Northeast Foraging…and Is It Spring Yet?

magnolias-smThe magnolias are in peak bloom, many of the cherry blossoms have opened, the daffodils are showing off…but seriously folks, there was snow on the ground yesterday. What’s up with that?

Nonetheless, the foraging season is in full swing with daylily shoots already approaching the too tall to be tender stage, mugwort, violets, and garlic mustard are up, and there’s field garlic galore.

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The “yard squid” (young dandelion crowns) are almost finished, which I’m kind of sad about because they are by far my favorite part to eat of dandelion. Here they are battered (some acorn in the batter) and fried and served with a dipping sauce.

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The dandelion plants are starting to bloom, at which point the leaves get too bitter for my tastes, but ah, dandelion wine, dandelion root “coffee”…

Japanese knotweed is also at prime harvesting size right now in NYC.

And violets, with their mild-tasting edible leaves and flowers are just starting to flower. Mostly I’m tossing them into salads, but maybe I’ll go for that electric blue syrup again.

Do you know how far behind I am on updating this blog (hangs head in shame and embarrassment)? My new book Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries was officially released two weeks ago and I’m just now getting around to announcing it here (hey, I was busy actually foraging, and teaching, and…)

I’ve updated my events page to include upcoming botany+food related events (including foraging tours) in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, plus a trip to the North Carolina Wild Foods Weekend, where I get to be the keynote speaker at the end of the month. I’ll also be in Massachusetts at the beginning of May to do a talk and book signing for a private botanical club.

Whew. End of shameless promo. Back to the plants and the food and the life.

Cheers,
Leda

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Good-bye, Brooklyn, and Hello, Northeast Foraging

Just over a week ago two extraordinary things happened in my life: I moved out of Brooklyn, which was my home for almost two decades, and I received my author’s advance copy of Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. The book arrived on my very last night in the Park Slope homestead I had lived in for almost 11 of my years in BK.

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Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries
is a field guide that Timber Press and I have been working on for two years. The book is available for pre-order, and if you order now it will be in your hands by the start of April - just in time for the northeastern foraging season to get into full swing.

I’ll let others do the rest of the shameless promo for me at the end of this post, but first I want to remember my BK homestead:

GT a.k.a. Gitania

GT a.k.a. Gitania

Mom trimming CSA green beans in the garden.

Mom trimming CSA green beans in the garden.

Main room in da Slope

Main room in da Slope

Ella at the top of the garden stairs

Ella at the top of the garden stairs

The back door

The back door

I spotted this fellow a few days before I moved. He's in the branches of one of the over 14-foot tall elderberry shrubs that I started from 7-inch slips.

I spotted this fellow a few days before I moved. He's in the branches of one of the over 14-foot tall elderberry shrubs that I started from 7-inch slips.

Advance praise for Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

Leda Meredith has produced the best foraging guide for the Northeast–a book that wild food gatherers of all skill levels will want to own.”

Sam Thayer, author of The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
and Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Leda Meredith’s Northeast Foraging is that rare field guide where you sense the guide is a living presence right beside you as you are out foraging for edible wild plants. Leda writes with such a personable “trailside” manner that you come to feel you’re having a conversation with her about what you’re finding, how to be certain it’s what you want, and how to gather and prepare it for eating or preserve it for later use. This is as close as you can come to having the author take you by the hand.”

Gary Lincoff

Author of The Joy of Foraging: Gary Lincoff’s Illustrated Guide to Finding, Harvesting, and Enjoying a World of Wild Food
and instructor at The New York Botanical Garden

“This book is loaded with useful, accurate info about wild foods and what to do with them, and it’s entertaining too. Whether you’re a beginner or expert, you’ll love it as much as I did.”

Wildman Steve Brill, America’s Go-to Guy for Foraging

Leda Meredith possesses a depth of knowledge about wild edible plants surpassed by few modern foragers, and her Northeast Foraging will become an invaluable guide for the feast in the East. I especially love her tips on preserving the wild harvest — Nature waits for no one, and Meredith knows you must gather while you can. I will be sure to carry this book with me whenever I am east of the Great Plains.

Hank Shaw

Author of the James Beard Award–winning website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook,

Author, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast,

and Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild

“What I love about this book is that it’s not simply a guide to plant identification. Leda sets you up with the framework for what it means to forage as an undertaking. Mandatory guide for any Chef who is serious about foraging in the Northeast.”

