Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

I love a good garage sale. So it only makes sense that I’d like foraging. It’s like garage sale meets farmers market. But it’s organic and free … if you know what you’re doing and stay away from chemically treated or publicly protected lands.

Foraging & Feasting CoverOver the past few years I’ve collected a few foraging books to teach myself what I can and cannot eat. I learn something new from each book. My latest addition/edition is Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender (Botanical Arts Press, 2013)

The book starts with a philosophical celebration leads into practical harvesting tips and continues with lushly detailed illustrations and identification information for 50 plants. Charts in the middle summarize seasonality and culinary uses. And relevant recipes are an inspiring finale. Did I already say it’s delightful to the eye?

Dina with Angelica 6_1_13

Dina’s interest in herbs and, then foraging, was sparked at 11, when she received her first herb book.

“I became conscious of the healing properties of food, clearly grasping the concept that food is my medicine,” she writes. “From that point forward, my commitment to and exploration of finding, preparing and eating healthful foods began.”

In flipping through I recognized my favorite chickweed. And, for the first time I came upon the day flower, a plant that I’ve been fighting (and losing) all summer. In the future it’s going into the salad, not the compost pile.

Dayflower-Commelina erectaI must admit my favorite recipes are herbal spirits and ice creams. The spirit combinations include lemon balm-strawberry vodka and black currant-fennel vodka. Ice cream inspirations include rose petal, lavender, bee balm and lemon verbena.

Therapeutic recipes include digestive bitters which are a scotch-based herbal root infusion.

My biggest problem with this book is that I don’t know if I should keep my copy on my nightstand for studying, in my kitchen for cooking or on the porch for relaxing. It’s that useful.


Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender is available from Botanical Arts Press.

Make Herbal Vinegars

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Homemade herbal vinegars have been in Melissa McClelland’s kitchen for as long as she can remember. Her mom, Lenore McClelland — a long-time member of the Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America — made them every year.

“While she may not have been the best cook on the face of the earth, she could make a mean vinaigrette,” laughs Melissa, a photo stylist who lives in Cleveland Heights and has turned her entire front yard into raised herb beds. Because of her mother Melissa has become quite the expert at infusing various vinegars, something she often gifts to friends.

Stevia-Tarragon-EnglishThyme-Marjoram

“I started out doing classic combinations like basil- or tarragon-infused white wine vinegar,” she says. “I love garlic so I always have a garlic vinegar on hand.”

20170704_100759 (2) “As I started doing them more I started thinking of the herb and spice mixtures that I love. I have a poultry seasoning combination that I love to do,” she says. “It’s great when making vinaigrette for a chicken salad. You have that built in flavor profile.” For poultry she uses 10 sprigs of thyme and four each of sage and rosemary per quart of white wine vinegar.

Another of her creations uses rinds from organic lemons and oranges with an herb or two.  Her favorite combinations include basil or thyme with orange. “They have been such useful combinations. It makes a nice base for marinating chicken or pork.”

“The newest I’m starting to experiment with is a Chinese five spice mix in rice wine vinegar to use in Chinese cooking,” says Melissa.  “I’m still working to get the ratios right.”

“Herbing” vinegar is relatively easy and has few health safety concerns, something Melissa appreciates.

She usually starts with a quart of vinegar – most often white wine or cider vinegar. She prefers organic cider vinegars for the health benefits. White vinegar, she says, can be harsh and red vinegars too strong.

“There are a couple of ways to make the herbal vinegar,” she say. “Some people pack the jars, strain then repackage with a decorate sprig. That gives them a super-saturated herbal flavor.”

“For me it’s been a balancing act. It’s easy when you love herbs and are enthusiastic to use too many. I like having it more subtle, I want to be able to use it freely.”

First, she sterilizes wide-mouth mason jars with boiling water. After placing herbs inside, she makes certain they’re fully immersed in vinegar. Then, she places the jar in a dark place for at least a week.  While she will strain and repackage for a gift, she may just leave the “pickled” herb in the jar for home use.

20161028_145833

Melissa keeps her home vinegars in a dark pantry. With vinegar’s preservative properties the infusions last a year and beyond.


