stalking the backyard daylily

IMG_7707A proud clump of orange daylilies or tiger lillies (H. fulva) graces one corner of my garden, blocking out a poppy and a lavender bush and encroaching on my daffodils.  Disdainful, I stopped in my murderous tracks a few years ago when I read one can eat most parts of the plant in a blog post by wildcrafter Hank Shaw.

I’ve since read more about them, including the history with some dubious tasting notes, and a chapter in Euell Gibbons’ classic, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, which seems to be a book that lights up the eyes of people who wish they were wholly foraging for food (while shopping at Whole Foods).

Being one of those people, mostly, I knew I had to take my dreams of a feral future and make them a reality, so I stalked the daylilies in my backyard.

What, you say you don’t know what a daylily is?  This is a daylily:

IMG_7709

Not a daylily (with an added bonus of an artichoke to symbolize the choking you will do when you eat a poisonous cultivar of true lily, below):

IMG_7714You can immediately tell them apart because the daylily grows in a big clump and has long, skinny leaves growing from the clump, but the true lily has many short opposing leaves growing up each stalk that culminates in a flower. Another things that differentiates them is that daylilies frequently repatriate to the wild, and they often resist the elements in parks, old lots, and meadows.  More on identification here.

The buds, flowers, stalks, and root bulbs of the daylily are all edible, but being a lazy hunter-gatherer, I went for the easy stuff: the buds.  Pick them when they are just about open, and don’t delay, since the ‘day’ part of daylily is not false advertising.  They ripen, bloom, and are gone in 24 hours.  You can see one bud just ready to be plucked to the left of the daylily in the image above the poison-choke-lilies.

IMG_7680Ever have Chinese hot and sour soup?  The “golden needles” or lily buds are none other than the dried buds of the daylily.  I dried a bunch and plan to use them in soups.  Apparently, they let off a slightly gelatinous ooze when you cook them, so they thicken up nicely.

The rest of the buds I plucked to eat in the manner I love vegetables the most: quickly dry-fried and salted.  You may have enjoyed padron or shishito peppers prepared this way, or perhaps Sichuan green beans.  Daylily buds rank right up there with the pleasure, and their unusual origin and utterly free cost to you will make you the star of all the foragers in your neighborhood.  OK, maybe not my neighborhood, since there are real foragers who live here, but if you live in a neighborhood without any, let me know and I’ll move there, since I could use a little stardom.

Anyway, the recipe in the first photo for dryfried daylily buds couldn’t be easier.  You’ll love the taste (but be careful, as apparently some folks are allergic or react poorly to the very mild and delicious greenbeany taste, likening it to armpit sweat).  Try just a couple at first to see if you are one of those unfortunate souls.

Heat up a heavy pan, cast iron if you have it, on high until it smokes.  Toss your daylily buds in a tiny bit of oil just before you toss them into the hot pan.  Smoke will ensue, so take the pan outside, flipping the buds with a spoon for just a few minutes until they are charred in spots and softened.  Salt with a coarse-grained finishing salt and serve immediately.

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silky wild plum jam

IMG_3945Well, the bright side is that I keep getting tiny signs from the universe that there’s a branch over my head just laden with juicy, impossibly blueberry bloomy blue fruit, ripe for the plucking.  It’s just a matter of timing and overcoming myopia and finding a stable ladder. I’m trying, and so far I’ve been pelted on the head a few dozen times and threatened by an overhanging spider and infested with earwigs and ants enjoying their lunch.  I’m pretty sure something dropped down into my bra and bit me where the sun don’t shine.  But always a little fear in pleasure, in possibility.

So. Jam. To measure the sugar you need and get a sense of the yield, you’ll need to imagine how the plums will reduce to a purée once cooked. I filled a standard colander with 5 and a half pounds of small plums, and used 4 cups of sugar in a single 5-quart pot. It yielded 7 half-pints. Your needs will vary.

This jam is all about found fruit, especially the ornamental “cherry plums,” the golfball-sized drupes that cover those pesky feral plum trees that spring up all over the place, including your yard. I had a yellow one in Berkeley, cut down a red one in my yard in Eugene, understood when the neighbors cut down the burgundy-foliaged one in their yard.  It also works for Damsons or Santa Rosas or any juicy, smallish fruit fresh from the orchard.  The recipe is adapted from Linda Ziedrich‘s damson plum recipe, in fact.  I kept the flavor simple, as it really can’t be improved.  You might add a slug of slivovitz at the end, or perhaps a tiny bit of clove.

