Thursday, June 11, 2015

Summertime Food Scrounging

I don't know if it's some leftover primal urge leftover from our hunter gather days, whether it's the excuse of getting out into the sun, or maybe just a bit of wild desperation for nature after a long, cold Ohio winter has kept me under lock and key for months. For whatever reason, when the days are getting warm, I get to food scrounging.

Over winter, I eat a lot of foods that I put up over the previous warm season. Smoothies are made of frozen berries foraged in the neighborhood. Work snacks are crabapple candy, delicious sweet-sour treats of dehydrated "waste" fruit. Soups are made of a handful of this dehydrated goody and that bag of frozen greens and that ham bone that's been waiting in the freezer for a chance to shine. By the time June comes along, the pantry is a little more bare, the selection a bit more paltry. So out I go to restock the larder and prepare again for the cold days that will come.

Anyone who follows this page knows that I have two primary ways to cut my grocery spending: gardening and salvage grocery shopping. Both are fantastic ways to trim back the budget. Gardening requires little money, but lots and lots of time. Salvage grocery shopping takes little more time than regular grocery shopping, but still takes a fair amount of money. So while foraging doesn't make up a large percentage of the yearly calories, it is a worthwhile pursuit. It takes little time, compared to a full season of gardening, and it takes absolutely no money. It also adds lots of variety to the diet that would otherwise be impossible. Wild foods are very nutritious and can be delicious.

Starting out in early spring, but still viable in early summer, is foraging for wild greens. They are best early, and by this time of year (June) are a bit bitter. However, even now, they're worthwhile, especially if the bitter greens are going into a robust dish with lots of garlic and cream. Dandelion greens are the best green to get started with simply because everyone knows what dandelion looks like. You don't have to worry about accidentally poisoning your family (provided you pick from a yard you know is unsprayed). Harvest those dandelion leaves when they are tiny and haven't flowered yet for the tastiest treat. Once they flower, they are tougher and more bitter, so you'll want to use them in cooked dishes, rather than fresh salads.
Creasy greens with a baby bud in the center.

I also harvest creasy greens. These are a southern favorite that should be a northern favorite too. I love them steamed or tossed into a stir fry. Once they send up a flower stalk, stop harvesting the leaves, but then, oh then, you get the stalks. They look like mini broccoli stalks and taste like a wilder broccoli. Trucker loves broccoli, but I've never been able to grow it in my garden. This year I only harvested enough for us to eat fresh, but next year I plan to freezer in meal-sized portions for winter.

Research the wild greens that grow in your area, sample them and harvest bucketloads of the ones you like. To preserve them, simply steam them until they wilt, then cool and pack into freezer bags. Depending on family size, you can pack 1, 2 or 4 cups into each bag. Freeze flat for maximum storage in the freezer. Pull out a bag at a time to reheat as a steamed vegetable, add to omelets/frittata/quiche/souffle, or mix into a dip, similar to spinach dip but with free greens. Creasy green flower buds can be steamed or boiled a couple minutes, then dunked into an ice bath before packing in freezer bags.

Dandelion flowers can be fried for perfect fritters or the petals added to fresh salads. If you want to fill your larder with them, think of dandelion wine, dandelion jelly or dandelion syrup.

Edible flowers (Violets, Grape Hyacinths) add pretty color
to salads. Candied violets are great for cake decorating.
If you live in morel country, then it is the best foraging to be done. Nothing, absolutely nothing compares to a morel. If you have good huntin' ground, eat as many as you can fresh, as this is the best way to enjoy them. If you are really lucky and get a huge harvest, you can dehydrate them to use in winter. I once saw dried morels for sale for $230/lb.

Violets are edible and prolific, at least in my garden beds. You can eat the flowers or leaves in salads, or you could steam and freeze the greens. The flowers can be added to tea blends, mixed into sugar for a floral note for teas, or candied for decorating desserts.

Then it's berry season. For me, that means mulberries. When I was a kid, my grandma used to take me out mulberry picking. We'd pick bushes of them. After a long day of picking, Grandpa would come home and we'd all sit down to bowls of mulberries with milk. It's still my favorite way to eat them, but I do preserve some for winter. There are two main types of mulberries: red (which ripen to almost black) and white (which start lime green and fade to white when ripe). Then there are hybrids which can be pink or white with purple frosting. I prefer red berries to all other kinds due to the taste, but the other kinds don't stain the hands as badly. To harvest, you can pick them by hand, but it is labor intensive and wasteful. When mulberries are fully ripe, they fall off the tree at the drop of a hat, so if you pick one berry, five more fall to the ground. Instead, lay down a sheet or a blanket you don't care about. Gently shake the branches over the sheet. The perfectly ripe berries will fall onto the sheet. just grab the corners to pile the berries together, then bag up. This makes harvesting a breeze and you can get a whole tree harvested in twenty minutes. You can also harvest wild blackberries or raspberries if they grow in your area. These taste fantastic and you'll love them more than anything sold in stores. I freeze them on cookie sheets; one frozen solid, they are packed into freezer bags to dump a little at a time into smoothies or to eat as a chilly snack later on in summer.

