Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Winter Foraging Workshop Ethics and Thoughts

One of the lynch pins to our foraging program will be a strong statement about ethics and sustainability. While it would be great to find that fantastic stand of cattails, to wipe it out so it won't be around next year does no one any good. So, below are some thoughts that I've had and others that were shared by Doug.

1. Forage only established groves/stands/plants; and
2. Forage only enough so that you don't wipe out the plant; and
3. Consider what role that plant may play with the area wildlife; and
4. Do no harm in approaching the foraging area; and
5. Don't pick anything from the side of the road

Doug's guidelines for whether a food is worth while:
1. Tastes great
2. Digests well
3. Gives good energy
4. Abundant
5. Easy to harvest
6. Easy to process
7. Easy to prepare

He also suggests:
1. Mix your foraged foods with foods you like to find a balanced diet
2. Wild foods are often "strong," "bitter," or "excessive ruffage"
3. If you're into mushroom foraging read David Aurora's books

Monday, January 24, 2011

Winter Foraging Workshop pt. 2

As our foraging workshop continued, Doug took us to a field that had what I thought to be overgrown grass. We see it everywhere here in the desert Southwest...its called forest fire kindling. But as we looked closer there were a few different edibles among that weed.

Cattails are gathered for many parts of their body and have strong spiritual use among Native Americans. At this time of year only the root or korm is gathered for drying and grinding into flour. Another part to the plant is the stalk. Imagine pulling the top out of a piece of field grass - the type you might pull to chew on, where the inner stalk pulls from the outer sheath. Cattails have the same structure. This piece is similar in texture to water chestnuts and requires no preparation. There is little fiber so it is easy to eat or cut up for stir fry or stew. Its important to not over harvest this plant as it is somewhat fragile in the Southwest. The pollen is also edible:

Beautiful bright yellow pollen is gathered in late spring from the top of the plant. The large fuzzy brown section is the female part while the stick above the fuzzy section is male. Gently bend the stalk over and tap the pollen into your gathering container. The pollen can be eaten without preparation. My intent is to dust goat cheese and age it.

Doug next shared Elm bark with us - not the tough outer bark, but rather the fibrous, paper-like inner bark. The texture is mucous (rather unpleasant) and the flavor mild. Doug was very excited about this for me but it didn't spark much energy for me. He suggested it could be used as a thickener or to bring out sweetness in a dish. The leaves, when young, are also edible as are their flowers.

Evening Primrose is rich with essential fatty acids from the seeds. This is a biannual so the seeds will only come up in the second year. These are gathered around November after the first freeze. At first they will taste bitter but quickly turn to an egg-like taste. This might be fun to do a playful creme brulée dish. The plant can be identified by its small yellow flower which is also edible and quite delicious.

The primrose leaves themselves are also good and are typically gathered at the root of the stalk. The baby leaves are fine raw and the larger leaves should be cooked in water for about an hour or until soft to remove the caustic quality. The roots can also be gathered, smashing the meat off from the woodiness and cooked into a porridge. The root is no good in its second year. Doug said this and sweet clover were his two favorite winter roots.

Wild sunflowers are plentiful in our area and have a 45-day harvest window. Any given stand of sunflowers will have a two week window. When the flower gets to full color but has not released its seeds, pinch off the flower, dry it, stomp on it in a sack and winnow. This can be eaten ground, shell and all. Doug said, "Shells have always been the stopper for people with wild foods. But they're completely edible."

The plant that garnered the most excitement was Wild Amaranth. I remember amaranth being very common on my trip to Oaxaca last year, and found it similar in use to quinoa. You can in fact cook it just like quinoa, but Doug explained the process of popping it. Simply heat a cast iron pan without oil and add the grain. If its hot enough the grain will pop within seconds. If its too hot the grain will burn.

The seed is gathered after the first frost all the way through March - so a very long season if you can beat the winds. Simply snap off the heads, drop into a canvas bag and stomp. Remove the large stems and pour the remainder into a second bag. Stomp. Go back and forth a few times then lay the grain on a tarp in the wind. The wind will blow away the waste and leave the seeds. Doug showed us a smaller version of winnowing in his hands. "Winnowing immediately connects you with the ancestral world." Here is the grain after stomping:

And the seeds after the wind:

Nice flavor and something I am asking my foraging team to find for me. Amaranth is an annual and when young (12") the greens can be steamed or boiled until just bright.

A Lambsquarter plant lay a foot away from our amaranth plant. The greens are edible especially when young. It is similar to Yellow Dock and Curley Dock which have big bold flavors. Bring water to a full boil and cook for a short time with the lid off until you smell the bad flavors boil off. The seeds can be gathered similar to amaranth. Some lambsquarter varieties have grey coated seeds which are not quite as good as the black seeds, but are edible albeit bitter.

