Scott noticed them first. “Come here,” he said, beckoning with his finger. “Did you see these?” He pointed to a fig tree in the front yard of our rented house. The figs were just beginning to ripen, and he had picked some to roast with blue cheese, honey & walnuts. After few more days of heat, more figs ripened. Then they began to over-ripen. Sap oozed from their bottoms. “Better use these,” Craig said. He picked a soft one and ate it on the spot.
I had been trying to keep my daughter off of the tree’s slender branches, but once she realized the prizes were fair game, up she went. We picked a basket full, and I roasted them for breakfast. Simple, if you’ve got a tree full of fresh figs nearby. Recipe below.
Honey Roasted Fresh Figs, with Ricotta:
Fresh figs, halved
Butter, a couple of tablespoons
Honey, a couple of tablespoons
Kosher salt, a pinch
Fresh ricotta, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. Lay the halved figs, cut side up, in a baking dish. In a separate pan, melt the butter, honey & salt. Drizzle the syrup over the figs. Roast for 10 – 15 minutes, until hot and bubbling. Serve with fresh ricotta, drizzle on the sauce.
When my brother, Ryan, walks through a forest, he carries a machete. He has spent a great deal of time in Brazil, and there are dangers in those forests greater than brambles. Here in Canada, on Hornby Island, my brother uses his machete to carve out trails through a second-growth forest that had been logged, farmed, and left fallow for decades. My brother is remaking this forest.
Bit by bit, he will make room amongst the standing trees for the new ones he has collected. He has a small fenced area he calls the nursery, and in it are 100 varieties of apple and nut saplings.
He emailed an apple tree catalog to our family in February asking for help narrowing down the choices. But in the end, he grafted one of each. They have names like Pendragon, which is a 12th century red-fleshed cider apple from Wales. There is Kandil Sinap, from Turkey circa 1880, with creamy, yellow porcelain-like skin and a cylindrical shape. The crab apple Wickson is said to be so prolific that the small yellow and red apples will garland a tree with fruit.
I grew up in the forests across the water from Hornby Island. I used to look out my bedroom window, through tall pines, across the Georgia Straight, past Denman Island and the Chrome Island Lighthouse, all the way to Hornby Island. It took two ferries to get there. When I fished with my grandfather, we would jig for cod around its perimeter.
My family has an anchor on Hornby Island now. We visited this July. “What do you want to see?” My brother and sister asked me. “Wild edibles,” I answered.
My brother grabbed his machete, and our small troupe followed him into the woods. We walked through grove after grove of salal. My sister and I picked a basket of the berries and I made a shrub, aka drinking vinegar. This acidified syrup is my summer theme. I have been drinking it in sparkling water. I also made a salad dressing with it, substituting a couple tablespoons of shrub for the sweetness and vinegar I might have added.
Salal berries are a highly localized plant, native to the part of the world where I grew up. I remember them, although I did not eat them. Their dark purple and plump berries are appealing looking, but eaten fresh they are bland and mealy. Heat and a little sweetness brings this fruit to life. I did not believe in tricks like that when I lived here.
I will wait for the apple and nut trees to mature. Plants grow fast in the west coast. I will be back, and often.
Last year I bought two tiny elderberry bushes from the Catskill Native Nursery, and planted them in a bare patch in my garden. This year they are 10′ tall and loaded with elderflowers. Eventually, I would like to make elderberry syrup, which is a potent anti-viral. But, I have some traveling to do this summer, and it is is possible the precious elderberries will be gobbled by birds before I get to them this year. Still, I wanted to do something special with this amazing plant. So I made elderflower cordial.
Elderflower cordial is simple to make. It requires only the beautiful flower heads, water, sugar, optional citric acid, and the zest and juice of lemons. You can also add orange zest and juice, which I did, for the color. My batch combined two recipes. One is from the River Cottage, and another from Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.
There is one funny thing about elderflowers. They are either a super-food or potentially toxic. Searching “health benefits of elderflowers” reveals that they contain bioflavonoids and are antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial. Searching “are elderflowers toxic?” tells us the stems and leaves of the elderberry plant contain a cyanide-producing chemical. To put this in context, almonds also contain a cyanide-producing chemical. And we all know rhubarb leaves are toxic, while the juicy stems are delicious. To prepare elderflowers for infusion, you snip away all of the stems and branches. Problem solved.
