the accidental forager

Claytonia

I once went to quite a bit of trouble to track down Claytonia seeds to plant in the garden. I finally found them from Nichols Garden Nursery, based in Salem, Oregon. They have just about anything you could want in the way of seeds. They grew quite satisfactorily, but the life cycle was very short, and in the end, I concluded, not really worth the effort involved. How much more fun, anyhow, to find it growing in the wild.

Miner’s lettuce

Also known as miner’s lettuce, it is…well…”cute” is the only word for it. Each longish stem supports a couple of levels of round, slightly cupped leaves with a topknot of little white flowers. I found it growing in profusion along the verge of the road I walk nearly every day. The few handfuls brought home had begun to go to seed, but that just added a tiny bit of crunch to what is otherwise a tender, delicate salad. I threw everything into a strainer to rinse, then tore the whole plant: stems, leaves flowers and seeds into bite-sized pieces (I hate that chi chi custom of leaving salad makings whole so that they whip you in the nose and drizzle dressing down your chin). This salad was all about freshness and delicacy, so I just used a light dressing of oil and champagne vinegar. It would be easy to overpower these greens. Over at Greenish Thumb, Wendy has a recipe for the perfect drink to accompany this salad…or most anything, come to think of it. Hint: it involves gin.

arugula

Eruca sativa

It goes by many names: Arugula, Rocket Salad, Roquette, Eruca sativa, but whatever you want to call it, it perks up salads no end and can even be strewn atop a pizza. We had devoted our half-barrels to chard and kale with great success, but the last couple of years velvety green worms got to them before we could. I thought maybe arugula would be too spicy for them, and I guess I was right. Nothing has interfered with this crop and now it is time to begin harvesting. My latest favorite dressing for these greens and a cubed avocado goes something like this: 6T mayo (Best Foods is best), 3 T rice vinegar, 2T orange juice, crushed garlic to taste. It can be a meal with some freshly toasted cashews strewn on top and some biscuits or cornbread on the side.

Don’t miss Wendy’s recipes that appear each Monday. I have found all sorts of imaginative ways to use the garden’s bounty by following her and the links I find there. Happy Grazing!

Urtica dioica • painfully delicious

stinging nettle

Restaurants feature them (part of the “eat local”, better yet “eat wild” movement), nutritionists tout them (a true super-food), our back woods is full of them. Yes, I speak of stinging nettles: the darlings of the spring culinary elite.

the nettle harvest

Ever one to dabble in the latest food craze (and never opposed to free food) I covered up, grabbed a basket and shears and headed into the woods. The abundance of plants in peak condition led me to cram my market basket with the pernicious delicacy.

fiddleheads unfurling

While still in the woods, I spotted fiddleheads emerging from the many sword ferns and made a mental note to return for the makings of another esoteric kitchen experiment. Sadly, when I went back a couple of days later, the deer had nipped off each and every one.

leeks

On the way back to the house, I stopped by the vegetable plot, where a row of leeks was in need of thinning. I figured these would be good companions for the nettles.

Tongs had been recommended for handling, but I knew that, in addition to the tongs, this would be a hands-on experience. I broke out the surgical gloves. The stems and undersides of the leaves are covered with spiny hairs that release a devilish mix of histamine, serotonin and formic acid. By plunging the stems into boiling water for about a minute, that toxic brew is deactivated without undermining the health benefits of intense concentrations of protein, iron, vitamins and minerals. But how do they taste? Something like spinach with a little more of a mineral tang. The real difference is in the texture. There is an almost dangerous roughness on the tongue (I will admit: that may have something to do with the power of suggestion).

I had expected the raw material to cook down much more than it did. I wound up with plenty for experimentation. Dish 1: sauteed leeks and nettles layered with non-cook lasagna, bechamel sauce and three cheeses; grade ****. Dish 2: another lasagna using tomato sauce instead of the bechamel and adding sunflower seeds; grade **. Dish 3: simple scrambled eggs with the nettles stirred in and a light sprinkle of finishing salt; grade ****. My conclusion was that the simpler the dish, the more the subtle flavor of the nettles came through. And heavier gloves are needed for handling. I swished them around in cold water before using tongs to transfer them to the boiling water bath and could feel them stinging right through the surgical gloves. Not unbearable (anyone who cooks and/or gardens is used to minor injuries) but my fingers were still numb and tingly the next day.

