Category Archives: Plants

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

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

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.

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


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


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

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

Earth Day – Our First Meal

Today is EARTH DAY 2011!!!  Alex and I enjoyed a beautifully cloudy and chilly celebration of our mother earth cooking up our first officially foraged meal.  It was so exciting watching the fruits of our labors meld into a delicious concoction.  The scent of sesame and onion filled the kitchen and set our mouths a-watering.

For those who are interested in what we cooked, here is our menu below.

Menu

Wilted Dandelion Salad

  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 cloves Minced Garlic
  • 2 Tsp Balsamic Vinegar
  • Dandelion leaves from 6 plants approx.
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  1. Brown the minced garlic in olive oil, add dandelion leaves, mixing thoroughly to make sure all the leaves are coated in oil, add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat once the leaves are just slightly wilted.

Cattail Stir-Fry

  • 4 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbsp crushed Sesame Seeds
  • Wild onions
  • Cattails
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  1. Roast Sesame seeds in olive oil on low until you can smell their aroma, add the diced up stalk of the green onion and sautee on low for another 2 minutes.  Add the onion bulbs, chopped to bitesize, and  cattails (cut to about 1-inch long), sautee for approx. 3 minutes.  Add a little water and cover pan, let simmer until the cattails become translucent.  Add cooked rice, stir, salt & pepper to taste.  Serve and enjoy!

Candied Violets

Before baking

After baking

  • 1 egg white
  • sugar
  • wild violets (icluding stems) washed!
  1. In bowl, beat egg whites with a wire whisk just until frothy. Place sugar in another bowl.   Taking one violet at a time, pick it up by the stem and dip into egg whites, covering all surfaces.  Gently dip into the sugar, covering the entirety of the flower.  Place on wax paper-lined baking sheets and snip off the stems.  Using a toothpick, open petals to original shape.  sprinkle sugar on any uncoated areas.  Dry in a 200 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until sugar crystallizes.  Remove violets to wire rack, sprinkle again with sugar if violets appear syrupy.  Cool.  Store in airtight containers with wax paper between layers.
    Nutrition Facts   (1 Flower = 1 serving = 3 calories, 0 fat, 0 cholesterol, 9 mg sodium, 1g protein, trace carbohydrates, 0 fiber)

Our Meal Review

The meal as a whole was delicious!  We especially enjoyed the cattails and  onion, but they were a lot sweeter than we thought they would be.  The flavors were subtle and pleasant, and they complimented each other extremely well.  The candied violets were messy, but uber sweet and surprisingly, they tasted like a combination of berries and leafy greens (it might sound odd, but it tasted amazing!).

For all our praise and enjoyment, this is a learning experience and there are some changes we’ll make next time.  For example, when adding vinegar to the dandelion salad, the rule of thumb should be LESS IS MORE!  Also very important, make sure to not over-wilt the dandelion leaves.  As with the aforementioned vinegar, less is also more when it comes to the amount of egg white and sugar coated on the violets.  Our violets didn’t crystallize all the way through, even though we baked them for the allotted time, and proved to be a gooey mess.  If you decide to use our recipe, we advise an application of non-stick spray to the wax paper prior to preparing the violets.

This meal was many things.  It was fun to research, clean, prepare, cook, present, photograph, ingest, delight in and ruminate on.    One thing it wasn’t?  Hard, expensive, inedible (thank goodness) or gross!    I honestly cannot believe all the produce that was right in our metaphorical backyard.  Nor did we have to search for days to find it!  The hardest thing about preparing for this meal was waiting for a day…in April…in Michigan, with good weather.

– Sam and Alex

P.S. For more photos check out our Facebook page

Our First Foraging Experience

Sam and I awoke this morning with smiles toward the beautiful day! Bright sunny skies and 50 degree weather lightened our spirits as we gathered our supplies and set off on our first foraging experience. We took a basket, a shovel and a knife along so that we could be sure to gather all the wild edibles we came across.

Having done some preliminary scouting we knew for the most part what we needed and where we were headed. Our first stop was the Cattail bed near Sam’s house. Sam went into the water with her tall rubber boots and quickly discovered that though the day was warm the water was still very cold! So we traded boots and I stepped into the water and began pulling Cattails.

Cattails and numb hands

Picking Cattails is a trickier process than I had expected. It requires a strong grip and a slow but forceful pull. If you pull to quickly they tend to break off too high and you miss out on the soft white bottom where the Cattail is the best tasting. Needless to say Sam and I broke a few before we got the hang of it. On one of the last Cattails I pulled from the water I got the root and all. The roots are usually much better later in the season after they have had some time to grow  but we will still be able to enjoy this accidental treat.

After we had picked what we thought was enough for the two of us we moved on to the Wild Onions we had found on our earlier search. We dug the Onions up with a shovel and shook the dirt off as best we could all the while being careful not to hurt the young onions and picking the worm out of the root clumps. The best part about digging onions is the smell! Sam kept exclaiming how wonderful the smell was as we broke the onion clumps apart and breathed deep. With more Onions than we could count we headed back for home. Along the way we came across a few great big dandelions and gathered them up for a salad with our Earth Day meal. Once in Sam’s kitchen we cleaned our forage and laid them out to dry on the counter so we could see just how much we had gathered from Mother Nature.

Sam and I are so excited for our first meal tomorrow! We had a great time foraging for our food this morning and should have a great time preparing and eating our wild edibles tomorrow. We’ll be sure to share the experience.

– Alex

What Will Tomorrow Bring?

Well another Saturday is fast approaching and it brings to question of what will the weather be like tomorrow? High winds and cold temperatures kept us off the lake at the beginning of the week and between my working  and Sam leaving the State to go to Oregon for a fencing tournament we have not fished a lick. My father and I are hoping tomorrow’s forecasted rain will be over quickly so that we can fish in the evening for Crappie on Morrison Lake.

While not fishing or walking through the woods and fields near Sam’s home I have been brushing up on my book knowledge reading through Edible Wild Plants by Lee Allen Peterson. Today I went to Schuler Books and Music on 28th Street and picked up The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plant, Mushrooms, Fruits, and Nuts: How to Find, Identify and Cook Them by Katie Letcher Lyle. Now I feel we’ll have enough information to properly forage throughout the spring, summer and fall.

I’ll be sure to share whether or not the fishing trip is a success or if it even takes place. Until then I can only wonder what tomorrow bring.

– Alex