Just a little collection of spring photos from other years, to get us through this snowy transition…….
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.
This winter has been savage, even for Wisconsin. Long stretches of way-too-many-degrees below zero. Too cold to enjoy being outside, but perfect for snuggling up with a good Story. I’ve been hunting down books and movies that contain foraging, wild foods, botany and/or herbalism as part of the story line. These are not ‘how-to’ videos and books, these are just regular movies and novels in which the characters are foraging mushrooms, eating wild foods, studying plants, and making herbal medicine. These are just a few of the many Stories out there……
Now, Forager: This is a movie about a young married couple who sell wild mushrooms to high-end restaurants. The husband wants to go All In, ditch the apartment and travel the Mushroom Trail, and the wife wants to settle down, stop foraging and get a more stable job. It’s a little bit sad, but it was a good story.
A Cry in the Wild: This movie is based on the young adult book “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. It’s about a teen boy who survives on his own in the wilderness after the small plane he was traveling on crashes. It was made in the 90’s, it’s a little cheesy, but I enjoyed it.
Against the Wild: Another movie with some kids surviving a small plane crash, this time there’s a dog, too. It’s terrible. I’m not kidding, The acting was so bad it was painful, and I couldn’t even finish watching it.
The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldon. I’m not really sure how to describe these books. It is my hands-down All-Time Favorite book series. I’ve read most of the 8 books (9th one is being written) twice, and will probably read them again when the next book is finally published. The main character is a WWII nurse who accidentally time-travels to Scotland in the 1700’s. Herbalism, witch hunts, revolution, love, lust and everything else you’d want for an epic adventure.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett. A scientist is in the Amazon jungle working on the next new wonder drug, and disappears. Another scientist goes looking for her, and he disappears. Another scientist goes looking for both of them, and finds a whole bunch of stuff. It’s disturbing, exciting, thought provoking and some of the characters are from Minnesota.
The Mushroom Hunters: This is the true story of foodie writer Langdon Cook, who tags along with some rough-and-tumble sort-of-outlaws who forage mushrooms full time. Super interesting, well-told, and I finished the book knowing that I’d never be tempted to live that sort of life!
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!
I am a bona fide Book Nerd. I read constantly, and own hundreds of books. I love all of them, and some I love more than others. Here are the very Favorite of my Favorites, the books I’m looking at more than any others, because I’m a Wild Food Nerd, too. In no particular order, just because I feel like being random. And no, I don’t get any compensation for mentioning these books, mainly because I haven’t figured out how that works. But someday…….
Botany in a Day, by Thomas Elpel. He covers Edible, Medicinal and Poisonous plants, and designed this book so that we look at the common characteristics within plant families to help us identify plants in the field. I especially like the “Key Words” he points out for each plant family – for instance, Mustard family key words are “4 petals and 6 stamens – 4 tall and 2 short”. (Plant. There, I just had to say it one more time.)
All of Sam Thayer’s Books: The Forager’s Harvest, Nature’s Garden, and Incredible Wild Edibles. These books are beautiful, thorough, and have hundreds of excellent photographs of the many wild foods he talks about. There are pages of information about each plant, and it’s presented in an engaging style with personal stories, antidotes, and lots of botanical details.
Mushrooms of the Midwest, by Teresa Marrone. A good number of mushroom field guides are hard to navigate and have too-small photos. This little field guide is easy to use, and it has large, beautiful photographs with easy to read details. One caveat with this book: apparently the photo of the Chaga mushroom is suspected by some fellow foragers to be something other than Chaga. Just so ya know.
Alchemy of Herbs, by Rosalee de la Foret. This isn’t a totally wild food book, but it does include some favorites like Nettle, Dandelion, Hawthorn and others. What I absolutely love about this book is that is focuses on using medicinal herbs in food preparations, rather than the usual tinctures, gylcerites, etc. The author thoroughly covers the medicinal properties of the herbs, and then tells us how best to incorporate them into delicious recipes.
Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, by Bradford Angier. It’s a slim book that covers over 100 plants. What I love most about this one is the colored drawings…..There are no photographs, but the drawings are beautiful and detailed. I also like that the plants are listed alphabetically by their common names. It’s a very easy guide to work with.