When vinegars remain in mason jars with metal lids, the lids may rust. For gifting presentations consider Timbertops, eco-friendly bamboo storage lids for mason jars from masontops.com or their plastic lids or chalk tops. They make delightful presentations. Readers can get a 10 percent discount by entering the discount code HERBSOCIETY10. Discount expires August 11, 2017.

 

What to do with Garlic Scapes

What to do with Garlic Scapes

20170701_124331At the Willoughby, Ohio, Farmers Market my farmer friend Maggie Fusco handed me a blue plastic grocery bag half full of garlic scapes. There must have been 100 of those long, circled flower stalks that must be trimmed from hardneck garlic to make certain energy goes back into the bulb. What was I supposed to do with so many scapes? Thank goodness she shared her weekly newsletter … it was full of ideas. — Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster

By Maggie Fusco, Wood Road Salad Farm, Madison, Ohio

You can chop ‘em and saute’ ‘em…..

You can pesto and puree’ ‘em…..

You can roast ‘em

You can toast ‘em

You can grill ‘em

You can swill ‘em?

You can eat ‘em on a boat

You can eat ‘em with a goat

You can use ‘em now or freeze for later

Either way it doesn’t matter

Get ‘em soon while they last

Like all things seasonal

They come and go so fast!

What am I rhyming about? Garlic Scapes of course!

image003Botanically speaking, the scape is any leafless flower stalk. The flower of the well-known Hosta plant falls into the classification of scape as do the flowers of many other plants. Each garlic produces one scape. If the scape is left on the garlic plant it will flower and produce seeds. (The wild garlic you tell me you have in your yard is spread this way.)

 

image007Cutting the scape from the garlic plant helps it focus more energy into making a bigger bulb underground (good for us) rather than making seed up top which is its real job in life. Turns out the garlic scape is not only edible – it has mild garlic/green flavor — it’s delightful to eat!

20170703_142646So, how can we use the scapes? Any way you already use garlic you can use scapes instead or treat them as would fresh young green beans.

Chop and sauté along with any dish or make a simple pesto by blending with olive oil for fresh use or to freeze for later. Braid them into wreaths and roast or grill them. Cut them into uniform lengths and make refrigerator pickles.  (NOTE: I mix the pesto into mayonnaise and serve with burgers, amazing. – PW)

20170703_145548Scapes are most likely found in July at farmer’s markets in Northeast Ohio.  They keep nicely wrapped in plastic for up to a month.


Maggie Fusco and Justin Kopczak own Wood Road Salad Farm in Madison Ohio. They have been happily married and growing great produce since 2002.  They call their fields a “salad” farm because in the beginning they grew mostly lettuces and greens but then one crop led to another, and every season became a new adventure in growing and eating.

 

Consider the Ultimate Kitchen Appliance

Consider the Ultimate Kitchen Appliance

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Residential 001In 2001, when my boys were toddlers I read This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow. Considered the mother of the “eat locally” paradigm (other than Alice Waters, of course), the nutrition professor tracked a year of eating locally and organically with the seasons. If she’d been southern California it might have been easy. But she was working with the short growing season on the Hudson River not far from New York City. She was convincing with her experience, made it sound like an adventure. So, to the best of my ability, I pursued a similar lifestyle in Northeast Ohio.

Imagine if I’d had the budget for an Urban Cultivator, a fully automated kitchen garden?  I love kitchen toys and this is the ultimate … a climate-controlled greenhouse that slides under the kitchen counter. Looking a bit like a wine mini-fridge, the fully plumbed appliance makes it possible to have fresh herbs, greens and veggies year ‘round without leaving the kitchen. Think Caprese salad with just-picked basil?! In winter.

I hadn’t heard of the appliance until this year, but the Urban Cultivator has been around almost 20 years. Its precursor was a “box” for growing medicinal cannabis. In an ironic twist, growers wanted a product for kitchen gardens and so a new company was born.

