On warm, early-spring days when I’m out hunting for Morels, most often I’m likely to come across Polyporus squamosus, aka Pheasant Back, aka Dryad’s Saddle Mushrooms. As much as I love Morels, I’m never sad to find these instead.
Pheasant Backs grow directly on dead hardwood, particularly Elms, and they love super wet areas. As you can see in the photo, the topside of this shelf mushroom has a feather-like pattern to it. The bottom has small pores rather than gills. It is thick and meaty, and dry to the touch, not slimy or wet-feeling. The smell is really interesting – not mushroom-y at all, more like cucumber or watermelon rind!
These mushrooms can get quite large, and contrary to advice I’ve seen from others, smaller isn’t always better. For the best eating experience, you want this mushroom to be tender, and while it does tend to get tough as it gets older, size isn’t always the best indicator of tenderness. Rather, take a knife and touch it to the edge of the mushroom. Put just a small amount of pressure on the knife to push it into the mushroom. As soon as you feel resistance, stop there and cut just that tender part around the edge. For some mushrooms, it’ll be the whole thing up to the little nub that was connected to the wood. For others, it’ll be just a half-inch or so around the edge. Those tender bits are absolutely delicious when fried up in some butter. Make ’em crispy and salty to resemble bacon bits if you’d like. 🙂
Now don’t throw away the tougher part – use that to make soup stock! Either make the stock and freeze it…..or….cut up that tougher part, put it in the dehydrator, and save it to make stock later.
Another thing I love about this mushroom is that it’s not just around for one season – I’ll find it throughout most of the growing season, though it’s most abundant in Spring and Fall.
I hope you find whatever you are hunting for this year. And I hope you find and try some Pheasant Backs, too. 🙂
What if you had the world’s most nutritious food growing in your backyard? What if you didn’t even plant it there, it just grew by itself with no tilling, tending or watering? What if you could harvest as much of it as you wanted, and it would just keep coming back? And…..What if it actually tasted good?!
Yep, that’s all true about Dandelion. Did you know that Dandelion was brought over with European settlers as a food source?? My how things have changed, lol!
Easy to recognize, easy to harvest and the entire plant is edible. What a good friend this sunny little flower is!!
If I could only have one Wild Food forever more, it would be this one. It never gets boring, it is so versatile:
Roots: use fresh for medicinal tinctures to help with digestion. Chop fresh roots and put into a stir-fry or into soup. Dried and roasted roots make a delicious tea, it tastes deeply nutty with a sort-of-chocolatey undertone.
Leaves: Use fresh to toss in salad, soup and hot dishes. Yes, they are bitter, so chop them small and mix well with other foods. Bitter foods are great for our digestion! Make pesto. Make tea. Dry them to use throughout the winter in soups and teas.
Flower buds: Saute in butter and eat it just like that. So yummy! You can pickle or ferment these, too, to use like capers. You’ll want the smallest, tightest buds for that.
Flower stems can be cooked and used like noodles, topped with your favorite sauce, or just eat with salt and butter. (Salt and butter are like magic, aren’t they??? They make everything taste good!)
The flowers themselves are so versatile – my favorite way to eat them is as a fritter: dipped in batter, fried and eaten with a bit of maple syrup. Or salt and butter. You could also chop them up fresh and toss in a salad or soup. And of course, let’s not forget Dandelion Wine.
The whole plant can be steeped in vinegar to use in a healthful delicious salad dressing, or any other way would use regular vinegar.
I haven’t personally eaten dandelion fluff before, but I’d bet that the fluff would just kind of disappear when mixed into a salad or soup – then you’d be left with that tiny little seed, bursting with nutrients.
Let me leave you with a couple of links with recipes and more information. Happy Spring, my friends. 🙂
If you have a garden, it is very likely that you’ve seen (and possibly cursed) this weedy cousin of Moss Rose. In fact, its Latin species name “oleracea” means “of the garden”. I hope you’ll be happy to know that not only is this low-growing succulent plant edible…..it is delicious, to boot! and because the roots aren’t terribly deep, I like to let it spread, to keep the quack grass from taking over the garden.
