Category Archives: Foraging

Rasberries were waiting for my return from holiday!

Yes.  It’s true….Alex and I might be the worst bloggers on the internet.  The regularity with which we update is downright AWFUL.  But……we are vigilant, in a belated way.

To start off, look at the delicious rasberries that were growing at the end of my driveway!

I hadddd to harvest the ripe ones.  There weren’t many that hadn’t been picked at by the birds, but I found a couple dozen.  Yessssss.

Now, the question is…..what to make with them?  I’m thinking just as they are?  Do you readers have any recipe suggestions?

 

 

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Milkweed dinner?

Tonight, Alex and I prepared the Milkweed Alex found on his most recent foraging trip.  As was described in the last post, Milkweed has qualities that require a great deal of boiling prior to ingestion.

The way in which we prepared the Milkweed wasn’t anything special, but there was a specific amount of boiling that is necessary.

Boiled Milkweed

  1.   Clean and cut Milkweed.
  2.   Keep 1 large and 1 small pot on hand.  Boil water in the large pot and begin boiling the Milkweed in the smaller pot.
  3. Boil Milkweed in smaller pot for 1 minute and then drain and continue boiling the milkweed with water from the big pot.  Over the next 4 minutes, change the water 4 more times.  Do not use cold water in the changes as they will set a strong bitter taste in the Milkweed. You should let the 5th change of water cook the Milkweed for the last 10 minutes.
  4. Serve and enjoy!
Opinions? 
Alex liked them.  They were bitter, but not bitter enough to make him dislike them.  The smaller shoots weren’t bitter at all and he loved them!
As for myself, I was not a fan.  Maybe I tasted the more bitter shoots, but either way…they were too bitter for me!  We decided it was the leaves that caused the unfortunate taste. After also tasting the bottom of the shoots, I agree with that conclusion.
Apparently, Alex might have found them a little late in their growth cycle which could’ve contributed to their bitter taste.  That also might explain why the smaller shoots we tasted were less bitter.
Overall, they smelled delicious (like Asparagus) and if you like a bitter vegetable, MILKWEED IS FOR YOU!
– Sam

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

The waiting game.

Better late than never right?   Right!

Last Friday, Alex, myself and three of our friends went in search of fish out on Murray Lake (near Cannonsburg).   Now, I’m not going to lie and say I wan’t pessimistic going into this fishing outing.  Last time Alex and I tried our hand at fishing, together that is, we caught zilch, null, nada, nothing.  Nor did we receive anything remotely close to a nibble.  So you could say I was slightly pessimistic going into this trip; even though I was trying to be a happy camper.

Getting onto the lake at 8am, Alex and I in canoe and our 3 friends in rowboat, we dropped anchor off shore of cattails and weeds.  Fishing in the shallow and deeper water, we began our day.  Not 20 minutes later, our friends had caught a fish.  As time went on, they caught another, and another and another.  Yes, by the time they had 10 fish, we had none and had been out on the water for 1.5 hours.  It’s sufficient to say I was bummed out.  Trying to stay positive, we moved to the other side of the lake hoping for better luck.

To my amazement, and relief, we caught nibbles right off the bat.  Unfortunately, we still weren’t catching these nibbley fish.  Moving once more, we set our lines.  Two nibbles later and wham!  I got a juvenile sunfish and before long, I had caught juvenile everything!  Sunfish, Rock Bass, Blue Gills and Perch.  I felt like an incredible fisher, no thanks to my fishing skills.  I think the fish were doing me a favor.  I ended up catching 12 juvenile fish all by myself and  we weren’t able to keep any of them.  As for Alex, he switched lures and caught a Large Mouth Bass, definitely the biggest fish of the day!  Too bad it isn’t the season for them, so we threw it back as well.

Returning to shore around noon, our party’s total keepable fish count was 5, including Rock Bass and Blue Gill.

The happy fishing party.

Returning home, I was taught how to descale, fillet and cook what we caught.  Man, was it fun!  Just like dissecting cow eyes in elementary school.  Not to mention DELICIOUS.  I’ve decided I like anything and everything better than catfish.  They are toooooo fishy for me!

