Early Spring: Wild Leeks (and Recipe Roundup)

Foraging is something I’ve said that I want to do more of this year. I keep waiting and waiting, but it’s still early spring. Even a week ago we had enough snow to cover the ground.

The forest is just starting to wake up for spring. And, in this case, waking up seems to be more like the prolonged lingering one does on a weekend morning when you really don’t want to get out of bed. The earth is sleeping in, and won’t wake up and get going until it has to.

This makes me extra grateful for leeks (aka ramps, aka Allium tricoccum). The leeks started to emerge a few weeks ago, just after the silver maple began to bud out and the geese started to come back. Now the leeks have grown to their full height and are found in large patches in the woods near our property.

Oodles of leeks in the woods.

I’ve been going out to collect leeks in the woods. I don’t collect the ones nearest to us; instead, I make sure to go a little farther into the woods and find areas where they are especially dense.

Often I’ll just use a scissors to cut of the green leaves, removing a handful here and there to thin out the patches. I figure that this only temporarily sets back the plants and doesn’t disturb the soil. Most the time the leaves are enough anyway, adding just a bit of onion-garlic taste to a dish.

One day I went out with a digging fork to dig up entire plants, and I suspect that I’ll do this more in later spring as the leaves start to decline and the bulbs grow. The digging fork is preferable to a shovel, as it helps lift and break apart the soil so that it is easier to grab individual plants without breaking them. Just like when I cut the tops off, I only disturb a small number of plants in any one place. I dig up a forkful on one location and then move several feet away to a new place to minimize disturbance on the site.

Digging leeks with a fork.

There are still seeds on many of the leek plants left over from last year. I’ve been gathering some of these and placing them in the hole as I replace the disturbed soil. If the seeds are still viable, hopefully they’ll grow new plants for next year. When I cut the roots off of the plants to cook them, I dig a hole in the right type of soil and bury them close to the cottage, hoping some of those might manage to grow into new plants as well. And perhaps I’ll gather some seeds and plant those as well.

Seeds on a leek plant.

Cooking with Leeks

I’m still gathering and playing with recipes for leeks, but here are a few that have caught my eye and my imagination:

Wild & Wonderful Ramp Chowder (via Health Starts in the Kitchen) — I made this simple chowder for dinner and it worked really well. Not being one to ever follow a recipe as written, I only used about half the cream and cheese that the recipe called for and instead cooked about a quarter of a cauliflower and creamed it with an immersion blender to get the thick, creamy consistency.

Ramp Pesto (via Hunter Angler Gardener Cook) — To be honest, I didn’t follow this recipe too closely at all, and I borrowed a lot of ideas from this simpler one that omits the fancy cheese and uses sunflower seeds in place of pine nuts. In this case, the recipe mash-up was important because the first one described the importance of blanching the leek leaves in order to keep the pesto from turning that yucky brown color. The result from the recipe mash-up was amazing.

Here are a few others on my to-make list:

 

Foraging… no… Superfood Hunting

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and the Rich Roll podcast is one that always has inspiring guests discussion interesting ideas at the intersection of health, performance, and spirituality. Given that my two most recent posts have been about foraging (here and here), I was really happy to see that Rich Roll interviewed superfood hunter Darin Olien.

I really can’t describe Darin’s expertise sufficiently well, except to say that he’s the “Indiana Jones of Superfoods” and goes around the world to find medicinal plants and bring them to market. It’s super-interesting stuff and you can get it all from the podcast:

Here are a few takeaways that I got out of it. If you have more to add, let me know!

1) Many wild plants (and mushrooms) contain incredible compounds for nutrition and medicine. As soon as you harvest the plant, however, these materials begin to degrade—this makes it so important to get fresh or quality ingredients, and be wary of things in packages.

2) Eating well is tough, but it’s absolutely essential. Start small rather than trying to change everything at once. Darin suggests starting out by drinking more water (good water, not sketchy “processed” water) and eating a giant pile of vegetables for one meal a day. Start there, and add more later. That sounds do-able, so I’ll try that.

3) Calling oneself a “superfood hunter” is a whole lot sexier than being a “forager” although I’m not entirely sure what the difference is. Perhaps if I’m on the fence and not feeling up to going out to look for wild plants, I can reframe it as superfood hunting, put on some khaki, and head out to the woods.

Blueberry Mini-Adventure (and Muffins!)

We all hated jack pine in college. In forestry school, we spent an entire fall semester alternating our time between cool, moist hardwood forests and the hot, dusty jack pine plains. The hardwoods were comfortable to work in and a lot less likely to harbor nests of vicious hornets. It took me a long time to come around and enjoy being in jack pine.

One reason to like jack pine: blueberries!

Recently we went put to pick blueberries and run the dogs, and this is what it looked like:

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Walking through the j-pine. Watch out for ground-nesting hornets!

Continue reading “Blueberry Mini-Adventure (and Muffins!)”

Maple Syrup Roundup (Plus Recipe!)

We’re done making syrup for the year. It was a pretty exciting new hobby and a good way to stay busy during what has turned out to be a long mud season. Our neighbors sponsored the operation, providing all the equipment, and the other 1o or so of us provided some brute force to make the whole thing work. Continue reading “Maple Syrup Roundup (Plus Recipe!)”