Wendy, at Greenish Thumb has challenged us to cook up our gardens’ bounty and share. Go there to find good goodies.

jam today • a book review

jam today

“…melt some butter in a skillet and cook the carrots, with a little salt, until they’re not raw anymore…” That’s about as exact as things get in Jam Today, a Diary of Cooking With What You’ve Got. Author Tod Davies invites us into her world. It’s a cozy world in the mountains of Oregon, where she writes…and, as chronicled here, cooks: for friends, for her dogs, and most especially for her “Beloved Vegetarian Husband.” This she does without a hint of rancor (she is an omnivore) and without depriving herself of any of the joys of the table.

One is apt to come away thinking that cooking delicious meals is more attitude than recipe and that it extends into every crevice of one’s life and world view. I was especially taken with a section involving the purchase of one marble-sized Oregon truffle: the care and attention lavished upon its ripening; the sensitivity to its developing attributes; and finally, the three meals evolving from this one small nugget of flavor. Yes, she admits to one misstep by adding too much parsley to a pasta dish and overpowering the shaved quarter-truffle’s subtlety (I was reassured to find her judgment fallible).

Davies clearly loves everything about food and has absorbed quantities of cookbooks and recipes to arrive at the easy-going, seat-of-the-pants approach you will find in these pages. My great-grandmother was a sublime cook. Her “oh, a handful of flour and a pinch of salt” responses to those seeking to emulate her results were highly frustrating. Ms Davies is more forthcoming than that, but even if you fail to be converted to her way of doing things, I think you will enjoy her company.

The book is available on Amazon, and if you would like to sample some of her food and food writing, you can do so on her blog.

Bon Apetit!

foliage follow-up…and a confession

foggy scene

The season may be winding down, but that last act is a doozy. My crape myrtle has never bloomed, but who cares. The foggy mornings set it off to nice effect, don’t you think?

spider web

The spiders are in cahoots, spinning webs that catch the raindrops to bespangle the spaces between shrubs. A faceful of silken strands awaits the incautious rambler.

Euphorbia wulfenii

Sporting raindrops as jewelry is a specialty of Euphorbia wulfenii. Mine looked so ratty last spring than I was tempted to dig them out. Fortunately, I took the lazy way and cut them back hard. They rebounded marvelously.

Macleaya cordata plumes

Spent plumes of Macleaya cordata do a good job with the raindrop thing too…one way I rationalize postponing garden cleanup until spring.

tree peony and dogwood

Many of the showy trees and shrubs have flamed out already, but various Cornus species, like the one on the right are still working up to it, as is the tree peony in the center distance.

Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’

Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ is at its very best when the twisted, thorny branches are completely bare, but this stage, with the luminous, inedible fruit, is not bad either.

Ficus carica ‘Negronne’

I look forward to one day enjoying an abundance of figs. That little one you see clinging to the branch is one of only three, and it is far from maturing before frost. Last year we had one…my half was delicious. To compensate, the design of the leaves is exquisite, and they turn this buttery yellow before they fall.

Lysimachia clethroides

This one is a mystery. In that whole patch of green gooseneck loosestrife only the one stem turned orange and scarlet. What’s up with that?

Heuchera ‘Sashay’

Heuachera ‘Sashay’ maintains its perky personality through it all. I love the way the pink undersides of the leaves peek out around the frilly edges.

unmown grass

And finally, this patch of grass out back has escaped mowing because it has been too wet. It is ankle deep and swirls in undulating patterns. I do love the rain. If, like me, you just can’t get enough of fall foliage, let Pam show you hers and guide you to more.

I said I had a confession to make, and I do. Everyone was so complimentary about my mushroom bravery, and supportive, too. Well, I had no ill effects from the bits I did eat, but R nixed the meal. Lest you think he was being overbearing, let me explain. A couple of weeks ago, he discovered a swath of mushrooms in a part of our yard. There followed a quest that included poring through the illustrated mushroom guide (inconclusive)
and visiting several farmers’ markets. The mushroom stand guy called his dad (the expert) and described these fungi in detail. The verdict: Black Trumpet, one of the most delectable varieties. When we checked this info aqainst photos, these were definitely not the same. At another farmers’ market, a Croation woman said that she knew mushrooms, and these were definitely edible, though she could not name them. We had a small amount as a side dish. They were good, but not exceptional…certainly nothing to risk one’s health for the privilege of eating.
R is nothing if not persistent, so back he went to the People’s market in SE Portland, where the mushroom vendor seemed to know his stuff. He had a story about a guy who had liked this particular mushroom so much that he ate quantities of it (our field was awash in them). His outcome was not digestive problems, or death, but liver failure. Sooo…much as I longed to cook up my cache, and much as I doubted that anything so subtly delectable could harbor a dark side, I yielded to the more prudent approach. Just this morning I was doing a little more research and discovered that last Sunday there was a free event to hike the trails at Tryon Creek State Park to search for mushrooms, with an expert on hand for identification. I will be on the lookout for more such events. Here is a web site with some good information…and hey, guys, I’m sorry to disappoint you with my less swashbuckling ways…but, well, I’m sure you understand.

