Last week one of the gardeners I work with gave me these two beauties. They are about 6″ long, are a greenish yellow and are heavy for their size. They are also quite hard. I had no idea what they were when he first showed them to me.
Chinese quince, or Pseudocydonia sinensis, is a beautiful smallish tree that has bark which looks a bit like army camouflage. The flowers are a delicate pink and are quite fragrant. The fruit ripens in late fall and also has a lovely scent.
Quince used to be much more common in the US because it’s high amount of pectin made it useful for making jams and preserves. I think the product most people know is quince paste, which is usually sold in fancy cheese stores.
I’ve been trolling the internet to find a good quince jelly recipe. I’ll let you know what I come up with.
Fall is the time to look for hen of the woods mushrooms. They are also known as maitake. They are be found under oak trees. A few weeks ago I was poking around the oak trees at one of the gardens I work in and saw this. It is the very beginning of one of these tasty mushrooms. You can even see the acorns in the lower corner. As much as I wanted to pick it right then and there, it just wasn’t ready. I asked for permission to come back in a week to get it. Only problem was that a week later someone else had beaten me to it. Grr. That is why mushroom hunters are so secretive about their spots. It is too frustrating to know there is a delicious mushroom there and then have someone else take it.
Our friends saw this sign over the weekend. I need to make one!
This past weekend Neil and I went out with the NYMS for a morel hunt. The spot is about an hour and change outside of the city. You have to be a member to get directions to this spot!
There wasn’t a morel in sight. It seems as though this hard winter we’ve had has pushed the morel season back a couple of weeks. Not wanting to go home empty handed, I collected a big bag of garlic mustard and some japanese knotweed.
Garlic mustard is a terrible invasive plant, so you are doing everyone a favor by picking as much of it as you can. Forager’s etiquette (not over harvesting native plants) does NOT apply in this case. Garlic mustard leaves are at their tender best before the plant blooms. As with all foraging, please consult a guidebook for identification of plants!
I wanted to make pesto with the greens and followed a recipe I found on a fellow forager’s site. Against my better judgment I used walnuts instead of pine nuts. The whole batch came out too bitter. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s usable.
Japanese knotweed is good right now. It is also terribly invasive. Large bamboo-like stands grow up on the side of streams, roads and in disturbed areas.
The shoots are quite tender at this time of year, so don’t require as much peeling as the older/larger stalks do. Knotweed can be substituted for rhubarb in recipes.
I decided to wait on making the japanese knotweed into anything as I read it freezes well. And because my pesto was such a stellar failure. I washed it carefully as it seems to attract large numbers of ants.
Strip off the leaves and chop into 1″ pieces. Then freeze.
Although we didn’t find any mushrooms, there were still plenty of lovely natural things to look at. We saw crows chasing a great horned owl out of its tree.
Beautiful spring ephemerals were blooming.
Okay, so now all of you have run out, picked sumac and made juice, right? Great. Here’s the recipe for a nice cocktail. It is based on a cosmopolitan, which if that sounds too 90s, you can just mention your foraged ingredients and get your street cred back.
2 shots vodka
3 shots sumac concentrated juice
1 shot elderflower liquor like St. Germaine
Mix together in a shaker with ice, shake and strain the ice out. Yum.
I know what you are thinking… You are thinking Poison Sumac. Relax. There are other varieties, which are completely wonderful and harmless. Check your guides before you eat any wild edible, but a good rule of thumb with sumac is that if the flower stalk is red, it isn’t poisonous.
The juice you make from a sumac has a wonderfully tart lemonade-like flavor that is very refreshing in summer.
We drove along the roadsides with garden clippers and a big shopping bag. I can’t tell you exactly how many we picked, but it felt like several pounds worth. It filled the bottom 1/3 of a large shopping bag. Here’s a photo of our haul.
Okay, so once you have gathered a bunch of flower stalks, grab a big canning pot, or stock pot. Fill it halfway with room temperature water. DO NOT rinse the flowers off before you use them or all the flavor will wash away.
Drop a few stalks into the water. Grab and squeeze the flowers. The flowers will fall off the stalk and that’s fine. Just keep kneading and squeezing the flowers. You will notice that tiny red hairs from the flowers will start sticking to your hands. They will wash off.
Take the flower stalks out and add new ones. Keep doing this until you run out of flowers. The more flowers you have, the stronger the juice. Here’s a photo of our concentrated juice to give you an idea of the color it will be.
The juice is really great, and lends itself well to many things. You could cook with it, but we just added seltzer to make spritzers. There will be a cocktail recipe coming up shortly!
This past weekend we went car camping in the Berkshires with friends. It was so beautiful and peaceful.
Lindsay was a great help cooking. We made the world’s best s’mores using Little Schoolboy cookies instead of chocolate bars and graham crackers. Lindsay learned how to make a box oven in Girl Scouts and we baked brownies. To make one, you just line a cardboard box with aluminum foil and punch some holes. You place charcoal briquettes in a pan on the bottom (it’s about 30 degrees per piece, so you need about 11-12 coals to bake a normal cake)
And we found loads and loads of choice edible mushrooms while hiking!
Black trumpet mushrooms
Chicken of the woods mushrooms
Okay, it’s bad when you are belated on your own birthday!!! But I’m so behind on everything that I thought I should just start here.
On my birthday, Neil and I decided to play hookie. It was a little drizzly, so we just put on the rain gear we bought for our trip to Iceland and went for a hike. There is a park in the middle of crazy, urban Queens, NY called Forest Park. And it is just that. A forest. It’s really a weird feeling to be walking in the woods knowing that you are in the middle of NYC.
Neil and I started learning about and hunting mushrooms last year. We’ve been lucky enough to find some delicious edible mushrooms. However, we were disappointed last Fall not to find hen of the woods (aka maitake). They generally grow under oak trees in the Fall. As we walked, we kept our eyes open for these mushrooms, and were lucky enough to find a few clumps of them.
They are beautiful mushrooms without poisonous look-alikes, which makes them quite safe for beginners. (Okay, now I must add that if you are ever going to hunt mushrooms, please consult a guide, an expert, or both. Do not go off the photos on this blog!!) These mushrooms have been described as resembling flamenco dancer’s skirts. Love these colorful descriptions!!
I asked some of my mushroom friends how they prepare hen of the woods. We decided to pull them apart like broccoli florets, brush them with olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper and grill them on the bbq. They were delicious. What a lovely birthday present!
This Saturday Neil and I went on a morel foray. Although the spring has been extremely dry, it rained recently and we were hopeful that that would lead to some good morel hunting. Nope. Between about 60 people, only 4 morels were found. I wasn’t one of the ones who found one. Bummer. And it doesn’t help that a good friend from Seattle is practically tripping over morels in her garden. And doesn’t believe me when I tell her they are real morels. So she doesn’t eat them. Wah.
But, it was a beautiful sunny day out of the city. I can’t disclose the location, although with such poor results, I doubt anyone will be banging my door down to tell them. And I saw a turtle. You have to get excited about something, right?
As promised, here are more photos from our trip. It is starting to seem like a long time ago already, as the weather cools and daily pace speeds up.
Chincoteague is a forager’s paradise. You can’t throw down a wire cage without catching loads of crabs. Oysters and clams are abundant and I did see some mussels. Neil learned how to shuck oysters, which led to many nights of oysters on the half shell. Clams tossed on the bbq were a big favorite as well.
For anyone who read Misty of Chincoteague, you can visit Misty and Stormy at the museum. Stormy was still alive when I went there as a child. Somewhere there’s a photo of me being kissed on the cheek by Stormy.