Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Food Shopping au "Natural"

The other day, while driving home from the local Wild By Nature store in Bridgehampton, I got to thinking about "The Father of Modern Wild Foods;" Euell Gibbons. Darn I thought, my Euell Gibbons books are in PA. Wouldn't it be great to rehash Stalking the Wild Asparagus, this coming Earth Day? Strange the way these things come to pass. When I got back I decided to check my stash of books here in New York to make sure Euell was in PA when I came across A Naturalist's Guide to Cooking With Wild Plants by Connie & Arnold Krochmal. Gee, I wonder why I have this book with me I thought. I must have planned on using it for Earth Day. Well, sorta kinda. I know tomorrow is Earth Day but today, April 21 is also the perfect day to pay respect to Mother Nature and a man by the name of John Muir. Oh no, John Muir was no ordinary man. In as much as Euell Gibbons may be called "The Father of Modern Wild Foods," John Muir is often referred to as "America's First Conservationist" and the "Father of our National Parks." He was born today; April 21, 1838.

I once believed with all of my being that I was born in the wrong era. My "heros" were environmental leaders such as Gibbons and Muir, Rachel Carson, Kent and Diane Whealey, founders of the Seed Savers Exchange, and Robert Rodale founder of Prevention Magazine. As I grew older, I became quite comfortable with the conveniences bestowed upon me by food manufacturers and supermarket chains. No longer did I send the kids to school with home made "healthy" lunches and snacks and a trip to the nearest fast food chain didn't seem as sinful as it once had. When the kids left home to tunnel their futures, life got so much easier and I slipped into comfortable laziness. Thankfully, my wanderlust brought me to Pennsylvania which is slowly bringing me back to my roots. The "fashionable" return to nature has made it a whole lot easier than it was back in the 70s and I plan on enjoying every moment.

John Muir

"In Nature when we pick out anything by itself we find that it is hitched to everything else in the universe."

John Muir was an amazing human being who was also reminded of his true calling to nature by nature. He was born in Scotland in 1838. His family emigrated to the United States in 1849 where they lived at Fountain Lake Farm from 1849 to 1856, during his early teens, and periodically between 1862-1864. Late in life he traced the formation of his conservation philosophy to the years he spent at Fountain Lake Farm. Muir began his conservation career after an accident, while working in a carriage parts shop, left him with a blinding eye injury. Upon recovering, he vowed to turn his eyes toward the fields and the woods.
We certainly must remember that his life in Wisconsin led John Muir to become one of the nation's most influential conservationists. Muir grew up on a farm near Portage after coming with his family at the age of eleven from Scotland in 1849. He lived on the hardscrabble farm for a while, attended the University of Wisconsin, and then set out on his wanderings over the continent that culminated in his becoming the chief advocate for the preservation of the forests and natural features which became the foundation of the national park system. Muir later tried to purchase from his brother a small part of the family farm that he especially treasured for its plants but was rebuffed. It is awesome to realize that the beauty of that farm meadow near Portage might have been responsible for such a far-reaching impact on the entire nation. Part of the farm meadow John Muir had tried to obtain was purchased for a county park by Marquette County in the early 1960s. The rest was added in the past few years by the Sierra Club with the help of The Nature Conservancy.  (source)
Much can be learned about the meanderings of John Muir at the Sierra Club. A quick run down of "10 Cool Things About John Muir" can also be found @ Tree Hugger. If you don't have lots of time to spend at the Sierra Club, I suggest you visit the "cool" site info just to get a handle on how extraordinary this man truly was.

"We do not intend our natural resources to be exploited by the few against the interests of the many."
~Theodore Roosevelt~

While some President's may be remembered for dissecting environmental issues as they are leaving office. (see Help Save the Endangered Species Act below) Perhaps they lacked the inspiring requests by conservationists such as John Muir. Thankfully, Presidents such as Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt heeded the warnings.

Observations from his travels led him to write about conserving and preserving America’s natural beauty. Muir’s writings moved presidents, congressmen and plain Americans to action. His book American Forests led President Grover Cleveland to establish 13 Forest Reserves totaling more than 21 million acres. This eventually led to the creation of the U. S. Forest Service.President Theodore Roosevelt was moved by Muir’s book, Our National Parks, published in 1901. Muir and Roosevelt met in 1903 and together they laid the foundation of Roosevelt’s conservation programs. During his term, Roosevelt established 148 million acres of National Forest, five National Parks, and 23 National Monuments. He established the nation’s first wildlife refuge on Pelican Island in Florida as a result of his meeting with Muir.Muir had a direct hand in the preservation of land resulting in the creation of Yosemite (1890), Sequoia (1890), Mount Rainier (1897), Petrified Forest (1906), and Grand Canyon (1908) National Parks. In 1892, he helped to found the Sierra Club to "make the mountains glad." Today it is America’s oldest and largest environmental organization. He was president of the club from its start until his death in 1914. (source)