Portland Homestead Supply Co

storefront

Tucked way in the Sellwood-Moreland district, just a little north of Tacoma on 13th Ave., all ye home cooks and gardeners (not to mention candle makers, home brewers. etc. etc.) will find a treasure in Portland Homestead Supply Co.

merchandise display

As soon as I stepped through the door, I was struck by the quality of the goods on display. They steer away from electronic gadgets in favor of the tried and true (note the bright red hand-crank meat grinder on the nearest table). These are items that can pass for artifacts. Indeed, they raise the homely arts of home making to an art form. All of the standard jars for canning and pickling are here, but for just a little bit extra, you can buy jars that will turn your kitchen’s yummy output into gourmet gift items to make you proud. I was drawn to some stainless steel pie pans…anticipating the delight they would bring to turning out pies and quiches.

how-to library

Need a little help getting started? Many subjects are covered in their book section.

classroom

On a mezzanine overlooking the main room is a large table where classes are held. Be sure to check out the class schedule on their website if you would like to try something new with a little hands-on help. See that “fresh eggs” sign on the mantle? It is not just for show. I was there on a Friday, when fresh farm eggs had just been delivered. There were duck eggs as well as huge chickens eggs and teeny tiny ones. Once you have tried eggs straight from the farm you will never go back.

aprons and linens

Several small rooms off the classroom hold different categories of merchandise. This one had aprons and various linens, all with that homey feel executed with a modern twist. While I was there, a woman came in with oven mitts she had made using flour sacks handed down in her family. I’m not sure any of that batch will make it to the showroom floor, the way employees were snatching them up. Don’t worry: she will be back with more.

drying rack

This drying rack folds flush to the wall when it is not in service.

candle making

All the makings for candles, including an interesting array of molds (bottom shelves), and an instructional book. I think taking the class would be a fun way to get into this.

Just as I was about to pay up and take my leave, someone mentioned that there were garden related items out the side door.

Nigerian dwarf goat

Have you ever seen a sweeter looking goat? It was unclear to me if this was Wendell or Belle, but the pair of Nigerian dwarf goats provide endless entertainment, keep the grounds clear of blackberry vine and, if all goes according to plan, will provide some frolicking kids come spring.

chicken

They share the yard with chickens and ducks, all roaming freely…

alley fence

the only restraints being good looking fencing treatments that block off the alleys on both sides of the shop.

supplements and tools

As with everything else, the room holding soil amendments and tools is spick and span, and the displays are as attractive as they are utilitarian. Those galvanized bins hold all sorts of soil amendments, even hard-to-find things like Jersey Greensand…all available in bulk or in 5# bags. Now it really was time to shove off, and I found myself chomping at the bit to get back to my kitchen and garden.

more tomatoes…& now apples, too…whew!

If only we could get our gardens to pace things a little better.

bucket of tomatoes

This is one of three buckets this size that I made into sauce last week after we gave a bunch away to friends. Same thing this week, but it should be about the end of them.

big tomato in hand

Richard held this pineapple tomato to give you an idea of the scale (he has pretty big hands). These are very meaty, great for sauce and one slice is all that’s needed for a sandwich. Oh, and you know those little green ones that didn’t quite make it to ripe? They are great diced and sautéd for omelets.

apples on the tree

Meanwhile, the apples are coming on strong. I love the way they look on the tree.

harvested apples

But they won’t stay there forever. We leave a few on the ground for the deer, stash some in the shed for eating through the winter, and then..

apples in the pot

…into the pot they go, cut into eights, cores, pips, skins and all (sources of natural pectin). Add some cider and boil vigorously for about half an hour. Use an immersion blender to mush them all up and force through a fine sieve.

ginger, vanilla bean & cinnamon sticks

Return the strained pulp to the pot with a vanilla bean, split (optional), a couple of cinnamon sticks and fresh ginger to taste, peeled and quartered. Add a cup of brandy and simmer over low heat until thick and caramel-colored (two to three hours). I stir in another slug of brandy at the end, so that you can really taste it. Process like any jam. The result: about 7 half-pints of brandied apple butter, plus a little extra to have immediately, warm, on English muffins or scones.

