Thursday, November 17, 2011

NPR hen nut special post

The other day on my annual fall visit to Mt Auburn Cemetery, in search of a chicken mushroom and some chinese chestnuts, I instead found a load of ginkgo nuts and the right type of pine tree for pine nuts. Not too much new to report on the ginkgo nuts, except to mention that if you are going to gather them and then jump in a friend's car, be careful not to step on any of the blue cheese-smelling fruits that surround the nut (the one nearest my fingertips in the picture). Blue cheese is being kind...these guys smell BAD.

The pine nuts were an exciting find, although the excitement wore off when I got home and cracked them open, getting quite sticky, only to recover 11 nuts. All the others were blanks. But, the ones that weren't were tasty! Here they are, all 11 of them. My Italian houseguest at the time ate about 6 of them.

And in case you missed the action about 1 month ago, hens were everywhere. I had gathered so many in early October that by late October I had assumed they were all done. Then I got a call from Brian in NY who had just stumbled upon some in a Brooklyn cemetery. Of course, I then had to get out of my cozy reading situation and venture out before dark. Not really expecting to find any right in the city, I took my best guess and headed towards Brookline, took a left down a street I never go down, and whoomp, double-take, brakes, 4 huge hens. I couldn't even take them all. Hen pickles, frozen hens, plenty of stir fries and them some. Two giants below:

These days...burdock and evening primrose are keeping my rice and lentils happy at lunchtime.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A day in Jamaica Plain

It's Kousa Dogwood season and this is a good year for them. After stats class at Harvard last night (which I am barely following, but I find the nerd level entertaining) I noticed a great kousa (there are lots in Harvard yard) right next to my bike so I loaded up.

I've basically given up trying to get other people to enjoy this fruit. I guess the skin wigs people out. Maybe it's because I eat kiwis with the skin on that I'm used to it. Or because I'm stubborn and have decided to like all foraged food.

This was anna's last weekend here. Another person moving through the revolving doors of Cambridge. She was here for a while and was a good seed. Never a bad word for anyone. Here she is with rob and ZARAH under an apple tree by J.P. pond.

An anna creation.

The apples looked runty but were good, especially the red ones that we shook down. Not quite like shaking mulberries down, but, effective nonetheless. Some guy came whipping by us during this and proceeded, in the span of about 3 minutes, to enlighten us on protein content of apples, paw paws, how many people the earth can sustain, according to his own calculations (less than 1 billion), and that there are 4 amino acids. Interestingly, he told us about paw paws and about Peter's hill in the arboretum, where there were lots of apples (worst protein food there is, said he), but he didn't know that there were in fact two paw paw trees over there, which we were heading to. I told him, but I don't think he listened. The paw paws were perfect for eating and we gathered and munched a bunch. Bad year for the quince though, there were almost none. But I grabbed some of the small ones from the flowering quince shrubs, and will see if they are any good in a jam.

After a brief pitstop at the Ukranian club (Andrew, a friend of anna's, is Ukranian), we headed over to the old Franklin park zoo. With all the rain and stories coming in from the boston mycological club, I was on the high lookout for hens. And sure enough, even in over-picked Franklin park I spotted a few. Which of course made my day because hens are great. I saw some for sale at the Cambridgeport farmer's market the other day. Forgetting to take a picture in situ, I propped this guy by another oak tree for a photo, and flipped a piece over to reveal an identifying characteristic of the fungus: brown on top, white underneath. Later the next night, spicy potato, mushroom, pasta soup.

In totally unrelated news, today is the first patient treatment using the MCO software I've been working towards for the past 7 years. A big day for IMRT treatment planning!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Are those autumn olive flowers in your jar?

Yep! I've working on infusing all sorts of stuff in vodka for P.U.B. - the latest spinoff of hot potato. P.U.B. is, a party we are planning where all the drinks are cocktails made from local infusions. Rhubarb, elderflowers (if I can find any), autumn olive flowers, hawthorn flowers, horehound, etc.

Over the past few weeks, lots of poke and milkweed to be had. I've come to like pokeweed a lot more than milkweed, although milkweed's plus is that it offers more edible parts as the year progresses.

Urban Milkweed

Urban Pokeweed

I took the Fung Wa to NYC this weekend, and the Lucky Star back. Brian and Jordan had a great party. Who says vegans can't barbecue? Brian grilled up old but reliable chicken mushroom. We just reconstituted it since its 6 months in the freezer left it a bit dry, then soaked it in BBQ sauce, and it was pretty darn good.

