Sunday, April 14, 2013
A Semi-Foraged Spring Dinner
A few months ago, my sister shared a video on facebook. I look at everything she posts, cuz she's my sister, but when I clicked on the video and saw that it was 35 minutes long I said, gaaaahhhh, no way man. I figured I'd just watch a few minutes to see what it was about, but I got sucked in. I watched it (a few times), I researched its claims (thanks, Al Gore!), and in the end, this video (though it is certainly on the alarmist side) made a huge impact on me.
If you haven't seen it and don't care to, let me just sum it up by saying that the video is about peak oil, and how we're set to run out of fossil fuels in the next 40 years or so, and how renewable forms of energy (sun, wind, geothermal) will not be enough to allow us to maintain our current lifestyle based on crazy cheap goods (and foods!) from around the globe.
The video offers a pretty bleak outlook on what this means for the human race, and I think (and hope) that things won't ever get as bad as they say. But one thing is for certain: in my lifetime, and certainly in my children's lifetimes, we will have to start moving back to local economies and local agriculture.
I mentioned (shortly after watching this video in January) that I was trying to spend more of my weekly grocery budget at the farmers market and less at the grocery store. One easy change was switching from grocery store olive oil (shipped from Spain) to olive oil from the Texas Olive Ranch in Kyle, TX (20 minutes from my door). And! a gallon of their cooking olive oil ($40) costs about the same as the equivalent amount of my old Central Market oil and produces way less waste. At the grocery store, I have started paying attention to the country of origin in the produce section and I don't buy stuff from outside the US or Mexico (basically the only produce I buy from Mexico are my beloved mangos).
Foraging is the next thing on my list. I have always found the notion of eating off the land to be romantic and fun, but now I feel strongly that learning about native edible/usable plants and teaching my son (and his future sibling) about them is a parental obligation. To that end, my family and my sister Joanna's family spent last weekend with Grandpa Art and Grandma Mary at their home in the Wimberley countryside. We got a late start, but for dinner on Saturday night we all went a-foraging! Here's what we found:
(Disclaimer! Please don't use my images as references in your own foraging adventures. I am new to this and by no means someone to look to for advice about what you can eat from the wild without getting sick. Check out a foraging book or two from the library, or, if you're in Texas, use Merriwether's fantastic website: http://www.foragingtexas.com/).
Greenbriar. There was tons of this stuff, and the young tender leaves are great for salads. We picked what felt like a lot of this though, and only ended up with a few tiny handfuls, so we had to supplement our salad with some lettuce that Mary harvested from her classroom garden.
Agarita! Unfortunately we were too early to harvest the berries (which you do by putting a sheet under the plant and shaking it a bit so the ripe, red berries fall off- the leaves are crazy sharp and picking the berries by hand would be really unpleasant). We're hoping to head back in a month or so to get our hands on some berries and make agarita jam.
Yaupon! You can dry the leaves and make tea with them- the only native source of caffeine here in central Texas. Air-drying (which takes about two weeks) will result in the caffeine-iest possible yaupon tea. More info here.
Mustang grapes! We were too early for the grapes, but you can harvest the leaves any time and use them like you would any grape leaf (dolmas, grape leaf pie). We picked a few, but I ran out of time to think of a way to use them for our dinner :/
Dewberries! Like the grapes, we were too early for dewberries (will check back next month!). But you can make a(n apparently good tasting) tea from the young leaves, and can make a blended tea with dewberry and yaupon leaves that's vitamin-rich (don't ask me which vitamins!).
Cleaver! AKA bedstraw. AKA stick-ems (Joanna's name). This is the stuff that sticks to your socks when you walk through it. Apparently, it's edible! They feel sticky because they're covered with tiny hairs- boiling them is said to remove this problem.
After our long foraging walk, it was getting late and we had babies to feed, so dinner was a bit rushed. Even so, we were able to produce a meal using 90ish% local ingredients! Here's what we had:
Our greenbriar and classroom lettuce salad, dressed with local olive oil and not-local lime juice. The greenbriar was nice- tender and citrusy. Just allow lots of time for picking- you need a lot to make a salad.
Pork sausage and venison backstrap, from animals Grandpa Art hunted on his property. Both were delicious! There's more venison in the freezer, and I'm hoping we'll be able to serve it with an agarita jam next time around.
Handmade pasta with cleaver and local pecan pesto. I mixed eggs from our backyard chickens with non-local flour (left my Richardson Farms whole wheat flour at home :/) and cut the dough into fat noodles. We dressed them with a pesto made from boiled cleaver, pecans from Andy's grandparents' tree in San Antonio, local olive oil, and garlic. It turned out well, but I didn't feel like the cleaver had much of a taste. Also, I boiled the cleaver for ten minutes, like the books say to, but the hairs were still noticeable (though not at all after being processed into a pesto), which made me wonder if I could have left them raw and ended up with a more strongly-flavored and brightly colored pesto? Maybe a greenbriar pesto next time.
This ended up being a pretty modest first stab at a foraged dinner (as evidenced by the lack of green in the food pictures above), but you've gotta start somewhere. I'm proud that we tried, and that at least we got together to enjoy a meal with mostly local ingredients.
In the next month or so, I hope to get back to see about the agarita berries, mustang grapes, and dewberries. We should also be able to harvest some young cactus pads and I hope to try my hand at making a vegan jerky with them (mentioned here). I'll let you know how it goes!