A Locavore’s Summer Begins

According to the calendar, summer officially started over a week ago. As far as I’m concerned, it started this past weekend when the sun finally came out after a month of almost nonstop rain. Also, this was the weekend I noticed that the juneberry, mulberry, and red currants were winding down and I picked the first cucumber in the garden. I could see and taste the shift into summer.

On Sunday I led a wild edible plants walk for Green Edge and we found a glorious patch of not quite ripe black raspberries. Trust me, I’ll be back. We found plenty of things that were perfect for harvesting though, and at the end of the tour I served everyone a taste of juneberry-mulberry preserves that I’d made with local honey.

junemulberrypres

I’ve been collecting and drying daylily petals to add to soups and dips. You can buy these in Chinatown, but fortunately I have them in my garden. Since each flower only stays open for one day (hence the name), I don’t feel bad when I go out to pick them in the early evening just before they close forever.

daylily

Also in the garden, I’ve been picking the first hot peppers from my Peruvian Purple Pepper plants

peppers

and baby cucumbers no longer than my pinkie finger to make cornichons with.

baby-cukes

Other than that, this is the season I call “waiting for red.” Waiting for my tomatoes to color up

unripetom

and my raspberries.

unriperasp

I’m not the only locavore who’s been out foraging lately. There are wild edible plants posts as well as a lot of other information from fellow locavores on these sites: La Vida Locavore & Young, Broke, & Hungry.

If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, I’ll see you there!

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Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

Local Foods Classes with Leda Summer ’09

I’m teaching quite a few¬† local foods-related classes this summer, covering everything from vegetable gardening in containers to wild edible plants to food preservation. I’m even doing one called Eating Local in the Big Apple that includes ways to keep costs down and bring convenience into your local foods diet. I hope to see you at one of these this summer!

LOCAL FOODS CLASSES WITH LEDA MEREDITH SUMMER 2009

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

foraging tour & marinated burdock

This past weekend’s wild edible plants walk in Brooklyn, NY’s Prospect Park for Green Edge Collaborative was rescheduled due to rain. The original date was sold out, but because of the rescheduling there are now a few openings. We’ll be meeting (rain or shine this time!) Sun. 28th 9:45 a.m.-12 p.m. You can get more info and sign up here.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch…

I collected more burdock flower stalks and marinated them for a delicious antipasta (the last ones were better after two weeks of marinating than after two days. I’d love to tell you how good they were after three weeks, but I ate them all already). The recipe is a simple one that can also be used to preserve mushrooms and other vegetables (recipe below).

Burdock is a biennial that in its first year puts out a rosette of huge leaves. These are about a foot and a half in length.

burdock

In its second year it sends up flower stalks. The flowers eventually turn into the burrs the plant is named for. If you catch the timing right, before the plant actually flowers and while the stalks are still tender, you’ve got yourself a vegetable that is something like cardoons (a relative of the artichoke).

To use the immature burdock flower stalks, take off the leaves, peel away the stringy skin. Chop into pieces.

Here’s the part that you can do with almost any tender vegetable or mushroom. For the version I made tonight I included some home dried tomatoes:

1. Bring vinegar to a boil. Add vegetables or mushrooms and boil for five minutes.

2. Drain.

3. Loosely pack into a clean glass jar along with sprigs or leaves of fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, and bay are especially good in this). Cover with olive oil. Press lightly with a spoon to release any air bubbles. Make sure the vegetables are completely covered with oil.

4. Cover and store in the refrigerator for at least a week before sampling so the flavors have time to develop (yeah, you caught that I snuck a taste after just two days. Scientific research–had to verify that they really are better for the wait. They are.) Will keep, refrigerated, for six months except for the fact that you’ll eat them long before that. Bring to room temp before serving with crusty bread.

burdock-pickle

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Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

The Perfect Strawberry Dilemma

strawbs-mini

The problem with perfect strawberries is that they are only perfect briefly. As in right now. By breakfast time tomorrow they may already be getting soft spots and by the day after mold may set in.

It’s an aspect of local eating that sometimes trips people up. The well-earned kudos for the superior flavors of local produce come from the fact that it is picked in season at its peak. In some cases, as with leafy greens, this may mean that the produce actually lasts longer than its supermarket cousin. But with fruit, it’s a different story. Especially with a fruit such as strawberries, which should never be stored in the refrigerator because doing so totally changes the taste and texture. People buy an extra quart or two because they’re so good, thinking they’ll have all week to enjoy them. Wrong!

So I may have overdone it with the strawberries at this past Tuesday’s CSA distribution. I’ve been getting strawberries from the farmers’ markets for a few weeks now. They’ve been good, but not knock-your-socks-off fabulous. There is a difference between in season and in peak season. These CSA strawberries were peak.

So when there were extras leftover at the end of the distribution, I couldn’t resist. I took extras. Lots of extras.

I had some with breakfast the next day, but by the time I came back from work it was evident that I had to do something with the rest now. I set aside a few of the most likely candidates for the following day’s breakfast, but there were still a ton to deal with.

