like the Cattails we’ll be eating the young shoots of the Milkweed plant before they reach 6 inches in height. When I came on the large group of Milkweed most had already surpassed the young tender stage and could not be picked for eating but I managed to root through the grass and find a good number for our meal.

Now even if I would have come across a whole bunch of Milkweed shoots I would have left a majority alone as Sam and I aren’t the only folks who will be eating Milkweed. Milkweed is the only food for Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars. In fact by eating the toxic sap the worms themselves become poisonous, pretty clever. Also the flowers and seed pods of the Common Milkweed are edible as well so Sam and I will be able to return later in the year and have a second harvest.

After the success of the drainage ditch I must say Cascade Burton Park had a high bar to beat and sadly I couldn’t top my Milkweed discovery. I found many beautiful sections of woods and some great little clearings but nothing to eat. I did find a pretty little white flowers that could become wild strawberries but I can’t be sure until they bear fruit. Either way I’ll have to return to the quaint little park and find out.

 

-Alex

 

For more pictures of my forage check out our Facebook page

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Garden State

I spent this past Sunday May 22nd with my dear mother Betty preparing and planting our garden. We planted Corn, Carrots, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli, Radishes, Spaghetti Squash, Zucchini, Tomatoes, Romaine Lettuce, Peas and String Beans. I can’t wait to begin harvesting our vegetables! We also have Raspberries, Asparagus, Rhubarb, Basil, Rosemary and Oregano.

It is amazing how much variety you can plant in such a small area. Our garden is only 50 feet long and 20 feet wide, yet all the veggies, fruits and herbs listed above fit quite nicely inside its boundaries. I think having a garden is one step away from foraging. Honestly on a small scale having a garden is just as close an interaction with Earth as foraging. Each thing has its season and must be taken care of. On a small scale there is no need for pesticides or fertilizer and really being organic isn’t tough at all.

As Sam will tell you from an environmental stand point small local gardens and farms is a way better system for food supply. It always boggles my mind when I hear the statistic that food travels up to 1500 miles to get the super market! Yet you drive through neighborhood after neighborhood and past house after house without any food gardens. Sure they have Geraniums and Daffodils blooming throughout their extensive lawns but not one Tomato plant our herb garden. In my opinion the convenience of the super market does not outweigh the hazards of climate change.

Plus growing you own food just appeals to a side of human tradition that seems to be slowly disappearing. There is something about getting your hands into the soil and watching life and food sprout from the ground that puts things into a greater perspective. Food is something we should try harder to create and capture ourselves. That is what our whole foraging experience embodies. Knowing where your food comes from and being highly involved in it builds the respect and love for nature that our concrete jungles keep diminishing.

– Alex

Friday the 13th, 10 Kilometers and a Fish Fry

Friday the 13th began not unlike many of the days before it. I awoke, ate breakfast, and prepared myself for a day off work fishing on the Thornapple River. The night previous I had watched the red Wings loose game seven and had wallowed in suffering with a few of my friends; so as memory serves I did wake up much later than usual.

With my late start I was afraid my great plans of fishing were dashed as I had slept through the great fishing hours of the wee morning. However, I had the day off; if I didn’t go fishing what else was I going to do? So at the bright hour of eleven o’clock I began to prepare my affairs for a day on the river.

Thursday night I had arranged a fishing spot at my friend Del’s mom’s house who lived on the river. Finally at one in the afternoon I had my line in the water. My plan of attack was to go after Catfish. Her house is situated on the right bank of the river at the beginning of a long slow left curve meaning the current and depth of the river are right along her side of the river. Perfect for bottom fishing for Catfish. I was fishing with a (guesstimated) size 5 hook with half of a big juicy night crawler impaled upon it and a large split shot sinker about 3 feet back on the line. I cast it out into the current and waited.