Sycamore tree paper bark is a great tea but don't consume too much or drink it too hot.

Mesquite is a classic food in the Southwest. Great for firewood, the pods/beans are edible and very tasty. Doug calls this a "main food" meaning, plentiful, easy to gather, easy to prepare and easy to digest. The plant is also a nitrogen fixer which allows other plants to grow in the soil.

The beans are too bitter when green, but once the green is gone they are ready to be enjoyed. Similar to carob, the bean can be chewed easily when no longer green but still young. It is best to gather these off the ground noting that each tree will have a different flavored bean. Its best to taste test before gathering the beans - if its not sweet, don't gather. You can simply eat as a snack (worms are just a given with these), or you can boil the pods for 45 minutes, mash them, dilute and run through a screen. Discard the wood and enjoy the porridge, or reduce the porridge until it becomes molasses. Another way of using the pod is to grind it once it is fully dry but not before the sugars release and use the flour. Finally, you can heat on a hot stone (or cast iron) and toast for about 20 minutes and enjoy them like potato chips.

Popatillo/Mormon Tea are another prolific plant in our area.

This one had been chewed up by deer but I think you can imagine what it looks like. It has a very high mineral content and is enjoyed by a short 5 minute simmer in water and then steep to taste.

Junipers are tricky. They are everywhere but not all are good. There are three functional categories of juniper: the small berries, the larger (Alligator juniper) and the shaggy bark juniper. The small berries are more medicinal but 8-12 berries can be used in marinade. The Alligator berries are not very tasty and have too many volatile oils (astringent). The shaggy bark berries are the best - sweet with only one seed. Typically found on Southern slopes, the drier you gather the berries the better the taste. Simply crush and remove the seed or cook in water and use the juice.

Finally, we look at the Nopal and rickly pear tuna. The tuna is ripe when it falls off or is easily knocked off. It has known diabetic remedies and cooling properties. To juice simply smash them in a 5-gallon bucket, add water, strain into a second bucket, add more water and strain.

You can make a great vinegar with the juice by letting it sit in a jar covered in cloth. Age the juice for about 20 day until a white film forms, remove the film and finish for another month and a half.

The fruit can also be quartered and dried in the sun for a snack fruit.

The paddles are cleaned by rubbing two rocks in a circular motion on either side. Then break off the paddle and use the rocks to continue cleaning it. With a knife, cut along the edge to pull the paddle in a mirror imaged two halves. Gather the gel. Using a fork and then a spoon, scrape and remove the coral. The gel can be added to cornmeal, water and salt for a bread, and there is no need for an egg nor milk. Just be sure the bread is fully baked or you'll get a stomach ache. If the batter is aged overnight the flavors will be even more enjoyable. Baby paddles can simply be cleaned and eaten. The meat can be added to soups and stews. The classic Mexican treatment is in eggs. The slime can be removed with cold water.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Foraged - Possibilities

Here is a dish that I'm playing with using foraged ingredients. My foraging team has been bringing new things in every day so lots of fun to come.

Roasted acorn powder, sweet juniper berry, wild olives, rosemary and pine cone tip infused goats yogurt.

Similar treatment

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Current Menu: Winter 11

Here is our current menu before I incorporate the foraged items. Pics coming soon.

Jan-Mar 2011 Menu

Mimbres Valley goat yogurt with pine cone syrup and acorn

Course 1
Lamb or Veg: Cauliflower cube with lip balm roulette
Porchetta or Duck: Local goat cheese bavarian with beet foam (green heads, beet gelée, nuts, beet smear)


Course 2
Lamb or Veg: Watercress soup with olive oil
Porchetta or Duck: Curried cauliflower soup with yogurt drizzle

Lamb: Risotto & arugula, salad
Porchetta: Potato cylinders, salad
Duck: Pastry shell, savory granola, gelée sheet drape, chives, savory pine needle cream
Veg: Beet steak, butternut steak, layered with filo, filled with cream

Passionfruit mousse, guava panna cotta with kumquat black tea gelée and hazelnut financier, milk foam, acorn tuile

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Winter Foraging Workshop pt. 1

This past Monday we held our first of three foraging workshops in the hopes of developing a team of locals who will forage for the restaurant throughout the year. Basically we're asking folks to keep their eyes open while they're hiking and bring back items of interest that we can use in our menu. Many of the items we learned about were foods that we already knew about but the depth of knowledge from our instructor, Doug Simon, in how to identify, process and prepare was invaluable.

I am documenting our workshop but not including all of the information since Doug is always willing to host workshops for other interested groups. If you would like to stay on our list to attend the Spring and Fall workshops, just let me know through the comment section.

