The following two weeks from Mid April to beginning of May ( and onwards), you will find a host of different plants and mushrooms to forage. It is worth mentioning at this point, that everyone can find these edibles. A little research goes a long way and I am always available to assist through to the ID. Photos first then harvest once full ID confirmation. Just simply email ( firstname.lastname@example.org) photos from several angles, clear closeups and the setting of where you found it ( Old forest/ Roadside/ mixed forest etc).
Ostrich Fern – Matteucia Struthiopteris- FIDDLEHEAD
Looking for Fiddleheads is, hands down, one of my favorite Spring activities. The Ostrich fern is the only edible in the bracken family outside of Japan. Ostrich Fern only grows in North America. Identifying it correctly is crucial as there are look-a-likes that can make you sick. Those are Cinnamon Fern & Interrupted Fern. In the picture is a typical young rosette of the fern as the fiddleheads emerge.
To describe the fern, in full growth, it resembles the shape of an Ostrich plume. Which is how it acquired it’s name. At the height of its growth, the green sterile fronds grow vertical ( up to 2 meters) and in the center. The feathery side branches (called pinnae) getting smaller and smaller. Finally tapering to the base with shorter tapering pinnae. The fertile fronds are shorter (. 5 meters) and brown when ripe, with constricted leaf tissue curled over the sporangia – an enclosure in which the spores are formed. These develop into the Fall with a spore release in the Spring. It is important to know these identifiers, as you can spend the Summer looking for your future Spring Fiddlehead location.
To further your identification of Ostrich Fern please note the groove on the inside of the stem. The coiled top and stem are smooth or a layer of fine fuzz (the look-a-likes have a wooly covering). It will have some thin papery, brown scales on the curled top that are easy to remove ( Shown in top picture). The stems can grow quite long before unfurling and I recommend only clipping 2 to 3 fiddleheads per fern. This way you can guarantee a regenerative spot for fiddlehead harvesting year after year.
I actually prefer cutting the stems long when harvesting Fiddleheads. As long of the stems are tender and easy to clip off with your fingers, there is no harm done. I also like getting a bigger bang for my harvest. There is about a 3 week window for regular harvesting. Every year I go out to check my spots early and track their growth. This way I know exactly when it is time and I can schedule it appropriately.
The following is a favorite Spring time recipe. ‘Savory Fiddlehead Galette‘. Pictured is a Galette made with a traditional crust but my absolute favorite is made with laminated pastry.
- 2 Cups Fiddleheads – Blanched for 5 minutes in salted boiling water – Cooled in an ice bath
- 2 Tablespoons Confit Garlic paste or Wild Ramp Pesto (recipe below)
- 1 Cup Old Cheddar & shaved Asiago or Vegan Smoked Gouda
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter (melted) or olive oil
- 1/2 a large onion – finely julienned & sautéed & deglazed with aged balsamic
- 2 large Sprigs of rosemary chopped
- pinch of Salt & pepper
- Mix all the ingredients together and set aside until pastry is ready
Laminated Pastry (AKA: Puff Pastry)
- 2 Cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra on the side
- 1 Teaspoon of salt
- 2/3 Cup of iced water
- 1 Cup unsalted butter or Vegetable lard (cold)
Method: on the counter – Mix the flour and salt. Make a trough by running your fingers down the center. Evenly distribute 1 tablespoon of water at a time while mixing roughly with your fingers using a scooping motion. Gather the flour back into a mound and repeat the process until all the water is used. The flour starts clumping together in large pieces and holds together when pressed.
Chill the dough for 30 minutes while you get the cold butter prepared.
Cut the cold butter into small blocks. Sprinkle with a small amount of flour and place between 2 large pieces of parchment. Using your rolling pin to pound the butter flat until butter is pliable and does not break when you fold it over on itself. Chill for about 10 minutes. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out on a floured surface. Place the chilled flatten butter on top of the dough. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter so they meet in the middle. Pinch to seal then flip on re-floured surface. Roll it out to a rectangle and fold top inwards a third down and fold bottom over top (it’ll look like a folded tea towel. Rotate and repeat 3 to 4 times. Then chill the puffed dough. You can use within an hour or leave in the fridge over night. Preheat oven to 425 F. Roll out Puff pastry to 1/4 inches thick in a rough circle. Spoon the Galette filling onto the center of the pastry in a thick but even layer. Fold and pleat the edges of the dough border over the Fiddleheads, leaving the center exposed. Lightly b rush the edges of the dough with water or an egg wash. Cook for 10 minutes at 425 then reduce heat to 350 for 40 minutes or until pastry is gold brown. Rotate at least once halfway through cook time. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. The pastry will reabsorb the butter. Slice and serve.