Backyard Medicine, by Julie Bruton-Seal & Mathew Seal. In contrast to Alchemy of Herbs, this books goes into great detail about how to make all kinds of medicinal preparations with backyard plants. I especially love all the different ways they share to explore the medicine of plants: teas, infusions, decoctions, tincture, glycerites, wines and beers (!!), vinegars, herbal honeys, oxymels, electuaries (I’d never heard this word before, but I’ve done this – it’s just mixing powdered herb into honey to make a paste), syrups, salves and more, oh my!
And there you have it, my Favorite of Favorites. There will be others down the road, I’m sure, because I will always be looking at books about Wild Food and Folk Medicine….
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.
I enjoy coffee, don’t get me wrong. I like it black and strong – not French Roast, not that kind of strong. I like the coffee we make in our stainless steel percolator on top of the gas stove. Sometimes we forget about it and it perks a bit more than the recommended 4 minutes. Man does that get strong! Yes, I do enjoy that hot steaming cup of bitter beauty in the morning.
I LOVE my tea. Er, Tisane. Well, I love tea, too. You may or may not know that technically “Tea” is ONLY the beverage made from the plant Camillia sinensis. The beverage we steep using other herbs, flowers, leaves, etc are technically called “Tisane”. Blah, blah, blah…..I’m calling them all TEA.
In the spring and summer I am outside as much as possible, hiking, walking, meandering and……harvesting. I harvest all manner of wildy food things – fiddleheads, mushrooms, wild leeks, berries, nuts, and roots. I greatly enjoy eating ‘weeds’ out of my garden. My most favorite things to harvest, however, are the plants that will gift me with Tea. There are so many of them – Nettle, Plantain, Mullein, Monarda, Yarrow, Elderflower, Linden flower, and so many more. Most of these plants can be eaten, too, and I do prepare them into yummy supper fare.
But nothing beats a Nice Cup of Tea.
Making Tea is a craft with many facets. Firstly, there is deciding which of our herby friends will go into the teapot. This task, in and of itself, is the bread-and-butter of all of the major tea companies whose names are in your cupboard (and mine) right now. Making a tea blend is part science, part art, and a lot of What the Heck, Let’s just Try this and See How it Tastes. Sometimes it’s outrageously good. Sometimes it gets composted. (Note to self: go easy on the dried, unroasted Dandelion root).
My favorite go-to right now is a mix of Goldenrod flowers and leaves with a bit of mint. It has a nice green tea-like mouthfeel, and the mint gives it just a hint of sweetness. I drink it because it tastes good, and receive a bonus of health benefits besides. The goldenrod helps tone down allergies, and the mint helps digestion. But mostly, it just tastes good.
Next, there is the ritual of heating the water, pouring it into the teapot, picking the perfect mug, pouring the tea, inhaling its steamy scent, and settling down on a comfy chair to savor it. This ritual feels soothing to me, like the stories I read over and over to my babies….it is familiar and comforting.
There is nourishment and healing in this cup of Tea. I may have chosen plants that have particular qualities – Mullein for congestion, Wild Mint for a calm tummy – and I know there are uncountable other qualities in these plants that will feed my body as well.
Lastly, there is Mystery in this cup. Did I choose these plants, or did they choose me? Did they call me in some curious way, wanting to be noticed and loved, wanting to be of service? I like to think so.
I didn’t grow up eating lacto-fermented foods, and when I first became aware that it was a Thing, I was nervous about it, like many other people. I remember making my first batch of sauerkraut with my own home-grown cabbage, and how absolutely stunned I was when it actually tasted delicious. Not just ‘good’, but DANG good. And it didn’t make anybody sick. That was my biggest concern, and one I hear over and over from people I talk to. So this is what I want to tell you today: Don’t worry about it, you aren’t going to make anyone die from eating your fermented foods.