Purslane is as versatile as it is prolific – you can eat the leaves and stems raw or cooked – in sandwiches, salads, soups and hot dishes. I even pickled some last year and they were absolutely fantastic. I was a little nervous after I poured the hot pickling brine in the jar packed with purslane leaves and stems, as they shrunk up quite a lot and I was afraid they would be a slimy mess. But….they were not slimy at all, and amazingly kept their texture and were very delicious. You can use any pickling recipe you like. I like a simple brine: 2 cups mild vinegar (rice vinegar or white wine vinegar), 4 cups water, 3 T salt and some garlic cloves. Boil, pour into jars packed with Purslane leaves and stems. Cover tightly, refrigerate after cooling. So yummy!
Like all other wild foods, Purslane packs a lot of vitamins and minerals, plus it is a rich source of heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. As a succulent plant, the leaves and stems are nice and juicy, and the flavor is a tiny bit tangy. I love eating it straight out of the garden. It keeps well in the refrigerator, too, so you can have it handy to put into your salads and whatnot. Here are some great recipes that feature this abundant (not so) wild food.
Oh, Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), how this poor thing gets a bad rap. As a member of the Mint family, it spreads easily and prolifically, populating lawns, gardens and driveways with it’s bitterly-minty-smelling leaves and petite purple flowers. Try as you might, you aren’t going to get rid of Creeping Charlie, so you might as well eat it, right?
It’s easy to throw some of the leaves into a salad, whether it’s made from fresh greens, or a tabouleh-style salad. You’ll likely want to chop it into small bits since it is fairly bitter tasting, but pleasant when mixed with tastier stuff.
That teeny-tiny purple flower is surprisingly delicious, and not bitter at all. It’s a bit tedious to pick any significant amount, but fun to nibble on them while harvesting the leaves. I like to toss a few of the flowers on top of a cream cheese veggie dip, to make it pretty.
My very favorite way to use Creeping Charlie, though, is to make tea. It is very mild, with the bitter note in background and more of a sort-of-sweet flavor than you’d expect. I’ll use fresh or dried leaves and stems to make tea in the summer, and of course just dried ones in the winter.
There are a couple other plants that look very similar to Creeping Charlie – Purple Dead Nettle and Henbit. They are both in the mint family, and both are also edible. Here’s a great article with details about how to tell them apart.
Don’t you love it when a ‘problem’ plant turns out to be something really good instead?? 🙂
When I teach fermentation classes, invariably someone will ask me what the difference is between Picking and Fermenting. This will be a super short post to explain the difference, just for funsies.
When we ferment our foods, we are adding or creating a salt brine to our container of veggies in order to favor lactic-acid producing bacteria while holding back putrifying bacteria. Lacto-fermentation is a great way to preserve foods, AND they contain probiotic bacteria which are necessary for healthy gut function, immune function and brain health.
When you ‘pickle’ something, you are adding a vinegar solution for the purpose of preserving. In pickled foods, there are no probiotic bacteria….but vinegar is a PRE-biotic, which is something that the probiotic bacteria feed on, so it’s still good for you.
I use both methods to preserve wild foods that I harvest. Some things I like better fermented, and some I like better pickled. Here are links to a couple recipes you might enjoy:
It’s Elderberry Syrup time! It’s been cold outside for many weeks now, and we’ve been indoors, mingling with family and friends, viruses and bacteria, so now is the time to boost up that immune system to ward off The Crud.
I LOVE taking those berries out of the freezer and inhaling the scent of summer when there is snow and ice outside. As I pour them into the kettle and simmer them with a bit of water, I think about the days I harvested them. One time was at a friend’s house – he had an enormous bush, heavy with berries that he wasn’t going to use this year. I picked over 10 pounds in a short while that day! And I made sure to gift him with some syrup. 😊
Another time I noticed a little shrub growing alongside theroad not far from my house….I’d never seen it there before. It was little, but there were lots of berries on it, and I actually got to them before the birds ate them all.