WILD RAMPS – Wild Leek – Allium Tricoccum
This is the time to be looking for Spring Ramps ( Allium Tricoccum). Their green distinctively richer in color, poking up and grouped patches. Or in some cases…. swathes under hardwood trees in mixed old woods. It is important to note the ethical harvest of these delicious Spring goodies. Over harvesting of this plant has put it in a ‘High Risk’ category. When looking at the patch of Garlic Ramp you have to be especially choosy what you harvest. The 3 leafed stalks will produce a flower and future seeds. Those HAVE to be left behind to reproduce. Those seeds take 24 months to produce new greens. The first year only producing a bulb, with the following year it’s first greens. Then in it’s third year finally a flower to propagate itself. If the flowers aren’t left behind you can easily wipe out the whole plant very quickly.
Only clipping the greens from 2 leafed stalks, you can proceed to harvest for a full flavored Pesto and Salads. In the picture here, you can see I have left the bulbs behind. I do harvest the garlic bulbs eventually, but not until after the plant has finished flowering. The leaves die back as the night time air becomes warmer in late June. The flowers start to bloom late summer, then after they’ve been pollinated, their energies focus on Bulb growth. I will take 2 to 3 per patch in September/October while rustling up the plant enough to allow the seeds to naturally drop. Thus helping to restart it’s regeneration while promoting its current growth and future cycles.
Wild Ramp & Bittercress Pesto
- 2 Bunches Of wild ramp leaves
- 2 Bunches of bittercress leaves
- 1 Cup of roasted pepita seeds (hulled Pumpkin Seeds)
- 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
- Squeeze of Lemon
- salt & pepper to taste
Method: My Pesto is very simple and Vegan. It also appeals to people who have tree nut allergies. I’ve always felt I can add the other additional ingredients for the recipe I’m making at the time. In a food Processor add all the greens and pepitas – do a basic rough chop blend to break the ingredients down. Then slowly start adding the olive oil and lemon with the processor on high. Scrapping down the sides occasionally to get the big chunks. Pour into a bowl and season with salt & pepper to taste. Remember from the earlier calendar that Bittercress has a lovely natural nut flavor but also undertones of pepper. The pepitas add additional nut flavor but also a chunky texture. I will make this pesto in quantity and freeze significant amounts in portioned containers, so I can enjoy all year long.
OYSTER MUSHROOM – Pleurotus Ostreatus
The latin name is broken down as such ‘Pleurotus’ means formed laterally or sideways position – ear. ‘Ostreatus’ refers to the oyster shell like appearance and color, not the taste of the mushroom.
Although, I do find it to smell like fresh salty sea air. The spores for this mushroom are white, whitish grey to lavender. This mushroom is found growing in large clusters on dead or dying wood. Specifically on stumps, logs and trucks of deciduous trees. It is very common to find these all season long.
Oyster mushrooms contain eight essential amino acids in significant amounts. Notably lovastatin, which is a known pharmacological agent used for treating high blood pressure. The amount of clinical medical studies on this mushroom are mind boggling at best and really worth the research. If you enjoy the taste, this mushroom can be added to any recipe and even in dried powdered form, an excellent addition from smoothies to breads. So find your Oyster Mushroom spots because these versatile mushrooms will come back in the same log/tree every year.
WILD CARROT – Daucus Carota – Queen Annes Lace
A known but usually forgotten edible tap root. This plant is actually the cultivated carrot gone wild. It is a member of the buttercup family and is an erect biennial on solid, striate or ridged stem 30 to 100 cm tall. Leaves pinnately compound, segments pinnatifid, lobes 5 mm long. White flowers in compound umbels 3 to 7 cm in diameter, flat or convex, with usually one blackish-purple flower in the center.
This picture is what you are looking for now in Spring. Just a handful of early carrot greens before the plant bolts and the tap root easy to remove.
