Tuesday, July 5, 2011

5 wild foods that will make you richer, prettier, and even more delusional

#1 Rose hips
Dried on the vine rose hip, best from the species Rosa rugosa

I love the tart, cranberry-like acidity of rose hips, chopped up and infused into teas, added to sauces served with fish, or made into jam.  Walk on by this dried up one and harvest them earlier, just after the first frost (they are sweeter then).  Peggy over at About.com wrote a nice little piece about the culinary uses for rose hips but what stuck in my craw was her little note at the end:

"A research student wrote me with the following cautionary note: Anyone using rose hips for cooking should remove all the seeds. They are covered with sliver-hairs that, when ingested, irritate the digestive system and cause what the aboriginal people call "itchy bottom disease.""

For what it's worth, Peggy was not able to find any corroboration of this fact; all the same I will be dutifully de-hairing my rose hips (essentially cutting them in half and removing the seeds) from here on out. Warnings that come on any food, whether wild or processed are to be heeded - I'm reminded of the warning on foods containing Olestra. I need only a passing reference to 'anal leakage' or 'fecal urgency' to get me to pay extremely close attention. 

Moving away from aboriginal warnings and back to the subject of roses, if you live in Seattle, run, don't walk over to Sugar Pill on Capitol Hill where you can find owner Karyn Schwartz mixing up herbal tinctures and blends, flavored salts and infused sugars.  She recently gave me a sample of a rose petal salt and I'm dreaming up things to do with it; mix with honey to drizzle on figs; stir into yogurt with warm, grilled pita slathered with butter; add to basmati rice and toast it in the pan before adding saffron for a pilaf... 

I keep thinking of all these things to do with it, but haven't gotten much farther than licking my finger and sticking it in the little crock of salt, which - technically - is a use for it.

Whether you take your roses in petal form or hip form, remember these wise words: roses good, "itchy bottom disease" bad.

#2 Miner's Lettuce

This is miner's lettuce, aka Claytonia perfoliata
Whiteys owe a lot to scurvy.  Meaning, without scurvy whiteys wouldn't have gotten wise to what foods to eat to prevent it. It was the California Gold Rush flavor of whiteys who learned that miner's lettuce could prevent scurvy because it contains Vitamin C. No doubt this information came thanks to some friendly Native Americans who later regretted sharing anything with the sickly whiteys. 

Sickly whiteys, it's my new band name.

I don't eat miner's lettuce to prevent scurvy - I eat miner's lettuce because a walk in the woods is merely an end to the means of grazing like a cow through edible wild foods.  Miner's lettuce is a convenient edible to lazily request an exercise break around when your more fit friends are leading you on a death march up some imposing elevation gains. Oh, and its flowers are so cute you want to pinch their petals.

Smoked sockeye salmon with parsley sauce, nettle gnocchi and miner's lettuce salad

 #3 Fiddlehead ferns

  Only an oompa-loompa could make a meal out of this fiddlehead.

My buddy Langdon Cook has a lot to say on the topic of ferns and frankly, he says it a lot better than I do,  so read his book Fat of the Land and check out his blog of the same name.

Spring fiddleheads with porcini and nettle sauce waiting for some smoked halibut.

 #4 Sardines

Sardines are the nutrient powerhouses of the past, present and future. They will make you smarter. You will feel more vibrant. You will suddenly be able to pay your bills on time. You will finally move out of your parent's house at the age of 38. Your life partner will look sexier. Rachel Finkelstein, your nemesis from elementary school, will seethe with jealousy when she hears that you eat them.

Yeah, yeah, so everyone's talking about sardines these days in the food circles.  I'm hesitant to jump on fish bandwagons because fish fads are why many species are in trouble these days: see Chilean Seabass or Orange Roughy.  Chefs pimping out fish can be very powerful and if they pick the wrong fish (say one that is very vulnerable to fishing pressures - for example, if they reproduce later in life and are caught as juveniles) it can have pretty damaging effects.  But pick the right fish - one that is short lived, highly fecund (gets it on early and often) and is pretty much built to be eaten by the bigger fish, well then I can get on the sardine bus. In fact I might even dress in sardine drag and ride on a float in the Sardine Pride Festival '12.

Smoked sardines with piquillo pepper sauce, from Good Fish, photo credit Clare Barboza

#5 I can't remember

I took this shot at an undisclosed location somewhere near Carmel, California. I'd tell you more but I was blindfolded,  spun around 10 times and taken there in an unmarked Vanagon.  I can tell you this: it was a nice place where everyone was really, really mellow.  The food tasted great here. I was so very hungry and everyone was so very funny.

If you happen to know what #5 is or where I left my shoes, please mention it in the comments.


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