In a later post I will talk about our ethical criteria for foraging, and our plans for use. In the meantime, here's Doug preparing us with a sage ceremony.

Doug has lived in or around the Gila Wilderness for 20 years with many of those years living exclusively off the land. We started with something that my regular readers know I have been dabbling in - acorns. There are 20-30 varieties of acorns in our area but the most interesting are the Emory Oak and Grey Oak because these two varieties don't need leeching to remove the bitterness. Here are the Emery acorns:

You'll note that they are little narrower than what you normally find. These were softer with a slight bitterness and an almost citrus flavor. The texture bordered on chalky but not unpleasant. There was plenty of meat inside:

These can be eaten shell and all, or ground with or without the shell. Here are the Grey:

Greys tend to be more bitter unless found following a wet season. They are harder and milder. As I learned in my recent exploration into acorns, acorn worms are to be expected. Doug suggested that the worms are actually quite nice with their high protein and acorn taste. (I'll probably leave those off my menu for now.) Acorns should only be gathered off the ground.

To process acorns place acorns in a heavy canvas bag, place it on concrete and stomp on them. Winnow them by blowing on them or leaving them in the wind. You can also winnow in water by placing the acorns in a deep pot of water and gradually pouring off the debris.

Doug suggested Bushy or Brock Canyons for a great source of the preferred acorns, especially in late July and August.

While we didn't see any on this trip, Doug confirmed that there were indeed morels in the Gila. They can be found in the mountains from early April to late May in river valleys among willow leaves and also around cottonwoods. Doug suggested David Arora's books on mushrooms.

Next we turned our attention to Hackberry. This tough barked tree with a dense nettle of branches tends to grow near water. These trees will be loaded with their dried fruit until march.

The berry itself has a sweet outer layer with an inner wooden sheath and a nut center. The taste is similar to a date with the fruit first appearing in August. Besides eating straight off the tree, you can grind these for a sweet and nutty flavor. The leaves are identifiable because they are grainy-almost like a cat's tongue. I would like to infuse these into a liqueur and see what happens.

Next up was hoarhound. Known for its incredibly bitter quality, historically this plant has been used in candy. I may explore this at some point just to see what happens chemically to turn a bitter into a sweet. Hoarhound also has medicinal uses as an expectorant.

If you remember my previous foray into nocino, you'll know that I have no fear of the astringent bitterness of green walnuts. Here we look at the fallen walnuts that are common in our area. Identification of walnut trees is aided by the distinct smell, the darkness of the bark and the leaf clusters. Here it is best to use only walnuts fallen to the ground, although if I find a bumper crop I may try the nocino again with local walnuts. The nuts can be collected from the first of the year through may and then again toward the end of August. Using a rock the shell is easily cracked and the nut meat picked out.

A new one for me was Johnson Grass and its edible seed. I'm not sure if I could identify this again in the wild, but toasted and ground makes a nutty, smokey and rich powder. There is also an underground portion that is crunchy and very sweet.

In the Gila there is an abundance of wild grapes. Each should be taste tested as every plant is going to give different results. The fruit will range from very small to grocery store size. The fruit has a caustic quality and will numb the mouth at excess.

The grapes can be eaten, juiced (not caustic), cooked with a bit of water, or dried on the plant for a more pronounced flavor. Dried fruit can be soaked in water the night before to rehydrate the fruit. The leaves are easily enjoyed when alive, and are most tender when they are young. Larger/older leaves can be brined for dolmas or shredded and cooked. Doug suggested the cooking the shredded leaves with rice, cooking both at the same time. For me the dried leaves had a nice tang that could make an interesting tea.

Piñones are plentiful in our area and should always be picked from the ground being careful not to gather animal scat in the process.

Possibly the most common foraged food in our area is the cholla.

One benefit of cholla is that the fruit will stay on the cacti for a long time. The fruit is edible from the point when it is green all the way through yellow. When it is fully ripe the fruit will fall off the plant or be easily dislodged. The texture is slightly mucous with a subtle sour flavor.

Doug recommended roasting the fruit, pricking them first so they don't explode, and taking them til soft but not burnt. Next cut the fruit in half and remove the seeds - the seeds are edible but a matter of taste. Chop the fruit to size and cook in water. At this point you can make a stew base similar to tomatillo, but not as tangy. Doug also suggested processing as above but then cooking with rice.

Using the older fruit, you can rehydrate in cold water. The flower is also edible but only the petals not the base. This is plant is very high in calcium.

Another plant that that I look forward to finding is the sumac. Unlike in other parts of the country, sumac in the Gila are always edible and non-poisonous. Sumac is also called the lemonade tea plant and is tangy but sweet.

The twigs, buds and berries are all good in tea when dry. The plant can be found near water

Coming in a few days - the second half of the workshop.