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Into the Outdoors: Wild Edibles

By the time you read this, another first day of trout season will have come and gone, and I will have missed it, for the first time in years. The fact of the matter is that, with cataracts, I would not be able to tie on a hook, and I get snagged a lot. I am scheduled to have them removed, and I’ll fish after that.

You know, my favorite trout fishing memory does not involve catching. Several years ago, Old Bub and I went to Hickey Bottom. We were in a spot where some trees were in bloom. It had rained the night before, and the air smelled so fresh and clean that we both remarked about it. It was just one of those rare, but lovely, moments.

With spring now officially getting underway, I thought it might be fun to open things with a little look at some readily available wild edibles. A personal favorite of mine is wild onions and soon will be one of the best times to go after them. You can find them just about anywhere, often even in your own backyard. Often, you can smell them before you see them. It’s pretty easy to tell them from grass. The greens are tall and rounded, and are often curled at the ends. Actually, when you come right down to it, they are probably some type of chives. I don’t know, but I do know that they are delicious, albeit on the strong side. You will find them especially good in potato soup.

When you are harvesting these things, forget about just pulling them up. It’s probably not going to happen. They just go down too far. The best course of action is to use a spade to dig out the whole clump. Then gently separate them and put the dirt back into the hole. Using this method, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can accumulate a nice batch.

If you try to peel these like you would regular green onions, you are going to be in for a rough time. Instead, just cut off the roots and the greens, then rinse the onions well.  They’ll then be ready to use.

These little guys can be put to good use in a wide variety of recipes. Some people use them much as you would garlic. Personally, I love them in soups. My favorites are potato soup and chili.  It’s a good idea to take a little bite of the onions to test how strong they actually are, as they can vary depending on where and when they’re harvested. You don’t want to go overboard with them, or they’ll be the only thing you can taste. They are also really good when cut up and sautéed.  

Perhaps the most common wild food is the lowly dandelion, and they are starting to sprout.

You know, they were brought to the United States as food, but ultimately escaped into lawns, golf courses, etc. There are lots of tasty things on a dandelion, but the “milk” in the stems is really bad tasting and should be avoided. When harvesting dandelions, pick an area that is free from pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Stay away from highways, too. These plants are nutritional powerhouses, rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium, and Vitamins A and C.  In fact, there have been cases when dandelions have saved individuals lost in the wild from developing scurvy.

When I was a kid, my mother would send me out in the spring to gather dandelion greens. After washing them thoroughly, she would wilt them with a heated mixture of vinegar, sugar, and bacon. They were every bit as good as, if not better than, leaf lettuce. If they’re young enough, they are delicious raw, too.

Here’s another one I plan to try this year. It’s nicknamed “dandelion coffee,” although it is, of course, not coffee at all.  Here’s the recipe.

First of all, you have to dig up some dandelion roots.  Scrub the roots well and trim away broken ends and hair roots. Place in a shallow baking pan and bake at 250 - 275 degrees until lightly browned. Cool and grate, grind, or put them in a cloth and crush them with a hammer. 

Pour a cup of boiling water over a scant tablespoon of the crushed root. Let it set for a few minutes, then strain. Add honey, sugar, and/or lemon. 

Where the plants have had plenty of water the taproot will be fat and comparatively short, but if you’re digging in a dry area, the root will be long and thin and much harder to harvest. 

These few examples barely scratch the surface of wild edibles. I hope you enjoyed them.

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