Here’s the Shrub

The last couple of summers, I have been lucky enough to be invited out to Rose Ranch to pick wild blackberries. Last summer was no different. Well — it was different, in a big way, because Rose Ranch had just lost Don Rose. As I headed out toward the brambles, there was a muffled quiet like when you navigate a crowded space while wearing ear plugs. It was as though the ranch was observing silence at the loss of its caretaker. I pondered what Vicki might be going through and quietly, meditatively picked the berries from the thorny vines that snagged my shirt and jeans. I felt grateful for the opportunity to be in Don’s domain while mourning his absence. We miss you, Don.

I picked several pounds of blackberries. I ate more than my share of raw berries, froze some for a future crisp, and decided to experiment with blackberry-infused vinegar to make a drinking vinegar, known as a “shrub.” The color and flavor of the berries leached into the white vinegar as it sat in the cupboard for almost one month. To the strained vinegar, I added sugar and simmered it to make a syrup, which is used to flavor carbonated water. Refreshing! Bracing! Add some spirits, if you wish.

Advertisements

Plenty

Some friends went hiking in southwest Oklahoma Labor Day weekend and picked about two 5-gallon buckets of prickly pear fruit. I got to help make jelly, as well as a big mess!
IMG_4320IMG_4347
IMG_4328
We had a jolly assembly line going: singe the spines off the fruit, quarter the fruit, puree, strain. And things got progressively sillier, due to Nancy‘s prickly pear juice cocktails.
IMG_4346IMG_4356
pb&j
PB & (prickly pear) J

Preserving Spring

Tuesday night I picked wild onion from my front yard. Or maybe it’s wild garlic? I can’t find a definitive answer. Anyone? Then I made a wild onion/garlic omelet for supper. I cooked it all in a smidgen of smoked jowl fat I scooped from the jelly jar stored in the frig. I am certain said smidgen was responsible for elevating the entire experience. Dregs of boxed wine accompanied the meal.

I think I planted the wild onion/garlic a couple of springs ago after I collected some on one of Jackie Dill’s foraging walks. Or maybe I got it at the Friendship Seed Exchange? So much doubt in this post. But I am certain of this: Freshly mowed wild garlic or onion is one of spring’s most delicious scents, despite the inherent waste.

wild garlicwild garlicwild garlic omelet

I cleaned up after supper (I’m trying to get better about cleaning as I go) and started on wild onion kimchi. But was it onions or garlic? And did it matter? I combined my puzzling odorous bulbs with several bundles of freegan limp green onions and — viola!  — wildish Allium kimchi!
onion kimchi

Gleanings

It’s been so long since I’ve posted anything, it took me a while to remember my password. So, hello, there. It’s been a while. Here’s some of the stuff that’s been keeping me busy: making ginger soda, killing roosters at Hill Farm, harvesting arrowroot and Jerusalem artichokes at Rose Ranch, fermenting kimchi and sauerkraut, picking persimmons, scarfing down homemade turkey pastrami and corned beef, picking pecans, exploring Oklahoma’s fall color, enjoying many potlucks with my dear friends and family, and pondering the point of this site. I haven’t come up with any answers about the latter, but I will elaborate on some of the former in the coming days. How about I start with the persimmons?

Pickin' persimmonsI’m enamored with the persimmon:
its brittle leaves like clover, its skin a wintery sunset

My generous neighbor, Anthony, shares his persimmons with me. After I noticed the trees in his yard last year, I included his house was on my walking route until I finally caught him outside. It’s a tricky thing, asking for permission to glean. It might be perceived as invasive and aggressive, but when well received, it can be an opportunity to create community. Anthony is the only person I’ve approached and luckily it went well. He has no interest in his persimmons, and was slightly amused by my enthusiasm.

Persimmons are still novel to me: I’m not sure I was aware of their existence before I moved to Oklahoma. Or maybe I was, but thought they were from some exotic land. (That land turned out to be Oklahoma and one of my goals from 2009 was to see a persimmon tree in person. Check!) Also, limited accessibility contributes to the persimmon’s novelty. They don’t ripen very well on the counter; ideally they are harvested at their peak, which means they are so soft they completely give under slight pressure, and they are so heavy and tender, they are barely hanging on to the tree.

The skin is edible and has a crystalline texture on the tongue. You can use it as a bowl to scoop out the creamy meat, which is best described as pudding. I made an actual pudding with persimmon purée, but I think the unadulterated form is better. If you have a good recipe, please share.

Handpicked

Last Saturday I got up early, picked up Julie and we headed to Rose Ranch to hunt for sand plums. (Two consecutive Saturdays of foraging!) We found only a handful of those, but were rewarded with loads of wild blackberries! The thorns snagged my clothes and skin — and I still have some splinters I could use some help with — but it was all worth it!