Still, I tend to err on the side of caution, especially with something new. While I did serve the cordial at a recent cook-out, my cautionary words ensured I had only one unfazed sipper (besides myself). “Well” he said, “They sell it at Ikea.”
Cyanide and box stores aside, elderflower cordial is one of the most aromatic beverages I have ever made or consumed. It is delicate, and seasonal, and I like to think loaded with healthful properties.
This weekend I went on a foraging walk with Dina Falconi. She is the author of the beautiful book, Foraging & Feasting. The walk was a 2-hour introduction to the process of identifying plants. We learned about looking at the macrocosm (the environment) before looking at the microcosm (the plant). We learned about identifying characteristics, leaf and stem patterns, textures, size, and of course the flower. Dina showed us how to crush a leaf and smell it. She showed us how to carefully taste it, if we are not sure.
We spent most of our time with a few edible weeds we found growing at the perimeter of the Berkshire Botanic Garden… garlic mustard (which I was recently introduced to), Gill-over-the ground (eating this helps to draw out heavy metals from the body), and dandelions (the petals! I have to eat the yellow petals).
It was a wonderful morning. And I’m hungry for more.
I am learning to forage, and I am exploring garlic mustard greens. This green grows everywhere. I spot it on the roadside, along my driveway, and in disturbed areas of my garden. I used to pull and compost it as a weed, but this spring, I am pulling it and carrying it into my kitchen. So far, I have eaten it raw, as a pesto, and chopped up into soup. Word is, mustard greens are nutritious. They are also invasive. So, pulling them and eating them solves two problems.
Below, patches of wild mustard greens thrive on slopes around my yard. And my girl, helping to prepare this weed for the kitchen.
Wild thyme, which grows in patches around my yard, prepped for the soup.
An Italian-inspired soup of white beans, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, potato, wild thyme, orzo pasta, and wild mustard greens. The strong flavor of the greens mellows when simmered for a few minutes. They lose the bitterness that is strong when eaten raw.
For my Italian inspired white bean, pasta, and greens soup, I used a couple of sample bottles of a lovely olive oil grown and produced on an Italian villa, and sent to me by my friend who lives there.
Pesto made with roasted walnuts, wild mustard greens, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan. Full recipe by Ian Knauer, and more information about these greens, here.
I visited a friend‘s garden this week, and as we walked, he dug root vegetables. I left with a bag full of produce, including a whole bunch of Jerusalem artichokes. I transplanted a bunch of the tubers into my garden. They will grow into 10’ plants next year, topped with yellow flowers.
For the rest, I found this recipe for Palestine soup, which inspired me. It is so simple: Sweat an onion in olive oil, add peeled & chopped Jerusalem artichokes and salt, cook until soft, blend, stir in cream, garnish with chopped hazelnuts.
A little while ago, my friend Peter asked me to write an essay for Fish & Game Quarterly, a newsletter he edits for Fish & Game, a restaurant in Hudson, NY.
I wrote about the gardens my families have planted. My dad and his girlfriend grow enough food to dehydrate, preserve, and fill their deep freeze. My step-dad used to do the same. Currently, my brother is determined to turn the soil of an entire farm single-handedly. He says he will use only a shovel and a pickax. If you know my brother, you know it’s possible.
My own garden is low-maintenance and child-friendly. Link to essay here.
I don’t know if I ever bit into a crunchy, salty sea bean when I lived on the shores of the Pacific. I certainly remember walking on them. I remember the crunch and pop of them underfoot.
This summer, while walking with my dad along a rocky beach, near where he lives in British Columbia, I asked him if he knew of any local, wild edibles. “Well, there is sea asparagus,” he said. He gestured down beneath his shoes. He hadn’t eaten it either, but his girlfriend, a poet and a kayaker, knew that if she ever found herself stranded and starving on the Pacific coast, she could eat them. It would be a mighty salty survival food, and my lips still pucker when I think of my first taste. They taste like a sea water reduction.
Chefs love them. And if they love them, there has to be something going on. I set to work harvesting a bowl full with my dad and daughter, and then I looked up recipes. We parboiled them, and flash fried them in butter, garlic and lemon. We did not salt them. I used them to garnish a beautiful wild Pacific salmon my husband cooked. The meal made so much sense, but they are still something of an acquired taste.
