The Taste of Tomorrow
  • Beyond Mesclun
  • December3rd

    It’s been mild up here at The Taste of Tomorrow’s home office —cool, rainy, temps hovering in the 40s and 50s, barely a dusting of snow.    Still, even with the balmy fall, I was STUNNED to get an update from my favorite micro-farmer in early December announcing that he STILL had greens.

    Now, Henry Brockman, an organic farmer in Congerville, Illinois, who makes my favorite mesclun mix — and has the greatest collection of heirloom lettuces and Asian greens I have ever encountered —  does not have an indoor hydroponics growing operation.  He has an unheated hoop house on his farm, and he was surprised that some leafy greens had survived this late in the season.

    Needless to say, it was quite a thrill to go to a farmers market on  December 3rd – in the Chicago-area — and load up on freshly-picked green-anything.  But the reason I’m writing this is because Henry was also offering chickweed.

    Chickweed — Not for Chickens

    Not a lot of people know about the pleasures of chickweed (scientific name: Stellaria media) aka Starweed aka Winterweed.  Henry Brockman describes its taste as “like mache.”  Many others say it tastes like corn silk (if you’ve ever tried that!).  Personally, the words that come to my mind when I’m eating naked, uncooked chickweed: earthy, clean, pleasant, mild, slightly mache-y.

    I love raw chickweed as part of most any salad – try it with butter lettuce and arugula, use it to add a new note to your mesclun mix.  Sauteed, it’s a great stand-in for spinach. It’s widely praised as a pesto, and one forager sited introduce me to the wonders of the BCT – that’s bacon, chickweed, and tomato sandwich. Two reasons to go with a BCT over a BLT — taste, the earthy, machey chickweed pairs nicely bacon & lettuce (similar, but just different enough to keep you happy) Second: health.   Chickweed is loaded with vitamins — A, D, B-complex, calcium, magnesium, niacin.

    Some bad news:  don’t expect to find chickweed at Whole Foods anytime soon.  Or even at a good farmer’s market. It’s still pretty much a forager’s thing.  But good news:  it’s virtually everywhere.  Check out your lawn next spring.  Or if you don’t have a lawn, go to a park.  (And this applies to our readers in northern Sweden and southern Patagonia – it’s everywhere) Check out the Wildman’s post on chickweed, or Green Deane’s Eat the Weeds notes on chickweed for more on distribution, spotting, etc.  In brief, chickweed is a pretty good intro-to-foraging choice, because of its ubiquity and distinctive feature: a single of hairs running up the stem leaves that changes at each juncture of leaves.

    ALSO, fyi, two final things:  chickweed is called chickweed, because chickens apparently dig it.  And second, here’s a short, highly informative Green Deane instructional video on chickweed foraging.

  • November22nd

    The Killer App from the Wildman

    Wildman Steve Brill has given us some of the best  foraging guidebooks around. Now, the New York City foraging guru, and author of forager essential, Identifying and Harvest Edible and Medicinal Plants in the Wild (and Not So Wild) Places is going high-tech.

    In what could be the killer app of mobile technology, the Wildman had developed  “The Master Foraging Apps,” available in I-tunes.  You can go a la carte — for $2.99, for instance, you can get Steve’s edible shrubs guide — or you can get the complete Wild Edibles series for $7.99.

    It’s a user-friendly, hand-held tool — complete with illustrations and text — to aid in the search for fiddlehead ferns and pawpaws.

    The New Yorker Goes Foraging — And We Grow Envious

    Earlier this week, the New Yorker ran a fascinatingly detailed travelogue investigating the surging interest in foraging.  Writer Jane Kramer spent weeks traveling Europe — mushroom-hunting in England, searching for wild mint and asparagus in Umbria, scouring the beaches of Denmark for reindeer moss.  Kramer went wild food hunting with a forager’s dream team — including Rene Redzepi.   Reading it was painful –due to the striking pangs of jealousy.

    Here’s an excerpt:

    I ate reindeer moss at Noma, deep- fried, spiced with cèpes, and deliciously crisp. It was the third of twenty-three appetizers and tasting dishes I ate that night, the first being a hay parfait—a long infusion of cream and toasted hay, into which yarrow, nasturtium, camomile jelly, egg, and sorrel and camomile juice were then blended. The second arrived in a flower pot, filled with malted, roasted rye crumbs and holding shoots of raw wild vegetables, a tiny poached mousse of snail nestling in a flower, and a flatbread “branch” that was spiced with powdered oak shoots, birch, and juniper. I wish I could describe the taste of those eloquent, complex combinations, but the truth is that, like most of the dishes I tried at Noma, they tasted like everything in them and, at the same time, like nothing I had ever eaten. Four hours later, I had filled a notebook with the names of wild foods. Redzepi collected me at my table, and we sat for a while outside, on a bench near the houseboat, looking at the water and talking. I didn’t tell him that I’d passed on the little live shrimp, wriggling alone on a bed of crushed ice in a Mason jar, that had been presented to me between the rose-hip berries and the caramelized sweetbreads, plated with chanterelles and a grilled salad purée composed of spinach, wild herbs (pre-wilted in butter and herb tea), Swiss chard, celery, ground elder, Spanish chervil, chickweed, and goosefoot, and served with a morel-and-juniper-wood broth. I told him that it was the best meal I had ever eaten, and it was.

    The whole piece “The Food At Our Feet” is readable on the New Yorker’s site.   One takeaway note for Anglophile foragers: Get  The New Oxford Book of Food Plants.