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Foraging into Spring

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March 21, 2019

Thankfully these days you don’t have to go on a scavenger hunt in the woods to enjoy the tastes of the spring season. That being said, some springtime treasures are more difficult to get your hands on than others. Get acquainted with four foraged items to be on the lookout for this season.

Valued for their vitamin and mineral content, Ramps were regarded as a health restorative after long, nutrient-shy winters by natives of the Appalachia region. Found in high elevations, these wild onions are distinguished by their edible, light green leaves and white stalks, sometimes tinged with a reddish-purple coloring. Having a very pungent flavor, similar to onion and garlic, ramps pair well with bacon, and are often served with it alongside fried potatoes, scrambled eggs or beans. They are also great in pastas, stir fry, salads, soups, and pickled. As a result of their short growing season, ramps are celebrated in association with the coming of spring and festivals centered around them are widespread. However, as ramps rise in popularity, unsustainable harvesting has become a concern. To harvest responsibly, cutting off just the leaves is preferred, but leaving the roots intact is vital.

Unfortunately without musical properties, Fiddleheads are the top portion of young, edible ferns, usually of the Ostrich variety. Bright green and tightly coiled, they are about the size of a quarter and look like the end of a string instrument. They can be found in areas with wet soil, like the edges of forests, rivers and marshes. If not foraged in time, fiddleheads uncurl into new leaves of the fern, and no longer have the same pleasing taste. Due to their short availability, fiddleheads are regarded as a rare delicacy, but should not eaten raw, as they contain harmful enzymes and acids. Before cooking, make sure to remove any brown, protective barrier by rubbing gently or washing fiddleheads in cold water. Fiddleheads have a grassy and slightly nutty flavor, similar to asparagus, broccoli or spinach. To taste their true flavor, they can be cooked simply by sautéing with seasoning and butter or oil. However, they are also delicious steamed, boiled, fried or baked. Try them in soups, stir fry, casseroles and on pizza. They pair well with garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes and bacon.

 Resembling a honeycomb, Morels are wild mushrooms with caps made up of ridges and craters. Usually found in the Great Lakes region mid to late spring, both temperature and moisture levels needs to be optimal for the elusive morel to make its appearance. When the time strikes, look for morels in pastures or meadows by old trees that are dead or dying. Once found, cut the stem at an inch away from the cap, and cook before consumption, as they are toxic raw. When storing, good air circulation is key. If not preserving them for later use, keep them moist, but not soaking, for up to a week. They can also be dried, and later rehydrated. Morels have a deep, earthy, nutty flavor and a meaty, but tender texture. Sauté them with butter for the most pristine taste, but morels are also great with eggs, in pasta or in a creamy soup or sauce, especially with asparagus or pork. Some prefer them lightly fried in flour, or stuffed with herbs and veggies or meat.

 Consider yourself warned - Stinging Nettles are appropriately named! Their stems and leaves are covered in hairs that break off when touched, injecting stinging chemicals into the intruder’s skin. But fear not, both the leaves and stems have high nutritional value and healing properties once cooked, crushed or dried, as the stinging properties are defused. Stinging nettles start popping up in dense bunches in early spring in places with moist soil, usually near rivers or forests. They are best picked when the leaves are still young and tender, by using scissors to cut off the top 4 or so inches. Just remember to wear gloves! Their taste is similar to spinach, and they can be similarly utilized – sauté, steam, juice, blanch, puree, or add to pasta, soup, eggs or baked goods. If storing stinging nettles, they can also be frozen, as well as dehydrated. A great way to get the nutritional value out of this plant is to steep its dried leaves to make tea. As with all these foraged items, quantities are limited, so be ready to act quick when their time comes.

As bizarre as they are alluring, these four foraged spring delicacies add some adventure to the plate. Best of all, you’ll always have our support to sprout of the mundane. Happy hunting!