Book Review: Forage, Harvest, Feast by Marie Viljoen

Forest, Harvest, Feast book cover

I received Forage, Harvest, Feast at the end of last summer, an ideal time to review a cookbook based on wild cuisine. This book contains almost 500 recipes that covers 36 wild plants that are found in the Northeastern United States. Each plant has its own chapter with a short article about the plant and its uses in the kitchen. The book itself is a cookbook, not a field guide, although it does contain some basic information about the plants themselves. The real information and value is in the articles and the recipes, of which appear to be generally first hand experiences that the author has with the plants.

Marie Viljoen is a South African transplant to New York City and her stories about foraging and eating plants are often reminiscent of her African childhood. The recipes are globally inspired but down to earth for the modern American eater, and the scope of the book is very well rounded. There are recipes for staples like salts, oils, butters, many types of sauces and relishes and lots of preserving type recipes. There are also many cocktail recipes for the imbiber, as well as baked goods and desserts. And of course, many appetizers, soups and salads, entrees and side dishes. An impressive variety of recipes!

When I received the book, mugwort and spicebush berries were particularly abundant in my neighborhood so I tried out several of her recipes using these ingredients. For the mugwort, I tried out both the “Warm Mugwort and Soy Braised Tomato Salad” and the “Raw Tomato and Mugwort Salad with Miso Field Garlic” (tomatoes were particularly abundant too). Both recipes tasted great, the recipes were simple to follow and the cooking times/directions were reasonably accurate. I also tried out the “Spicebush Ginger Pickled Carrots” and have to give them two thumbs up! The recipe was spot on for flavor and technique. All three of these recipes were quick and simple recipes, but she does include more sophisticated recipes that look quite interesting. “Mugwort and Bayberry Pork Rillettes” and “Blueberry Buttermilk Spicebush Scones” are just a couple of examples of more involved recipes using the above mentioned ingredient examples.

The book does contain nice looking color photos, but it is not a picture book. In my opinion, the photos are just enough to give the book some nice color, but no more. But that is not a negative criticism; as I already mentioned the books value is in the volume of recipes and the articles on how the plants are used. There is also a chapter of sample wild menus, a listing of all recipes sorted by course and diet, and a large index.  

I was pretty happy with the variety of plants profiled in this book. I consider myself a fairly seasoned forager, so I get particularly interested in books that introduce me to new edible plants. Many of her plants are traditional plants consumed in foraging circles: garlic mustard, lamb’s quarter, ramps, etc. Of these plants, her recipes are a nice blend of traditional uses and creative dishes. But she also includes a number of lesser know, lesser used plants like sweetfern, quickweed and American burnweed. Although familiar with quickweed (Galinsoga quadriraditata) as a common garden weed, I never realized it is edible until I saw her chapter on it. To learn a single new edible plant is generally worth at least checking out a book from the library. She has several plants in this book that are new to me, and plenty of new and interesting ideas of how to work with familiar plants.

This book is approachable to the novice forager, although again I will point out that it is intended as a cookbook, not as a field guide. I also think that the more seasoned forager will find it a very valuable addition to their library of wild edible books. The book is published by Chelsea Green Publishing for the price of $40.00. Not a cheap book, but worthy of the work that was obviously put into developing it. I intend to add it to my library.

Forage, Harvest, Feast: A Wild Inspired Cuisine
by Marie Viljoen
Published by Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018.
(480 pages)
ISBN 10: 1603587500
ISBN 13: 978-1603587501

This book review appeared in the New Jersey Mycological Association’s NJMA News for November-December 2018 (#48-6), by Luke Smithson

Morels and Giant White Beans

For much of the country, morel season is fast approaching or even here if you live in the deep south or California. Here in Pennsylvania, as the trees leaf out and trout lilies bloom, I begin to find the elusive morel in April.  We actually have several species of morels on the east coast, with Morchella americana being the most prominent species in my experience. Morchella diminutiva, Morchella angusticeps and Morchella punctipes also make appearances in Eastern North America during the spring months and all are good from a culinary standpoint.

