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Robert K. Henderson

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Freelance Writer, Editor, Translator, and Photographer

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The Neighborhood Forager

(Excerpts follow.)

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Suburban Forager

A Brief History of Foraging
Foraging Today
What Is A Suburban Wild Edible?
Tools of the Trade
The Invisible Tools
Using and Preserving the Harvest
The Backyard Safari

Sidebars:
What's Wild?
Getting Those Stupid Labels Off

Chapter 2: Ever Eat a Pine Tree? The Resinous Herbs

Pine nuts
Spruce and Company
Juniper

Sidebars:
Freshen Things Up A Bit
Monkey Business
Conifers in the Kitchen

Recipes:
Mediterranean Turkey with Conifer Tips
Spruce Beer
Christmas Tea
Marinade for Strong Meats
Winter Air Freshener

Dyers' Notes and Foraging Advisory

Chapter 3: The Bounty of Broadleaf Trees

Maple
Birch
Hickory
Hawthorn
Beech
Feral Fruits (And Wild Cousins)
Ginkgo
Honey Locust
Walnut
Magnolia
Mulberry
Buckthorn
Willow
Rowan (Mountain Ash)
Linden (Bass, Lime)

Sidebars:
Using Apples in Jams and Jellies
A Death In the Family
Butternut Alert
Pleasant-Smelling Plague

Recipes:
Walnut Pickles
Butternut Ketchup
Japanese Maple Leaf Gelatin Mould
Flu Lawyer
Rowan Jelly
Homemade Apple Pectin
Mulberry Summer Pudding

Dyers' Notes and Foraging Advisory

Chapter 4: The Remarkable Talents of Common Flowers

Flower Lore
Calendula
Chrysanthemum
Dianthus
California Poppy
Daylily
Evening Primrose
Primula
Marigold
Nasturtium
Violets and Pansies

Sidebars:
Getting The Most From Unfamiliar Ingredients
Gathering and Using Flower Petals
Know Your Marigolds

Recipes:
Nasturtium Seed "Caper" Crock
Daylily Tuber Hushpuppies
Marigold Vinegar
Pink Syrup
Crystallised Violets

Dyers' Notes and Foraging Advisory

Chapter 5: Peripheral Vision: Food from Hedges and Ornamentals

Arbutus
Bamboo
Dogwood
Russian Olive
Oregon Grape/Barberry
Sumac
Currents and Gooseberries
Rose
Blackberries and Raspberries
Elder
Succulents
Viburnum

Sidebars: Back Yard Mangoes
Blackberry Precautions
Yeast From a Berry

Recipes:
Cornelian Cherry Sauce
Rose Hip Jelly
Blackberry Syrup
Mulled Blackberry Punch
Sumac Lemonade
Sumac Chicken
Elderflower Cooler

Dyers' Notes and Foragers' Advisory

Chapter 6: The Rites of Spring: Greens and Roots

Collecting Greens and Roots
Amaranth
Burdock
Shepherd's Purse
Lambsquarters and Goosefoot
Chicory
Jerusalem Artichoke
Wild Lettuce and Sow Thistle
Pineapple Weed (Wild Chamomile)
Mint
The Mustards
Prickly Pear
Plantain
Knotweed
Purslane
Sorrel and Dock
Goldenrod
Chickweed
Dandelion
Clover
Nettles

Sidebars:
Cooking With Greens
The Eatin o' the Greens
Grist For the Mill

Recipes:
Velouté d'Asperges Japonaises (Creamy Knotweed Soup)
Japanese Rhubarb Sauce
Sourdough Crêpes Stuffed with Ham and Dock
Stirfried Chickweed
Tortilla Campesina
Fried Greens
Southern Style
Mediterranean Style
Wild Greens Rockefeller
Chinese Colcannon
Fattoush
Dandelion Appetisers
Sautéed Dandelions
Southwestern-style Dandelion Poppers

Dyers' Notes and Foraging Advisory

Glossary

Further reading

Chart: wild edible plants by use

Chart: wild edible plants by seasonal availability

Excerpts:

From Chapter 1:

Wild edibles are "in." Magazines articles are exploring the subject from every angle, from edible garden blossoms to foraging for homebrewing and winemaking ingredients, while continuing education programs increasingly include courses on wild herbs and foods. The cause of this sudden resurgence is no secret; North Americans are seeking simpler, healthier lifestyles, and it's only natural (so to speak) that they turn to the most organic of foods, those that grow without any human intervention at all. A bigger mystery is why so few books address the concerns of the majority of wild food foragers. Though most of the interest is in the suburbs, most guidebooks emphasize rural settings. This book is out to change that. A new kind of guide that emphasizes foraging in one's own neighborhood, it bridges the gap between rural theory and suburban practice.

By taking advantage of little-known or forgotten resources in yards, gardens, and vacant lots, suburban dwellers can enjoy healthy and intriguing new foods, experience environmental dynamics first-hand, and get to know a fascinating, mysterious neighborhood other residents never see.

The conventional view of foraging, as gathering wild food and medicine is called, obscures the fact that suburban areas actually offer richer pickings than more natural environments. The botanical diversity of an established residential neighborhood, with its weeds, intentionally-introduced exotics, and feral or persistent plants, outstrips that of the average forest or meadow. Greater variety means greater opportunity for foragers. Certainly, the suburban environment presents challenges either absent or markedly reduced in rural areas. Chemical contamination is more prevalent, and there are a lot more property lines to deal with. Room for error is scant when surgically removing a dandelion from someone's lawn. But the territory is familiar, the variety superb, and the bounty just beyond the door.

Plant information:

Japanese maple's (Acer palmatum) just-opened leaves are one of suburbia's most surprising wild edibles. These delicate spring greens (if translucent red leaves can truly be called greens) bring stained-glass color and tangy, sorrel-like zip to salads and sandwiches. Floating on a bowl of miso or other clear soup, they become a sort of edible haiku, as much art as entrée...

