Saturday, February 6, 2010

10 PNW foods to try before you kick the bucket

Photo Credit: Jon Rowley

Shuksan Strawberries: This is the strawberry so fragile, so delicate that if you look at it the wrong way it liquesces into a pool of blood red sugar syrup. This fact should not at all stop you from a) getting thy ass up to a Shuksan strawberry field just as soon as they are perfectly ripe or b) being content to scrape up said blood red sugar syrup and steal it away like crime scene evidence to use in smoothies come winter. This is not hyperbole: I dare any other type of strawberry to out-shine, out-flavor, out-color a Shuksan strawberry at the peak of ripeness.

Geoduck: There are not many words that when pronounced, or rather -mispronounced- so clearly demonstrate one's regional affiliations as the "gooey-duck". Just as soon as some well-intentioned newbie lets a GEO-duck fly, we're more than halfway to spitting out, "so what parts are YOU from?" This beast of a clam has a few things that make it king. Most notably, no one (and I mean no one) can avoid a slight snicker, or perhaps a devilish twinkle in the eye, when looking at or worse - handling- the ridiculously phallic geoduck. Heads of state, Nobel Peace prize recipients, your mother - all will giggle, snort, cry until their salty tears mix with the ocean spray of a particularly randy clam that makes grown men and horses alike concede in futility. Oh, and lest I forget, it tastes damn good.

Huckleberries: Washington state huckleberries made my descent down some steep Mount St. Helen's trail delightfully bearable. So good are these earthytartsweet little balls of blue-purple nutrition that I literally dumped out my precious water ration to fill my bottle to the brim with them. It turns out that even with my remedial foraging math (3 in the mouth, 1 in the bottle) it eventually got filled. If someone tries to tell you that they are just "blueberries" followed by a "what's the big deal?" sneer at them down the length of your nose, say "tsk" followed by "shame on you."

Photo credit: colros

Hedgehog mushrooms: While folks around these parts are fawning all over the ubiquitous chanterelle or spring porcini (boletus) I'm saving my adoration for the mushroom that's too cute to mess with pedestrian gills. Hedgehogs have comical little fungi-quill equivalents where gills would normally be - which is fine and all. I'm not one to judge a food by its appearance for it can be postulated that the sillier and uglier something is the better it seems to taste (see celery root, kohlrabi, truffles, geoduck). This is truer than ever when it comes to the hedgehog. Don't like to eat foods with cute names? Get over it.

DuChilly Hazelnuts: Nothing makes me more likely to pass by a food than when it is utterly high-maintenance. Take the common hazelnut which must be toasted and then rubbed together in towels to separate the nut from the bitter outer covering. If the common hazelnut was a person, she'd be your best friend in high school who was nice and all once you pushed past her BITTERNESS and CONSTANT MAINTENANCE. Why bother? It's been years since high school and there are sweeter and easier nuts to crack, and this one requires no fussy peeling. The DuChilly Hazelnut must have been crossed with a zebra at some point in its past, for its skin is riddled with light and dark stripes. I'm sure there is zebra DNA somewhere in the nut. I think I read that somewhere. I wrote it down and then I read it.

Olympia Oysters: It's not always about size. In fact, small's got it all when it comes to certain things in life. Enter the Olympia Oyster, the only native oyster to the West Coast before MAN nearly slurped it to extinction during the Gold Rush. Luckily it's on the rebound and these little coppery ocean morsels are the perfect one to foist on your wimpy friend who refuses to try raw seafood but feels left out at dinner parties.

Montmorency cherries: I had one of these trees once, given to me as a house-warming gift. I stayed long enough in that house to bake one tart from that tree. It was a constant fight between me and the birds and the birds always won. If I had my druthers I'd leave all the insipid sweet cherries to all y'alls and keep these sour pie cherries for myself. That one tart I made? The Best Cherry Tart of My Life. For more on my Montmorency cherry "experiences" please click over here to read about my most humbling and humiliating culinary experience to date.