UrbanCultivator_KitchenExample-06Chefs were interested because they could control quality and source expensive, hard-to-find herbs and microgreens, says Tarren Wolfe, company spokesperson.  (No relation to this blogger.) He recommends leaf lettuces, sunflower sprouts, micro-arugula and more. “You can go beyond your everyday, average salad with a far more nutritional product.”

“When you pick something you lose quality and up to 50 percent of nutritional value in 24 hours,” says Wolfe. “With the Urban Cultivator you can do it cheaper and get a tastier, healthier product.”

The mini-greenhouses, which hold up to four flats of plants, are self-contained and self-regulating. They top up watering reservoirs and control heat, light and humidity.  I’d be growing parsley, basil, lemon thyme, mint and so much more if only I had $2,500 to add one to my current kitchen. The restaurant version is much bigger and costs closer to $10,000.

Violets Infuse Vodka for a Delightful Cocktail

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20160328_173928While we waited to see Book of Mormon at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square, we settled onto bar stools at Bin 216. I ordered the Aviation Cocktail- a mixture of gin, crème de violette, luxardo and lemon — because I’d never heard of the violette liqueur and I love new culinary experiences.

The drink settled into the back of my mind until the book Eat Your Roses reminded me that the violets were edible.

And, I’m compelled to make everything I can from scratch. At least once. Consider, in my 20s I thought about raising chickens so I could control the quality of my chicken stock, but I couldn’t decide what would come first – the chicken or the egg.

Laugh if you must, but the thought crossed my mind.

So, why not make crème de violette?

Problem was my obsession started in February, after a foraging trip through the mountains surrounding Asheville, N.C. Unable to find fresh violets in late winter, I bought the purple liqueur. For the budget-conscious, it comes in a classy package and, again, costs less than buying your own packaging and making it.

But that wasn’t the point. I grew up in a family where from-scratch food was de rigueur. Store-bought bread? Verboten.

20160326_155718So, when on Easter 2016, I found violets growing in my boyfriend’s yard, it was time. When you eat (and drink) with the seasons you act before the window closes. I was on a mission.

It didn’t take long to realize accumulating enough of these little fairy blossoms was going to be onerous. So, I made like Tom Sawyer and turned it into a game with my boyfriend’s grandchildren. With the help of four girls we lightly filled half of a quart mason jar.

The glass jar was a delightful way to collect because we were ch20160326_155708armed by the way the sun illuminated the delicate petals through the glass and the perfume was a promise of things to come.

I was almost reluctant to cover the vibrant violets with vodka. For a few seconds at least. Glug, glug, glug and the violets were giving up their soul to the spirit.

20160329_181527_001After marinating (macerating?) overnight the purple leached into the tasteless liquor. And, the flavor went with it, creating an almost berry-like balm. I knew because I’d sample every few hours. I call that quality control.

By day three, when the flowers were nearly colorless I strained the fledgling liqueur into another mason jar spilling precious drops onto the counter. I refrained from licking the liquid straight from the granite. It wasn’t five o’clock somewhere. Yet.

The sketchy instructions I’d found on the internet claimed their infusion was a light lilac. Mine was, but it oxidized to a light gold after a few days.  How could I improve the coloring? The purist in me resisted food coloring, but I may give in. Again, we eat first with our eyes.

I decided to make another batch and another and another. I tried six different vodkas. Not to belabor the details, but the flavors were all slightly different. I preferred the barely there hint of fruit from Ciroc vodka – made from grapes – as it married with the violets.  My second choice was Kamchatka, a lower-priced vodka.

Next step? Adding an equal part simple syrup.

Then, shake and serve over ice, splashed into bubbly or crafted into a cocktail.

Cheers!


NOTE: Simple syrup is a mixture of equal parts sugar and water, simmered until sugar is dissolved. After cooling I added it to my violette infusion.

Flowers: Are You What You Eat?

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not long ago I threw a Champagne Garden Party. Driven to offer only elegant hors de oeuvres matched to bubbles, I made everything myself. (Call me a control freak or food snob. I can handle the labels.)

One of my favorite dishes was a romaine salad with homemade Champagne vinaigrette.  The best part? Deep purple pansies contrasting bright red strawberries. This was a hit of the party. After all, you eat with your eyes first.