Then, because we had far more than we could eat as a garnish, I continued my research. Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook wrote of an experiment dehydrating them. Since my dad just happened to be driving around with a dehydrator in his truck, we gave it a whirl. I have yet to complete the final step in the mortar and pestle to make sea bean salt. I can’t quite imagine ever wanting so much ocean flavor in a dish.
I had one other sea bean experience this year. Days after I returned from the west coast, I found myself shooting a campaign for Neuman’s Kitchen, a high end catering company in NYC. They feed the corporate crowds, and they create extraordinary feasts for benefits. Chef Robb Garceau is a pleasure to work with, and for each of the photoshoots we have done, he visits the Greenmarket early in the morning for inspiration. Imagine my surprise, when one afternoon he suddenly appeared with an herb-salt encrusted Arctic char, a whole variety of beautiful shellfish preparations, and a bowl of pickled sea beans. I do think this is the best way to go. The salt, crunch, and pop of them is just meant to blend with vinegar, and is why sea beans are also known as pickleweed.
As for the dehydrated sea beans in a little baggie on my desk, they await grinding. I keep wondering what to do with the salt once I make it. Could I rim a glass in sea bean dust for an updated version of a Caesar (a classic Canadian cocktail made with clam juice)? How about sea bean salted wine for steamed clams? A dusting on white fish? And then I take a nibble of the now dry (but still very salty) sticks, and I’m right back on the shores of Hornby Island, picking them with my dad.
I am making creme de cassis from black currants we grew in our garden! The recipe for the sweet, dark elixir is hands down the simplest recipe I have ever attempted. It is: fresh black currants + vodka + time. Soak together for a few months, strain, heat, add more vodka, water and some sugar. The exact proportions I used can be found in Amy Thielen’s New Midwestern Table cookbook, although I added a step and smashed the fresh berries.
And now I wait, and try to forget about the berries steeping in the cupboard. It should be ready by the holidays.
A couple of years ago, I planted two black currant bushes in my garden. The location is at a forest’s edge, partially shaded in the morning and late afternoon. It is too shady for most other plants, but the black currants thrive. So far this year I have picked about 4 cups of the blackest, ripest berries, and far more than that are still ripening in clusters under the leaves.
Fresh black currants are rather sour and strong tasting and they are not for everyone. I remember my dad’s excitement over a black currant bush he planted when I was about six, and I remember my disappointment and bewilderment when I first tasted the tart berries. I could see from the dreamy expression on his face that he connected the taste to some childhood memory. He grew up on a farm in Manitoba and his mother preserved everything that grew on their acres. He would remember his mother’s homemade black currant jelly served on thick slices of homemade bread. And thinking of that, he would be reminded of his mother, who cooked for over 20 farmers every day, three times a day.
I have since discovered the thick, boozy syrup that is cassis, which is delicious on its own, and even more so as Kir Royal (when mixed with champagne), and I love black currant jelly almost as much as my dad does. My dad may never have had cassis, but my first taste of it, when on assignment at Clinton Vineyards, made a strong impression. And later, when photographing Amy Thielen‘s cookbook, I learned that you can make cassis quite easily. I will get around to following her recipe, but for now you can buy it from France, and I love the one made right here in the Hudson Valley.
Black currants are also exceptional as a savory jus to accompany red meat, or in any mixed berry pie. As an adult, I even eat them fresh off the vine. Although, as I eat them, I reflect on how far they would be transformed with the addition of a little sugar and heat.
This July 4th, on a spontaneous decision to make dessert for our guests, my toddler and I picked a bowl full and made a galette. The currants needed more sugar than I gave them. A scoop of sweet vanilla ice cream would have been perfect. But despite being tart enough to make us laugh, it was kind of perfect, anyway.
Ever since reading Foraging & Feasting, I have been looking forward to making wild grape leaf dolmades. This afternoon, on our way to pick up our toddler, I spotted wild grape vines draping along the side of a quiet road. We snipped a few branches and brought them home. I blanched the leaves in water, salt & vinegar, then made the filling. They were deceptively easy to make, and next time I go to a vegan party, I very well make this version. Although before then, I will likely experiment with a ground meat filled variety.
Olive oil; 1 medium onion finely chopped; 1/2 cup rice; 1/4 cup pine nuts; 1/4 cup currants; 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon; 1 bay leaf; 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, mint, dill; fresh wild grape leaves, blanched; 1/4 cup lemon juice.