The sun was approaching its zenith and the fish were jumping all over the place, needless to say I felt real good about my location. Sure enough it wasn’t too long before my bait was hit. I love the way Catfish take bait. Not a nibble nor a half assed bite, no Catfish take the bait strong. With my first fish on my smile grew from an inquisitive smirk to a full grin as I felt the familiar slow, strong pulses of fighting a Channel Catfish. When I got the fish to shore I was surprised by how big it actually was, nearly 17 inches! I dispatched the hook from his mouth with my pliers making sure to avoid his spurs and placed him in my waiting live-well.

With my first fish on land I prepared my hook again and cast back into the same hole. It wasn’t 5 minutes later that I had another fish on! It seemed I had found where they were hiding faster than I had thought I would. After another battle with a fish I pulled up a 12 inch Catfish. Things were really looking up. By now the sun was high in the sky and the fish had stopped jumping it was the perfect time to drink a few beers and soak up some sun as the full heat of the day came to bear.

At three o’clock I was joined by my friend Del. We fished together for quite some time with neither of us getting as much as a snag. Finally Del broke the spell and brought in a nice 15 inch Catfish. Like a gentleman he practiced catch and release.

Not long after Del’s success I too had my third fish on and landed a 15 inch Catfish. My live-well was now quite full of fish. With the hour approaching six in the evening and dark clouds rolling in Del took his leave and I prepared to take off. But just as I was preparing my things I decided to toss my line in and see what happened, and Bam I had a forth fish on!

This fish was no Catfish. It hit my bait in a very similar fashion but it acted very different in the fight. Catfish keep constant pressure and pull in slow rhythmic pulses against you. This fish however, was swimming left then right, giving slack and then taking out line and finally jumping clean out of the water. I had hooked my first Bass of the summer!

I tell you, sport fish are sport fish for a reason. They are so much fun to catch. The 12 inch Small Mouth fought twice as hard as my largest Catfish and was half the size. Sam and I won’t be able to keep the Bass we catch until after Memorial Day but it is a great pleasure to catch one. With my grin a full on jovial smile I released the Bass back into the river, re-baited my hook and cast again. Not too long after I caught the fifth and final fish of the day and my second Bass of the summer.

With the clouds looking meaner by the minute I released the Bass and began gathering my affairs and loading them into the car. Before long I was home and it was time to begin the process of turning whole Catfish into Catfish fillets.

The process begins by cutting the skin back just behind the gills and then using a vice-grip pliers to pull off the skin from head to tail.

Once you have removed the skin it is as simple as cutting down the spin on either side avoiding the guts and taking the fillets off.

This was my first time in a long time filleting a Catfish and I was bit rusty, but even though the fillets look rough they should taste great just the same.

Now, I know what your saying. For such a long winded story Sam and I didn’t eat a foraged meal yet this week. That is true and false at the same time. Saturday morning I ran the 10k in the 5/3 River Bank Race and then had the work in the afternoon. Fortunately we had been invited to a fish fry being put on by my boss at Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus so we decided to let him do the foraging for us this week. Saturday night we indulged our selves in fried Blue Gill, Perch, Crappie and Salmon as well as…. MORELS!!! That is correct Sam and I finally ate Morels this season though on someone else’s labor.

All in all it was a great weekend. Sam and I are still clinging onto the hope that we may find Morels on our own. Until then we may have to keep mooching off people who are generous enough to share their morels even though will never divulge where they found them. Until then we’ll be eating Catfish and telling more stories of our time spent outside.

– Alex

Praying For Rain

After talking with a few people with more experience than myself about Morel mushrooms I am praying for some rain. I have learned they like moister soils but not wet soil and prefer to grow at higher elevation than I had previously expected. The conversations have backed up all I have learned on the web like looking around dead elm trees, old burn areas and logging areas. I also picked up some pointers from my cousin who told me they seem to prefer sandier soil (the white morels that is) and if I could find an old apple orchard that I would definitely have better luck. With the White Morel season in full bore, Sam and I should hopefully be able to find some morels before seasons end come Labor Day.

Not only has the warmer weather spurned my desire for Morels it has also brought fishing back into my vocabulary. Eating the Ribbon Snake was interesting and certainly some resourceful foraging but there is no substitute for a good ol’ fish fry. I have the evening off Thursday and the whole day off Friday; perhaps I’ll be telling a fish story later this week.