Tom Kearny

Chef at The Farm on Adderley

Order Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

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Pantry Challenge, 2014

Either I have to eat a lot of my preserved foods this month, or I have to give them away. Let me explain:

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I have to move in less than a month. It’s not a move I saw coming, and I sure did stock up the pantry last year like I was planning to stay (and I have stayed here in Park Slope for almost 11 years, but that’s another story…).

When I say pantry, remember that I don’t actually have a separate room for all my canned, dried, fermented and otherwise preserved foods. I even keep some of my jars of home-canned goods under my bed (this pic is just of a bunch of jars that I pulled out for show).

I don’t really want to take it all with me because I don’t have a fixed address yet. I’ll be putting stuff in storage, staying at the home of a friend, and then heading overseas and, well, you can’t really travel easily with a winter’s worth of preserved food.

So…I’ve decided to make this a pantry challenge month. All meal planning will start by looking in the freezer or under the bed…um, I mean in my “pantry”…and choosing a few preserved foods to base the meal around. I’m not being crazy strict about this as I was with The 250. If I need an ingredient to make my food excellent, I’ll buy it or forage for it. Foraging is admittedly limited in Brooklyn at this time of year, but there is still some cold weather foraging.

omelet

I started today with an American-style omelet (lightly browned and neatly folded over the filling, unlike a creamy, softer French omelette). It included kale that I had blanched and frozen last year, homemade bacon, and a sharp New York cheddar cheese. The salt was local, thanks to Sarah Sproule. And instead of pepper I used some home-dried and ground cayenne chiles (I like spicy) mixed with dried ground (and foraged) spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin).

Already I can see where what I’ve got on hand is going to fall short: animal products such as eggs, cheese, and milk are going to run out and I’ll have to buy more at the farmers’ market.

But that’s okay: this pantry challenge is not about trying to avoid purchasing food. It’s about using up my dehydrated, frozen, fermented, smoked, salt-cured, and canned foods in delicious, interesting, healthful ways. I hope to learn a few things and perhaps invent some keeper recipes along the way.

I doubt that you want the blow-by-blow of what I eat every day. When I come up with something especially good that relies mostly on home-preserved ingredients, including those made with wild edibles, I’ll let you know.

Happy Imbolc!

Leda

Available for pre-order:

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

and

Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Milk, and More

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How to Make Carob Powder from Carob Pods (plus a carob ginger snap recipe)

One of the fun things about traveling far from my NYC foraging grounds is that I get to learn new-to-me wild edible plants and play with them in the kitchen. That’s how these carob ginger snap cookies came to be.

carob-cookies

Here in Jerusalem, at the outskirts of the Ramot forest, every day I walked past a pile of pods that lay beneath the tree (Ceratonia siliqua) that they had fallen from. One day the forager’s identification lightbulb illuminated, and I realized that I’d been passing by carob pods.

By the way, you don’t have to be in the Middle East to find carob trees growing. My friends in the western states of the U.S. should be able to find them as well.

The smell brought back memories from my childhood: the hippie adults I was surrounded by thought carob was healthier than chocolate and therefore substituted it in many recipes. Actually, if you use carob as a chocolate substitute, it is disappointing. But if you appreciate that carob has its own unique and excellent scent and taste, then it is a first rate ingredient.

But before I could make the carob ginger snaps, I had to make carob powder. With carob, it’s not the seeds you use but the pod that surrounds the seeds.

carob-seeds

These pods can be quite tough, especially if you collect them long after they’ve fallen from the tree, as I did.

carob-pods

It helps if you soften them. I did this by first rinsing the pods clean and then covering them with water in a large pot. I brought the water to a boil and then turned off the heat and let the pods soak for a few hours.

carob-boil

Well, it was supposed to be just a few hours, but I fell asleep so it ended up being overnight.

The next day I split the now softened pods open with a paring knife and discarded the seeds.

carob-seeded

After that, I pulverized the pods in batches in a blender (really missing my food processor back in Brooklyn, which would have made this job much easier). I wasn’t after a perfectly smooth grind, just a coarse pulp that I could spread out on a baking sheet and dry in a low (200F) oven.

carob-pulp

Once dried, I ground the carob in an electric coffee grinder, et voila! Carob powder, ready to be made into these delicious cookies. I made a vegan version because we are going to visit my bf’s vegan son and fiancee, but you could substitute butter for the coconut oil if that’s not an issue.