Stinging nettles: Thank God for that first deliriously starving lost person in the woods for falling into a stinging nettle patch mouth open, and while screaming in pain and writhing around in the patch decided to eat the plants to exact his revenge upon his aggressor. Once you learn how frighteningly healthy nettles are, you may be tempted to dive into them yourself, like some drug-crazed punk rocker into a mosh pit. Take it from me, always a good idea to wear protective gear. On the other hand, I'm not one to stifle spontaneity so if you do find yourself covered with nettle stings, crying for your mother like a little baby, stop your slobbering and look to the right or left. Amazingly the plant called "dock,"when rubbed onto the welts, takes away the sting and pain so you can dive right back into the evil green patch of nutrients. How do I know this? Because I took one for the team and there are photos to prove it.

Sea beans: From the genus Salicornia and also known as sea asparagus or samphire, "sea beans" are skinny succulent plants that contain a full teaspoon* of briny ocean liquor per bean. Once you know what sea beans look like you'll be walking the beach like a starving cow put out to pasture. Head down, grazing away, contributing to the "methane" problem in your own special little way. If your wimpy friend didn't take to the Olympia oyster see if the douche can handle a sea bean.

*this statement is complete bullshit. I know. I made it up.

Photo credit: jkirhart

Thimbleberries: Thimbleberries are the plain looking girl at the party that people don't see and yet, when they get to know her, they realize that there's been a sweet and deeply nuanced gem in their midst this whole time. It's a nice story, sort of after-school-special-ish but the point is: This average looking girl knows who's been ignoring her and she's not happy about it and she told her friend Leslie and Leslie told Chris and Chris forgot what Leslie said. So, the moral of the story is: don't look a gift Thimbleberry in the mouth. Yeah, what she said.


Jesse Selengut said...

Your writing is great. Another good example!

Becky said...

If only your last name wasn't shockingly similar to my own.

Carbzilla said...

That reminds me, we're totally up for the next nettle foraging trip!

(PS. I met Traca soooo randomly...Seattle's funny like that)

See you Thursday for the big preview!

ashlyn said...

Funny, informative and educational....Classic Becky! Cain't wait to eat all of these and more with you this foraging season!!!

Marco Pinchot said...

This is great Becky! This post makes me proud to live and eat in the PNW. I look forward to sharing some Olympia Oysters with you soon.

Chef Gwen said...

Sprinkled with pithy comments I've come to recognize as your own unique voice, I loved this post just as much as the ones before it. You are a great writer, and I can't wait to get my hands on your cookbook. Tick-tock.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Lessee... nettles, check. Olympias, check -- my favorite oyster in the world. "Sea beans," which we call saltwort or glasswort back East, double check. Sad to see they've been discovered, as they grow slowly and can be wiped out by over-zealous foragers.

Hedgehogs, now. Only eaten them once. I bet they're in NorCal, too. Will have to go see about getting some. What season?

Becky said...

Hank: Hedgehog season in the PNW is October to February, not sure how that will apply to North Cali but probably not too different.

I don't really think salicornia has hit the mainstream or anything - most people still don't know what they are up here, just chefs and foragers and that word I hate fooooooddddiiieeeesss.

Lara Alexander said...

What a great list. Makes me happy to be a 5th generation PNWer. I remember going foraging for morels when I was 12 years old and picking a whole bucket, which I cooked in butter and ate. Now I wonder why my parents allowed their child to pick and eat mushrooms, even if they were delicious. I guess I am still alive anyway.

Erica said...

Ok, I think I'm good except for the Hedgehogs. I've got a new food mission now....find hedgehog mushrooms. Glad your blog got highlighted at Seattle Weekly - you and your writing deserve it.

Joanne Cunningham said...

Becky, I stumbled on your blog via my friend Jen Lamson's Good Food Strategies website and have had the pleasure of procrastinating here for way too long. Loved the cherry tart story especially and this entry makes me want to mosey from here in upstate NY to discover your top 10 list...i will visit your blog again....

Becky said...

Joanne: thanks for stopping by! I love me some Jen Lamson. :) I used to go to college in upstate new york - geneva, to be exact. Loved it, but don't miss the snot-freezing winters.

Natural Choice Directory said...

This post is mouth-watering! Local foods are where it's at. We're in the Pacific Northwest too, and when we can't get out to forage, these are the local, sustainable grocers we like to support:

Neil Butterfield said...

The cherries sound like a really good idea and you have now made me crave some :-)


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