Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dryad's Saddles

Are pretty good utility mushrooms.  And plentiful...just when we're searching for morels (the Holy Grail of culinary mushrooms). According to the many bits of research I've uncovered, these polypores which grow on wood, were imagined to be saddles for the wood-sprites.  If you find young ones, you'll see why.  Or, in my case, great big COMFY ones, like those shown below.

I first noticed these ubiquitous mushrooms last spring when searching for morels with my good friends Stephanie and Mike.  The one I brought home last year was past prime, but gave me a taste (literally) of what they had to offer.

During my walk yesterday, I found scads of them, from tiny buds to HUGE specimens, like this (a generous "saddle" indeed!):

That's Mike.  Outdoorsman-extraordinaire.
DISCLAIMER: Always be absolutely sure before you eat ANY mushroom.  Check.  Check again.  And again.  If in doubt, throw it out.  Don't rely on me to clear them for you.

And that's the bottom Dryad's Saddle of the two Mike was posing with.  Looks more like a tractor seat to me! Note: don't bother harvesting if they're this large. My mistake.
Though I did harvest this large mushroom, I was only able to use the outside 3" of it.  Those below, also large, were equally disappointing.  They're simply too tough when they're large.

Here are some little sweethearts!  Small and fresh.

Bottom View
When they're small and tender, Dryad's saddles are good utility mushrooms.  I follow Steve Brill's (literal) rule of thumb: If you can dig into the flesh with your thumbnail, it's good to harvest.  I also follow his method of preparation.  I marinated mine for 24 hours, and had a lovely dinner tonight.  Thanks, Steve! 

Mikey with morels.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Semi-foraged Dinner: Nettle, Shrimp (!) and Ramp Frittata with Goat-Milk and Farm Egg Custard

A Keeper
So, you already have most of the ingredients, but here's the official list:

Bacon (browned)

       Start with the bacon. I used about 1/6 of a pound, cut in 1"chunks.  Fry it up, pull out the bacon, reserve the fat.  Saute the following in the bacon fat:
Nettles (blanched then sauteed in bacon fat)
Shrimp (~1/2 cup sauteed in bacon fat)
Ramps (small amount, sauteed, et al)
Sweet Peppers (small amount, sauteed, et al)

        When all is tender, transfer to a colander and press out the liquid.  Transfer the mixture to a well-buttered glass pie pan, then add the mixture that follows:

Eggs (2-3)
Goat Milk, 1 cup (or cow milk, if that's the way you roll!)
      Beat these together, and set aside.

Cheese (I used a rather salty farmer's cheese sparingly, and a Lancaster cheddar), approx. 1 cup, to taste.
seasoning (I used pepper only, because the cheese was salty and I wanted to taste the veggies.): Sprinkle evenly over the shrimp/veggie mix, then soak with the egg and milk mixture.

Bake at 350 for ~ 45 minutes, or until the custard is firm and rises.  Remove from oven and let set for 15 minutes before cutting.

As my students would type: OMG!

As I would type: YUM!

Try It!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Two-WordsThursday: Morels!


Monday, April 25, 2011

The Lower 40....(feet)

I am an Urban Homesteader.  Here's the urban part:  my yard. 

In your mind, splice these together.  That's my yard.

And then the shared side yard:

No, that's not snow: it's Bradley Pear blossoms, imitating snow!
And Pierre off on an adventure.
Yes, it's small...but mighty.  Here's what I have planted.