Sandor Katz, (I think of this guy as being the Bruce Springsteen of the fermentation world) in his book “The Art of Fermentation”, quotes the USDA’s vegetable fermentation specialist Fred Breidt: “There has never been a documented case of foodborne illness from fermented vegetables. Risky is not a word I would use to describe vegetable fermentation.” *
There, doesn’t that make you feel better? It sure made me feel more comfortable about experimenting and expanding my fermentation repertoire!
One new thing I tried this summer and loved is a wild berry kvass. Don’t let the word Kvass scare you off, there is no rye bread or funky smell involved.** It’s simply a naturally carbonated soda, where the carbonation comes from the fermentation process. It is SO simple:
- Get yourself some berries. (I used wild blackberries this summer, and I’ve had good success with frozen berries I purchased at the grocery store. I’ve also made it with apple chunks and other fruits as well.)
- Take any size jar, and fill it 1/3 full of your berries or fruit.
- Top off the jar with water you have sweetened with a bit of sugar – a quarter cup of sugar per quart is a good starting point, and you can adjust that to your taste. I’ve also had success using maple syrup and honey. Although, one time my wild apple kvass that I sweetened with maple syrup turned out thick and, well, syrupy….it was a weird texture violation, so I composted that one.
- Cover loosely and let it sit in a warm spot for 3 or 4 days. When you see lots of bubble action, it’s ready to drink! And you can use the berries/fruit at least one more time, for another batch.
This type of ferment has some healthy probiotics from lactic acid production, and it also will have a teeny bit of alcohol. If you were to leave it sit for a longer time, you would get a bit more alcohol content, and if you let it sit for a really long time, it would turn into vinegar. All good!
*This quote is on page 135 of The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz. You can also read an interesting article about fermentation safety in this link.
**Often, when someone talks about Kvass, they are talking about the Russian drink made from fermented rye bread.
This blog has been pretty quiet so far. I’ve been deep in creative and planning mode lately, because that’s what Winter in Wisconsin is all about, right?
- Creating some pocket cards to help you identify wild edibles – this is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile, and now I’ve finally gotten the first 10 cards ready to print. They will be available for sale sometime in January, and I’ll be adding more throughout the year.
- Planning future blog posts – gosh, did you know that you can write a bunch of blogs, then schedule them to post on certain days?! I really love that, and am taking full advantage of it, even though it sort of feels like cheating.
- Creating a Year-Long Wild Food and Folk Medicine Exploration. This series will include only 4 “In Person” classes. The rest of the classes will be via Skype or Zoom or something along those lines. I’m planning to start in June with a Beta version of this program with just a few participants who will be helping to create it. The cost will be half the amount of the fully-formed program. Let me know if you’d like more information about this unique opportunity.
- Planning foraging (and foraging related) classes for 2018 – I’ve got 34 classes on my schedule right now, and more in the works. From Pepin to Webster, and possibly into the Twin Cities. So if you want a class, there will be one for you to take! 🙂
- Creating teas and tinctures to keep my family healthy this winter. Right now I am drinking a tea that Dr Tieraona LowDog suggests for colds and congestion. It is simply thyme (the kind you grow in your garden) with a splash of lemon juice and a bit of honey. I like to steep the thyme extra long, and add a bit of mullein to it, too. It works well to loosen phlegm and break up congestion.
- Planning for a great 2018. I hope to see you out there.
Things I like to do in the Winter:
Make soup with Wild Foods I’ve preserved.
Play with plant fibers I’ve harvested to make jewelry cordage and other creative stuff.
Read novels with themes around botany, foraging or herbalism.
Plan next years’ Wild Food and Folk Medicine classes.
Go snowshoeing and enjoy the quiet woods.
Watch birds at my backyard feeder, which will contain some foraged seeds (yellow dock, plantain and amaranth) along with the ones I purchase at the store.
Forage! Even in a Wisconsin Winter, I can go pick some fresh pine needles for tea, or dig in the snow around those pine trees to find Wintergreen leaves and berries. I can harvest some Chaga mushrooms from Birch trees. I may be able to pick up some Black Walnuts that the squirrels left behind. I love the seasons in Wisconsin, and even though winter seems to take up most of the year, I love knowing that there are tasty treasures to hunt for in this frozen tundra.