Tag Archives: foraging

Black Locust Blossom Liqueur

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The flowers this spring have been really mesmerizing, in particular the black locust blossom. It’s a tall tree in the pea family with deeply ridged bark. I am usually happy to just smell the air in appreciation, notice their delicate white blossoms as they litter the ground, and choose not to eat them. But this year they were such a wall of scent that I was lured, and decided to collect some. There were a few spots where the branches hung so low it was easy to get my fill quite quickly. Once home I decided a delicate liqueur was the way to go. In the past, I have tried and failed to make a truly exquisite elderflower liqueur, a la St. Germain. This liqueur is my new stand in. Floral and delicate, the lightly honeyed scent of the blossoms has stayed intact. A winner.

Black Locust Blossom Liqueur

Pack as many blossoms as you can in a wide mouth pint jar. Top it with vodka. Let it sit for about a week–the smell of the blossoms should be strong, and the color will be a deep yellow. Strain them, letting the liquid take it’s time. When most of it is out, you should lightly press on the flowers to get all the liquid out.  Add simple syrup (1:1 ratio of sugar to water) to taste.

I am new to the medicinal properties of this tree but according to this page it seems its benefits are many. I imagine you could leave out the simple syrup, and leave it like a tincture.

Cheers!

The Morel of the Story

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It’s a glorious May day. It’s cool and breezy. I woke clutching my blankets around my shoulders, as a cold breeze blew in the open window above my bed. With a sick child at home for the past few days, I felt a walk was in order to clear out my brain. And, let’s be honest, to look for morels. I knew it wasn’t likely I would find any today, but who cares? The walk is always welcome. The bonus is the mushrooms.

Today’s walk will probably be the last morel walk of the season. I did find some this year–ten to be exact–and I’m thankful for that! Apparently, it wasn’t the best year for them in these parts, due to the very bizarre spring weather we’ve had. It’s been hot and dry, not what morels enjoy, and frankly, not what I enjoy either. I’ve had my sprinkler on, and all of my shorts are in my dresser. It’s been feeling more like July, these days, and while I like July, it does have it’s place. In July.

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I am not a serious mushroom forager, but I’ve always been fascinated by them. There are tons of mushrooms on my property, and I’ve been slowly recording them. Just yesterday I found a few russula mariae in my wood chip pile. And I’ve recently done my very first spore print. I’m hooked.

But morels are different, so mysterious, so delicious. That’s why it’s called morel hunting. They seem rather like wood sprites or gnomes to me, almost mischievous. They like certain environments: dying elm tress, old apple orchards, limestone and shale. But sometimes they are found in places where you wouldn’t expect them at all. Seeing as how I’m less than a beginner, I will direct you to this post by Bill Bakaitis, who is a well known “mushroom guru” in these parts. (Leslie Land’s website is still a treasure to me. I am thankful it’s still there to mine for information despite her passing a few years ago.) Another good read is this article he wrote on eating morels you find in orchards, important because of the possibility of poisons leached into the soil of apple orchards, and thus the mushrooms that might grow beneath them.

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My walk today seemed the perfect location: a dying orchard on a southern facing slope near railroad tracks. Limestone outcroppings every so often. The only thing I didn’t see was a dying elm, but I’m sure there was one somewhere there. (How do you identify a dead elm? I am still figuring out live elm. There are so few around here, and I rarely see them.) As I walked through fields of tall grass and skirted the outrageous amounts of poison ivy, I thought how foraging morels was not for the faint of heart. I walked an outline around the edges of the area, not willing to enter the true thicket of prickers and poison ivy. I really hate poison ivy. Not to mention ticks. As I dipped into canopies of leafed out elderly trees, I kept on finding places that felt a little magical, lined with ground ivy and violets. I knew the morels were out there, and it was perfectly fine that they kept on hiding.