Inspection.

Pre-descaling.

In the process of descaling a fish - for the first time nonetheless!

This one's a female, with Roe!

Ready for lunch.

As for the cooking of our catch, we put the fish right in butter and fried them up in a pan.  Nothing fancy and boy were they delicious!

As for the Roe we harvested along with the meat from the female, we fried that up about 10 seconds with a tablespoon of butter.  We then proceeded to eat it on a cracker.  Not quite like raw fish eggs, caviar (yummy), but the roe was GREAT cooked. It tasted nothing like fish really.

Raw roe.

Overall, all the fish and the constituent parts that we ate were delicious.  Alex and I will eat them again FOR SURE.

Thank you fish!

-Sam

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

The rain came and went.

We finally got the rain we had been waiting for last night.  According to WOOD TV 8, areas around West Michigan got up to 5.05″ of rain!  This is great growing weather for the Morels we are STILL looking for signs of.  Unfortunately, now that we have enough water, it’s a little too warm (80 degrees).  All the stuff Alex and I have read say that Morels always seem to surprise you though, so we are hoping for one of those.  While these hot temperatures might not be the very best for morels, let’s hope the fish love it!  If the weather behaves, we’re going to try fishing again and hopefully we’ll be serving up some fillets tomorrow or this weekend.

After all the storms last night, it really got me thinking about our watershed (the Lower Grand River Watershed).  Most people think of where their homes/property are located based upon street intersections, latitude and longitude, county, town etc.  I think it’s more important to realize and understand what watershed one is apart of.  It seems especially important when trying to forage for certain flora and fauna in an efficient and effective way as Alex and I are trying to do.  On top of this project Alex and I have put together, I’ll be interning all summer with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) as their Water Quality Intern.  In addition to doing whatever they ask of me, I’m going to be learning a great deal more about the lower grand river watershed and can’t wait to put some of the knowledge I gain to use when we go foraging.

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

Keep your eyes open, but more importantly…take whatever you can get.

Cattails.  Delicious….yes.  Exciting 3 consecutive meals in a row…not so much.  We thought this past week’s meal was, once again, going to rest in the verdant hands of Typha latifolia (the Common Cattail).  Thank the Lord we were wrong.

Last week, Alex and I foraged three times in different places around the area for something new to consume, but to no avail.  Neither did we find the species of fiddleheads we were searching for nor the early season Morels and wild Asparagus that are said to be sprouting around Michigan.  It’s sufficient to say our spirits were low.  As of Friday, we had NOTHING to prepare for our meal that night.  Postponing the meal until Monday we felt less pressure and decided to try foraging once more in Seedman Park (Ada, MI).

Right away we were happy to see the largest Dandelion’s we’d seen yet this spring and snatched those babies up. Praise the Lord and…pass the Dandelions I suppose?  The rest of that trip turned up little else other than a couple fiddleheads that unfortunately, we not of the Ostrich fern specie.   We’ve read that technically, there aren’t any poisonous fiddleheads, but we heard some are definitely more tasty than others.  We’ll have to try the ones we found this past trip in our meal this Friday.  Oddly enough, we also came across a Ribbon Snake that we were able to catch, clean and refrigerate to add to our meal Monday.  I’m still not so sure about that one.  Hm.

As all of you know, Sunday (yesterday) was Mother’s Day.  So as I’m sure all of you were, Alex and I were spending our days separately with our Mom’s.  Thank goodness we did.  After spending time with my own Mom at the Tulip Festival in Holland, MI, my parents and I went out to my Dad’s parents home in Nunica.  My Grandparents live on a large amount of land and have a field and adjacent woods comprising most of the acreage.  After coincidentally discussing Alex’s and my blog, Grandma Joan kicked me out of her house.  I didn’t need too much convincing to go forage the woods I had explored most of my childhood, but I did need some encouraging after all the snacks we had eaten.  I needed boots so Grandpa Otto provided, with dead mouse included.  How nice.