Clockwise from where I'm now sitting at the picnic table, starting with the porch container: sage, thyme, rosemary. oregano, tomato starts, broccoli start, lavendar, cherry tomatoes, spinach, passion flower, comfrey, tansy, basil, mesclun lettuce, red tipped lettuce, radishes, lemon grass, kale, heirloom yellow pear tomatoes, chrysanthemums, chamomile, hosta, ferns, lemon balm, cleavers, red cap mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, maiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, reishi mushrooms, horseradish, collard greens, sweet peas, loofah vine, garlic, parsley, tarragon, more herbs already mentioned, turban squash, butternut squash, pattypan squash, strawberries, rhubarb, sweet woodruff, feverfew, spearmint, more kale, moon flower, Jerusalem artichokes, possibly elderberry (don't know if they made it), clematis, peppermint, more strawberries, 3 cans of potatoes, wisteria, pennyroyal, chocolate mint, Clio dandelion, purslane, pineapple mint, ginger mint, chives, lemon thyme, buttercrunch lettuce, small pie pumpkins, (we're heading down the narrows now) more redcap mushrooms, asparagus, upland cress, beebalm, butterfly bush...and I'm sure I forgot some.  The three trees are ornamental, but they attract birds, who eat the bugs, and provide shade in the summer, so I'll keep them.  I've removed a few that were crowding these.  I do miss the two paper birch trees we had in the back; the Japanese beetles got them in their entirety a few years ago, and they died, so they had to be removed.
Herbs and Compost Bucket on my Grill-prep Island

Feverfew Run Amok..Mint, Kale, Moon Flower, Jerusalem Artichokes
Trumpet Vine, Clematis

Potatoes and Clio Bed

Aromatic Mints and Medicinal Herbs

The Container Garden

Mushroom Logs, Redcap Bed, Horseradish and Butternut Squash, Culinary Herbs at Base

The View from the Alley

Frankie and Pierre
I just wish we could bring the kids home.  But we can't. And that's what puts the ban in urban. Unless you're really sneaky, and they're really small. And it's too cold in the barn for the babies ;)

The Herd, a Month or So Ago.  Time Flies.

And that's all she wrote.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


No, it's not just a topping for crustless toast, served at highbrow teas.  Watercress is a fresh, wild vegetable that makes a hearty addition to a foraged spring meal.

Swamps = Fountains of Life

Spring-Fed Goodness

The Cress
 When I was a little girl, my father used to come to the stream opposite this little swamp to catch minnows.  I remember how he'd set up his big kick net, then send me upstream to chase them down to him.  I've been visiting this spring-fed swamp for almost 50 years.
At one point, in my early childhood, someone kept a fenced area on the hill above it, where they held some white deer.  Those deer are long gone, but the spring remains.
In the green run-off, the watercress faithfully grows wild every spring.  Someone kindly brings palettes for the pickers, and lays them out strategically.
I gather a few bags each time I visit.  It rapidly replenishes itself if you just twist off the top few inches.

Rinsing the cress
My friend David tells the story of enjoying his first watercress salad of the season, only to find a snail attached, so I make sure to give the watercress a good rinse before storing.  Those of us who forage our wild foods know that we share them with all sorts of living creatures.  I try not to eat those critters in the process.

My first watercress meal of the season will be a potato, ramp and watercress soup, made with organic chicken broth and raw milk, and garnished with local bacon.  I'd call that a hearty spring meal!

Cream of Potato, Ramp and Watercress Soup. 
Oh, Yeah!
4 cups of chopped ramps
4 cups of cubed red potatoes
4 slices of bacon
4 cups of chopped watercress
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup of heavy cream

In a Dutch Oven, cook the bacon intil crisp.  Remove it and hold until later.  Add potatoes, ramps and cress to the pot, then saute until the greens are cooked.  Add the chicken broth, and simmer until the potatoes are soft. (I used a stick blender at this point to make the pieces smaller). Reduce temperature and add cream, them heat through.  Season with salt, as needed. Pour into bowls, and garnish with bacon and yogurt. Yummmmmmmmmm.  Welcome spring.


The Stream
This is the day I wait for all year: my first ramp-hunt.  Now, I happen to have a tried-and-true, secret spot that I return to each year, but if you're looking for one of your own, try forested stream banks.  They seem to like a mixture of sandy soil and dark soil, but they definately like moisture.

A Ramp Riot
What's a ramp, you ask?  It's a wild growing allium, which you must recognize as a member of the onion or garlic family.  Also known as wild leeks, ramps offer a powerful blend of both the onion and garlic flavors.  A little goes a long way, so only pick what you'll use. They can be chopped and frozen, or pickled (though I haven't tried this).  Best of all, ramps are one of the first wild vegetables available in the spring, and the entire plant is usable. 

