Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Urban wild food foraging tips, AND Urban Wild Foods Recipe 1: Lilac-Violet Jelly

Urban homesteading is about being productive on the homefront, but, since we urban homesteaders live on properties with much more limited growing space than on a rural acreage good basic urban homesteading skills should also include a basic knowledge of wild edibles. It's amazing what is available when you start looking - when you take into account roots, shoots, berries, fruit, leaves, flowers, herbs, nuts, even bark and sap - these highly nutritive edibles are abundant in urban spaces, usually vastly overlooked, underappreciated, and generally forgotten. These wild foods can usually be eaten fresh on their own, added to salads, or steamed, dehydrated, made into wines, teas, syrups, jams, ferments, sauces, vinegars, flavoured honeys, baked into breads, added to desserts, and so much more...

Wild foods we can harvest include plants some people write-off as problematic "weeds" (such as dandelion, nettles, lambsquarters, burdock, wood sorrel, shepherds purse, purslane/portulaca, wild grape, etc); woodland type edibles that may grow in city parks or unruly wild spaces (such as wild leeks/ramps, puffball mushrooms, fiddleheads, wild asparagus, or wild ginger); medicinal herbs that grow abundantly in our urban spaces, often sending hardy runners up through cracks in the sidewalk or slowly overtaking the lawn (such as wild fennel, yarrow, chamomile, plantain, mullein, tansy); edible wild flowers (such as red clover, rose, violet, lilac); wild fruits and berries from abandoned or long forgotten trees (such as crab apples, pears, service berries, mulberries, wild raspberries, wild strawberries); nuts (acorns, chestnuts, even the much maligned black walnut); and sap for syrup from trees such as maple (Norway and Manitoba maple too, birch, black walnut)!

My plan for the summer to fall season is to harvest at least one new wild edible each week, and create a simple recipe using it. We already make a habit of eating wild foods from around our property - dandelion fritters, cream of nettle soup, wild grape dolmades, johnny-jump-ups to garnish desserts, and I've even made one cake with black walnuts (though it took hours to crack open enough walnuts to flavour it!). I hope to branch out a little more this season, and write about it here. I've already missed wild leek season, and although fiddleheads are currently at prime picking I am not a huge fan having had a bad culinary experience a few years ago being served undercooked fiddleheads (take note - it's very important to properly identify the plant, and know how it is properly prepared - case in point, fiddleheads need to be boiled in several changes of water, not just lightly steamed like asparagus, or they will cause great gastro-intestinal upset!)

So, a few quick reminders about ethical wild harvesting:
a) properly identify the plant using a reputable plant ID book or going with someone who is knowledgeable
b) know when to pick the plant (when is it at it's peak?), and what parts are edible
c) know how to properly prepare the plant (can it be eaten raw, does it need cooking)
d) do not over-harvest (generally the rule is to pick no more than 1/4-1/3 of a plant so it continues to thrive and grow back next season)
e) do not harvest endangered plants
f) pick in areas that are not chemically sprayed, not near traffic exhaust (e.g. right beside roadways), or near dog-walking areas
g) bring proper tools and clothes for harvesting (e.g. pruners, gloves for nettle)
h) general respect and care for the plant and the property you are harvesting from goes a long way - especially in urban areas you will be noticed while you are foraging/picking, always best to ask first if you are interested in harvesting on someone else's property!

May 19 - Lilac Jelly
Today's experiment was a lilac jelly, made with a cup of fresh lilac blossoms (plus a few wild violet blossoms and lavender leaves thrown in), 1/4 cup local honey, about 1/8 cup lemon juice, 1 cup water and 1 package of pectin. Follow directions for cooking jelly as listed on the pectin package. So simple, and this turned into a gorgeous pinky-purple jelly that has a mild delicate flowery flavour. It would be very nice on light crackers or a crumpet with afternoon tea! This could also be made into a syrup and added to sparkling water for a sweet refreshing early summer drink.

1 comment:

  1. I work with Not Far From the Tree and we harvest many of the things you listed, including black walnuts and a few you didn't - elderberries and gingko nuts. We also did a maple syrup project this year using Norway maples and were pleasantly surprised how delicious it turned out! As well I personally made violet jelly and dandelion jelly this year for the first time!

    Love your dolmados recipe- I can't wait to try it. I am surprised to hear about your issues with fiddleheads because I've been eating them lightly sauteed or steamed for years and never heard of boiling them before. I double checked that Health Canada site and their recommendation is to cook them in a generous amount of boiling water for 15 minutes or steam them for 10 to 12 minutes until tender and discard the water used for boiling or steaming. Thanks for the heads up!