Carob Ginger Snap Cookies

carob-cookies2

  • Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Whisk together these dry ingredients:

1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup carob powder

1/2 cup sugar, divided

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients:

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup date syrup (molasses or a dark honey would work, too)

1/3 cup coconut oil (or butter if you prefer)

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients. On a plate, mix together:

1/4 cup carob powder

2 tablespoons sugar

  • Form 1 or 1 1/2-inch balls out of the dough and roll them in the carob-sugar mixture. Flatten each ball slightly between the heels of your hands. Place them on a cookie sheet with a little space in between each one and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. They will get crunchy as they cool.

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries is available for pre-order!

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Happy New Year from Leda’s Urban Homestead

I’m greeting 2014 with my bf in Jerusalem. This was the view yesterday morning as J-town re-emerged from the morning mists:

mist-sm

Although I’ve cooked in this kitchen many, many times, I’d never baked bread here until this past week. I couldn’t find a rack to cool the bread on, so I improvised with chopsticks on a cutting board.

dscn1377

Back in Brooklyn, the wood sorrel won’t reappear until mid-spring. Here, it is in peak season (although I’m picking Oxalis pes-carpae here rather than the O. stricta I find back in the Northeast). I used some of it last night in a fish soup.

dscn1375

On the kitchen counter, I’ve got foraged olives in a salt cure, and chile peppers lacto-fermenting into hot sauce.

hotsauce-sm

In the fridge, the salt fish (haddock rather than cod because the kind of cod they sell here is endangered) will be ready in a few days. I’ve also got bacon and pancetta (yes, you can get pork belly in Israel) curing. And I’ve got several kinds of refrigerator pickles going.

fridge-sm

Next up, I’m making kumquat marmalade. And then maybe some passionfruit butter. Some of these passionfruits are from Ricky’s terrace garden, some foraged. It feels almost decadent to be foraging fruit in winter!

passion-sm

May the year ahead bless you with delicious feasts, foraged and otherwise, and may there be loved ones near to share the joy. Happy New Year!

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Solstice Morning Foraging

snow-cyclamenHappy Winter Solstice!

This morning Ricky and I took a walk in the Ramot forest of Jerusalem. There are huge numbers of trees and tree limbs downed by last week’s snowstorm. But there are also signs of the bloom season starting, like these Cyclamen persicum…

…and these white crocuses.

crocus

It’s weird for me, used to northeastern North America, to consider the Winter Solstice the start of spring as far as plants go, but that’s the reality on the ground here in the Middle East. I also saw some wild daffodils that I didn’t get a good photo of (next time).

trackWe weren’t the only ones out enjoying the warm morning. Any trackers out there know who this print belongs to?

And of course, we did some foraging. It turned out to be too early in the season for the Suillus mushrooms I’ve found here in January. But the recent storm knocked the last of the season’s olives and plenty of Arbutus (strawberry tree) fruit to the ground. The olives will get a simple salt cure. Not sure what I’m doing with the Arbutus yet, besides snacking on it.olives-and-arbutus

Other stuff I did this solstice day: made sauerkraut, made fish chowder, took a nap, was grateful for a day off. Okay, almost a day off: I also finished up an article on sunchokes. It’s ironic that I was working on an article about a plant also known as Jerusalem artichokes even though it is a native North American plant that has nothing to do with Jerusalem…while I’m actually in Jerusalem.

Next up, a salsa dancing lesson with my bf. Life is good.

Wishing you a wonderful solstice and holiday season!

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My Transcontinental Pressure Canner

Notice anything odd about this photo of my suitcase while I was packing it for a recent trip from Brooklyn to California, and then back to NY followed by Jerusalem via Moscow?

canner-packed

Yes, that large shiny thing in the middle. That’s a pressure canner. A brand, spanking new one. But I already had one in Brooklyn, where my tiny one bedroom can’t really hold too many objects as large as this one.

That’s not why I packed it, though. I packed it because I was about to be on the road for 2 months, with a deadline on a food preservation book at the end of that time. I need my food gear with me while I finish the food pres book.