They look like Lily of the Valley.  DO NOT EAT LILY OF THE VALLEY!
When you begin to dig your ramps, you should notice that distinctive garlic-onion smell immediately.  I use a narrow gardening trowel to insert under the root, and lift it, as I use both the root and the leaf.  Smell those ramps; there's no mistaking them!  

Skunk Cabbage is Often Present at Ramp Sites

Nature provides us with such beauty.  I'd wear this fungus like jewelry.  But I digress.

Ramps in a Basket
Take your ramps home, and give them a good bath to soak the remaining soil from their roots.

Each ramp root is covered with a thin membrane.  Simply push it forward...

To reveal your clean white ramp root.  Then snip it off.  A ramp bris.
That's all the preparation your ramps will need, initially.

Final Bath
When the ramps are all trimmed, give them a final rinse, then put them in a plastic bag or covered dish in the fridge.  When you've had enough fresh-ramp dining, chop the rest, and freeze in small portions for use over the winter.  There's nothing like the taste of ramps in the winter to remind you of spring!  They really liven up your winter root dishes!

Wash Water
Save all that rinse water for your garden.  The remaining soil can't hurt!  And since there's no soap or oil, it's perfectly fine for watering your cultivated veggies. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pass-over the Bucklings

Dear God, Goddess, Powers-That-Be,

Bless the bucklings.
Accept our thanks for your little bucks, and
For the contributions they’ll make to the lives of others.

Let them find comfort and compassion
Gentleness and release from fear
As they fulfill the destinies you have set for them.

We commend them into your hands and heart.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


As some of you know, I refrain from blogging about my teaching experiences.  I've been having lots of them lately; mostly good, some not so good (due to the tension caused by budget cuts).  Right now, the good outweigh the stressful, so I'm living on that, day-to-day.  Just understand: if I'm not writing, I'm wrapped up in either my teaching, or my grad class ( "Intro. to Research", which has been awesome, by the way!).  I expect my schedule to ease up shortly.  I'll be back!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Nettles: My First Forage of the Spring

The Nettles
 The nettles I know live near a stream, on a low-lying flood plain.  I've known other nettles in the past, which also lived near water.  This may be because they like the moist land; or, it may be because that's where I walk and get nosy about the indigenous plants.  At any rate, if you're not careful, you'll never forget where they meet you the first time.  They can sting!  They have tiny little hypodermic hairs that deliver a nice dose of an irritant that will make you remember!  There are a few ways to deal with the burn: you can enjoy it (if you're a masochist), you can enjoy the relief from arthritis (if you have it and the pain distracts you), you can apply some dock, plantain or jewelweed (if you know what they look like), or you can cry and never go near it again.  I do NOT recommend the last option, because once tamed, nettles are a healthy and delicious addition to a forager's diet.
        Once you've identified them, wear gloves to gather them in the field.  I wore a glove on one hand and held my scissor in the other, and that worked well for me.  If your nettles are plentiful, just snip off the top section of the plant (4 leaves and stem) for the most tender dinner.

Nettles Soaking
  Wear rubber gloves to wash your nettles.  Transfer them to a pot of rapidly boiling, salted water to blanch them (for about 2 - 3 minutes), then plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking.  That'll take care of those stingers!  At this point, you can spin or towel them dry, and freeze them for later, or go on to prepare them like any other cooked green.

Chopped Nettles
 My original plan was to make some nettle noodles, but I ran out of time, so I decided to saute them with a few other greens I had on hand.  First, dandelion (I weeded the garden that day).

My Favorite Spring Plant: Dandelion

Dandelion Root: I Chop It, and Dry It for Tea

The Emerging Meal
 I added a handful of chopped kale to the nettle and dandelion mix, and sauteed it all in butter.  It needed a bit of moisture, so I used a splash of organic chicken broth.  There were a few leftover shrimp in the fridge, so they were tossed in, too. 

The Final Dish
And then, just for the color, I added a few chopped sweet red peppers,  Very festive!  And very delicious!  Peter and I both loved this dish.  I'll make it again. I can't wait to gather some more nettles!  Next stop: nettle pasta!