The fondest memory from this summer, though, is when I picked Elderflowers and then, later, Elderberries with some Good Friends. (You know who you are. 😊 ) I know that these warm memories fuel the healing energy in the syrup simmering away on my stove.
My recipe for Elderberry is SUPER simple. Equal amounts of frozen berries and water – I usually make it in batches with 2 cups of berries, 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer for 30 minutes or so. Let it cool a bit, strain out the berries (give ‘em a squeeze so you get as much juice as you can), add honey to taste. That’s it. It’ll keep in the fridge for a few weeks…..but we use it every day, so it never lasts that long. If you wanted to keep it longer, just add some brandy.
Here are links to other Elderberry Syrup recipes you might enjoy, too.
I love this little flower, and it’s a good thing, because it grows ALL OVER my yard and property. It is delicate and beautiful and it makes me happy to look at those sweet blossoms with their heart shaped leaves. And they taste good, too.
The blossoms have sort of a nutty, raw-pea kind of flavor, and the leaves are just nice and mild. I like to chop the leaves and put them in salads and fritters (my current-favorite way of using wild greens, recipe down below). The flowers I’ll leave whole and put on top of salads and dips as an edible decoration. They make a nice presentation when bringing stuff for a pot-luck.
These delicate, innocent-looking little plants grow very robustly, so I’m not worried about over-harvesting at all. They are related to pansies and johnny jump ups, which are also edible flowers. They grow around the edges of buildings and woods, where they get some shade for part of the day, and are happy no matter how much or little rain there is.
Okay, here’s the recipe for my current-favorite way of eating wild greens: Fritters!
1 cup grated fleshy vegetable like sweet potato or zucchini.
1/4 cup flour of choice (I like garbanzo bean flour)
Now here’s the fun part – chop up whatever wild greens you’ve got on hand, throw in about 1/4 cup (more or less, depending on taste) and mix it up good with the other ingredients. Spoon onto a hot griddle with plenty of oil and flatten into a disc shape. Fry until golden, flip and repeat. These are delicious hot off the griddle or cold so they are great to pack in lunch boxes.
A friend recently served me some Mushroom and Brie soup, and it was so delicious I had to try making some. The wild-foraged mushrooms in my freezer were starting to look sad, so I used them all up in this soup: Oysters, Crown Corals and Pheasant Back. I looked up a couple of recipes online, and then made up my own. That’s how it’s done, right?
1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 cup mushrooms – saute in butter, add 1T Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 Cup brandy. Pour a quart of chicken broth over the mixture, add 1 teaspoon dried thyme and a clove of crushed garlic. When the broth gets hot, stick the immersion blender in and blend until it’s as smooth as you like. Then add 8 oz of cubed Brie (I took the rind off) and 1 cup of cream. I stirred and stirred but that Brie never melted all the way through, so I ate it with soft chunks. I kinda liked it that way.
Okay, so my soup wasn’t as good as my friend’s, but I had fun making it and it wasn’t terrible. Plus I’m eating Wild Mushrooms in the winter, so it’s a good day.
Today’s Tea: Fresh White Pine needles and some dried Rose Hips. So simple, so delicious. I picked up a few wind-fallen pine twigs, pulled the needles off and cut them up into a quart jar. Threw a handful of dried Rose Hips in the jar, topped it off with almost-boiling water, capped it to keep those volatile oils in, and steeped it for a couple hours to get as much vitamin C as possible. It’s mild and smooth, and I drink it hot or cold. I noticed when it was cold I could taste more of the tartness of the Rose Hips, but either way it’s refreshing and nourishing.
You can use most Pines and Spruces for teas, with the exception of Yew, Ponderosa Pine, and Norfolk Island Pine. In addition to having lots of Vitamin C, pine needle teas help loosen congestion and are high in antioxidants. Good stuff!
The first time someone asked me about Kombucha (a sort-of-sweet fermented beverage), I thought they were talking about Kimchi (a spicy fermented vegetable mix). It took me a few beats to realize that we were having a conversation about completely different things. I stopped, mid-sentence, and said something like “Wait, what?”.