You won’t be cooking this one terribly long, a blessing in the heat. Plums have plenty of pectin; that’s the silky texture. Wild plums have clingstone pits, so plan on cooking them in and straining them out later.

Silky Wild Plum Jam

I like what plum skins do to jam, coloring and flavoring it, but if you strain them out with a food mill, the jam will be a wonderful soft, clean, pure texture — perfect on skin, as a friend says.

  • Small cherry plums
  • Sugar (3/4 cup per cup of plum purée)

Rinse ripe plums just after picking, and place in covered pot with a bit of water (no more than a half cup).  Simmer for about 10 minutes until the skins burst, then uncover and stir, pressing the flesh down with a spatula or spoon. Simmer for another 10 minutes until plums have fallen apart.  Pits may or may not rise to the surface.  You will be lucky if they do.

Remove from heat and let cool enough to handle.  Skim, strain, and squeeze the pulp from the skin and pits.  You might try a mesh colander or a food mill.  This process may be difficult and messy, as some plums won’t yield up their pits easily, so you may find even a food mill ineffective.  If worse comes to worse, don a pair of food service gloves and pluck the pits out with your fingers, squeezing them to get all flesh off.

Once you have a pot full of delicious pulp, measure it.  For each cup of pulp, add 3/4 cups of sugar and begin the jam process.

Wash your jars, rings, and lids, and heat the lids according to the package instructions as you’re heating up the waterbath canner.

Cook jam down over medium high heat until it thickens and passes a gel test (perhaps 15 minutes?), stirring very frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot.

Remove from heat and let sit for a couple minutes.  Skim foam from top. Spoon the hot jam into jars carefully to reduce bubbles, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  Wipe rims of jars and adjust lids and rings.  Process in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes.

she loved to do the wild thing: marché wild foods shaw dinner

In my last post, I recapped our foraging walk with our visitor, wild foods expert Hank Shaw.  The group was a nice mix of academics, chefs, and food industry people.  But one intrepid soul, Sous Chef Crystal Platt, and her team at Marché restaurant, stayed behind to prepare a wonderful meal as the rest of us combed the forest for rarities.

The wild foods dinner menu.

I don’t think Marché has ever been so on.  I’m so proud of Chef Platt for treating us not only to the area’s wild foods, but also her budding molecular gastronomy chops. I happen to know that she’s a fan of Alinea and similar restaurants experimenting with the intersection of science, food, and metamorphosis.  I love the flavors she chose to feature: fennel, rye, duck, orange root vegetables.  We got to see her passions in action.

And I’m not going to lie; one of my own passions, and one that grows more urgent by the year, is to facilitate opportunities for motivated people to express themselves creatively.  She’s going to be embarrassed, but just look at Chef Platt’s face in Dmitri von Klein’s photography of the preparation of the meal.  (Ugh, and here, I should take a moment to apologize for the yellowed quality of my own photographs.  The light was not good, my camera not the best.)

At its worst, molecular gastronomy is like spending an evening with tech geeks: it can occasionally be amusing, but often devolves into theatrics for the sake of the blast alone.

And to be honest, it often greatly benefits from a less aggressive (dare I say macho?) and less clinical touch.  It needs to have an element of play in it, of having fun.  And that’s just plain hard to do in these times.

But Chef Platt pulled it off.

We started out with an oyster on a celery purée with parsley oil (the very first picture).  That punch of GREEN works quite well with the briny shellfish, much better than the overpowering vinegar in a mignonette sauce and — ack — cocktail sauce.

Gougère with laurel butter and lardo followed.  Enough said.  

One of the more charming of the amuses bouches was the fennel flower dipped in tempura batter, served with “tea,” which was almond milk scented with fennel and honey.  Each fennel flower cluster formed a wonderful little bite of crunch.  The hors d’oeuvres were served with a Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Cuvée Berlene 2007.

Next came a venison carpaccio.  A rye cracker (rolled cannoli style) was filled with buttermilk mousse(?) and topped by apple granita, shaved chestnut, and little sprigs of wood sorrel and yarrow foraged by our enthusiastic, competent servers, Aleica and Joseph (thanks so much to both of you!).

With this dish, the sommalier chose to serve a new Marché cocktail, a modified ‘Harvest Cocktail’ available at the bar.  With its calvados and allspice dram, and following the opening wine, it was a little strange, but I do like the cocktail.

