Saturday, October 4, 2008

Delving deep for dandelion buds ...

An even more labour-intensive wild edible: brand new dandelion buds.

If you look at the base of a flowering dandelion, right in the centre of its rosette of leaves you'll often find one (or occasionally two) new buds getting ready to rise up on their stalks and become flowers.

A couple of weeks ago I happened to find myself in a field of dandelions for about half an hour, with two small helpers. Even with three of us on the job, we only managed to gather a handful of buds. But it was fun.

The biggest buds come from the biggest dandelions with the thickest stalks - and these are often the plants in the longest grass.

The best-tasting buds are the newest ones, deepest in the rosette.

To cook, I drop them in boiling water for just a few seconds, then let them cool and add them to salads.

Recently I've experimented with boiling them in a water/soy sauce mix. They absorb a lot of the soy sauce, and I think, make an even nicer addition to a salad that way - juicy and salty.

I liked them in this salad - young puha leaves with an orange vinaigrette.

Friday, October 3, 2008

More wild greens

Two different wild mustard species around our house are covered in little green flower heads at the moment. They make a nice, if slightly labour-intensive mini version of broccolini.

They need to be boiled for a only a couple of minutes - if that.

The nicest tasting ones we've found are from this mustard species. I think it's Raphanus raphanistrum (wild radish), but not completely sure.

This other one (to the left) has flower heads that are slightly more bitter. I don't think I'll bother to cook any more of those. I'm pretty sure that one's something from the brassica genus, but again, not totally sure.

The mustard family is confusing, and I'm finding it's hard to nail down exactly what species and subspecies each specimen is. (And internet searches are made difficult by the way their common names are different from place to place.)

What I do know is that we have four different wild mustards around our house altogether. One is definitely wild turnip (Brassica rapa ssp sylvestris), and one is shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris). But those other two above ...? Help - I need a friendly botanist!

I have a ridiculous backlog of foraging stuff to put up on this blog - and my family is (quite justifiably) harrassing me to clear all my photos off the computer desktop - so I'm going to try and put it all up over the next week or so.

Folied by the Wellington wind

... Or maybe I should say de-foiled.

We tried to cook in our home-made solar box cooker again yesterday, and our foil-covered reflector kept blowing down. It must have happened about 5 times. I'm not sure how many hours of sunlight we lost, but the end result was our old favourite - uncooked rice.

At the moment only one side of the reflector is held up by wire. I'm going to put a wire holder thingy on the other side as well - and hopefully that should do the trick.

In the meantime, We'll haul out our panel cooker from Solar Cookers International and get that going.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Solar-cooked squdge

My second lesson of the solar cooking season: Don't use Hings noodles for solar-cooked meals.

Don't get me wrong, I love Hings noodles - they're fresh-ish and cheap-ish, locally made and additive free. But they're best cooked fast, at high temperatures, often with only minimal liquid (e.g. in stir fries). They're not made for low-temperature, slower-than-slow cooking.

I knew all this, I did, but still, yesterday, I thought I'd try them.

I put them in the pot with diluted soy sauce, ginger juice, and various other things, and left them in the solar box cooker from morning till late afternoon.

The title of this post says it all really. The highest praise anyone in the house could heap on this meal was 'moderately edible but let's not have it again', and, 'Can you maybe follow a recipe next time?'

Ah well. Still, I might give them another go when the sun (and so the box cooker's temperatures) climb higher. Just to see.

Learnt my third lesson too: Pay more attention to what the wind's doing. We lost a couple of hours of sunlight in the morning, when we went out and came home again to find the reflector flap had blown down.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The search for the perfect foraging bag(s)

I've found them!

You see, I've thought about foraging bags a lot over the last little while. What makes an ideal foraging bag? Where can I get one? Or should I make one myself?

Until just the other day, I'd mulled over four options (and used two of them):

Option 1: A wide wicker basket

* It's traditional, and makes you feel all bucolic.
* It's great for keeping your wild finds intact and un-squashed.


* I'm darned if I want to lug one around with me everywhere.

Option 2: Old plastic bags
* They're waterproof.
* They're light and super-compact. You can take several with you, and keep the different plants you find separate from each other - very helpful.