Plantain seeds air drying on a cookie sheet.
Broad-leaved plantain is an edible green, but also provides some healthy seeds. When the stalks are mature and the tips of each seed is starting to turn slightly brown, I harvest them by the handfuls. I strip the seeds from the stalk by gripping near the top and pulling back to the base while holding it over a big bowl to catch the falling seeds. I don't worry about the immature seeds at the top. It doesn't add up to a lot, but it is nutrient rich and provides good variety. I use them in teas for respiratory problems sometimes, but often, I just crush some seeds into any baked goods/pizza crusts I'm making for extra fiber. It provides nominal cost benefits, but good nutrition. It also is nice, relaxing work for a warm evening with a beer on the patio, so I continue to do it.

Any and all surplus greens from the garden, and some wild greens are preserved into green powder. This bitter-as-heck powder has nothing going for it, flavor-wise, but is a healthy addition to the diet. I use greens with bad texture, like the full-sized greens on a radish bulb, carrot greens or tough dandelion greens. I dehydrate them until they are bone dry, then crumble them by hand or in the blender until they are a course powder. This powder is a nutritional powerhouse, and is an easy addition to meatloaf, casseroles, green smoothies, even brownies, anything that could use a little more veg. I try to limit its use to dishes with strong flavors to mask the bitterness. In winter, even that bitterness is welcome when there is such a limit to veg.

Crabapples waiting to be processed.
All season long, I keep an eye out for feral fruit trees. I know of countless crab apple trees, several apple trees, and 3 pear trees. All of these trees litter the sidewalks of hapless homeowners who don't connect the rotting fruit on ground with the self-sufficient thoughtfulness of previous owners. Since they don't want to bother with it, I help them out. Since I'm harvesting the stuff, they don't have to clean off their sidewalk. It's a public service, really. For apples and crabapples, taste them occasionally. Once they taste good, harvest. For pears, I tend to wait until I see the first pear on the ground, then harvest the tree clean. These apples and pears might not be the tastiest, but can be used creatively. Juice them with other apples, pears or other fruits. Add them to applesauce. Bake with them. Dehydrate them into chips. Blend with other, more tasty fruit and dehydrate into fruit leathers. If there aren't too many bug holes, they will even store in the frig for months.

Crabapple candy ready to go into the dehydrators.
Crabapples are a special thing. They take effort to use, due to their small size, but they are fantastic. They add great zing to apple juice, cider or sauce. The bright red ones in particular add fantastic color to a basic sauce. I add them to apple crisp for a bit of color. My favorite, albeit labor-intensive way to use crabapples is to make crabapple candy. I cut each crabapple into halves or quarters, then pop out any seeds. I toss in sugar until it is coated well. I load them onto dehydrator trays and dry until leathery. These candies are delicious, and while not a health food, go a long way to reduce consumption of scary store-bought candy. I think they are like a chewier sour patch kid.

Many herbal teas can be put up from foraged weeds. Use a dehydrator for quick drying to minimize flavor loss. If you don't have a dehydrator, use a low oven or hang in a cool dry place. Pineapple weed (related to Chamomile) is my favorite wild tea. It has a lovely exotic tropical floral taste and scent. You can also dry violets, dandelion leaves, mints, dead nettles, clover blossoms, strawberry leaves, or many more. Dandelion roots can make a mock coffee that's to die for.
By the end of the summer, I like to have scores of different wild foods put up for later. It makes winter much more enjoyable to pop open some jar of summery goodness and remember that spring will come again.


  1. We use the salvage stores in and around Lancaster Pa for coffee, paper products and cooking oils and other things we can't produce ourselves. What we don't grow ourselves, forage for and harvest from the wild including game and fish we buy from the Amish at their farms, not at the "tourist traps". I always look forward to September and October for the Paw-Paw fruits. They're addicting!

    1. I love shopping at Amish stores. Love getting big sacks/containers of shelf-stables: flour, sugar, cocoa, cheddar powder.

      I haven't tried Paw-Paws yet...this may have to be the year!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...