The next two courses were filled with attentive details, and delighted us.  Roasted chanterelles and poached mussels, two very subtle flavors somewhat lost under a blanket of pinenut puree, got up close and personal with a mound of crispy pork. Dotted with new pine needles and pine nuts, rosemary flowers, and perhaps a pine oil, the dish was executed well, but crispy pork will steal the show every time.  Just saying.

That was followed by a seared ling cod, shaved porcini salad (be careful with raw porcini at home), autumn greens, braised sunchoke, and braised mustard seeds, which immediately grabbed my attention.  A not-so-fragile sheet of smoked lardo was laid on top, creating a sweet little blanket. Atop a roasted onion jus and garnished with reminders that spring will come again, little mustard flowers, the dish was like opening a treasure box and having a bunch of jewels fall out and spill all over the floor.  Each little layer was worth careful examination.

These course were accompanied by an Eric Chevalier Pinot Noir Rose Val de Loire 2010 (from an area in the Loire valley close to the sea, which lent a bit of saline that matched well with the seafood).

Then came the fun.  Our servers brought out a plate of compost, which was not compost at all but a shallow pasta bowl filled with singed hay, cinnamon stick, red maple leaves, pumpkin guts, and a wedge of apple.  Yes, a fall potpourri, made somewhat fragrant by hot water.  I wish the scents had been strong enough to balance the hay, but it was nevertheless intriguing.

“Autumn inspired whole duck,” our main course, was the star of the meal.  It had a brilliant yellow duck egg yolk dip; duckfat-poached purple carrot; little dots and swaths of carrot puree, quince gel, and quince paste; duck pâté rolled in essence of Eugene, curried granola; seared duck breast; and a duck sandwich with confit layered between crispy duck skin.

The wine?  Ah yes, a Domaine Notre Dame des Pallieres Gigondas Les Mourrue 2007 from the foothills near Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

And last but not really last was dessert: huckleberry sorbet logs with malt crumbs; a soft cinnamon meringue which may have been the only evident technical failure; “pumpkin & chocolate chips,” which I think was pumpkin puree and little chocolate dipped dried pumpkin slices.  Delicious.  This course was followed by mignardises: a beet and rosehip macaron and a cocoa nib brioche with a pear and ginger filling.  These yumyums were paired with an AlexEli Muller Thurgau 2010 from close to home in the Willamette Valley.

Then we repaired to le bar where we had fernet branca.  If you haven’t yet checked out Marché’s new bar, do go.  It’s a very warm and welcoming place, and I think you’ll like it.

Well, I’m full again writing about this.  Time to toddle off to new ground or a nap or something.  Thank you, Chef Platt, Ryan, Jessica, Aleica and Joseph, and the entire Marché crew for making this happen.  And thanks to Hank Shaw for being such a good guest — we loved having you in Eugene and you’re welcome any time!

mushrooming with hank shaw and peg boulay

Part of Hank Shaw‘s recent visit to UO was a mushroom foray to the coast with local wildlife ecologist and co-founder of the Cascade Mycological Society Peg Boulay.  Though Hank and Peg were able to score some fascinating edibles, beginners like me foraged for chanterelles and king boletes (aka porcini), very common in early November, as it was a tad too early for matsutake. Sadly, we struck out on all but the last, elderly kings and a few chanties.

We did find some rather lovely non-edibles, like these purple coral mushrooms that spring up from the soil and the poisonous red spotted Amanita muscaria, also known as the fly agaric, also known as every single kid’s picture of a mushroom.

Hank and Peg were great guides: Peg made sure we all had a good lesson in mushrooms from the samples we found, and Hank pointed out edible wild plants we might use in the future.  I have to say, too, that our group was rather dapper.


It’s thrilling to experience our unique and diverse ecosystem in Lane County, which stretches from east of Eugene to the coast.  And I have to say I’m rather enamored of these little strange fungal growths.  There’s something anthropomorphic about them, no?

The thrill of the hunt also unexpectedly brought out the bargain shopper in me, scouring the floor (literally) for the jackpot find.  It also reminded me that life surprises us when we least expect it with a tiny bit of hope that keeps us going.  For you never know what you’ll find.

hunter, gatherer, conservationist: finding the forgotten feast with hank shaw, nov. 14

I’m so pleased to announce an event that’s been in the works ’round these parts for months.  Wild foods expert Hank Shaw will be talking to UO students and researchers in my Food in the Field research group, and giving a public reading on November 14 for the entire Eugene community.  Free event and open to all.  This is the last stop on a nationwide book tour for Hank, so let’s give him a warm welcome!

