Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Signs of Spring-Wild Ramps-Start of Forage Season

The wild ramps are up; the exciting gourmet start to a long, bountiful forage season. Along with ramps, this is a good time of year for gathering wild mustard (rapini), garlic mustard, nettles, and chickweed. Below are pictures of garlic mustard, chickweed, the woodland ramps (also know as wild leeks) and violets.

The brain of the sustainable farmer must be hard wired for foraging. I have never met another group of people so eager to go off combing the woods, fields and fence rows for mushrooms, berries and edible herbs, than my farming friends. Maybe it is the freeing satisfaction that comes from being able to find sustenance from the land without all the work investment that comes with typical agricultural cultivation; something only a farmer truly appreciates. I have had good luck attracting a crew of interns, workers, volunteers, and colleagues that have been unusually passionate about wild food—from home smoked wild caught trout to pine pitch chewing gum, from wild mushroom advocates to pine needle basket crafters, from paw paw hunts to medicinal “weed” based salads—I have been fortunate to be surrounded by this great group of foraging fans.

I have fond memories of a past summer season spent with employees Hailey and Katherine, in which the two would carefully gather up the weeds (like lambs quarters, purslane, and dandelion)that we had pulled from the vegetables, choosing these wild invaders over the vegetables growing in the same area. Katherine is the creator of the Medicinal Herb Garden at Inverbrook and Hailey has started SOUL confections— a company that makes delicious herb infused truffles.

Below are pictures of some of Hailey’s creations including a picture of Hailey and her partner Jon, Katherine with dandelion, a dandelion plant, lamb quarters stuffed with goat cheese, and garlic mustard pesto. The photos were taken by the amazing and talented Kelly G. Kelly will be returning to Kennett this summer and spending some of her time helping at the farm.

Then there is former employee Carroll, who is currently living down in North Carolina. Carroll has both an interest in mushrooms and herbalism, and is a skilled crafter. Below are some pictures that Carroll recently posted of a productive mushroom hunt (including a giant puffball and black morels) and the beginnings of a pine needle basket

The Philadelphia area seems to be a hot bed of forage experts. My friends at Happy Cat Organics have a Forage section on their new webstore, which includes the ability to purchase ramps. Dave Siller, who participated in the 2010 Kennett Square fermentation festival with his “Cabbage Patch” fermented products, is the creator of an interactive map that highlights foraging locations within the city of Philadelphia. His map is featured on this great resource for wild food in Philly. For those avid foragers David recommends the MAPS Meet in northeastern Maryland-MAPS stands for Mid-Atlantic Primitive Skills. Then there is Casey Spatch of Lancaster Farm Fresh and his partner Eli of Lancaster Farmacy; between the two they have an amazing amount of “wild food” expertise. Click here to read a past blog posting on Casey and his various projects. Casey and Eli will be giving a guided Medicinal Herb Walk for the Land Conservancy of Southern Chester County on Sunday, May 15, 2011 from 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM along with April Coburn(another past participant of the Fermentation Festival). April is also leading her own set of home health classes this spring,summer and fall; check out her blog for more detals.

Back at Inverbrook we have the good fortune of partnering with the herbalist Donna Merrill. Donna helped Katherine in the design of her Medicinal Herb Garden and has led many herb walks here at the farm. Below are some pictures from one such edible and medicinal Herb Walk (the other instructor is Sarah Murray, who used to lead foraging trips in France). The walks would typically culminate in a lunch featuring a salad of the weeds and wild herbs collected along the walk. We are hoping to conduct an herb walk in late May or early June. I will keep you all posted.

I have to admit that I personally do not get much time to forage (beyond the plentiful weeds in the lawn and garden) in the spring. Once fall rolls around, however, I am eager to explore the forest and hedge rows for elderberries and my personal favorite the Paw Paw fruit. Click here to view a facebook album of last year’s Paw Paw gathering trip. Right after the photos were taken (Fall 2010), I went to a book reading at Chester County Books and Music with Rowan Jacobsen author of American Terroir. Rowan read from a chapter titled “Little Truths” all about the couple Francois Brouillard (forager) and Nancy Hinton (chef), who have a restaurant based all on foraged food called Les Jardins Sauvages in Quebec, Canada. The chapter includes a description of a countryside search for cattail shoots and wild mushrooms for the restaurant menu. Cattails are an amazing resource, click here to see a facebook album of a cattail swamp near our farm; I am determined this year to try the immature female flower heads that apparently can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. I think after farmers, the demographic that gets the most excited about foraged food is chefs. In fact the inclusion of wild foods on the menu is a top food trend for 2011 and here is an article on the aforementioned Les Jardins Sauvages.

Hopefully I have inspired you to look beyond the supermarket shelves for food and medicine. Below are a few more resources for you. Remember to make sure you are VERY CERTAIN about the wild plants you are putting in your mouth, there are some poisonous plants out there that look very similar to edible counterparts.

-Wild Man Steve Brills website (many of links already lead back to his extensive web resource)

-Atlantic Month’s top 11 Foraging books written by Hank Shaw who has the FANTASTIC blog Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook. Hank is working of a book of the same title that is due out this May.

-The blog of chef Nancy Hinton from Les Jardins Sauvages

-Fresh Basil post on dandelions

Happy Foraging!


Punk Rock Farmer said...

I am having some friends over for ramps on the grill this week, you in?

Inverbrook Farm said...

Ramps on the grill sound awesome

U. Ville said...

Fabulous year for yummy marsh marigold this year, too. It's all over the place.