Along the Grapevine


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Solomon Seal Shoots

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The best thing about foraging is that while all the gardeners are busy planting and fighting the weeds, we foragers are already enjoying some of the best harvest of the season. The dandelion greens are at their sweetest, roots easy to dig, nettles young and not too sting-y, edible flowers blooming and my lawn looks like a veritable smorgasbord. We don’t have to worry too much about what the weather does either – even after a blizzard this week, it only freshened up the wild edibles of the garden.

One of the spring treats I have been anticipating has just made its appearance.  After learning about the edibility and nutritional value of Solomon seal shoots, I was eager to give them a try. Especially as I noticed last summer that my scattered patches of the plant have spread alarmingly, and really do need some control. Their arching branches and drooping white flowers in the early summer are beautiful, and among the most popular with the hummingbirds (who needs feeders!) which is why they grow near the house, so cutting some shoots had to be done carefully, just as a little spring tidying.

Solomon Seal Shoots on Punk Domestics

True Solomon seal or Polygantum biflorum can be a tricky plant to  identify. The edible shoots have similar lookalikes, namely hosta and false solomon seal, both of which are also edible. The mature plant is not edible, except for the root which is used both as food and medicine but best left till autumn to harvest. It grows in shady, wooded areas, but unless you are sure of its identity, better to leave it alone.DSC02997

If you plant it in your garden or somewhere you can track it, there is no problem recognizing it when it first appears in the spring, before any leaves form. I pick them when still tight spears up to about 3 inches in height, and remove the one brownish layer around the base of the spear. Most sites I read referred to boiling them in water for 10 minutes, so I stuck with that advice. The flavour and texture is very much like asparagus, and can be served as a substitute.DSC02999

After harvesting the shoots, I cleaned them and dropped them in boiling water for the suggested 10 minutes. I then sauteed them lightly in a generous amount of butter mixed with ramps and mint. If you don’t have those greens, you can leave them out or substitute them with garlic or other herbs. To this mixture I added some cooked egg noodles. A little shaved parmesan can be added if you like, but for me the richness of the butter was adequate.DSC03003.JPG

And that is one way you can enjoy a delectable spring green long before even the earliest asparagus is up.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday; Frugal Hausfrau; Unwed Housewife

 

 

 

 


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Gravlax and Spring Greens Pasta

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I have been reading a lot of distressing reports lately about the over-harvesting of ramps by irresponsible or maybe just uninformed foragers. Ramps, or wild leeks as they are sometimes called, are one of those plants which have to be treated with great care, and are on the verge of extinction in some areas in the country. Until I found a privately owned area where I could pick a generous amount but which is cared for by responsible owners, I just did without. If you do find ramps to pick, please be sure to gather just a small proportion of what’s growing there. One way to do this is pick just the centre ones from a clump. They tend to spread outwards, so thinning the middle is a safe way not to over-pick. Another method is to pick just a few leaves and leave the little bulb. There is still plenty that can be done with just the greens.

The area I frequent is actually increasing in its ramp production, thanks to careful harvesting and clearing. And now that I have successfully transplanted a small sample into my own flower bed, I hope to have my own to harvest soon.

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The best way to preserve them and extend their use – a little goes a long way – is to ferment them as I describe in this post here. But for a brief period in the spring I can afford the luxury of using a few fresh ones as I did in this pasta dish. If you don’t have ramps, other spring vegetables such as asparagus, scapes, nettles, garlic mustard etc. would also work well.

I made this dish for Fiesta Friday 67 as a follow-up to my spruce tip gravlax last week. This just involved using a good quality pasta mixed with a handful of sauteed wild greens, in this case ramps, and a good amount of fresh basil, plus about five slices of gravlax per person.

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Toss it all in a bowl and add little fresh cheese crumbled on top, and there you have a super simple gourmet meal.

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Happy foraging!


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Milkweed Bud Fetuccine

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I usually try to make original recipes, but occasionally I come across something I haven’t thought of and want to try. Once I tried this recipe for fetuccine made with the leaves and buds of milkweed I decided to bring it to  Angie’s Fiesta Friday #23 and  share it with any of my readers who have milkweed. And if you don’t have milkweed, broccoli leaves and flowers could be used in their stead.

The Forager Chef creates some of the best and most innovative recipes using foraged ingredients I have found. The recipe in its original is here – and you might like to look through his blog to see some of his creations, especially those using a great selection of wild mushrooms.

Two things made me want to try this recipe. First, I have such an abundance of milkweed now as we have tried to encourage its growth for the sake of the monarchs, none of which has shown up yet.

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The other incentive was that I really like home-made pasta, especially when it is a recipe which is unusual enough that it is only available if you make it yourself.

I made only minor changes in the recipe. I used lime instead of lemon, and cheddar cheese instead of parmesan. The milkweed has a delicate floral flavour, and the lime zest is a perfect pairing for it. The pasta was easy to work with, but having added just a tad too much water I dusted it liberally with semolina when rolling it and once it was cut.

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I blanched the leaves and flowers together along with a few plantain flowers I was using for something else, and used the stock from cooking these  in the pasta and for the pasta sauce.

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A Taste of Greens

 

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I have been busy these last few days. So many wild greens available, and many of them for only a few days more, so must harvest while I can. The result of all this is that we have been consuming more than our fair share of nature’s spring freebies. So today I prepared a mixture of wild greens served on pasta with nothing more for flavouring than the greens themselves to bring to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #15.. A generous bunch of mint and a handful of young garlic precluded the need for anything alien to the fields, like cheese or lemon. Only the salt, pasta and oil for frying came from afar.

This is not a recipe – just a way to make good use of these seasonal treats. You could use any spring greens, such as spinach and asparagus, but if you have anything edible and green available, this is a good way to use it.

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I used a mixture of previously steamed (10 minutes) fiddleheads, ramp and dandelion leaves, young garlic, chives and mint. I fried the garlic first in oil, added the greens next and the mint near the end. I added salt to taste and one ladle of the pasta water to avoid any burning, and covered it all and let it heat through for a few minutes – as long as it took to consume half a beer.

And speaking of drinks, with the money I saved with this meal, I was able to splurge on a bottle of white wine.

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Fiddleheads on Punk Domestics