As we all adjust to the current social, economic, and physiological landscape, it seems that we are on heightened alert as to how we can support our local businesses, keep our families engaged and challenged, and expand our own horizons. My family has pledged to eat out twice weekly to help keep our beloved grub hubs afloat. As for the other two challenges, I offer a commonly overlooked pastime; foraging. Each Easter Sunday, I have begun a new tradition of constructing a salad of entirely foraged ingredients. It has become one of my favorite springtime rituals.
Here in the Piedmont, everyone has heard of the local delicacy to be found in wild morel mushrooms. It is helpful to seek the advice of someone familiar with morels and mycology, as consuming false morels, or any other species of toxic mushroom will certainly incite regret on many levels. Immature fiddlehead ferns are another well known, and easily identified delectable, but should be cooked before chowing down. Dandelions, although commonly viewed as a nuisance, are delicious. The entire plant is edible, with the leaves tasting something like arugula when included in salads. Wild watercress is readily found along Goose Creek and other waterways. Recently, some dear friends gifted us with several handfuls of the peppery, crisp goodness that is found in this green. Wild violets are edible, with the greens being extremely high in both vitamins A and C. The amethyst blooms are striking as a topping for almost any dish. Speaking of beautiful blooms, redbuds are another mouth-watering local flora. The buds are delicious either fresh (they taste like young sweet peas), or pickled (1 part white vinegar, 1 part water, 1 tbsp of pickling salt). If you choose to pickle them, be sure to process the blooms before they open; otherwise they will fall apart in the brine. With hostas popping up everywhere, I would be remiss if I did not mention how delicious they are sautéed in butter. Once the leaves have erupted from the soil, but before they unfurl, harvest them and prepare as you would asparagus. They are similar in texture as well as taste. Local wood sorrel would be another welcome addition to many dishes. The leaves offer a bright, almost citrusy flavor, and are very high in beta carotene.
Given the topic of this month’s reading, I thought that I would offer my Easter Foraged Salad recipe. Please note that quantities are certainly up for interpretation!
1 large handful watercress
1 large handful dandelion greens
10-12 hosta leaves (hostons), immature and unfurled, blanched, roasted and chilled
Local baby pea shoots and/or wood sorrel leaves
1/3 cup of pickled redbuds
1/3 cup of wild violets
8-10 dandelion blooms
Crumpled local MILD goat cheese
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste
Toss everything together. Drizzle with grapeseed or truffle oil, fresh lemon juice, and an extra crack of pepper. If the desired whisk a small bit of good Dijon mustard in with the oil and lemon juice.
Foraging has proven to be a fun, engaging, and evolving pastime for this new dad, and I cannot wait to include my toddler twins in my efforts. My personal goal is to add one new foraged dish for each season every year. In addition to the gustatory benefits of wild edibles, many have medicinal benefits as well. Broadleaf plantain, although not the most beautiful plant, is entirely edible, and is also extremely high in vitamin K, which assists in clotting blood. Purple dead nettle is a prolific example of a delicious, healthy, and easily identifiable wild edible. This plant is found all over our region, and offers a savory, clean flavor, as well as acting as an astringent and diuretic. I want to challenge you, my cherished readers, to take advantage of this “downtime,” do a little homework, and start looking for what delectables may be growing in your back yard. Happy hunting!!!
Thank you for reading. I will see you in the field. –Nick