Sourcing and eating wild food really opens your eyes, your mind and heart, in fact, your whole being, to a deep appreciation of and connection to the natural world around you!
I'm nuts about foraging. Our property is covered in nettles, mallow, dandelion, black sage, lavender, and clover, as well as seasonal flowers and fruit trees. I've enjoyed plucking and munching straight from the Earth- making teas, smoothies, and paving the way for more complicated dishes from this ungovernable lot of what are typically viewed as weeds.
I was gifted Guide to Wild Foods in 2003, when I had the opportunity to work for a CA native seed company, and I've clutched it ever since. It is a beautiful basic companion with good drawings and easy language for beginners. And doesn't Wild Table look tempting? It is becoming more simple to add fresh food to our diets as we learn how to identify, harvest and prepare what is sprouting up all around us: plant medicine cleverly disguised as visual flora.
Earth Skills, in my backyard at the foot of the Los Padres Nat'l Forest, gives my family a thrilling chance to learn more about how we can nibble off of the land. Located in our old neck of the woods, Frazier Park, CA, Jim Lowery and his charming wife, Mary, lead Visionquests and survival weekends in the spirit of Tom Brown, Jr. and Wilderness Awareness. I sprang at the chance to prepare local wild foods with them over the weekend.
My favorite part of our day together was grinding acorns into flour. I've always wanted to know how to address the issue of tannins, as some books make it sound like a complex process. It was as easy as cracking open the acorns on the grinding stone, tossing the funky ones aside and food processing them into a fine flour. We started with dried Valley Oak acorns, that the team had harvested locally last Fall.
My team ground up our acorns and then poured about a gallon of cold water over them to leach out the tannins, and then spread the wet meal out on a cookie sheet to dry in the sun.
Acorns can be purchased, but there are so many varieties, that most of us have one kind or another growing at the edges of town. The best time to harvest is usually in September. Our recipe for Orange Acorn Bread called for a blend of wheat flour and acorn flour, but when I make it next, I'm going to sub oat flour for wheat. I like it's earthy, gritty quality.
Cooking in a hall with a dozen people coordinating a dozen different dishes had a soup-kitchen vibe, and a Thanksgiving spirit. I was paired with two guys-a park ranger/naturalist from Ventura County and a fellow from San Jose who teaches urban youth how to interact with the wild. I learned so much just from our chats while we were up to our elbows in acorn mush. It was awesome.
In addition to the Wild Nettle Pie, another team made Nettle Soup. It was really easy to make and everyone loved it. Nettles are rich in vitamin C and Iron, and can be used wherever you would use spinich or dense greens.
Cream of Nettle Soup with Potatoes
(as shared by Jim and Mary Lowry of Earth Skills, with slight modifications)
1 lb. fresh nettles
1/2 lb potatoes
1 leek, white part only
3 1/4 tsp butter
1 3/4 c. water
1/3 c. cream
Melt butter over medium heat and sautee leeks until soft. Add potato and water and cook until tender. Blanche raw nettles until tender and stir into soup. Puree in blender, returning the mixture to pan. Add cream, season with salt and pepper.
I'm going to experiment with this recipe until it reaches nirvana. It's very close to it- however, I think it might be yearning for some crumbled turkey bacon...
Big Mama Gaia offers her bounty to us each season. Receiving from her inspires me to think about all of the ways I want to thank Her.