May 6.2015
Morchella americana

The most important thing to remember with all Morchella species is that they must be thoroughly cooked. Failure to cook your morels will result in severe gastric upset. Other than that little caveat, morels are a delicious mushroom.

I do enjoy eating morels fresh, but morels are really an ideal drying mushroom. I usually eat a few meals with fresh morels, especially when I find big ones that I can stuff and bake, but the majority of my morels end up in the dehydrator. I do this for two reasons.

Reason #1: Dehydrating concentrates their flavors. Morels are a mild flavored mushroom in the first place, so removing the water content from the mushroom concentrates their flavors. The re-hydrating liquid becomes liquid gold in terms of flavor.

Reason #2: Fresh morels are quite brittle. Stir them in the saute pan a little too much and they crumble apart. After drying then re-hydrating, they toughen up a little and hold their shape better, but are quite tender again after a good soak and cooking.

Being such a mild mushroom, you have to be careful not to overwhelm their flavor with other ingredients. Garlic is good with them, but not too much. Other mushrooms and lots of heavy seasonings will drown out their subtle but amazing flavors. They pair exceptionally well with mild dairy products like butter, cream and fresh (but mild) cheeses. Light meats such as chicken, veal or white fish work well with them. My dish pairs giant white runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) with dried Morchella americana and Northern Bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica). If giant white runner beans are unavailable, I would substitute with a dried white lima bean or any other creamy white bean that you like.

Morels and Giant White Beans

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup dried Giant White Runner Beans
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 8 Bayberry leaves (sub with bay leaf if needed)
  • 1 cup dried morels
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 Tbl cooking oil
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbl butter
  • Chives for garnish

Soak the beans in cold, salted water overnight. Don’t worry about the old wives tale of your beans becoming tough in salt. This is not true and your beans will be more thoroughly seasoned if you allow them to soak in seasoned water.

Discard soaking water and cover beans in fresh water with thyme and bayberry. Boil until tender, about 1-2 hours. Add water as needed to keep covered, but allow water to cook down so that the beans are in a thick gravy when done cooking. Remove bayberry and discard.

Soak morels in hot water for 30 minutes. Strain the morels, saving soaking liquid, squeezing the excess liquid from the morels.

Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium high heat and add morels. Season with salt and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until they brown. Add garlic after they have browned, stir for 30 seconds, then carefully add the reserved morel soaking liquid. Turn heat down to medium and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Add a little more water if needed so that the morels are in liquid. At end of cooking time, let the water cook down to that the morels in just a little wet and add the cooked beans (including bean cooking liquid). Allow this mixture to simmer until all liquids have evaporated into a thick gravy, but don’t let it dry out. Stir in butter, taste and add additional salt as desired.

Sprinkle with chives and sop up the rich morel gravy with a good crusty bread!

Morels in pan 2

Mycophagy Post: Ischnoderma resinosum

Ischnoderma resinosum

I have been trying to figure out how to eat Ischnoderma resinosum, or “Resinous Polypore”, for a number of years. Ever since I read in David Aurora’s “Mushroom Demystified” that the resinous polypore is said to be edible, I’ve longed to figure out it’s secrets. I have finally found a cooking technique that makes the resinous polypore worth collecting. Continue reading “Mycophagy Post: Ischnoderma resinosum”

Mycophagy Post: Albatrellus ovinus

Albatrellus ovinus is a mychorrhizal polypore that is found growing terrestrially under conifers and has a wide distribution throughout North America. Sometimes called the “Sheep Polypore”, it is firm and dry with a texture similar to hedgehog mushrooms. In fact, from above it looks somewhat similar to a large hedgehog, but one look at the fertile surface reveals that it is indeed poroid.

Young firm specimens are a real treat in the kitchen. When sliced thin and slowly sauteed in a light coating of oil, they fry up into crispy strips with a meaty texture. Not tough, but firm to the tooth! Their low moisture content ensures that they brown evenly. I cook them in a neutral oil and finish them with shallots and salt. They have a delicate flavor that starts out savory and finishes slightly sweet. They eat great on their own, and the sweetness would lend itself well in dishes with fall nuts. They would work very well in crisp fall salad with hazelnuts and arugula, dressed in vinaigrette made with a nut oil.