I made and canned strawberry jam, as well as a strawberries with white wine sauce (to pour over other fruit such as pear halves later in the year for a splendid dessert). This is the sauce, which has whole strawberries floating in it:

strawberry-preserves-mini

I also froze strawberries (tip: spread your fruit out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze that way before packing into freezer bags or containers. The fruit pieces stay loose and separate and later on you can just take out what you need rather than dealing with a solid block of frozen fruit).

I think I’m done. Not that I won’t enjoy eating them if we get strawberries again in our share next week. But I’ll pass on taking extras.

By the way, I am not complaining!

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

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Late Spring Harvest & Upcoming Foraging Tour

The strawberries will be coming in for a while yet, but the fruits of late Spring and early Summer are starting now. Today I collected Juneberries

juneberries

and mulberries

mulberries

I also got a few mayapples, as well as some milkweed florets, which look like miniature broccoli

milkweed-floret

On the way out of the park, I noticed that the first zucchini from South Jersey were at the farmers’ market. Must be almost summer!

I’m leading a wild edible plants tour for Green Edge Collaborative on the 20th in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. I expect we’ll be finding more juneberries and mulberries, daylily buds (great pickled), and hopefully some good edible mushrooms (all this rain is good for that at least!). There are only a few remaining spots available (I limit the size of my foraging tours so that I can keep an eye on everyone, especially the beginners). If you’d like to join us, please click here to register.

Botany, Ballet, and Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

Free Local Food

I arrived at the Grand Army Plaza farmers’ market this morning only to discover that I’d forgotten my wallet at home. Fortunately, the market is right at the entrance to Prospect Park.

It was still too soon for the Juneberries (Amelanchier) to be ripe, but I scored on many other wild edibles. Although it’s near the end of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) season, in shadier spots I found some shoots that were still harvestable size.

poke

The second-year burdock (Arctium lappa) plants are sending up their flower stalks. At this stage, they are still tender and by far my favorite edible part of this plant, reminiscent of artichoke hearts or cardoons. They are fantastic lightly steamed and then marinated in a vinaigrette and served as a room-temperature salad.

The flower harvest included linden blossoms (Tilia americana) for wine, elderberry flowers (Sambucus) for tea or fritters or “champagne” (haven’t decided yet), and red clover blossoms that I will dry and then either use for a honey-scented tea or grind up and use as “flour” in baked goods.

I collected some sassafras (Sassafras albidum) sapling leaves. sassafrasThese, once dried and ground into a powder, are the filee powder that is used to thicken and flavor gumbo.

I also collected some celery-flavored goutweed leaves (Aegopodium podagraria). Just last night I noticed that I am almost out of the celery I dehydrated last year for use in stocks and soups, and was thinking that it would be a while until I get any from my CSA farmer, Ted Blomgren of Windflower Farm. Aegopodium to the rescue–it will do me for celery flavor until I get the “real” stuff. bishops-elder

I got plenty of lush and tender chickweed (Stellaria media) along with violet leaves that will be my salad tonight.

Last but not least, I found some crown-tipped coral mushroom (Clavicorona pyxidata), crown-tipped-corala good edible wild mushroom.

By the time I came out of the park back at the farmers’ market, my backpack was stuffed with vegetables, seasonings, the makings of some excellent beverages, and mushrooms. Maybe I should leave my wallet at home more often.

copyright 2009 Leda Meredith

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

Back in Brooklyn

I’m back from my working trip to Switzerland. I have to say some of the trip was pretty spectacular. One evening my temporary landlord Herr Arnold and his wife took me out on Lake Constance in a boat that has been in their family since 1924.

We ended the boatride at sunset,

which was pretty awesome.

While I was in Switzerland my fellow forager Kat Morgenstern took several trains from Germany to spend a day with me. I hadn’t seen her in person for five and a half years, and it was lovely to reconnect. It was also fun to walk with someone who recognized the valerian growing by the side of the path and who suggested that we might have elderflower fritters for dinner.

Back in Brooklyn, the elderberry shrubs are in flower here just as they were in Switzerland when I left. I’m not picking any because I’m greedy for the berries that will come in August if I leave them alone now. I’m hoping Ellen will be up for the same deal we struck last year: I contribute berries, she brews them into wine, we share the result.

To say that my garden looked lush after my absence is putting it mildly. There was some major weed control required. However, I’m practicing selective weeding. The lamb’s quarters gets to stay until it’s big enough to do something with (it’s a lovely mild, spinach-like green), the chickweed can stay to contribute to my salads until summer’s heat hits and turns it stringy, and the burdock is safe until I’ve had several side dishes worth of its roots and succulent flower stalks.

I went to the farmers’ market this weekend and it looked pretty much the same as it had when I left, and pretty much the same as the markets in Switzerland: asparagus and strawberries are still the stars. The green garlic was a new appearance though, and is going into my dinner tonight.

It’s good to be home.

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Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith