Monday, February 7, 2011

Summer Foraging Aspirations to beat the Winter Doldrums

There is still more snow falling on south east Michigan today. After falling into a snowdrift that was higher than my waist yesterday (and floundering around like a fool for a good thirty seconds before freeing myself) I have officially decided that this is enough snow. It's thickly draping over everything, and it's just deep enough to make morning chores difficult. With the addition of new snow I'm positive I'm going to have to shovel paths to the wood pile, sheep barn and the duck coop. Don't get me wrong; I love snow. I love to look at it, play in it and even do chores in it as long as I'm not constantly straining myself. The problem with being a gardener in winter though is that no matter how much you love snow, when it comes to February you've always got the tickle of anticipation in the back of your head - When is it going to happen, the first green of spring?

In order to quell my antsy itchy gardening aspirations, I decided to use the internet to learn some more about the crazy things I'd like to try this season.

One of the biggest interests I have beyond my formal garden is foraging wild foods. When I was a child I used to forage plantain, sorrel, clover petals, violets and daylily buds. I was totally that little girl who would be playing in the yard with a friend and say "Dare me to eat this?" knowing full well that not only would it be safe to eat, it would taste good as well. My friends thought I was so cool (or so I thought.. heh.)

I'm being kind of roundabout, but really what I'm getting at is that I want to forage more this summer. Our yard is full of volunteer edibles: dandelions, purslane, common plantain, garlic mustard (drat!), violets, wild grape, nettles, wild rose... They're everywhere! While reading up on foragables, I decided to read up on recipes for them as well. Most of the edibles are pretty much fancy "salad accoutrements", best for munching fresh with a simple vinaigrette. While I love a good flavorful salad, I really would love to find other ways to enjoy foraged foods year round through preserving.

Somehow I've managed to come up with several new recipes I'd like to try this summer just by wandering aimlessly through foraged food websites.

  • How to make Violet Jam - This recipe will be perfect for the late spring violets that carpet pretty much everything here. I love the idea of making violet-something jam, maybe violet-blackberry? Not only are violets delicious (violet pastilles were a favorite of mine as a child) but they are used to make a fantastic cough syrup.

  • Making Wild Grape Jelly - I had no idea that wild fox grapes could be used like their cultivated European cousins. This really should've have occurred to me before now, but I guess I never really though about it. I often snacked on the little berries as a kid, but I never realized you could gather them and make jellies and wines out of them. A family friend has also mentioned they used to gather wild grapes to make communion wine, which I find absolutely fascinating.

  • Making Jelly Candy from the blog Coconut & Lime - This recipe is a dream come true for me. I have always loved jelly candies and upon finding this recipe I was immediately struck by it's adaptability. Instead of using raspberry extract you could pretty much use anything. My plan is to make violet jellies, substituting the water and extract in this recipe with a boiled violet syrup similar to that made while making violet jam, above.

  • Flower Jelly - This final recipe is what drove home the adaptability of all things jelly and jam. To be able to take the sweet musky nectary flavor of fresh clover and capture it in a jelly for morning tea seems like it's too good to be true. Of course, it might not taste the way I imagine at all. It could taste absolutely dreadful, but I'm willing to give it a shot!

So does anyone else out there forage for food? What do you forage and do you preserve it?
Is anyone else out there as excited about a recipe for jelly candies??


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