Seasonally, they show up in the summer and fall (at least here on the East Coast), and will continue to show up into the late fall if it stays mild. Indeed, I just ate a plate of them and am looking forward to finding more!

 

 

 

The Post Maitake Mushroom Season

Maitake and Honey Mushroom season may be over and we are waking up to frost on our windshields but there is still a whole season of great edibles just waiting to be found in the Mid-Atlantic region. I live in the Philadelphia area and am fortunate enough to be able to foray in two distinct ecosystems: the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens and the Piedmont Ecoregion. The Pine Barrens of New Jersey become quite active for mushrooms later in the fall, with mycorhizal species being very prevalent. In the deciduous forest of the Piedmont (aka the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains), the mycorhizal species dwindle as the leaves drop, but wood decaying fungi are quite active.

I have kept a dated journal of mushrooms that I’ve found for the past 10 years. This list is compiled from that journal so it is not all-inclusive, but what I have found in the Philly/South Jersey area in November and beyond. Other good edibles may be out there just waiting for be found by the vigilant and prepared forager!

T. magnivelare11.15.15.a
Tricholoma magnivelare

Tricholoma magnivelare: the Matsutake
Matsutake are found in the Pine Barrens in sandy dunes under the pine trees. Not common, but worth hunting for, these prized mushrooms are found in November in our region. They have a spicy, aromatic flavor reminiscent of cinnamon with a funky odor. But funky in the way cheese can be funky! My favorite way to prepare these are to slice thinly and steam in a pot of rice as the rice cooks. The entire pot of rice takes on the flavor of the mushroom. Add a little tamari for salt and a shot of citrus or mirin for acidity.

 

 

Cortinarius caperita
Cortinarius caperatus

Cortinarius caperatus: The Gypsy

The Gypsy mushroom shows up in October and November in the Pine Barrens under a number of different trees, but especially where you find blueberry plants. It is the only Cortinarius that I currently eat, and can be quite abundant in good years. I tend to use only the cap, as the stipe is a bit stringy. I have only ever used them fresh, but I suspect that they would dry well. Flavor is mild and mushroomy, quite pleasant and perfect for a classic saute in butter and garlic.

Oysters (1)
Pleurotus ostreatus

Pleurotus ostreatus: Oyster mushrooms

Oyster mushrooms show up anywhere where there is broadleaf trees and grow on dying or dead wood. They will show up for a few years in the same spot until all of the nutrients it is feeding on are depleted. Several species of Pleurotus live in our area, showing up at different times of the year. Ostreatus likes cool weather and will actually fruit any time that the conditions permit. I have records of picking it in mid-December, frozen on logs. It tolerates freezing fairly well. I think the trick is that if it is frozen, keep it frozen and throw it in the pan frozen. Defrosting on the countertop leads to mushy, wet mushrooms. Flavor is deep, often with a hint of anise. Best when cooked really well with caramelization (or is that a Maillard reaction?).

H. sublateritum 1H. subateritum 2

Hypholoma lateritium: Brick Caps
Brick caps grow on hardwoods and taste great after a frost. They have their own unique mushroom flavor and do dry well. I find them in big bunches in the very cool fall weather and have even found smaller ones growing in January. The very similar Hypholoma capnoides grow on conifer and are equally edible.

Leccinum
Leccinum species

Leccinum species of the Pine Barrens
These Leccinum’s are undescribed and there are quite possibly several species floating around the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. We simply call them Leccinum and eat them all. They are treated like boletes, so only the smallest firmest ones are for cooking fresh. The remainder go in the dehydrator for reconstituting. They do well in sauces and soups. At this time the best name we can call them is Leccinum section/subsection Leccinum. Or call them delicious.

