Tag Archives: wild foods

More Food Foraging: A Recipe for Weeds

Foraging in the Side Yard

Besides gathering berries in field or forest, you can find wild foods closer to home. I suppose you might include the gathering of eggs from the chickens in the back yard under the category of foraging. They certainly were as local as you can get and totally natural. Grandma Vera Anderson occasionally came up with chamomile with which she made tea. I don’t know where she got that. There was an old apple tree in the back yard and I imagine she got some apple butter out of the apples. Although she grew nasturtiums, she did not garnish with the blossoms. And unlike the prior story, she didn’t put the grass in the pies.

Foraging for Dandelion greens
Dandelions, photo by Jayaprakash R

But she did have a delicious way to get rid of weed–dandelions in particular.  I loved grandma’s dandelion greens. Another sweet and sour dish, like her red pepper jam, this one cooked up in the trusty iron skillet in some bacon grease and sprinkled with vinegar and sugar.  Here in Arizona, I don’t have dandelion greens growing in my desert yard. I tried buying them at a store and cooking them, but the mess I came up with was–a mess–a very BITTER mess. I figured they were not fresh enough–like the corn-picking method my Dad talked about here, you needed to go straight from the yard to the pan.

Foraging CookbookSince then, I learned from Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook: An Illustrated Guide to 70 Wild Plants–a great cookbook for all your foraging needs–that I should have boiled the greens twice before proceeding. (Note: My Wild Foods Book is the 1976 version, signed by the author in 1977. Three is a 1985 edition also, but both are out of print and available as used copies. Euell Gibbons was the other popular wild foods guide in the 70’s.) Here’s what grandma’s recipe would look like with Billy Joe’s suggestion.

Grandma Vera’s Dandelion Greens

Dandelion greens, roots trimmed off and flower stem removed. (From a lawn that has never been sprayed by weed killer or insecticide, please.)

1/4 lb.Bacon

1/4 C.Vinegar

1 to 2 T. Flour

1 T. Sugar

Wash leaves well, and tear into large pieces. Place in pot and add boiling water to cover. Bring back to a boil then drain off the water. Add fresh boiling water to cover again and cook about 15 minutes.  While the dandelions are boiling the second time, fry up 1/4 pound or so of bacon. When the bacon is crisp, remove and drain on paper or cloth towels. Keep grease in skillet.Stir greens into the bacon grease, sprinkle with a couple of large spoons of flour as you stir. Add vinegar to taste and sugar  to balance the vinegar.  Scrape into a bowl and top with crumbled bacon.

Just like my discovery that the mushrooms that grandma stirred up in an iron skillet were high-priced gourmet items in restaurants, I was surprised to learn recently that the back-to-nature and locally-sourced-food movements have bred  professional foragers. You can learn about them here. Maybe you’d like to shoot for that new profession?

Have you ever cooked dandelion greens? What is your recipe?


Wild Foods: Berry Foraging in Field and Forest

Foraging Out on the Farm

People in small farm communities up through the 1950s or 60s were not far from our hunter/gatherer ancestors.  We’ll talk about the hunting part on another day, but today I’m thinking in two articles about the gathering wild foods.   Yesterday Grandma Vera Anderson and I went to the woods for mushrooms.  But we could find plenty of other edibles out in the woods or the abandoned fields of the farms. Bre'r Rabbit book coverOf course the wild foods included blackberries and raspberries hiding shyly underneath Br’er Rabbits bramble bushes.  And I’m pretty sure that my Daddy would have wanted to read me a story about Br’er Rabbit as a preface to berry hunting.  I remember going out on the Anderson farm with my Uncle Bill and Uncle Herb and my Dad and some other folks and coming back with berries for cobbler and pie. My brother remembers a different berry hunting story.

Foraging to Earn a Pie of Grass

Contributed by Bro Kaser

My father, Paul Kaser, never believed my mother made enough pies. Once when we lived in a rural area, a neighbor woman came to borrow a rolling pin. I distinctly remember my mother saying as she handed over the implement, “I can’t tell you how many hundreds of pies I’ve made with that.” I remember it distinctly because of what my father said when the woman had gone on down the road, “Oh, Harriette, shame on you. You told that poor innocent country woman you’ve made hundreds of pies and she believed you. What did you do with all those hundreds of pies? I never saw them.”

