Posts Tagged ‘foraging’

F is for Foraging

Foraging has become one of my favorite activities. There is something very exciting about gathering wild foods to eat. I’ve read accounts of first-time hunters in which the authors relate a sort of instinctive and primal thrill in hunting and killing that they did not anticipate. Since I don’t eat meat and have no particular desire to kill an animal, I’m not likely to try it, but foraging takes its place quite nicely. You still have to track down your intended food, be in the right place at the right time and face the danger of perhaps gathering the wrong (maybe poisonous?!) foods – don’t underestimate the primal thrill of remaining alive after eating your first wild food! Ok, perhaps not as dramatic as facing down a wild boar, but more than enough thrills for me!

Our foraged foods include:

  • dandelion leaves
  • dandelion flowers
  • elder flowers
  • elder berries
  • wild raspberries & blackberries
  • nettles
  • wild garlic
  • wild plums
  • wild blueberries when we are in the mountains
  • mushrooms
  • goosefoot leaves (Chenopodium genus)
  • rose hips
  • wild strawberries

Recently gathered lots of wild garlic – it’s time and looking forward to elder flower season and fresh nettles coming soon!


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Because I have a bin of worms in the entry hall and we ate nettles for dinner.

Also, we started seeds in toilet paper tubes. And my mother-in-law brought over the dandelion “honey” she made from the flowers the girls picked yesterday. And instead of maple syrup on our pancakes this morning we had rhubarb sauce from the rhubarb I picked yesterday, or  wild plum jam from the plums we foraged last fall.

And it’s only the first day of her visit…

She didn’t actually say she thought I was weird, but she does keep saying, “Wait until I tell your sister about this!”

In fact, my mother is responsible for most of this weird behavior, having taking us dandelion picking when we were young, cooking from scratch, and being into environmental issues as long as I can remember. I came by all this pretty honestly.

Okay, maybe it is bit out of the ordinary, but really, I kind of think it’s weird not to be doing this stuff…

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Well, it’s not really wild, is it? It’s more like feral…escaped from cultivation, neglected, fending for itself.

Country roads here are lined with fruit and nut trees, a tradition from the past now becoming rarer. New plantings seem to be Norway maple or other ornamental trees. But there are plenty of old plantings left and that is what we look for on our fruit foraging expeditions. We try to find them along little-used back roads, or set back from the roads as the exhaust from traffic is not something I want to be consuming on my fruit.

On this day we were after wild plums. Last year we found a couple of great trees on the road from Tuchomerice to Pazdrna, but those either didn’t set fruit this year or someone beat us to it! We did find a few loaded trees in that vicinity, though, and set to picking.

Yellow Mirabelle plums.

The girls, however, were hoping for apples. We found some, but it’s a bit early.

The roads are lined with fruit trees.

I think the the girls like climbing more than the fruit itself!

The fruits of our labors.

Why do we do this? First off, it’s thrilling to come home loaded with full buckets of delicious, free fruit, and the question of legality only adds to the thrill. We don’t pick from trees that clearly belong to someone, or we’d certainly ask if we did. But these trees are along roads and paths, the fruit just seems to drop and rot year after year, so we figure we might as well help ourselves. I wouldn’t know who to ask, anyway, and most people passing by don’t seem shocked or outraged. So, we figure it’s okay. But we listen for police sirens…

Secondly, spending the day with the kids in the countryside is lovely. The birds sing, the crickets chirp, the sun shines, the breeze blows, the Czech countryside is beautiful…what’s not to like?

And thirdly, we eat it all winter long…

Plum jam, apple sauce and tkhemali.

Grand total: 5 quarts and 1 pint of apple sauce, 14pints and 1 quart of wild plum jam, and 10 beautiful jars of tkhemali. Tkhemali is a Georgian condiment, sort of a plum ketchup, made by friend and neighbor Andrea. Hopefully she will do a guest post soon and explain how to make it (hint, hint).

We’re off to the woods for blackberries soon and more apples in month or two!

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Round 1 Explore the dandelion

This one is pretty easy, given we already eat them every year as I described in an earlier post. But I have been exploring other ways to eat dandelion.

My mother-in-law makes dandelion honey. I am not sure how she does it, but I know she sends the girls out to pick 100 dandelion flowers, cooks them up in a simple syrup and then leaves them out to sit over night. She must then strain it and put it in jars. So, it’s basically dandelion flavored sugar syrup, but it’s yummy. We eat it on pancakes and use it to sweeten tea.

I have also been experimenting with dandelion muffins. I got the idea here, but use an entirely different recipe that I adapted from The New York TImes New Natural Foods Cookbook (published 1982 and stolen from my mother in about 1992).