Cooking With Wild Plants

A Naturalist's Guide to Cooking With Wild Plants
The fields and woods of the world have nurtured men since the dawn of time. american Indians, appreciated this bounty, taught early settlers how to make use of acorns, wild grapes, cattails, and a host of other edible wild plants. Today, a world sated with processed foods which costs more and nourish less, is turning again to wild plants as a cheap and healthful food resource.
Using wild plants for food is becoming more and more a part of today's life style, largely because of the current interest in natural, or organic, foods uncontaminated by chemical additives. Available, inexpensive, nourishing, they add variety to our meals and new zest to cooking. Indeed, learning how to recognize the edible plants that grow all around us and how to prepare them for our daily menus, can be an exciting experience. A Naturalist's Guide to Cooking With Wild Plants (1974) (The color of this book is a sage green. For some reason it just wouldn't scan the natural color:)
Have you ever sipped a Maypop? Look quick, you may just have a passion flower vine peeking up in your butterfly garden. No, check you fridge then. Some species of Passiflora are used to flavor Hawaiian Punch® Want to make your own refreshing fruit flavored drink this summer? Here's a recipe from A Naturalist's Guide to Cooking With Wild Plants pg.159 for Maypops Squash.
4 cups maypops, halved
3/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick, halved
1 whole clove
2-1/2 cups water
1/4 cup lemon juice
Combine the paypops, sugar, cinnamon stick, clove, and water and bring to a boil. simmer gently for 5 minutes. Put through a strainer, pressing fruit to extract all the juice. Add the lemon juice, and chill well before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Here's a Maypop Jelly Recipe from the same book.

Maypops Jelly
2 cups ripe maypops, sliced
1 cup water
2-1/2 cups sugar
1-3/4 ounces pectin
Combine the Maypops and water, and boil gently for 5 minutes. Then strain, discarding the pulp. Combine the liquid and sugar and bring to full rolling boil. Add pectin, and again bring to rolling boil. Remove from heat, pour into hot, sterilized jars, and seal. Makes 2-1/2 pints.
Pinon Pine Nuts (Pinus Cembroides, Pinus Edulis) are a wild, native American food, known in New York and other parts of the East coast as Indian Nuts. The best pine nuts in the world can be found right here in America. Here's a link to a bunch of Pine Nut recipes found @ 101 Cookbooks. I found a recipe description for Pine Nut Milk in the 1898 edition of Guide For Nut Cookery by Almeda Lambert @ Chest of Books. Below it I have included the recipe from A Naturalist's Guide to Cooking With Wild Plants There's also a recipe for Piñon Cakes - Pine Nut Cakes @ What's Cooking America!

Pine-Nut Milk: Grind the pine-nuts through the mill, and then add about 1 1/2, cups of water to I cup of the butter or meal; beat well and press all the milk through a cloth. The remainder- that is, the part that is left in the cloth--can be used in making sausages, soups, or in roasts. The milk can be used in vegetables or in making gravies, while the cream that rises on top is excellent for making crisps, rolls, cakes, and pie crust.
Pine Nut Milk
1 cup pine nuts
4 cups water
2 peppercorns
1/2 cup honey
Place the pine nuts, water, and peppercorns in a blender, and blend until smooth. Then strain, through fine mesh or cheesecloth, and discard any pulp. Combine the liquid with the honey, and chill well before serving. Makes 4 servings.
I wish I had time to share more foraging recipes with you. Perhaps, the best thing to do is just take a walk and instead of thinking as weeds as pesky old plants, think outside of the box and develope your own recipes to conjure up right the natural supermarket right outside your door. I leave you with a tip from Vegetarian Times Magazine and Naturalist and author "Wildman" Steve Brill. I also found you a recipe for Cucumber-Purslane-Yogurt Salad by Steve Johnson @ Star Chefs!
Scared to start chomping on the unknown? Look for lamb’s-quarters, purslane and wild arugula (another foraging favorite) at farmers’ markets so you can see (and taste) before you scavenge the fields. source
Think of it as a weed, and you'll be missing out on one of the most nutritious greens on the planet. Purslane has more beta-carotene than spinach*, as well as high levels of magnesium and potassium. Historically it has been used as a remedy for arthritis and inflammation by European cultures. Chinese herbalists found similar benefits, using it in respiratory and circulatory function. Recently, it's been found that purslane has alpha linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Researchers see evidence that these substances lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as make the blood less likely to form clots. And, purslane has only 15 calories per 100 g portion...In Mexico Purslane is called Verdolaga and is a favorite comfort food. There, it is eaten in omelets, as a side dish, rolled in tortillas, or dropped by handfuls into soups and stews. (source)
Lamb's Quarters, (Chenopodium album) is a common weed that is completely edible, delicious and nutritious. It can be eaten raw in salads, on sandwiches or used in soups. If you steam it like spinach (it looks and tastes like spinach) serve it like a side dish or put in an omelet or lasagna. You might be surprised to learn, another species of Lamb's Quarter (Chenopodium quinoa) is also harvested for the seeds. Quinoa seeds are cooked and eaten like cereal and have once again gained in popularity. They can be eaten boiled or toasted. They are commonly ground into flour for tortillas or like oatmeal eaten as a porridge. Quinoa can also be mixed with wheat flour for bread. Another asset; Quinoa is gluten free. Here's a recipe from Epicurious for Black-Bean & Tomato Quinoa.
Happy Earth Day! Go Outside and Play!
DO NOT try to collect and eat wild plants on your own without a trained person to show you how. Or, try finding a class in your area. Eating the French Countryside Collecting and Cooking Wild Herbs and Plants is a short account of an American exploring the delectable French countryside with an knowledgeable person.
1. Who was John Muir?
2. The Life and Letters of John Muir
3. Conversation with a Tramp: An Evening with John Muir
4. Cute Bunny Image Quote
5. Harvesting the Wild: Acorns
6. Wild (And Not-So-Wild) Recipes
7. Verdolaga Recipes
8. Citrus Quinoa with Roasted Vegetables
9. Help Save the Endangered Species Act
10. Garlic Mustard Plant
11. About Rare Forms & Amy Goldman (author & board member of Seed Savers Exchange)
12. Make a Rubber Band from a Dandelion