005
Auricularia americana

Auricularia americana: Wood Ear

The Wood Ear will show up any time of the year when conditions are correct, growing on hardwood. They like cold, wet weather and will even fruit during warm spells in mid winter. They don’t have much, if any, flavor but the texture is very “crisp” and gelatinous. Mushrooms very similar to this are popular in Asian cuisines and are sought after for their texture. Sweet and sour soup is where you often find this type of mushroom. They dry very well and reconstitute easily. I use them most often to bulk up Asian stir fries or soups, just allowing them to soak up whatever flavors I am using.

241
Hericium erinaceus

Hericium erinaceus: Lions Mane
Lions Mane mushrooms will continue to fruit on hardwood (mostly Maple and Beech in my experience) for the remainder of November if there is mild weather. As you can see from the old school time stamp on this photo, these guys were spotted on Thanksgiving Day in 2011. They were a little past their prime, but still recent growth.

Flammulina velutipes (1)
Flammulina velutipes

Flammulina velutipes: Wild Enoki 

The Wild Enoki, or Velvet Shank, is a cold weather mushroom. I have seen it fruiting while there is snow on the ground, growing from dead hardwood. They have a somewhat gelatinous cuticle that some people say to remove, but I never have. Mild flavor that works well in egg dishes, these mushrooms are also popular in Asian cuisines.

Exidia recisa Smullen
“Exidia recisa” photo by Dorothy Smullen

Exidia recisa

I have never eaten this mushroom, but apparently people are eating it regularly. The thought is that it has been confused with Auricularia often enough and eaten often enough by the same people that we know it is edible. There is even a recipe appearing in Leon Shernoff’s latest edition of “Mushroom: The Journal of Wild Mushroom” (Winter 2017/Spring 2018 Issue 117) for Exidia recisa moo goo gai pan. I will be on the lookout for this species to try.

Laccaria trullissata 11.15.15.5
Laccaria trullisata

Laccaria trullisata: Sand Loving laccaria

Another mushroom that I have not eaten, but it is considered edible and is quite common in the Pine Barrens or anywhere else where it is sandy and there are Pines. I know of an area right outside of Philadelphia where I find it every November. I’m not sure that it is considered to be of very good quality, but I will eventually try it.

A few more mushrooms that I could not find any photos of in my photo collection, but are around now:

Lepista nuda: The Blewit

The Blewit is a very good and fairly common mushroom that will persists well into late fall. Growing in grass, I have even found it under snow cover in early December while deer hunting. I was literally scooping snow out of the way to make a place to sit and found a bunch of half frozen blewits there! Careful not to confuse these guys with Cortinarius; a spore print quickly sorts that out.

Hypsizygus ulmarus: The Elm Oyster

A very under appreciated fall mushroom, the Elm Oyster fruits on hardwoods. As the name suggests, it likes Elm but since Elm is practically non existent in our region (thanks to the fungal Dutch Elm Disease), it is more commonly found on other hardwoods. I routinely find it on Acer negundo (Box Elder). I think it may not be very common, or possibly it is just overlooked since it lives higher up in the trees. You might have to climb to get it. It is firm, meaty and deep in flavor. One of the better mushrooms on this list, I find it regularly in early November in Philadelphia.

Chroogomphus vinicolor: The Pine Spike

I have not eaten these guys, but they are pretty common in the Pine Barrens and considered edible. I am usually finding enough Tricholoma and Leccinum when the Pine Spike fruits that I don’t get around to trying them, but one of these days.

Black Walnut: Nut of the Gods

Black Walnut 2
Black walnuts ready to come off of the tree

In Pennsylvania, when the first frost hits and the leaves are really starting to change, it is time to collect Black Walnuts. Black walnuts are particularly abundant in my area of Pennsylvania and are a rich source of wild protein and fat for me. They can be challenging to work with, but between their abundance and their richness, it is well worth the effort to invest some time in these wild nuts.

Juglans nigra is a member of the Walnut family and closely related to Butternuts, English Walnuts and Hickories. The word Juglans is a contraction of Jovis glans, or “Nut of Jupiter” (the Roman God). They prefer open woods and are particularly abundant on moist edges of the forest. They have been historically planted as field borders because they produce a substance called juglone, which is toxic to many plant species, especially other trees. Areas with agricultural history can be good walnut hunting grounds. Their timber is is highly valued for woodworking and as firewood.