I’d never heard of it before, and the more my friend told me about it, the more intrigued I was. You put WHAT on top of the tea? SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, and it’s a slimy blob that contains, well, bacteria and yeast. The good kind. The bacteria and yeast eat the sugar in the sweetened tea and convert it to lactic acid, carbon dioxide, vinegar, and a teeny bit of alcohol. The resulting beverage is tangy, sweet and sometimes fizzy. It’s really quite delicious, and I’ve been drinking it off and on for several years now.
One of the reasons people drink this beverage, besides the fact that it tastes good, is because it contains probiotics, those beneficial bacteria like the kind in yogurt. Probiotics line the gut and are essential for our immune system. I’ve been a little suspicious about the amount of sugar in my homebrew, but a little bit of math made me feel better. I start out with 1 cup of sugar in a gallon of tea. Okay, that’s a lot, that’s 4-ish teaspoons of sugar in one cup. But….a good bit of the sugar gets eaten and converted to other, more healthy stuff. In looking at labels on store brands of kombucha, they vary from 4 to 10 grams of sugar per serving (4 grams is one teaspoon). I like mine a bit on the tangy side, so I’m guessing my homebrew is on the low end of that scale. Even so, I don’t drink it every day, and I don’t use it as a “health food”. It’s a treat for once in awhile, and a fun experiment to keep on my kitchen counter.
So, how is this very tasty, sort of healthy-ish trendy beverage made? I’m not going to go into tons of detail here, because so many others have done that pretty darn well. I’ll include some links at the end of this post. I WILL go through the basics, though, and tell you my tweaks.
It’s a pretty simple process: make tea, add sugar (1 cup per gallon), put in a glass container, put SCOBY in the container along with the liquid it came with, cover loosely, start tasting in a few days and drink it when the tangy/sweet flavor tastes good to you. It will keep getting tangier, the longer you let it sit, turning completely into vinegar eventually. You can use the vinegar, too!
If you want to keep the Kombucha going perpetually, there are a few things to keep in mind. The tea needs to be Real Tea, from the plant Camellia sinensis, and the sugar needs to be plain ol’ white sugar from cane or beets. These items give the Kombucha what it needs to keep on going. Or so I’m told. I like to use organic black tea and cane sugar, because that’s kind of the point of making my own stuff, right?
To keep it going, you’ll bottle up your Kombucha when it tastes good to you, leaving at least one cup for the ‘starter’ of the next batch. Make more sweetened tea, add your starter and SCOBY and there you go. I have used one of those beverage containers with the spigot for ease in getting the Kombucha into my cup, but after awhile the plastic spigot started to erode and it grossed me out. I wouldn’t want to use metal, either, thinking the acid in the Kombucha would leach something nasty from that, too. So I just go Old School and use a glass pickle jar. When it comes time to taste or to bottle up, I use a ladle and a funnel. It works just fine.
I usually drink my Kombucha plain, but sometimes I’ll flavor it in a second ferment. Right now I’m getting some elderberry and prickly ash berry simple syrup going, and will add them to a couple bottles to add some punch. I’ll put about a quarter cup of the simple syrup in a flip-top sealing jar, let it sit on the counter for a day or two or three, then I’ll open it up to see if it’s fizzy and check the taste. If all is good, it either goes into the fridge or into my belly. If the fizz and flavor isn’t there yet, it’ll sit on the counter another few days. Along with the crazy assortment of fermenting things already there.
Here are some really informative articles if you want to continue reading about Kombucha. I mean, who wouldn’t?
This one is on a website where you can buy stuff for fermenting. But don’t buy a SCOBY. You can get one for free just by asking around – they multiply, and if someone you know is making Kombucha they WILL have a SCOBY for you.
A great article about Kombucha by the king of fermentation himself, Sandor Katz. I love how he takes the fear out of fermenting.
And lastly, a bit on making flavored Kombucha from the Weston A. Price foundation.