Foraging for Blackberries

Photo by Memphis CVB at the Jones Orchard

Once, when we had a blackberry bramble patch out back, Mom said to my pie-starved father, “If you and Billy go out there and fill these five cartons with berries, I’ll make you berry pies.” We went out, I’m sure with the best of intentions. If you’ve ever picked blackberries on a hot day, you know that it’s as sticky, jaggy experience that leaves your hands red and itchy. But a berry pie is a soothing reward. We picked until our fingers were anointed with stains and our hands were red with scratches. We picked and picked, but we could not get enough to fill the last two cartons. Finally my father said, “If you want that pie, you’d better do what I do.” He stuffed his last carton with grass and covered the top with a layer of berries. I filled my last box similarly, figuring we would show them, then sneak them away while she made the pies from the full baskets. My mother took away all five cartons before we could pull the switch. That night two pies were presented. “The one over there is for you and Billy,” she said coolly to Dad. “I didn’t have enough berries for that one and had to supplement with the grass you picked by accident.”

A Berry, Berry Good BLACKBERRY Pie

Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook 1953 Although Mother Would not have needed a recipe, this is the way she would have made her blackberry pie. If you have more blackberries than grass in your bucket after picking wild foods, you may want to try this pie. This recipe is adapted from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook,1953 first edition, a relic of her home economics teaching days. Even the reproduction issue of this edition is now out of print and available only through independent sources. This recipe includes the finishing detail of how mother glazed her fruit pie crust for a beautiful crust.

Berry Pie

  • 2/3-1 C sugar
  • 4 T flour
  • 3 C fresh berries
  • pastry for pie crust
  • 3 T milk (for crust)
  • 2 tsp sugar (for crust)

Mix flour and sugar, clean berries, pour sugar/flour mixture over berries. Put pastry in bottom of pie pan, fill with berry mixture. Cut slots in top pie crust and put over berries. Moisten the edge of the bottom crust with water, and seal the top crust to the bottom crust around the edge. Brush top crust lightly with milk and sprinkle sugar on top for a sparkly glaze.

For those who would prefer their wild foods a little tangier instead of the sweetness of pie–read about digging up weeds.

Wild Foods: Hunting Morel Mushrooms in the Woods with Grandma

There is an old saying, “There are old mushroom hunters, and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”

Quoted in The Ohio State University Extension Service page on mushrooms.

Grandma Vera Anderson was as at home in the outdoors as she was in her kitchen.  One of my favorite childhood food memories involves the wooded hills around Killbuck, Ohio. ( And one of my most traumatic came out of those woods, too, but I’ll save that for  another food article.)

Wildflower: johnny- jump- up

Wildflower: Johnny- Jump- Up

In the spring, we would grab a pan or bucket and drive out across the Killbuck Creek toward the densely woods hills around town to hunt for Morel mushrooms.  As we walked across the spongy floor of the woods, detouring around the shed-sized boulders that had been carried there by  long-ago glaciers, grandma would point out spring flowers. The tiny vivid blue violets were so small you could make a bouquet in a thimble. The johnny-jump-ups poked through old leaves and jack-in-the-pulpits stood tall and shyly pulled a “cowl” over their lily-shaped flower. If we were really lucky, the dogwood would be in bloom with its brown-stained white petals.

But the point of the walk was to find  mushrooms.  Of course there were plenty of fungi growing in the dark, damp woods, but grandma explained that we could only pick certain kinds. I had to stay away from the bright orange ones, the small white ones.  Finding edible mushrooms is a dicey business. The Ohio State University Extension service in its on-line article says, ” Edible mushrooms are known to be safe to eat because they have been eaten frequently with no ill effects. Poisonous mushrooms are known because someone ate them and became ill or died. There is no test or characteristic to distinguish edible from poisonous mushrooms.”  In other words, you need someone like Grandma Vera to point out which ones you can eat.

I would get very excited when she found the small mushroom with a tall, spongy, pointed cap or those with the wavy tops. We would pick all we could find, then head back to the house.

Grandma brushed off the loose dirt, melted butter in the cast iron skillet, and stirred the mushrooms around for a few minutes as they released the tantalizing smell of the woods.

Decades later, I was amazed to learn that the very trendy Morel and Chanterelle mushrooms served at fancy restaurants that charged outrageous prices, were one of the very same mushrooms that I picked with Grandma in the Ohio woods.

Some people fry them in batter, but to me, plain butter and mushroom is nirvana. Of course if you want to go all fancy-pants, you can check this Saveur recipe for trout with wild asparagus and Morel mushrooms.

Although I would like to say that I go out in the woods for my mushrooms, in fact, I rely on commercial growers. Therefore it is fascinating to learn of Killbuck Valley Mushrooms, which is not in the town of Killbuck, but nearby outside of Wooster in the next county to the north. The link will introduce you to the modern way to “gather” mushrooms. Not as much fun, but equally delicious. Alas, mushrooms do not travel well, so you need to live near Wooster to take advantage, and unfortuantely, they do not grow Morel mushrooms.

(Mushroom pictures are from The Ohio State University Extension Service web page on Ohio mushrooms.)