The trees are particularly easy to pinpoint in early autumn as they tend to be very first trees to lose their leave, looking like skeletons among the still leafy forest. Mature trees can grow up to 90′ tall and have pinnately compound leaves that are very aromatic when crushed.

I have never observed any mycorrhizal mushrooms around black walnuts, so I speculate that they probably host mostly endomycorrhizal type fungi. I do often find black raspberries under them. Tapping black walnut trees in the spring and reducing the sap to a syrup is also a thing. They are a host to many insects, some quite specific to walnut trees, and squirrels love them. Since the trees own juglone inhibits the growth of new walnut trees within the perimeter of where the walnuts drop, squirrels are the primary method of seed dispersal for these trees, sprouting from forgotten buried nuts. I have found black walnuts buried in my garden, pilfered from the buckets of walnuts I occasionally leave outside. Squirrels will quickly diminish any unattended human caches!

Serious pests of Black Walnuts include ever encroaching human development and removal of trees. The wood and leaves are susceptible to the typical array of fungal pathogens and decayers, some being generalist and some being host specific. The conk Sanghuangporus weirianus  is a host specific polypore that shows itself on Black Walnut. The defoliating ascomycete Cristulariella pyramidalis shows up as target like spots on the underside of leaves and a serious fungal disease, Geosmithia morbida, has turned up in Pennsylvania in recent years and slowly kills trees by causing numerous small cankers that starve the tree of nutrients. The disease is spread by the Tiny Walnut Twig Beetle (Pityophthorus juglandis). Thus far, no cure or control for the disease exists, so the only means of slowing the disease is by not moving walnut wood or products out of affected areas. A quarantine currently exists for much of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Collecting black walnuts is not considered a problem in terms of spreading this disease, but one should be mindful whenever moving forest products from one location to another.

 

Black Walnut 1.jpg
These nuts are ready to collect right from the ground

To collect black walnuts, one simply has to wait for the walnuts to drop. Some trees have larger nuts than others, so look around and choose wisely. They are encased in a leathery husk that is easily removed by rolling it under foot once the husk turns black. Inside of the husk, there is a deep brown goop that will stain your hands for days (or weeks), similar to henna. These hulls are used to make natural dyes for textiles and fabrics, so wear gloves unless you want dyed hands. I use a stiff brush and a bucket of water to remove the remaining goop, then I air cure the nuts by leaving them in a ventilated area for several day. I prefer to store my nuts in the freezer, although if properly cured and stored in a cool area they should remain fresh for the winter. Because of their high fat content, rancidity is possible.

Nut cracker photo
“Industrial strength” nut cracker used for shelling Black Walnuts

Opening the nuts is another story. I have used a hammer. I have also used a big vice. But I finally made an investment in a serious, heavy duty nutcracker made by a fellow from the Pennsylvania Nut Association. It was not cheap, but I considered it a worthy investment. I have seen similar machines for much less in ag catalogs, but since I have never used them I cannot attest to their quality. The machine I purchased is super sturdy and makes short work of opening nuts. Once open, I gently pick the meat from the shell with a pick. Once drawback of the heavy shell from black walnuts is the tendency to fragment when they are cracked. These fragments are notoriously difficult to see in the pile of nut meat and are quite unappealing when you bite down on one. I have been told to throw the nut meat in cold water and the fragments will float, but I have never had much luck with that method. I find the most reliable method is to turn the nut meat into a small dice by systematically running a large chef knife through the meat in a rocking motion, never allowing the knife blade to totally leave the cutting board. I pass the knife through the pile of nut meat, then turn the knife 90 degrees and run the knife through again. If there is a shell fragment, it is very noticeable when the knife is leveraged away from the cutting board. A couple of passes through the meat with the knife usually reveals any fragments. Alternatively, I turn black walnut meat into nut meal by chopping then pushing through a metal strainer or sieve with a heavy metal spoon. Takes a little work, but the rich nut meal passes through the screening quickly leaving the fragments behind.