Find more ways to have fun in your kitchen at Greenish Thumb…and say “Hi” to Wendy for me.

time to feast

tomatoes on the vine

We wait, and we watch, and we even name some of the tomatoes, as they seem to be as slow to develop as a human child.

Estelle the tomato

Think that sounds crazy? Meet Estelle, a tomato with not only personality, but, um… attitude.

beginning of the tomato harvest

And then, all of a sudden, we are bombarded with an avalanche of tomatoes…among other things. Today was spent putting up tomato sauce, with Norah Jones on the stereo and anticipation of opening a jar of summer deep in January. But the first, the juiciest, the most perfect of the early (all things are relative) arrivals was ceremoniously made into BLT’s. The base was Dave’s Killer Bread, lightly toasted. I must indulge in an aside about this bread,made by an ex-con who puts his story on every package, along with the slogan: “Just say NO to BREAD ON DRUGS”. Slather Dave’s “Powerseed” with Best Food’s Real Mayonnaise and pile on thick slabs of home-grown tomato, pepper bacon from the butcher shop, fried until crispy, and a generous pile of lettuce. We wait all year for this, and, in my book, it beats out turkey at Thanksgiving, or any other seasonal treat you can dream up.

Visit Wendy for the Garden to Table Challenge to see what others are doing with the season’s bounty.

pickles & new plants

white cucumbers

When the plants labeled lemon cucumbers instead began shucking out these, I decided it was time for a new experiment.

homemade pickles

I had never made pickles before. It was incredibly easy. With this much raw material at hand, I will be trying out several variations and will let you know if there is a clear standout.

Uva sin semillas ‘Concord’

One tip was to put a grape leaf in the jar with the pickles to assure crispness. When I stopped by to see Michelle of Jockey Hill Nursery at the Scappoose Farmers’ Market, sure enough, she had grape vines. This one is a seedless Concord, good for jellies and pies, but it was the leaves I was after.

Panicum ‘Shenandoah’

If you find yourself headed for the coast on Hwy 30 on a Saturday morning, you would be well advised to stop by this market. Michelle has healthy, well-groomed plants and there are always at least 5 that I can hardly resist. This Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ had to come home with me. Cooking and planting: what a way to spend a beautiful weekend.

Want to see what others are cooking up from their gardens’ bounty? Visit Wendy and she will put you on the right path.

Sauvie Island Farms

Usually, a drive to Sauvies Island (just minutes away from downtown Portland) means a visit to Cistus Nursery, a nature hike or a picnic and a swim. This time, I wanted to check out a farm stand I had heard of. If you go left off the bridge and keep straight rather than turning right onto Reeder Road, begin watching for:

white fences andcars

pristine white fences and many cars on the right.

entry with tykes

The tykes playing around the entry sign look tidy enough here, but by the time I left, their shirts and faces showed their appreciation for the berries and other goodies.

everything you need to “pick your own posies”

Before heading out to the fields, a stop at this station provides buckets, seacateurs, check lists and pencils: all of the supplies needed to “pick your own posies”.

road through the fields

The fields stretch as far as the eye can see.

tractor-trailer

So if you don’t feel up to the trek, or you just want to show the kiddies a good time, a transport is readily available (with hunky teen boys driving the tractors).

zinnias

Who needs a cutting garden when fields of zinnias (among many other types of blooms) are offered up for 25 cents a stem?

sunflowers

I think repeat visits will be a must. I see a bouquet of sunflowers in my future, once the zinnias pass their prime.

mmmm…peaches

My mission was to get peaches for a pie. Store-bought peaches are almost always a disappointment. Here, one is primed with information about what to look for in the perfect peach: a deep red blush, a slight give to gentle pressure, and no resistance when plucking the fruit with a tug straight down (twisting tends to break the skin).

peach trees

The trees in this orchard have been kept small, so that it is easy to wander among them to choose and pluck fruit at its peak of perfection. I have visited many farm stands on the island, most often as an afterthought on the way to some other destination. This farm is well worth a planned trip with nothing else in mind…though you might want to meander up the road a bit to check out the lavender farm, or venture out Reeder Road to the Herb Farm.

Here’s what I plan to do with the peaches: arrange slices in a hot pre-baked cornmeal crust; pour over a mixture of 1 c sugar, half c flour,1 tsp ground cinnamon, quarter tsp each salt and ground nutmeg and 1 c whipping cream; bake at 400 for 40 min and chill well before serving.