– Alex

A Walk in Cascade Peace Park

It seems spring has been struggling to come out this year. It has been unseasonably cold and thus all the greenery of late April and early May still seems to be hiding. In our quest for wild edibles Sam and I have become increasingly good at attaining Cattails and wild Onion but we don’t want to have a third meal in a row with the same ingredients. Our palates need variety. I guess you could say we have been picking the low hanging fruit. Cattails and wild Onions are easy to find and identify and therefore have been a great way to get started. Now I am ready to start looking for fiddleheads, morels, and leeks.

Yesterday was Star Wars Day and my birthday, May the 4th be with you, so it seemed a perfect day to go try and find these more elusive plants and fungi. Normally late April is the time for fiddleheads and early May the morels begin to make an appearance. Knowing how late spring is this year I thought I might try and find the very first few morels poking out among the hard woods of Cascade Peace Park. The weather was beautiful and I convinced my friend Del and his girlfriend Erica to join me on my venture as Sam was predisposed teaching and coaching Fencing at the West Michigan Fencing Academy.

Say cheese!

Even if we didn’t find any morels I knew we would have a good time on account of the weather and just getting into the woods. We started out of the parking lot off Bolt and not 5 minutes into our walk we came upon a good sized Blue Racer sunning himself just off the trail. It seemed a good omen as the last time I can remember seeing a blue racer over 3 feet long was when I was a small boy.

We made our way into the center of the park and began hunting around the bases of trees and fallen logs for morels. We carried on for quite a way without any success. It was surprising how little growth has sprouted in the forests. Morels like warmer temperatures and normally begin to pop when the temperature remains near 50 degrees at night. I knew we were early but I also knew that work friends had found a few. In the end you can’t find them if you don’t go looking. Fortunately, our search wasn’t entirely in vain. After startling a female Turkey I cam across, not Morels, but Fiddleheads!

We had come down into a ravine over looking a creek bed and suddenly there were fiddle heads everywhere. Sam and I had worried that we had missed the season. But here I was looking at my first fiddleheads. I was extremely excited. Sadly my discovery wasn’t of the Ostrich Fern fiddleheads which are the tastiest kind. But knowing they are just coming out is really good news.

It is funny how once you become acclimated to what fiddleheads look like they begin to appear all around you as if a veil has been lifted. They are such an interesting plant and the way they slowly unfurl themselves is a thing of otherworldly beauty. I found a few different species of fiddlehead but no big beefy Ostrich Fern fiddleheads.

I really like the way a few varieties look feathered.

This is my favorite picture of the day. How cool are Fiddleheads!

We left our little stream as the sun had long passed its zenith and dinner time was upon us. On the way back to the trail we walked through a bunch of old Apple trees and I held my breath for Morels, but none could be found. Leaving the Cascade Peace Park forage empty handed was a little rough on the ego; especially when all of our previous forages have been so successful. I know if need be we can find Cattails and wild Onion in a flash and fill our bellies that way.

Our foraged meal has been set for this Saturday’s lunch and we definitely have more time before we have to worry about going hungry. At least finding fiddleheads was a heartening discovery. We should be able to find bigger, tastier fiddleheads for our Saturday meal. Another good piece of news is arriving out of my garden, Asparagus is growing well and I know Sam and I should be able to find some growing wild in west Michigan eventually. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, right?

A few Asparagus poking out.

Regardless, we’ll keep foraging. It is a great way to get outside and enjoy nature and I am truly relishing this experience with Sam and now friends. We are talking about having a group outing this coming Saturday morning at Seidman Park which should be a great time as well. After all we are just two kids in the woods, but who said we had to be alone?

– Alex

Cattail Soup

Sam came over today for our second foraged meal of Cattail soup. Preparing it was relatively easy. The rice sat simmering away as Sam cleaned and separated the massive clump of wild onions and I started simmering the sesame seeds and carrots (Queen Anne’s Lace) in a handsome amount of olive oil. With the wild onions cleaned it was few simple chops and into the pan they went. Then Sam took over the cutting board and began slicing the cattails into bite size pieces with great finesse, as only a fencer could.

