Walking through one of my favorite single-track loops on this summer day it was a delight to discover wildflowers neck deep on the path of bounty. It’s a bumper year for daisies, salsify, larkspur, lupine, flax, aster and countless other wildflowers and “weeds.”
I like the edibles and readers of this column already know of my many adventures and gastronomical reactions to eating dandelions. I recently enjoyed a plateful of nettles, tomatoes, mallow and chard and I can tell you the results were explosive! They are not offering these powerful ingredients in the fresh produce aisle at your favorite grocery store. You have to go catch them yourself.
This is a great year for dandelions. Every little bit is edible, each offering its own health benefit. Even the tops can be dipped in pancake batter and fried on a skillet to make flower poppers. Kids might even go for them if you don’t tell them that they are dandelions. Pour on the maple syrup!
In the Experimental Forest I have unearthed mushrooms and wild strawberries.
I’ve been excited and expectant about this year’s serviceberry crop. Although I haven’t seen many in the Fraser Valley, last year in the Crystal River valley was the best I’ve seen with bushes drooping under the weight of their own nectar. On a short walk I could fill baggies with the purple, plump nectar pods. They make a great addition to batters, breads, smoothies and juices. You could probably even use them to make flavored beer and wine.
But this season it’s different. There are some serviceberries out there but not many. The bears are going to be disappointed. Apparently, serviceberries prefer drought conditions. Or maybe we had a late frost or something went sideways. Climate and environmental conditions are changing so fast these days that it’s hard to keep up.
Last week I took a hike in the Utah desert in the vicinity of a place called “Serviceberry Draw.” I found plenty of bushes but not a single berry.
In the aftermath of the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt, locals have been harvesting a bumper crop of morel mushrooms on the charred hillsides. What a delightful benefit from a local disaster. According to Wikipedia and other sources, these mushrooms often spring up in areas that have had moderate intensity fires.
These morels offer locals something to do in the woods besides blowing off guns and racing around in noisy off-road vehicles. The morel mushrooms have been enjoyed and eaten by humans dating back to at least the 16th century and really caught on with French chefs in the 18th century.
Morels are high in potassium and are among the best sources of vitamin D known to man. They also contain significant amounts of important minerals like calcium, iron and magnesium. Don’t let that slow you down, they also taste delicious. The best part of it is that you do not need to cook like Julia Childs to prepare morels. Just toss them in a pan with butter and salt, pile them on a plate and tuck in. More sophisticated culinary artists will make them into sauces and soups and sometimes even dry them or freeze them. Their flavor has been described as rich and complex and that sounds about right.
Food Network Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian said that, “I like them very simple, slowly sweated in a bed of fresh shallots. A dash of good Madeira, a swirl of salted Irish butter and a gentle rain of fresh tarragon leaves.”
As with many mushrooms out there you may come across “False Morels,” which are poisonous. Double check before downing a plateful.
I did head up to one of my favorite local mushroom hunting zones recently looking for bolete mushrooms and did not see much. There were plenty of mosquitos. Part of the give and take. Maybe the timing was off. The meadow provided the opportunity to harvest plastic trash, cans, bottles and fire debris from the soon-to-be rare and endangered Homo Sapiens. There were also plenty of brown trout and tissue fish, which may be throwing the ecology of the area off a bit.
This bounty in the woods gives us a chance to explore the burgeoning field of “forest to table” eating that I anticipate will soon sweep the nation. We get to skip right over the store and the farm because the hills are alive with the sounds of foraging.
If you are interested in finding out more about foraging and feeding on the fungus among us you need to reserve your spot at the 10th annual Mushroom and Wild Food Fest, Aug. 2-4 in Eagle. The event features one of my favorite foragers, Katrina Blair from Turtle Lake Refuge in Durango, as well as other notables like Larry Evans, Ken Kassenbrock, Eugenia Bone, Graham Steinruck, and Trent Blizzard.
Steve Skinner hopes to see you in the woods. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.