Category Archives: Plants

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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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

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

Every fisherman starts out as a boy or a girl.

My love of fishing, or at least of watching fishing, started as a toddler.  I would wake up on Sunday mornings, 6am and watch fishing shows on TV.  Later on I got a little more participative and I remember having the best experiences of actually fishing.  Waking up early, rowing out with Grandma, Grandpa, and parents in tow.  Yes, I was so strong then I rowed them.  Well not really, but I was so enthusiastic it seemed to me we were powered on that enthusiasm alone.

I’ve been fishing with Alex once since we began this project and the successful outcome of today’s meal was NOT due to my fish whispering skills.  All the fish we ate for this meal were the product of Alex’s last trip to the Thornapple River and a generous donation from our friend John.  The menu was as follows.

Breaded and Fried Catfish/Blue Gill

  • All the Catfish and Blue Gill fillets
  • 2 eggs
  • Breading made from Veggie Chips
  • Vegetable oil
  1. Heat the vegetable oil until at frying temperature.
  2. Dip fish fillet into eggs, into breading and place gently into the pan with oil.
  3. Fry until fish is cooked and breading is crispy and brown.
Sauteed Cattail Shoots
The Cattails were as always, DELICIOUS.  As for the fish, we were amazing at how good the breading turned out!  Veggie chips are definitely a new twist on breading for fish.  The fish was cooked to perfection also.  Who would’ve thought Alex knew how to cook fish so well?

-Sam

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

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

Our second meal is tomorrow. Will you cook with us?

As those of you who live in Michigan know, it has been raining all week.  Due to this fact, neither Alex or I have gotten outside to forage for our second meal.  So…we were so very thankful when we awoke to a cloudy, but RAIN FREE sky this morning!

Our recipe tomorrow will once again focus on the wonder plant, CATTAILS.

Cattail and Wild Rice Soup

  • 1 cup dry wild rice (produces 4 cups of rice when cooked)
  • 2 cups cattail shoots, sliced (about 30 cattails)
  • 2 tbsp Sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 2 tsp salt
  1. Wild rice should be cooked until tender.
  2. Saute the onions and cattail shoots in sesame oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot, until they become tender and translucent.
  3. Add to the pot, the cooked rice, 4 cups of chicken broth (or other soup stock of choice) and also add salt.
  4. Simmer the mixture in the pot for 15-20 minutes and serve!
Our foraging experience began where it did last time, at  a Cattail swamp.  We were soon forced to forage elsewhere for cattail shoots though due to a small harvest.  Walking closer to the lake, Alex and I found the El Durado of Cattails!  Furthermore, we met one of my super nice neighbors who showed us once of her paths right down to the shore of the lake.  Lo’ and behold, we found the largest cattails as of yet!  We concluded the most likely, the cattail swamp we found them in was more mature.  
IMPORTANT OBSERVATION!  We thought it necessary to mention that in their young stage, Lilies tend to look very similar to cattail shoots.  Lilies are NOT edible.  Example below.

Lilies: Slightly purple. Cattails: Not purple.

I can’t imagine how grateful, and not mention sick of, the Native Americans who utilized Cattails were at this time of the year.  There really isn’t much other vegetation available for consumption right now.  Fortunately, the sprouting flowers and plants are pregnant with edible possibilities for later this spring and summer!

– Sam

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