So I stuffed the canner full of clothes. My suitcase didn’t quite close, but I rigged it with some wire twisted and tied between the zipper pulley tabs. And I took it to CA, and back to NY. It followed me through a brief layover in Moscow, and now it’s here with me in Israel.

Where I just finished canning some fish stock in it (it is no longer a virgin canner). Our favorite fish monger at the souk (market) was happy to give us fish heads and bones for free, and I hate to waste free food.

stock-jars

If you’re still not sure why I had to haul this piece of equipment with me across a continent or three, here’s the deal:

You can safely can fruits, pickles, and tomatoes (with added acid) in a boiling water bath using nothing fancier than a big, deep pot and some canning jars and lids. But to safely can un-pickled vegetables and any animal product, you need a pressure canner.

Of course, there are also other food preservation methods including fermentation that don’t require special equipment. But I’m covering ALL of the food preservation methods for my book - you get why I need my gear with me?

Yeah, you can buy pressure canners here. But I already had an extra one, so it seemed silly to spend the money on a third pressure canner. Anyway, all’s well that ends well: me and my pressure canner are safely here in J-town.

(Warning: Shameless Plug) Want to pre-order my next books?:

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Milk, Meat, and More

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Food Preservation Report: Watermelon Radish Ferment

pickled-radishes-smDecember is the last hurrah for certain ingredients that I treasure. The Clementine oranges will be gone soon. Even the locally grown pears will gradually disappear from the markets. The apples will start to lose their crunch. But those aren’t the seasonal ingredients I want to preserve.

If you haven’t had a watermelon radish yet, you want to. On the outside, they look like beige turnips. The hint of pink on the tapering root end barely suggests the riot of festive color within.

What do they taste like? Well, radishes. But pickle them with either this lacto-fermented recipe or this overnight vinegar brine, and you’ve got a very special offering for your holiday feasts (and well after, when January’s blah colors could use a little pick-me-up).

Cheers,

Leda

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Cold Weather Foraging

chickweed-medAs temps drop, I’m gearing my Mother Earth News foraging blog towards plants that can be harvested even when nights are below freezing. Here’s the first in the series, on chickweed (Stellaria media).

Today I did a quick foraging foray for magnolia buds and sassafras twigs. I had an accomplice, I mean apprentice, along with me ;) The super-efficient, bee-line foraging I would’ve done by myself was contrasted with wanting to share as much information  as possible with today’s foraging buddy.

And that highlighted something I often mention when I’m leading foraging tours: an experienced forager doesn’t just wander out into the landscape hoping to find something to eat. She knows which plants are in season, and which ecosystems (pine barrens, garden weeds, deciduous forest, etc.) they are going to be found in. The odds are ever in her favor when she sets out on her treasure hunt armed with this knowledge.

Late fall and winter are not bad times for foraging if you know what you are looking for, especially if you identified the plants during the warm months when they still had flowers and leaves. The takeaway here is that foraging is a year-round pursuit: what you learn in summer will serve you when there is snow on the ground.

But don’t worry if you’re new to this and too eager to wait for next spring: I’ll be sharing lots of cold weather foraging tips over the next few months!

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Thanksgiving Recipes and Thoughts

jellied-cran-smThanksgiving is an odd holiday. I applaud the notion of families getting together to cook and feast on native American ingredients like cranberry, turkey, pumpkin. I especially love the idea of pausing in our busy lives to give thanks.

But the old tale of pilgrims and “indians” helping each other out doesn’t hold up to historical truth 100%.

Nonetheless, here comes Thanksgiving. I will be spending it with a transcontinental couple. She’s from El Salvador, he’s from Bolivia. They were married not long ago, and if I’m not mistaken, this is the first Thanksgiving they’ve ever hosted as a couple.

I’m bringing two kinds of cranberry sauce, including this one that’s in the picture, and that is so good I expect it’s already a tradition in my kitchen. Here’s the video version of the recipe.

I’m also bringing green bean casserole (no, I’m not using canned mushroom soup, but you knew that, right?). Mine is going to include some chicken of the woods mushroom I foraged.

So despite the fact that Thanksgiving is politically and historically awkward, I am participating. I am in favor of occasions to give thanks, and to share meals.

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