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What’s nicest about morel hunting–well, after the finding of them, that is–is that you really have to slow down and look. And when you are slowing down to look you do see a good many things. Most of which are not morels, but that’s beside the point. You see the shiny leaves of the pin oak, and the soft undersides of the silver maple, and the white wrinkly bark of the poplars. You see the soft long grass waving in the wind, the red and shiny new leaves of the poison ivy that sends out runners everywhere. The details seem to pop out everywhere, and there you are, really looking. It’s great meditation. Indeed, if I found the morels (because I know they are out there) I might not have enjoyed such a nice calm breathing practice.

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Out of the ten morels I found, I ate only five. It felt greedy to take all ten of them. I sliced them up and sautéed them in duck fat. Once I had them on toast and the other time with scrambled eggs. Both were perfect. They are so delicious, that I think doing much else with them would be overkill. But I am willing to keep on trying. If only they would comply.

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Morels

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The other day I reluctantly went to mow the last patch of my lawn. There are some things that the warm weather brings that remind me summer is not all popsicles and beach bags. Mowing the lawn is one of them. We leave a lot to grow, and are not obsessed with the lawn, letting whatever wants to grow to do so, but you have to mow at some point unless you want a tick field surrounding your house. These are some of the other things that I do not miss in the winter: ticks (pulled a few so far), poison ivy (already got it on my eyelid and behind my ear), and stinging insects (stepped on a yellow jacket with bare feet on Monday and was out of commission for the day). I’m hoping I’m done with these noxious things for now.

So, here I go out into the back yard to mow the shadiest patch of lawn, that seems to collect little twigs and sticks making it a tough place to mow. After a few swathes through the lawn, I’m about to turn around and mow down the slope when I stopped myself and shut down the engine. There before me was a morel, just pushed out of the ground. Golden brown and honey-combed, I bent down on my knees to inspect it, all the while shouting Wow!! Look at that!! (No, I don’t play poker, and thankfully no one was around to see me freak out except the neighbor’s cat.)

I’ve looked for years for morels and never have. To find one, and a day later, another one nearby, in my own backyard was a real thrill. I didn’t pick either of them, instead created little shrines so I will remember where they are. I feel like looking for morels is like close reading. You can’t scan, you really have to look deeply. It is an art. However, sometimes you do get lucky!

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Spring Tonic Vinegar

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All the little green things are coming out now, and it’s so exciting to greet them all, even the weeds. Of course, weeds are nothing but plants that you don’t want, and a lot of them have worth even though they take over your strawberry patch. I missed my chance to eat all the bittercress when they were green and tender; they are already stalky and flowering, and I can’t keep up with pulling them out. Eating your invasive plants is a good way to take care of them! Do you have a lot of bittercress? You might want to check out this recipe for bittercress salad from The Three Foragers, based in Connecticut. But you can also google bittercress recipes and you’ll find quite a lot!

I love learning about new weeds that are edible. Just the other day I was clearing out the stone wall that runs along the edge of our driveway and pulled a weed that is so pretty and deep green it seemed a shame to waste it. Well, that intuition was correct, because later on that day I was on Instagram and saw that @raganella had posted a picture of that exact weed, and I found out its name was cleavers. Upon looking it up I learned it had tonifying properties and is used to cleanse the lymphatic system. Now I’m not pulling it anymore!

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Cleavers

These bitter and spicy spring greens have long been used by people to cleanse the digestive system after the winter. This morning I went out to pick garlic mustard (an invasive that’s best when young), dandelion greens, onion grass, and cleavers. I decided to to make a spring tonic vinegar. Lately I’ve been inspired by Pascal Bauder’s Facebook page, an endlessly enthusiastic forager who, among other things, makes some gorgeous vinegary elixirs. I just cleaned my greens and covered them in white vinegar and we’ll see what it tastes like in a few weeks.

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Spring tonic

Some older posts of mine from What Julia Ate on foraging:

Garlic Mustard Soup

Sheep Sorrel and Seedling Pesto

Update: as per @raganella, dry the cleavers for tea. Or as a cold infusion when fresh: “Just take a few sprigs and put in a mason jar with cold water. Let steep an hour or so.”