  1. nice info dear. wonder where you get these info from. and thx for dropping by my blog again :)

  2. I flip-flop between Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and big supermarket chains, not to mention farmers' markets and little kisoks in parking lots here and there. I think there are pluses and minuses to all of them -- as well as to finding wild plants. The trouble is there aren't enough wild things to go around.

    If they don't give you Meyer Lemons, though, you can't make lemonade.

  3. Louise - stick to your roots. It's a good thing! I've never heard of Maypops, but then I've just learned about ramps this week too. I'm always grateful to John Muir - he was really the driving force behind the national parks that I love so much out west.

  4. Thanks for the information on verdolaga recipes - it sounds very interesting. I always learn something new when I visit your blog.

  5. So much can be learned from your blog - you always amaze me with all this info! A great job you're doing.

  6. Just the opposite here--I could spend all day shopping for food in the different stores. I agree with Mae Travels, there are pluses and minuses to all of them. I'm afraid I would never be confident enough to eat anything wild that I picked myself.

  7. What a wonderful Earth Day blog! I forgot about the Euell Gibbons book, and I think my copy is up in Bodega Bay. You, a coupon Queen? Oh my, your blog is always so enlightening in so many ways. I'm going to send a link to my friends.

  8. I don't like going to the grocery store much either. The screaming children drive me nuts!

  9. That's just one of the most intelligent articles I've read. So many infos. Thank you for teaching us so many of your vast knowledge. I would like to say I love wild food and have eaten many of them on my little trip in the countryside. I am always careful that I know what I eat though as eating something you do not know may cause some trouble later on.

  10. Thanks Mahimaa, I'm glad you enjoyed your visit. I find your blog quite refreshing and look forward to learning more about the Indian Vegetarian Kitchen.

    Hi Mae, I was going to go to Trader Joe's but it is quite a trek from where I am. I must learn to prepare myself for food shopping or just grown everythig myself!

    How sweet T.W. thank you. I have quite a story about ramps which I learned about in the back hills of Tennessee. I truly discovered the essence of Maypops my sheer accident and never looked back. They are really good and quite versatile. I think the National Park Service to should more to recognize John Muir's "footprint" in history.

    Thanks Pam,
    I thought you might find the verdolaga recipes interesting. I know how much you LOVE cooking Mexican food:)

    Thank you so much Jan, I tend to get a bit carried away:)

  11. Hi Kathy,
    I must rethink my approach to food shopping. Perhaps, my experiences in PA will enhance the ordeal. I really wanted to blog a few out of the ordinary plants but thought since the ones on touched on are readily available in the supermarket in season they would be a better introduction. It can be dangerous.

    Hey Janet,
    Thank you for your kind words. Yes, indeed a coupon queen who actually taught others the secrets of coupon shopping oh so long ago:) I must did out those pictures!!!

    Oh duckie, go shopping late at night. That's what I use to do:)

    Hi Dennis,
    I'm curious as to how those Easter canapes came out? Somehow, it doesn't surprise me to learn you have experienced wild food. Yes, it is most important to be careful and never take your knowledge for granted. Thanks for visiting, Dennis...

  12. I love to food shop. I spent my whole professinal career in dept stores, so i avoid them like the plaugue. But I can get lost in a good grocery store.I would love to be able to grow my own food and live off the land. Maybe one day, but the lure of the grocery store will still reel me in.

  13. For some reason, it doesn't surprise me that you LOVE food shopping Courtney:)

  14. A tall glass of Maypops Squash drinks in a hot summer day is a heavenly drink. Not only it is rich in taste and flavor but also is very filling. I love thing Squash drink. thank you for shearing your post.

  15. Thanks for dropping by Rumela and sharing your thoughts on the drink. I'm thinking you've indulged in this beverage before...do tell...?

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Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise