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Archive | foraging

Discover the Possibilities of Pokeweed

For those who like to eat on the wild side, one should become well acquainted with a plethora of wild greens such as black mustard, dock, chickweed, henbit, lambs quarters and pokeweed. The latter, better known simply as poke, is a favorite spring green here in the Ozarks.

Wash and sort poke leaves before cooking.

The fresh, young leaves are gathered in spring soon after they emerge and are gently simmered in two changes of water until tender. The finished product resembles cooked spinach, but the texture is incomparably creamy and the flavor is richly reminiscent of asparagus. This quaint country dish was once known as poke salat, which is slang. It is so good that, at our house, this leafy perennial ranks right up there with other high-caliber spring edibles.

Know Your Poke

Pokeweed belongs to the Phytolaccaceae family, which contains 16 genera and hundreds of species. Some of these species have colorful and descriptive names such as Inkberry, Redweed and Red Ink Plant, to name a few. Continue Reading →

Appreciating Wild Mushrooms

Hunting and eating edible wild mushrooms is an extremely popular culture in some countries, but most people in the United States associate them with stomach issues, trips to the hospital and even death. Clearly, there is a need for education on the subject, and with that education, a new world of potential food delicacies will be opened. Example after example in life tells us that knowledge is power, and certainly, knowledge of edible wild mushrooms is no exception.

A beautiful reishi mushroom — notice the swirls on the cap, an identifying feature.

If your foraging experience of mushrooms consists of trespassing across grain-fed cow pastures on moonlight nights, then might I suggest looking for the edible ones in broad daylight; it’s much safer. And speaking of the hallucinogenic Psilocybins; one of the deadliest mushrooms in North America called the Deadly Galerina (Galerina spp.) resembles them, and there have been numerous unsuspecting partakers of that forbidden mushroom who accidentaly ate the deadly mushroom instead.

Spore prints are one of numerous ways to investigate the identity of a mushroom, and you can’t identify the color if you can’t see it. You simply place a fresh mature mushroom cap, gills down, on a piece of paper for a day or two allowing it to release its spores. Continue Reading →

America’s Native Bamboo

Mention the word “bamboo” and visions of China, panda bears and exotic jungles readily come to mind for most of us living in the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, the majority of the 1,450 species of true bamboo found throughout the world originate in Southern and Southeastern Asian countries, with a few scattered species found in Africa and the beech forests of Chile in South America.

River or giant cane is the largest and most noticeable of the three native types of bamboo.

Some bamboo species grow more densely than any forest you can imagine and produce giant canes as big around as a small tree, while others are as diminutive as a clump of native big bluestem prairie grass to which all bamboo is related. In fact, bamboo belongs to the true grass family Poaceae which contains some 10,000 recognized species and represents the fifth-largest plant family on Earth.

The United States is home to three very distinct native species of bamboo, which are collectively known as cane.

Native Bamboo: Cane History & Ecology

When the first Europeans set out to explore the New World they encountered massive canebrakes so dense they were nearly impenetrable. These natural obstacles were so massive that explorers had to navigate around them, sometimes for miles. While cane was present in much of the southern and southeastern half of the United States, the largest canebrakes in North America were found along the edges and floodplains of major rivers such as the Mississippi and its tributaries. Continue Reading →

Regional Crops: Preserving Diversity

Regional crops that fed our ancestors and provided a sense of place are disappearing, but some growers and researchers are dedicated to the continuation of these old favorites, refusing to allow them — and our food roots — to disappear.

Jenny Caleo performs a pollination experiment on beach plums.

Whether indigenous or introduced, wild-harvested or cultivated, these food crops at one time held great importance in their various localities. Interest in less commonly known specialty crops is increasing, even while their growing popularity is sometimes accompanied by controversy.

This article will examine four of them.

New England Roots

It goes by many names: Cape White turnip, Westport turnip, Eastham turnip. These names — all taken from New England locales — are used in lieu of its official one: the Macomber rutabaga. Traditionally a part of southern New England Thanksgiving celebrations, this rutabaga is a New England notable, although rutabagas — a hybrid between turnips and wild cabbage — are not native to the United States.

“It’s very similar to parsnips,” said Chris Clegg of Four Town Farm in Seekonk, Massachusetts. “It is not nearly as bitter as purple top rutabagas or bland as yellow rutabagas,” and is quite popular in the region. Continue Reading →

Identifying, Harvesting & Cooking Bamboo

I first read that bamboo is edible in my Army Survival Manual around age 14. That was over 25 years ago when my knowledge of botany was extremely limited. The book said to eat the young shoots, but there were no details or pictures as to what the young shoots look like or the time of year to harvest them.

Various ways of using edible bamboo with cooked hamburger in the internodes.

To an untrained and unsupervised child this meant trying the young twigs on the existing bamboo that grew near a branch behind my home in Sweet Water, Alabama. It was not a pleasant experience because the twigs were bitter and tough; making them unpalatable.

I gave up trying to eat bamboo for years and instead used it to build structures, makeshift arrows for homemade bows and cane fishing poles for unsuspecting bream.

It would be another 20 years or so before I would successfully eat a young bamboo shoot — the way they are intended to be eaten at a very young and tender age as they pop out of the ground in spring. Continue Reading →