Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene Misses Florida: Farmers Happy

It is the beginning of planting season in south Florida. And while hurricanes bring a lot of rain to the area they also bring a lot of destruction.

So, I'm sure most farmers in south Florida would agree with my statement below:
Goodbye Irene. Thanks for leaving us with all the rain.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Maine Wild Edible Foods: A Euell Gibbons Inspired Forage

Euell Gibbons (1911-1975), the great naturalist and wild food gourmet, joined my family for a coastal Maine vacation this past July, in the form of the foraging book, "Euell Gibbons' Handbook of Edible Wild Plants."

My mother met Euell in 1965 on Hurricane Island, Maine. They became good friends and he taught her how to identify coastal Maine wild foods. She in turn taught me what to look for when foraging for wild foods: type of flower, leaf design, stalk color, and color of fruit if there were any.

In the past, I have eaten Sheep's Sorrel, Orach, Beach Peas, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, bay leaves, sea kelp, Chanterelle mushrooms, and wild mustard. This trip I wanted to try some new foods: wild Daisy, rose petals, Spruce needle tea, Bog Cranberry, Biting Stoncrop flower, and Cattail heart.

I searched the internet for good photos of the plants before going to Maine. I learned long ago to be cautious about eating wild plants, not because I have been poisoned, but because there are some really awful tasting plants out there, like the one I tried as a teenager. It was supposed to be a Native American breakfast cereal plant that a friend tried and said tasted great. It is the lumpy brown colored plant at the bottom of the Monarch butterfly photo below.

It was the driest plant I ever ate and it reminded me more of paper than cereal.

Daisy leaves
Euell said there are some Daisy-like plants in the wild that could make me sick, so I had to be careful. After close inspection of the plants I found the edible ones. I plucked a tiny leaf from the stalk, popped it into the front of my mouth, and chewed. The leaf was surprisingly sweet and tasted like fresh cucumber slices. It was delicious!

Rose Petals
Wild roses grow everywhere in Maine and New England. They are a simple single layer petal variety, either in pink or white, that produce vitamin-C rich red hips in the fall. I never thought to try these because I've eaten domestic rose petals in the past and found them bitter.

But according to Euell's book, the petals of the wild ones were tasty and aromatic especially when harvested in the morning. He had one condition: leave some petals on the flowers to help attract bees to make sure the plants had fruit in the fall.

I preferred the pink petals that had a flavor similar to Bibb lettuce with a hint of rose aroma.

Spruce Needle Tea
I first became interested in pine needle tea from several TV celeb survival specialists. They said it was high in vitamin-C and tasted nothing like pine. Euell said the same thing in his book. He aslo said Spruce was a close cousin of pine and it could be made into a tasty tea.

So following the directions, I chopped up half a cup of Spruce needles (actually just bruised them because my knife was so dull), added one cup of boiling water and waited three minutes. Then I drank. The tea had a refreshing somewhat minty flavor and tasty nothing like Spruce tree.

My husband enjoyed the tea and wanted a second cup. I unfortunately discovered too late that I was allergic to Spruce. The room started spinning within seconds of my second gulp, and before I collapsed onto a nearby couch I grabbed an antihistamine and some water. It took an hour for the effects to wear off.

Bog Cranberry
Days later, while hiking a rocky granite quarry, I came across a low growing scrubby plant that I identified as Bog Cranberry. The berries were very small, round, and red and tasted deliciously tart.

Biting Stonecrop (Sedum acre)
It is an interesting succulent plant that grows in communal clumps on open rock faces, and gets no higher than three inches tall. It has tiny five-point-star-shaped yellow petals. I've often noticed it on other trips to Maine but never knew it was edible.

I was out foraging with a friend when we saw a clump of Biting Stonecrop. I picked two yellow petals for each of us to try. I popped them in my mouth, chewed, and waited for flavor but there was none. Well not initally, then POW, my mouth was on fire.

I turned to my friend just as he turned to me with a pained expression on his face. And we said in unison, "Wow, that was weird." Then we began grabbing other wild foods to kill the flavor. Rose petals help. Then Daisy...ah, relief. We both agreed we would never try that plant again.

Cattail Heart
My vacation ended before I had a chance to try cattail heart (the center of the plant) but as I live in Florida, I know I will get a chance here to try this delicacy. I say delicacy with sarcasm because many years ago my mother forced me to eat her version of cattail heart. I found it so slimy I could not swallow. It reminded me of horror movie slime mixed with ground up snails.

A word of caution when it comes to foraging for wild foods: always make sure you have identified exactly what you are eating. If you are in doubt, don't eat it.

More wild foods pictured below
Wild Strawberries the size of dried currents

Orach leaves (wild spinach texture)

Purple flowered Beach Peas