With the rice close and our Cattails, Wild Onion and Carrots simmering beautifully Sam and I could step back and enjoy the sounds and smells of the kitchen. When everything was ready we added the veggies to the rice along with 4 cups of chicken broth and let it cook for another 15 minutes.

We decided to deviate from the recipe, but only slightly, and add some Herbs de Provence. The 15 minute wait was excruciating for Sam as she had skipped lunch and was “dieing” of hunger.  With the clock striking 6:30 we turned off the heat and ladled out the soup into two bowls and were happy to see we would definitely have leftovers. At the table we spooned the soup into our mouths so quickly we got burnt, oops.

Caution Hot!

Sam grabbed some bread so we could at least taste the broth without suffering the heat. Soon enough we were like Goldilocks, enjoying soup that was just right.  The soup was very good and now having had Cattails twice I can confidently describe the taste. It is has a sweet yet fishy taste much like imitation crab and the ends are so soft you hardly know they are there, however the green sections have a crunch to them. The Queen Anne’s Lace is extremely comparable to store bought carrots except that they are white and not orange.

Now after two meals I am feeling even better about our experience thus far. It is so much fun walking through swamps and fields with Sam and discovering wild edibles, as well as sharing the kitchen cooking a shared meal. We can’t wait to share our next meal with you and we hope you enjoy our journey as much as do.

– Alex

Surprised by Carrots!

I came home from work this afternoon and was graciously surprised by Carrots. My mother had been weeding her gardens and had thrown them onto the compost heap as they are a nuisance to her tulips. I was elated and grabbed them up and took them to our kitchen sink.

A carrot in the hand is worth two in the ground.

After a good scrubbing they really looked delicious and I am certain they will make a great addition to our soup! It is awesome how easy this really is. In all honesty I didn’t even try. One mans trash is another mans treasure I guess.

With an extra kick in my step on account of the carrots I felt my luck couldn’t get worse. I took a stroll in search of wild onion for our soup and low and behold I found some growing 200 yards from my back door.  Foraging has been a cinch today! Sam and I discovered a massive cattail marsh, my mother inadvertently supplied us with carrots and I found another place for wild onion!

I used a trowel and dug up a big clump and now they are sitting on the kitchen window sill. A beautiful bouquet of wild onion. The soup is coming together nicely.

– Alex

Goat! Lamont and Our Search for Fiddleheads

Sam and I spent Easter Sunday with her family out in Lamont, MI. Her aunt and uncle have a beautiful farm house on a few acres of land with horses, chickens, turkeys and a goat! (I love goats) Being out in the more unspoiled areas of west Michigan we decided we should at least take a walk beyond their pastures and check out the woods for Ostrich Fern fiddleheads.

Fiddleheads are young ferns and are collected when they are under 6 inches and are a great cooked vegetable. They are high in antioxidants, a good source for Omega 3 and Omega 6 and contain iron and fiber. They are also supposed to be quite tasty. We walked through the woods scanning the ground for fiddleheads but unfortunately none could be found.

We did come across a bunch of these pretty yellow flowers. So I guess the entire search wasn’t in vain. Either way I was happy because I got to hang out with a goat!

On another positive note I was rototilling our garden today and saw that our asparagus is just beginning to poke its head out of the ground. Sam and I will have to look for some asparagus as well as fiddleheads for this Friday’s meal. We’ll keep you posted when we do find some wild edibles.

– Alex

I Want One!

Easter is tomorrow which has meant my day was spent busily preparing for the holiday, but I thought I would share a cool little tidbit I found whilst browsing the web. A new concept from Volkswagen has been released at the Geneva Auto Show! They are bringing back the old Bulli what we know and love as the hippie bus. It is conceptualized as a fully electric vehicle with a range of 186 miles per charge. Looks pretty cool to me. Check it out here for more details and pictures.