The pansies came from my gardens. I knew they were organic and safe. While their flavor was subtle, their aesthetic was undeniable.

For that party I only needed a handful of flowers. Imagine duplicating this on a large scale for a wedding or convention. To do so, you’ll have to start planning your flower garden now.  And, cross your fingers for the right weather and perfect timing of blooms.

Edible flowers angelicaOr you can order them from several companies on the web. Marx Foods , for example, offers edible flowers in bulk, shipped FedEx overnight for freshness.

In-house food writer, Matthew Johnson, says, “Herb Blossoms are an integral seasoning. .”

Both Matthew and Kim Brauer, the culinary concierge, offer the following suggestions:

  • Chive Blossoms make lovely compound butter and are fantastic on eggs.
  • Garlic Flowers add flavor and looks.
  • Fennel Flowers are lovely on entrees like pork tenderloin and fish, or as a replacement for tarragon.
  • Arugula Blossoms are delicate and very tasty in a low-acidity salad (not too much vinegar) .

Edible flowers borage“We’ve seen Herb Blossoms used as sticks as cocktail stirrer/garnish,” says Kim. “For example, rosemary blossoms add something extra to a rosemary martini or bloody Mary. Fennel Flowers are good in a bloody Mary or chili martini. Or you can freeze them in ice cubes – made with boiled distilled water for clarity — for use in cocktails.”

A chart of edible flowers and their flavors makes menu planning easier.

A search for other edible flower purveyors turns up Gourmet Sweet Botanicals, and Melissa’s. I’ve also found organic edible flowers with herbs in my grocer’s produce case.

DISCLAIMER: Many flower varieties are unsafe to eat. Most often flowers found in stores were grown to be looked at, not eaten. And so, they have likely been sprayed or grown with chemicals that may be unsafe to consume. Edible flowers from specialty suppliers have been selected for color, appearance, AND are grown to be safe for human consumption.

 

Dye Easter Eggs with Culinary Materials

By  Susan Liechty, HSA President

Easter eggsRemember the fizzy tablets you dropped in the vinegar to dye those vibrantly colored Easter eggs?  Try something new this year. Dye those eggs with all natural products found in your garden or kitchen.  This is a fun project with interesting results; and the kids will love to experiment with the different items.  The environmental issues aside, you won’t be using artificial dye to transform the eggs into beautiful masterpieces.

The process works as follows:

Hard boil your white eggs (white eggs have a truer dye color). Allow to completely cool and dry.  Next, line up several wide-mouthed empty Mason jars or bowls to fill with all the different colors.  If you use the quart size, you can fit several eggs in one jar.

In a saucepan boil water and place your selected material in the water.  Allow to steep for 10-15 minutes.  Remove from the heat once you’ve reached your desired color and let cool.

Strain out the material, pour into your mason jar and add one tablespoon white vinegar per cup of liquid.  Prepare all colors and line up your jars.  Place your egg(s) in the jar and put in the refrigerator until the color you want has been achieved.  Carefully dry the eggs, put a small amount of oil on the egg and polish with a paper towel.

The results are beautiful and much different than the old standby colors.

Natural materials to try include:

  • Purple cabbage leaves – pink
  • Red onion skins – lavender or red
  • Yellow onion skins – orange or rusty red
  • Coffee grounds – brown
  • Black tea – brown
  • Cayenne pepper – brown
  • Turmeric – yellow
  • Red Zinger tea bags – lavender
  • Beets (diced) – pink
  • Spinach or carrot tops – green
  • Grape Juice – lavender
  • Frozen blueberries – pink
  • Orange peels – light yellow
  • Strong brewed coffee – light brown
  • Cranberries – pink

Remember to store finished eggs in the refrigerator until ready to eat.


The blog for The Herb Society of America is written by members, staff and guest authors, to promote herb appreciation from cultivation and use to learning and research. It supports the Herb Society’s goals to protect botanical heritage, steward scientific diversity and promote personal enjoyment. Membership is open to individuals and businesses.

What herb materials are you using to dye eggs?