Evening primrose (Oenothera ssp.) is an important herb to First Nations. Its resilient beauty and food value prompted European colonists to invite evening primrose into their gardens. By the 18th century it was under commercial cultivation as a root crop. But as rail and steam brought mass-marketing, evening primrose lost ground to more widely-recognized Old World crops. Evidently, the customer isn't always right; I doubt many people today would choose a parsnip over the radishy goodness of an evening primrose taproot. Yet parsnips are sold in supermarkets, while evening primroses are often torn out of the ground and pitched on the compost heap...

Landscapers prize Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), another immigrant, for its large four-petalled white or yellow flowers, sometimes tipped with red, as well as its blazing autumn foliage. But they grumble about Kousa's golfball-sized, strawberry-like fruits which litter the ground and squish underfoot in autumn. Kousa balls are sweetish and marshmallow soft when ripe, with a tender, pocked pink skin enclosing orange pulp in which small stones are embedded. Some enjoy this fruit raw, though I find the texture a bit off-putting. Kousa balls make nice sauces and preserves, particularly in company with tart, highly-flavored fruits, though some don't take well to cooking and should be used raw. A bit of experimentation will determine how best to use local fruit...

Identifying pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides) is a snap. Nothing else looks like it. More importantly, nothing else smells like it. Pineapple weed is a scrubby little plant whose leaves are so narrow they look like the feathery branches left after some insect has gnawed the tender parts away. Its flowers are pineapple-shaped cones without obvious petals. Their fluorescent avocado color, made famous by a million sofas in the 1970s, stands out against the equally unnatural sea green of the alleged foliage. Whether the common name comes from these groovy flowers, or the fact that the plant smells like pineapple when crushed, is a matter for debate. In any case, pineapple weed's overall appearance is more that of an aquatic than a terrestrial plant...

Recipes:

Elderflower Champagne
Makes about a gallon

12 cups plus 4 cups water
3 cups sugar
6 or 7 average-sized elderflower clusters
2 tablespoons cider or berry vinegar
3 lemons, thinly sliced

Pour 12 cups of water into a large pot, cover, and bring to a rolling boil. Allow the water to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove it from heat and dissolve the sugar in it. Pour this syrup into a sterilized, nonreactive bucket or crock and allow it to cool to room temperature before adding the 12 cups boiled water (also cooled to room temperature) and the rest of the ingredients. Stir, then cover loosely. Allow the mixture to ferment undisturbed for four days in a slightly warm place, such as atop the refrigerator.

Strain the liquid through wet muslin into sterilized plastic soda bottles and screw the caps down firmly. (Sterilize the bottles by rinsing in a weak bleach solution and then rinsing again with clean water.) Store in a cool, dark place for at least a week. Carbon dioxide produced by continuing fermentation causes pressure to build up in the bottles, which in turn causes the gas to dissolve in the liquid. Progress can be monitored by pressing on the bottles, which become harder as the pressure builds. When the bottles are rock-hard, they should be stored in the refrigerator until use. (Elderflower champagne only keeps a few months.) They should be moved as little as possible to avoid stirring up sediment and interfering with the carbonation process. Particulates may form in the champagne during fermentation, but they are both harmless and tasteless.

Sautéed Dandelions
Makes about two dozen

1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon each thyme, marjoram, sage, and paprika
salt to taste
3 tablespoons oil

Thoroughly blend the dry ingredients and spread the mixture on a dinner plate. Place the plate and the blossoms near the stove. Swirl the oil into a frying pan and heat over medium heat, until a pinch of flour sizzles and browns.

Use a fork to roll five or six dandelion blossoms in the flour mixture. (They should be dewy from rinsing, but not wet.) Then drop them into the hot oil. Sauté lightly until golden, generally a minute or so.

Turn the fried blossoms onto newspapers or paper towels and pop them into a warm oven.

Repeat with the rest of the blossoms, replenishing the oil as necessary.

Serve hot.

Marigold Vinegar
Makes about 3 cups

4 cups cider vinegar
1 cup Tagetes marigold petals, packed (about 2 cups whole blossoms)
1 teaspoon dried orange peel, or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh
1 teaspoon dried lemon peel, or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh

Pour the vinegar into a nonreactive pan and bring briefly to a boil.

Reduce heat to its lowest point. Add the peel and marigold petals. Warm the mixture over low heat for one hour. (Do not boil.)

Strain the infusion through wet muslin, then pour it into a sterilized wine bottle. (To sterilize, place two teaspoons of bleach in the bottom, half-fill the bottle with water, shake well, and drain.) Cork securely.

Store this and other flavored vinegars in a cool, dark place.

Rose Hip Jelly
Makes about 3 pints

3 cups fresh rose hips, washed and blossom end removed
1/2 pound underripe cooking apples, chopped (about 4 medium-sized pie apples, or 12 crabapples; if apples are unavailable, commercial pectin can be used instead)
2 cups sugar
water

Place the rose hips and apples in a nonreactive pan and cover them with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for about half an hour, until the fruit is soft. Allow it to cool to handling temperature, then mash it in the water. Cover the pan and allow the pulp to steep 6 hours or overnight.

Strain the juice through a square of wet muslin, then tie the pulp up inside and allow it to drip for several hours. Return the juice to the pan, bring it to a boil and add the sugar. Reduce heat until a vigorous simmer can be maintained without boiling over. Cook, stirring constantly, until a spoon test indicates the juice is ready to jell.

Skim off the foam that forms on the top, pour the syrup into hot, sterilized jars, and seal.

Copyright 2003 by Robert K. Henderson


Email: rkhen@softhome.net



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