Can’t read the fine print? click here for a .pdf.

Hunter, Gatherer, Conservationist: Finding the Forgotten Feast
Book Reading and Discussion
Author Hank Shaw
Monday, November 14, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
282 Lillis Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene

Hank Shaw is a wild foods expert, hunter, angler, gardener and cook, based in Sacramento.  His exquisite and unusual wild foods blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (http://honest-food.net), has been twice nominated for a James Beard Award, and was awarded best blog from the International Association of Culinary Professionals organization in 2010 — two major achievements in food writing.  He is on tour for his already acclaimed new book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast (Rodale Books).  The book explores North America’s edible flora and fauna, explaining how to track down everything from wild mushrooms to mackerel to pheasant, and to create locally sourced meals that go far beyond the farmers market or campfire cuisine.

At a public reading for the University of Oregon and Eugene area community, Shaw will share his experiences in the field and in the kitchen, discussing not only his sophisticated recipes and innovative techniques for preparing wild food that grows and roams in the Pacific Northwest – camas bulbs, venison, and wild berries, to name just a few examples – but also the political, social, and environmental issues surrounding hunting and gathering in the twenty-first century.  Books will be available for purchase and signing.

those are pearls that were his eyes

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

It’s a weekend of catching up, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again, old friends!  So. Many. Awesome. Travel. Posts.  But appreciate, for now, the gorgeous rainbow trout my husband caught on a day trip on the McKenzie, before and after.  He was delicious, seasoned just as plain as can be with sea-change salt and olive oil, then grilled.

 

hank shaw dinner at castagna: wild

I had the pleasure, recently, to attend a foraging dinner at Castagna in Portland, in honor of hunter, angler, gardener, and cookbook writer Hank Shaw.  Hank is currently on tour for his new book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten FeastHank’s blog, like his book, is a rare find, a must-read for anyone interested in wild foods and foraging. The blog has been nominated for the James Beard Foundation Award twice, for good reason. His recipes are unusual and creative, and his chef background and intimate knowledge of ecosystems converge like stars made of abalone and sea beans.

Hank is maintaining a crazy schedule of foraging dinners and book engagements for the entire summer, but I knew he’d be a great speaker for Eugene, so I contacted him and met him in PDX.  I’m happy to report that we’re fortunate to have him come to Eugene in November, for the last date on his tour.  (I’ll tell you the details later, since we’re just beginning to organize the visit.)

But you want to hear about Castagna!  This was kind of a poignant dinner for me, in retrospect, seeing that Chef Matt Lightner is leaving the restaurant for (boo!) New York.  I hope other young chefs take up his torch.  Hank and Chef Matt share affinities for foraged food, and we ate some of the finds of their foraging trip in the woods the day before.  It was an eight-course dinner, accompanied by Brooks wines.

Above: chicken mousse liver, Oregon grape, poppyseed, rye cracker.  This was one of four amuses bouches.

And here are three others, from top to bottom.  Brown butter bits garnish butter for the rye rolls (also served with lardo).  White asparagus look like rather silly worms wearing onion flower leis, waiting for a dip in the tarragon-mossed lemon sabayon pool.  Black sesame cookies with a butter-sesame glaze and rose hip jam.

For all his experimental visuals and molecular experiments, Matt’s flavor palate is really quite light, his color palate muted with whites and darks accented by a single bright burst.  The sixth course, morels stuffed with rabbit sausage with pine nut gravy over spinach and under sea beans, illustrates both aspects of his palate.

The smoked cured black cod raft held a scoop of frozen cod powder and more unfrozen cod powder around it.  The green strawberries and pine tips provided a needed contrast, perhaps even too mild to balance the cod.

Our main course was a barbecued collar of lamb, a succulent, almost lacquered chunk of tender meat.  It was served with what I thought was the best part of the entire meal: toasted grains dressed with wheatgrass puree.  The little leaves are oxalis, wild licorice, violets, and other edibles collected on the foraging trip.

And dessert?  It was a bit of a jumble of gingered tidbits.  Wild ginger ice cream, marshmallow, meringue, foam, and tuile cookie.  We got some figging relief with a dill frond and chewy bits of rhubarb, candied and dried.

Not bad for a trip to the woods, eh?  I was so excited to meet Hank, and hope we can have just as much fun in Eugene when we see him in November.