Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads

Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads

Quite often, people will ask me what my favorite thing to forage is. Every time, I think hard……….and come up with the same answer. Fiddleheads. There are so many things to love about foraging for this yummy food:

  • They come up early in the spring, when I’m chomping at the bit to get outside. In my journals from the last few years, I’ve noted the dates that I’ve seen and picked all kinds of wild foods, and I’m already scanning my fern spots for signs of life.
  • It’s easy to pick enough for a few meals – Ostrich Ferns are prolific spreaders, often forming large colonies with the plants fairly close together. Snapping a fiddlehead or two from each plant fills up my bag fairly quickly.
  • They are SOOOooo yummy! I like them cooked simply, just steamed and served with butter. The taste for me is like a cross between asparagus and green beans.

All ferns have fiddleheads – that’s the term for the curled up frond as it emerges in the spring. Not all fiddleheads are edible, though, so it’s important to know what to look for. Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) has the most commonly eaten fiddleheads, and here are some key points for identification:

  • The “Nest”: See that large brown thing at the top of the above photo that looks sort of like a spider? The ‘legs’ of the ‘spider’ are last years’ fronds, and the lumps in the middle are baby fiddleheads about to emerge from a cup-like structure that I call the Nest. Other ferns grow in clumps, but lack that cup-like Nest Thing.
  • The Paper-like coating: Those brown baby fiddleheads at the top of the photo are covered with a brown paper-y stuff that breaks open when they emerge. You can see a tiny bit of green poking out of the one on the top right. At the bottom of the photo, the fully emerged fiddleheads are nice and green, and you can see the remnants of that papery coating around the bottom.
  • The Celery Groove: No, not a cool dance – not that I know of anyway. 🙂 You can see how those green Fiddleheads at the bottom of the picture have a groove toward the inside, like celery does. Other ferns have a slight groove, and Ostrich Fern’s groove is very pronounced.
  • Smooth Stems: Lady Fern looks pretty similar to Ostrich Fern in my opinion, even having a slight groove, but she has little brown hairs on her stems, while Ostrich Fern stems are smooth. Sometimes that paper-like coating will break up into pieces, stick to the fiddlehead stems and look like hairs, but up close you can see that it’s not.
  • Habitat: Ostrich Fern prefers a bit of shade, and moist, rich soil. I usually find them in the woods, sometimes with a river or a lake fairly close by.

Happy Hunting!! If you’d like some help identifying wild edibles, check out my class schedule or consider a Bountiful Backyard Gathering.

Sheep Sorrel

SheepSorrelSheep Sorrel is a summer delight.  Those interestingly shaped leaves – are they sheep heads with little tiny ears and big fat snouts? Or electric guitars? Or Arrowheads?  Whatever they are, they are tart, tangy and delicious.

I rarely cook Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), though it can add a nice tang to soups and hot dishes.  I prefer to eat it plain as a snack when I’m out in the yard, or else in my salads and smoothies.

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Sheep sorrel  grows in sunny spots, and I see it flowering along country roadsides everywhere.  As a member of the buckwheat family, it has a tall flower spike with tiny florets adorning it.  Unlike other plants, the leaves of Sheep sorrel stay tender and tasty even when it’s flowering.  It is hardy, too – it grows in our yard and gets mowed down over and over again….only to keep popping back up, over and over again.

Advice from Sheep sorrel: When life mows you down, dig your roots deeper and come back stronger.

Chickweed

Chickweed

This is such a pretty little plant, and delicious, too.  Chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of those nice wild greens that never gets bitter and can be good to eat all through the growing season.  The flavor is mild and tastes like summer.  I see it in a variety of places – alongside an old barn, out in a pasture, on the edge of the woods.  The long, leafy stems like to lay down, but if they get crowded with other plants, they will grow upright.

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At first glance, the Chickweed flowers look like they have 10 petals, but a closer look shows that there are really 5 deeply lobed petals.  This is a common trait in the Pink family, which Chickweed belongs to.  You might see a very small, sort of fuzzy plant that looks just like this, with the same kind of flower – that would be Mouse-ear Chickweed.  That one is edible, too.  Fuzzy food is not my favorite, so I just leave that one be.

I usually eat Chickweed raw in salads and smoothies.  I’ll go out and snip some stems with a scissors, then pull the leaves off the lower, tougher end of the stem.  The stem tips are usually tender enough to use.

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I see you there, baby Chickweed, growing in my strawberry bed, lol!!  It’s okay, you will make a nice ground cover, and since this is right out my back door, I won’t have to walk very far to pick some tender leaves for my salads.

 

 

 

Wild Violet

Wild Violet
Did you know that Wild Violet (Viola sororia) is Wisconsin’s State Flower?

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.

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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)
  • 1 egg

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.

Enjoy!

 

 

Tap, Sap, Syrup, Sugar

Boiling Sap
Boiling Sap, it’s mesmerizing to watch

The Sap Moon is full as I write this, and the Maple Sap is flowing.  We’ve got 40 taps out right now, and the First Boil happened March 24 when our sons came and spent the day in the sugar shack while we were out and about.  They turned 55 gallons of sap into 1.5 gallons of syrup – it was a good day.

Second Boil happened March 29 – hubby boiled 50 gallons of sap down to 5 gallons for making Wine – an even better day!

Third boil happened April 1 – hubby went out to the sap buckets and poured out the tiny bit of sap that was trapped under the ice.  It was super concentrated, VERY sweet.  We had about a quart, and boiled it to 259 degrees, then stirred it into a cup and a half of Maple Sugar!  First time we’ve ever made it, and it was very fun and satisfying.

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Maple Sugar Goodness!

I’m enjoying drinking some Maple sap straight from the tree – it’s really sweet!  I’m using it to make tea, and to flavor my coffee, too.

Jars of Sap
Clear, cold and delicious!

 

Did you know that you can tap trees other than Sugar Maples, and make sryup with them, too? Walnut, birch, hickory, sycamore, ash, basswood and butternut all have sap that contains about one percent sugar. And other types of maples can be tapped too, like box elders, silver and black maple. Sugar maple’s sap is The Boss, though, because it contains 3-5 percent sugar, so it takes less sap to make syrup.  I’ll bet a person could drink the sap from those other trees, though, and it would taste yummy…………