I bet we gathered at least 10 pounds, and they were the most precious berries ever. Not only because blackberries are expensive, but because we picked them ourselves on Don and Vicki’s beautiful land where they raise grass-fed beef. After a couple of hours of picking, but not even close to exhausting the blackberry canes, we got hungry and hot and went for lunch at Braum’s, waded and lounged at Arcadia Lake, followed by the Porch Mice and pizza at Sauced on Paseo. What a day!*

On Sunday Julie made a couple of blackberry cobblers to feed those Porch Mice, and I enjoyed wild blackberry compote crepes for breakfast, made a small batch of jam, and froze whole berries for some future dessert.
wild blackberries at Rose Ranchwild blackberries at Rose Ranchwild blackberries at Rose Ranch
wild blackberries at Rose Ranch
wild blackberries at Rose Ranchwild blackberries at Rose Ranch
wild blackberry compote crepewild blackberry jam
Rose Ranch

*This post required much restraint. I wanted to punctuate every sentence with an exclamation point. That’s how much fun this day was!

Show and Tell

I’m repeating myself when I say foraging might be the perfect pastime, but that realization is one of those persistent happy thoughts. Wilderness, hiking, food — all things I love. Jackie Dill’s foraging walks have become an annual opportunity to meet interesting people and continue learning about Oklahoma’s wild edibles, as well as techniques for cooking and preserving them. And of course, there’s always delicious food at the post-walk potluck.
Here’s a show-and-tell from the June 2 outing that focused on medicinal uses of wild plants:

Jackie explaining uses for wild sage
Jackie shows the group prairie sage, which can be used to make smudge sticks, scent bath water, or to replace culinary sage. It’s a ubiquitous prairie plant that’s easy to identify, and it smells wonderful, as you might expect.
Jackie is a busy woman. I met her in 2008 when she hosted one foraging walk per year. This year there have been at least four at-capacity walks, and she is organizing next month’s wildcrafting festival.
Untitled
Beautiful Logan County
pleurisy root/butterfly bush
Pleurisy root/butterfly weed is the host plant for monarch larva and a nectar source for the butterfly. After the blossoms have wilted, you can pulverize the dry root, and use it as an expectorant tea.
buffalo gourd
Look closely: There’s a buffalo gourd in the center of the photo.
Vicki and Don foraging buffalo currant
Vicki and Don dug some buffalo currant to plant at Rose Ranch.
buffalo currant
Buffalo currants in June
Buffalo Currant
Buffalo currant blossoms in April
foraging caravan
The foraging caravan
Sarah picking sand plums
Sarah Warmker picks sand plums.
lead plant
Like a lot of things we identified on the foraging walk, lead plant can be used in tea form, but I don’t remember which part or for which ailment. Oh, well! I sure like the look of it.
bergamot/bee balm
Bee balm/wild bergamot. The dried petals and leaves are used as a tea, or blended with tea leaves. Jackie warned against using bergamot essential oil, or for that matter, any essential oils. I’m looking forward to learning more about this at the festival.

prickly lettuce
Young prickly lettuce leaves can be eaten in salads.

Foraging basics:
Before ingesting a positively identified plant, rub the plant on your cheek or inner forearm to check for sensitivity.
Leave no trace.
Leave enough for others and to ensure another growing season.

Blog entries from previous walks: 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Perfect Conditions

IMG_1047Genus: Morchella
Species: esculenta, means “good to eat”

The fungus requires a near-perfect combination of temperature and moisture at just the right season if it is to produce abundantly.

Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Food Field Guide on morels

Ideal conditions produced a bountiful morel season in central Oklahoma. My Facebook feed has been peppered with friends excitedly documenting their finds, just as I did Saturday after returning from a foraging trip.

My friend Matt led me through brambles of greenbrier and poison ivy as we crouched, crawled and peered along the forest floor in pursuit of morels. Everything covered — save face, neck and hands — to protect from the ticks that still managed to get me. Despite all that, I still found myself thankful the morels provided a challenge: I loved the effort put forth for this fleeting, funky-looking fungus. I also enjoyed being in the forest, appreciating it at a large and small scale.

Other than vegetable gardening, I rarely obtain my food from its source — from its origination, without middlemen. I relished this chance to forage morels and turn them into a meal a mere hours later. I imagine hunting or fishing, and to some extent ranching and farming, must elicit the same feelings of self-satisfaction and thankfulness for nature’s provisions.

But back to the hunt: Foraging requires a trained eye, and it seems even more challenging when you’re looking for that one specific thing. It was like I was very aware of the space between actual seeing and the realization of what I was seeing. My brain wanted so badly to see the honeycomb-like fungus emerging from the leaf-covered humus, and my eyes were straining to make it so. This awareness was intensified when Matt, aka Eagle Eyes, would excitedly announce his finds. What?! Where? Meanwhile, he’s loading his bag. As he said, his is a trained eye, and I’m thankful he shared his spot and knowledge with me. It rained this week, so hopefully I can get more practice and take advantage of these perfect conditions.
IMG_1048
red dirt girl
The greenbrier thorns got me through my jeans. And check out that red dirt!
bag o' morelsIMG_1055
morels!
Morels simply sautéed in butter are amazing.