* When I start finding uses for old plastic bags, then I start to think of old plastic bags as useful. And as soon as I start to think of them as useful, I start trying to collect more of them. And then I'm contributing to plastic bag proliferation - which I don't want to do.
* They're weak and don't stand up to prickles.

Option 3: Reuseable shopping bags

* They're a sustainable option.
* They're strong.
* They're more compact than a basket.

* They're not compact enough. Because I like to take several, and because they're bigger than they need to be for foraging, it gets bulky.
* They get full of soil and pebbles and twigs, and I feel I have to wash them before I use them for shopping again.

Option 4: Making my own foraging bag
* I would be exactly the bag I want. It would be extremely lightweight but very strong. It would contain smaller bags within a bigger bag. There would be at least one bag in there made of very light waterproof material for wet or muddy stuff.

Excuses - er, I mean Cons

* I don't much like sewing.
* I'm not very good at sewing.
* My sister has the sewing machine at the moment.

So anyhow
, I was thinking I would just keep on making do with the re-useable shopping bag option, when I went into Moore Wilson Fresh and, lo and behold, I saw this:
And it opens out into this:

These re-useable fabric bags are designed to hold your fruit and veges for supermarket weighing. And all the things that make them good for that, also make them good for collecting edibles from the supermarket of the wild.

They're strong.
They're lightweight.
They're sustainable.
They're just the right size.
They can be rolled up compactly.
There are lots of them for keeping things separate.
They breathe.
You can even wash your plants while they're still in the bag!

Okay - they are not different sizes, and there isn't a water proof one, but I can live with that. (And maybe take along just one reusable shopping bag as well.)

Called the Onya Weigh, this set of bags is made in Australia and costs about $14.00 here in NZ.

I did hesitate before buying it, as I thought about how one of the reasons for foraging is to escape consumerism. But then I thought - this is the only thing I have ever purchased for foraging, and hopefully will be the only thing I ever do.

So I bought it. $14 well spent I think. And now I have, if not the perfect foraging bag, at least something pretty close.

P.S. Thanks to Joshua Vial for letting me use his pic of a New World bag caught in a local tree. Drop in and visit his No Plastic Bags campaign.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

We used our solar box cooker!

Still a couple of weeks to go before we get into prime solar cooking season here, as calculated by my Dad, but it was a beautiful day today, so we thought - why don't we have a go at something that only needs a short amount of cooking?

Boiled eggs it was.

We started at around 10.30am. We put the eggs in our black pot and covered them with warm water from the tap. I know warm water was slightly cheating, but I was desperately trying to maximise our chances of success, given that it's so early in the season, and the sun is still relatively low in the sky.

We put the pot in the cooker on two stacked cake racks to raise it up slightly and make sure the underside of the pot could heat up properly. (We had problems last summer with our panel cooker when we didn't raise the pot.)

We closed the lid, angled it towards the sun, and left it for a bit. At this point I learned my first lesson of the season: Make sure the outside of your pot is absolutely dry when you put it in the cooker!

I had given the pot a quick wash before we used it, and hadn't dried it properly. After it had been in the cooker for about half an hour it started to steam up the window. We had to open it all up again, wipe down the window, dry the outside of the pot, and then start again.

We left the eggs cooking there till about 3.30pm ... or maybe it was 4.30. I'm a bit confused by daylight saving.

During that time we moved the cooker about three times to follow the sun. As you can see from the pic below, by the end of that time it was practically falling off the deck. (And so was the cat.)

We opened the pot nervously. The water wasn't boiling, but a promising cloud of steam billowed out ...

My son did the honours with the first egg. The white was cooked.

And so was the yolk!

Hurray! Our box cooker works!

Our kombucha lives! (I think)

I have unfairly maligned my mother in law. She didn't throw out our kombucha at all.

I found it the day before yesterday in the darkest recesses of our fridge, looking like - well - something you would find in the darkest recesses of your fridge. (But kombucha always looks like that anyway.)

People describe kombucha colonies as 'pancakes', but I think they look more like placentas.

Ours seems to have had a baby placenta - or maybe there were already two before we lost them in our fridge. I can't quite remember. I'm not sure if either of them are still alive or not, but they're not turning black, which is apparently a good sign.

I've taken the younger one out and put it into a big jar of sugar/tea mix to see if it's still doing its thing. I should be able to tell in a few days time, I hope.