Fabulous 3-grain Dandelion Muffins

1/3 cup corn flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup soy flour

1/3 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup plain yogurt

1/3 cup oil

1 cup dandelion petals

1/3 cup or so dried cranberries

Combine dry ingredients. Add in dandelion petals and mix well. Mix egg, yogurt and oil together and then add to dry ingredients. Mix in cranberries. Bake 25 minutes at 350F.

Mixing in the dandelion petals. The muffins never stick around long enough to photograph!

And, to top it all off, with all my talk about dandelions, a colleague made some dandelion jelly and brought me a jar. Delicious!

Round 2 Hunt for morels

Mushroom hunting is big in the Czech Republic. Very big. It has been quite dry here, though, notwithstanding a couple days of rain not too long ago and I haven’t seen the mushroom hunters out. I hope I can do some hunting myself this year and will surely post about it if I find anything. The problem always seem to be that the serious hunters are out at dawn (which occurs about 5am these days) and there is nothing left by the time normal folks roll out of bed and get into the woods!

Round 3 Cook a foraged meal

This is the one we really go into. Friend and neighbor, Andrea, my partner in all these crazy things I am doing these days (who is highly amused at being called “friend and neighbor,” though it is an accurate description) got in on this one with me. And once again, she sacrificed her vegan principles for a taste of our (not in the least vegan) foraged dinner.

Elder is flowering so we decided on a traditional German elder pancake for dessert and elder cordial to drink. For the main course, I proposed nettle gnudi and a salad. The salad is mostly from the garden, but we threw in some foraged lamb’s quarters.

Foraging is even more fun with a nice basket.

The nettle gnudi recipe comes from the Fat of the Land Blog, a wonderful source for foraging and home of this round of the challenge. The recipe calls for ricotta but there was none at the store, so I substituted tvaroh and cottage cheese and it turned out just fine. Of course, frying anything in sage butter and olive oil is bound to taste good!

Adding the chopped, blanched nettles to the cheese.

Roll it out and cut into pieces.

I made them by the plateful.

My helpful daughter cooked them while I rolled and cut. When they float, take them out of the boiling water.

Ninety nettle gnudi…try saying it 5 times fast!

Fry them up in olive oil, butter and sage.

I barely had time to snap a photo…those gnudi disappeared fast!

Now for dessert:

Andrea made a thin pancake batter, dipped the flower heads in and then plopped them into hot oil.

Fry until golden

Nibble right off the stem!

They were great plain but also with a little dandelion honey.

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I Eat Dandelions

Yes, dandelions. The kind growing in your lawn, the weeds that no one wants. (But weeds are just plants growing where somebody doesn’t want them. And I want them! So, I prefer to think of the dandelions in my garden as a perennial crop!)


  • I come from a long line of dandelion eaters. Every spring at easter time, we’d go find dandelions to make dandelion salad. It’s a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.

"Gathering the Dandelions"
painting by folk artist Gladys Lutz

  • They are delicious bitter greens, like arugula or mustard greens.
  • They are nutritious and full of vitamins. My mother always said they are a spring tonic.
  • They are local, seasonal, organic and FREE. Luckily, I have some growing in my garden.


  • Pick nice young ones, before they flower. Don’t pick them from the side of the road or from places where dogs frequent.
  • Clean them real well.

After about 5 rinses, they start to look clean.

  • You can eat them raw in salads
  • Or try PA Dutch Dandelion Salad (recipe from the Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook by Conestoga Crafts)

Young dandelion greens

4 slices bacon

½ cup cream

2 Tbsp butter

2 eggs

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp sugar

4 Tbsp vinegar

½ tsp paprika

black pepper

Wash dandelions and pick over carefully. Rollin cloth and pat dry. Put into a salad bowl and set in a warm place. Cut bacon in small cubes, fry quickly and pour over dandelions. Put butter and cream in a skillet and melt over low heat. Beat eggs, add salt, pepper sugar and vinegar, then mix with the slightly warm cream mixture. Cook over high heat until dressing is quite thick. Pour, very hot, over the dandelions, stir well and serve. Garnish with hard boiled eggs. We usually ate it with mashed potatoes.

This is how I had it tonight, served over boiled potatoes. Yummy!!

Encouraged by the idea of foraging and the wonderful recipes I’ve found on websites, especially Fat of the Land, I am branching out.

Yesterday I braised some dandelion greens in vegetable broth and put them on my pizza.

The next step is the blossoms. I’ve never used them in cooking, but I can’t wait to try dandelion fritters and dandelion bread.

Would you ever give dandelions a try? Let me know if you do!

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