The flavor of black walnuts is extremely rich with a tannic, sometimes bitter quality. I enjoy big flavors, so I will eat them straight from the shell. But the real value is in cooking with them. Their deep flavor translates extremely well into baked products. The classic combination is chocolate and black walnuts, i.e. the chocolate chip cookie with black walnuts. These are popular enough that shelled black walnuts are usually available in my local grocery stores during the holidays, at a pretty hefty price. There is a nut company called Hammons Black Walnuts that sells a number of black walnut products. Their products are nice, and expensive. I find a lot more gratification in my final product when I have collected the nuts myself and actually worked them with my own hands, and the “free” price tag is appealing. Black walnuts shine in pestos, romescos and especially cream sauces for pasta. The meal makes great additions in pancakes and muffins. I have read that you can boil the walnuts in water to obtain a black walnut oil, but I have yet to try this.

The recipe that follows is an adaptation of Pennsylvania Dutch Bean Day Bread. The recipe that I started with was published by William Woys Weaver in his very fine book “Dutch Treats”. The bread itself has it’s own very special cultural story, but you will have to purchase Weavers book to read about that. I adapted it to include a wild Pennsylvania element, and the results were superb. I enjoy this bread toasted, with butter and honey. You can double your bean intake by slathering this toasted bread with butter then topping with a white bean puree and fresh herbs. Stale loaves become great tasting croutons.

Black Walnut Bread.jpg

Black Bean Bread with Black Walnuts

Yields 1 loaves

  • 2/3 cup dry black beans
  • 3/4 Tbsp grated unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 1/2 cup black coffee
  • 1/4 oz dry active yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2.5 cups bread flour (approximately)
  • .75 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup diced black walnut meat
  • 2 tsp dried thyme (replace this with 2 Tbsp of freshly chopped mugwort to make it even more “wild”)

Soak the black beans in 1 quart of salted* water for 12 hours (or overnight). Drain from water and replace with fresh water and salt, bring to a boil and simmer until beans are very tender. Puree the beans with just enough cooking liquid so that you get puree the consistency of a thick gravy (not a paste).

Put this paste in a mixing bowl. Dissolve the grated chocolate in the hot coffee then mix this into the bean puree. Proof the yeast in lukewarm milk. Once the yeast is bubbling, add it to the bean mixture and whisk to create a smooth batter. Add oil then sift in 1.5 cups of the flour. Cover with a damp cloth and allow it to double in bulk.

Once dough has risen and develops bubbles on top, stir down and add the salt, walnut meat, thyme and about 1 cup of flour. Only add enough flour so that the dough no longer sticks to your hands (you will have to adjust the flour up or down based on how wet the bean paste was). Knead for about 5 minutes so that you get a soft and pliant dough, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.

Knock down, form into a loaf and place in a greased 4″ x 11″ bread pan. Cover and let dough rise to within 1 inch of top. Place bread in the middle of oven preheated to 450F. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce to 400F. Bake for another 15 minutes the reduce heat to 350F and bake for 30 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped. Brush with ice water when you remove from oven, then cool before slicing.

* Soaking and cooking beans in salted water is the correct way to cook dried beans, as the salt is absorbed into the starch and seasons the beans from the inside out. The idea that salt toughens your beans is a fallacy. Using very old beans, not properly soaking and inadequate cooking is the true cause of tough beans.

Sources

The North American Wild Kidney Bean, Phaseolus polystachios

P. polystachios flower
Phaseolus polystachios

Phaseolus polystachios is a member of the Fabaceae (pea family) and is the only wild representative of the Phaseolus genus in temperate North America. Phaseolus is a fairly large genus with many wild species native to Meso-America and South America and include common beans, lima beans and a few other domesticated types. Our Wild Kidney Bean is most closely related tPhaseolus lunatus (Lima beans), and grows as a perennial vine that dies back over the winter.¹ During the summer, it produces long racemes of pinkish to purplish flowers that form small bean pods. These bean pods mature and produce several lentil sized beans in each pod. Pods will shatter (spontaneously split and twist open) in the fall and send beans flying many feet away from the parent plant.  Continue reading “The North American Wild Kidney Bean, Phaseolus polystachios”