Watching the black locust flowers cover the trees along the highway was painful. I hoped the rest areas would have them, but they didn't. However, the rest area on the way home, just off Rt 84 in Connecticut, had a nice outcropping of wild grapes, which we stuffed last night for hot potato 4, coming up this Friday. I also got a veggie burger and fries at BK because I couldn't stop myself. Whatever addictive substance BK throws into their whoppers etc, they throw in the veggie burger as well.

I did some foraging yesterday in East Boston/Winchester. The foraging wasn't great, but the bike ride was. You jump on the blue line, jump off 5 stops later, and it feels like you've just started your vacation on the Jersey shore. It is so different over there. Deer Island is beautiful too, and I learned from one of the signs there that they process the waste from over 1/2 the people living in Massachusetts. That's crazy stuff. I ate some curly dock from Deer Island. Also crazy.

Monday, May 16, 2011


It's milkweed and pokeweed season. Pokeweed in my opinion is the far better of the two, but alas, on the way to work today, taking the railroad track route to hopefully find some pokeweed, all I found was lots of milkweed. This is about the sketchiest of all habitats that I "urban forage" (most of my urban foraging is done in nicer places, along rivers, in parks, etc. Railroad tracks through industrial Cambridge I consider more quintessential urban foraging).

But, already ate them for lunch, along with a big wollop of tansy just to try that out. Let's say they went down, but I won't be recording the recipe for the ages.

Some pics here
of the foraging tour from Saturday. We had a good time, exploring somerville, medford, and arlington, and feasted on our findings at the end, which included oysters mushrooms, nettles, a lot of pokeweed, and a large mixed green salad of linden leaves, dandelions, chickweed, redbud, and sorrel, and a stir fry of knotweed, burdock, cattails, and the mushrooms (including a young Dryad's Saddle!).

I am super impressed when people are completely shameless about their dumpster diving. Go Zaac, who led us into the Arlington TJs dumpster in broad day light, no feeling like he needed to explain anything to anyone or justify it, at all. Just another part of life. All the stuff that would have ended up there - which looked like a ton - we spotted tucked off in some red push cartons, so, not technically garbage yet, so we passed it up. If it were only a bit closer to Cambridge...

Here is the Japanese Knotweed Hot Pickle recipe that lots of folks have been asking me about. This is the first season I can get people to consistently say "wow, these are great!" and they are talking about knotweed pickles, not say, lobster rolls. Given the years of japanese knotweed stir fry attempts, this is big progress. Next year, I should approach and get them hooked for running a few batches. And I should get some mugwort, tansy, etc for gruit for some local old school beer making, and then talk Cambridge brewing into doing that.

OK, on to the recipe:

1 part vinegar
1 part water
Bring this to a boil and add some pickling spices and salt. I like whole black peppercorns and red pepper flakes.

Add enough tender knotweed (first couple weeks of growth, whole stalk, after that, just the top section that easily breaks off) so that it is just covered. Remove from the flame. It does not need to cook at all, just being plunged in the boiling water vinegar solution is fine.

Put into sterilized mason jars. Ready for consumption as soon as they cool off! Great in salads.

In the works: hawthorn flower infused brandy. And once elderflowers are out, I will go for the homemade St. Germain. Alcohol infusions ("schnapps") I can handle but making beer and massive quantities of japanese knotweed pickles, that I must outsource.

The Gallery fundraising foraging dinner cooked by Didi Emmons was a smashing success. Many people gawked over the nettle burdock risotto, but I was most pleased with being able to find enough wild greens for a full salad for all 47 attendees. Here I am in the vineyard watercress patch, a place of real beauty.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Weed Foraged Pizza and eating grass

Foraging season is off to a fine start despite the cold weather we've been having here in Boston. Nettles were already poking up in some sunny spots a couple of weeks ago. Young mugwort, plantain, and dandelions are ready to be gathered, and the banks of the Charles are well stocked with evening primrose roots. I don't consider MGH to be great foraging grounds, but I just took a walk to find some plants to throw on my foraged pizza and was able to doctor it up nicely with all of these.

Very soon we won't be able to keep up with all the greens. The japanese knotweed (itadori -- see this cool site) onslaught is almost upon us. With this preparation technique to try, plus my soon-to-befamous hot pickle, we'll be ale to handle it no problem.

I wrote in my book that "all grasses are edible but only the young ones are digestible." On my walk that I just took, I noticed a lot of fresh young grass growing out of some haystacks (no surprise) that are lining the Charles. So, I decided to put my mouth where my words were and I ate some. It was decent.

Welcome to Spring. I hope to write a post on cleavers (an early spring edible) soon. This is a reminder to myself to do so.