My Aunt Paula and Uncle Greg were nice enough to let me tag along and boy did we hit the mother load….of Wild Leeks!  Up until this point, Alex and I had only found wild onions with deeply rooted, not to mention tiny, bulbsThe wild Leeks we found were large and ripe for the picking.  Not only were they in huge, easily accessible clumps, but their bulbs were so close to the surface my family and I were able to use our hands to dig them out (a not so easily done task with wild onions).  In 10 minutes or so, we easily collected 50 plants. 

FINALLY!  Alex and I would have a foraged resource to make our meal with.  Right off the bat, I decided we were going to make Leek Soup the next day and boyyyyy did we!  Our meal we prepared for lunch and follows below.

Sauteed Ribbon Snake

  • 1 ribbon snake, gutted, cleaned and sliced
  • Butter
  1. Fry up the snake meat, tiny bones included, with butter in a pan until golden brown and crispy.
  2. Dish and serve.

OUR OPINIONAlex: loved.  Myself:  Tasty, but I hated the bones.  Worth trying once though.

Dandelion and Leek Leaf Salad

  • the leaves from 20 dandelion plants
  • 2 Tbsp of sliced leek leaves
  • preferred dressing
  1. Thoroughly clean the dandelion/leek leaves and prepare as one would a typical salad.
  2. Slice a few leek leaves long wise and add to the dandelion leaves.
  3. Add preferred dressing and serve.

OUR OPINION:  Alex and I both found incredibly tasty, but a little on the bitter side.  Dandelion leaves would really compliment a Romain leaf salad as well we decided.

Potato Leek Soup  (3-4 Servings)

  • 1-2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
  • 2 leeks, in our case we approximated with our small leeks what we thought would be the equivalent, washed and sliced
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme, optional
  • 3 – 4 cups water
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 Asparagus (we got ours from the garden), we added for fun
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp freshly-ground white pepper
  1. In a large pot heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the slices leeks and season with salt. Cook the leeks over moderate heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until they’re completely soft and wilted.
  3. Add the thyme, if using, and stir for about 30 seconds, cooking them with the leeks to release their flavor flavors.
  4. Pour in the water, and add the potatoes and bay leaf.
  5. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender when poked with a sharp knife. Depending on which potatoes you used, it could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

THE LAST STEP BELOW (we didn’t do this step due to time shortage, but we will try it next time for sure)

  1. Pluck out the bay leaves and puree the soup with the white pepper, seasoning with more salt if necessary. I use an immersion (stick) blender, but if you use a standard blender, be sure not to fill it more than half-full and secure the lid, and cover it with a tea towel when blending, to avoid hot soup or steam for causing problems. Don’t use a food processor as that will make the potato purée gummy.If the soup is too thick, add a bit more water, until it’s the desired consistency.

OUR OPINION:  Alex and I both loved it!  We can’t wait to make it again and maybe this time around, we’ll puree it like the recipe’s last step suggests.  The one thing that truly amazed me was how tasty the 3 cups of water became after combining all the other ingredients.  There really weren’t that many, yet the liquid in the soup tasted like some bouillon or chicken stock were added.  So healthy AND delicious.

– Sam


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

Warm weather brings mushrooms!

Spring seems to have truly sprung this weekend here in Western Michigan.  Yesterday and today have given us beautiful warm and sunny weather.  They must have been just the missing ingredients our LBM’s (little brown mushrooms) needed to reveal themselves. Yes,  we have mushrooms! Some sprung up near my home just last night.  I have little, if any, experience in identifying fungi so I immediately started researching how to correctly identify the genus I discovered (see below).

After some quick, but thorough research, I discovered….well….that there are a million genus’ of mushrooms that resemble the ones I found.  They are placed in the catchall category of LBM‘s (little brown mushrooms) and it is strongly advised not to risk harvesting and ingesting these types of mushrooms.  So, that’s a no-go on a possibility of mushrooms for this upcoming weeks meal.  We’ll continue to look for new produce this week, but man! I really want something other than cattails!

-Sam