This next picture shows what the wild carrot appears like. They are always whitish in color and have very strong carroty aromas. I use a hand spade to assist in the removal. Daucus Carota will be easy to find along pathways in the park to countryside roadways. I found these as Lou ( my chocolate Lab) and I took our pre-lunch walk. Right beside were Cleavers – which will be our next edible.
Wild Carrots are not as sweet as the cultivated we buy from the farmers markets. In fact, there is an additional step you must do in order to fully enjoy them – removing the center hard core. This can be done before cooking but I find that tedious. I simply cut the carrot length wise, roast it and pull the hard core out afterwards. After it is cooked that core slips out very easy. I add salted butter and hickory syrup to sweeten them before serving.
The Shagbark Hickory Syrup is smoky, delicious and amazingly easy to produce. Newsletter subscribers will receive the recipe and process next week.
Cleavers – Bedstraw (Galium Mollugo), Chickweed ( Mullogo Verticilla) & Woodruff (Galium Odoratum) I am grouping these together as they all pretty much look the same at this time of year and they’re all edible.
In early Spring all three of these plants look exactly like the middle picture. Both Woodruff and Bedstraw are from the Rubiaceae Family which, interestingly enough, include coffee and quinine. Chickweed is from Caryophyllaceae – Stelleria Media family. However, all three have the same description. They are all perennials with creeping root stock from which many quadrangular smooth slender stems arise. Leaves in whorls of 3 to 8 ( woodruff only always has 6 , Bedstraw has 6 to 8 & Chickweed has 3 to 8). Dark green, lanceolate, 3 cm long. rough edged. With small white flowers. Woodruff has a taste similar to tarragon and both Chickweed and Bedstraw are very sweet on the palate.
You can find these in rich forests to turned soil and along country roadsides. Mixing the three is delicious. I use in simple salads, as garnish on main courses to stand alone dishes. One of my more popular dishes amongst friends and family is my Taboule salad.
Cleaver Taboule Recipe
- 4 Bunches of Cleavers rough chopped
- 1 cup Fresh Mint rough chopped
- 1 bunch Wild Ramp Leaves rough chopped
- a handful of bittercress greens rough chopped.
- 1 firm Tomato Diced
- 1 shallot finely chopped
- 1/2 cup EVOO (extra virgin Olive Oil)
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- 1 cup pre-washed Quinoa (Gluten Free)
- Wild flower petals for garnish – Dandelion, Violets or as in this picture – Calendula
Method: I Use Quinoa in order to have a gluten free dish but you can use fine or cracked Bulgar for an authentic dish. Toast the quinoa in a saucepan – remove from saucepan and add a tablespoon of olive oil – Return quinoa to pan when oil is hot. Add water (1 cup but may need to add more as it cooks) to the pan on medium heat and bring to boil. Lower heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Take off heat and let stand for 15 minutes. Remove from pan onto cold baking sheet to fully cool down before adding cold ingredients.
In a separate large mixing bowl put in the fresh green ingredients and mix. Add the cooled Quinoa, diced tomatoes, chopped shallots, EVOO , lemon juice and salt & pepper. Add more or less EVOO and Lemon Juice to your tastes. Just before serving – add the flower petals of your choice – keeping some aside as garnish.
Also Found Mid to late April
- Purple Dead Nettle – Lamium Purpureum
- Stinging Nettle – Urtica Dioca
- Wild Parsnip Tap roots – Pastinaca Sativa – safe harvest will be covered in in the next Calendar.
- Pheasant Back Mushroom – Cerioporus Squamosus
- Dandelion – Taraxacum Officinale
- Marsh Marigold – Caltha Palustris
- Horseradish – Cochlearia Armoracia
- Wood Ear- Auricularia Auricula-Judae
- Common Sorrel – Rumex Acetosella
- Coltsfoot – Petasites Frididus
- Enokitaki – Flummulina Velutipes
- Bittercress – Cardamine Hirsuta
- Scarlet Elf Cap – Sarcoscypha Austriaca
- Spring Beauty – Claytonia Spp
- Hopniss – Apios Americana
- Wild Pursulane – Portulaca Oleracea
- Morel Mushrooms
- Spruce Tips
- Garlic Mustard
- Spring Beauties