Saute onion until fragrant. Add rice and pine nuts, stir. Add currants, cinnamon, bay leaf, and 1 cup water. Simmer 15 minutes, covered. Rice should be mostly cooked but still firm. Stir in herbs, salt & pepper. Line a pan with blanched grape leaves. Fill remaining grape leaves with heaping teaspoon of rice & herb filling, fold up sides and roll into a tight bundle. Set each rolled dolmade in the pan, and fit tightly together. Set a heat-proof dish on top of the dolmades, add lemon juice & 1 cup water. Simmer 45 minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand until liquid is absorbed. Best eaten at room temperature.
My edible garden is accidentally on purpose filled with wood sorrel. This south facing slope at the forest’s edge is a hodge-podge of garden theories. I follow Lee Reich’s method of mulching to suppress weeds. But I also follow the Gaia’s Garden approach of letting things grow in organized chaos. And since I haven’t found a great source for organic compost, I don’t mulch as often as I ought. In some ways this garden is weeds suppressing other weeds. But I curate the weeds.
Barberries I attack with a crowbar. Wisteria is clipped or pulled on sight. Periwinkles run rampant and the bees appreciate their early flowers. Clover is a boon for its nitrogen-fixing root nodules in the soil.
My toddler and her Nana love to nibble on wood sorrel, so it stays. Its delicate heart-shaped leaves bend and nod in every corner of the garden. It looks a lot like clover, but wood sorrel is a sour, lemony tasting green that doubles as a potent culinary herb.
Clipping the plants from where they were growing too closely to pear trees the other day, I gathered it for the kitchen, rather than the compost. I turned to Foraging & Feasting, a beautifully illustrated book about wild edibles, and made sure there are no poisonous look-alikes. (There are not.) Then I looked for recipes in my cookbooks.
There are many recipes for sorrel cream sauce, sorrel and goat cheese tarts, and sorrel beverages. Apparently – although I have not tested this – cultivated sorrel and wood sorrel are so similar in flavor as to be interchangeable. I will do a taste-test when I get my hands on some farmed sorrel this summer. The delicate leaves of wild sorrel seem to me best suited to salads.
This weekend, I made wood sorrel salad, and I made a version of Ottolenghi’s lima beans with sorrel, feta and lemon.
For the salad: torn leaves of fresh young lettuce (I used red leaf), fresh dill, a big bunch of wood sorrel leaves & flowers, and since they were blooming, chive flowers.
For the dressing: olive oil, aged white balsamic vinegar, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a teaspoon of fig preserves, a teaspoon of stone ground mustard, one pressed clove of garlic, a wee bit of diced red onion, salt.
Garnish: Toasted sunflower seeds and grated aged parmesan.
This was delicious. We ate the sour & sweet salad for lunch with some of the sorrel & lima bean dish I had left over from the day before. I made sure my husband got the single sorrel flower I harvested, and my daughter talked about that flower all through lunch.
For Mother’s Day, I took a moment to survey the blossoming trees in my garden. It’s a promising year for pears, wild plums, and paw paws.
I also cooked from April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Greens. There was a roasted & raw fennel & fresh orange salad; a bowl of fingerling potatoes with butter & mint; and a pea, mint & pecorino spread. There was also a 90-degree heatwave (in early May!), and I didn’t get around to photographing the food. But we did manage to transport it and ourselves to a park in the Catskills where Chris grilled wild salmon beside the lake. When the temperature cooled, we went for a walk in the golden hour, and I photographed my daughter and her grandparents.
It was a lovely, relaxing day. Can’t ask for more.
This morning, while planting out seedlings in my edible garden, I discovered a patch of volunteers. A taste-test revealed them to be onion seedlings, and they had clearly sprung up from the spent seed heads I left in the garden over winter, to feed the birds. I am grateful to these volunteers for planting themselves – it’s less work for me, and it’s a clear indication of what thrives in my particular plot of partly shaded soil.
I have a patch of calendula seedlings – offspring from a single plant given to me at Field Apothecary a couple of years ago when I photographed them for Edible Hudson Valley. I will let the calendula grow as they are. My alpine strawberries, aka fraises du bois, are popping up all over the garden. I imagine the creatures who stole the fruit left a few seeds behind where they ate them. I am moving these tiny plants one by one into a brand new dedicated (and protected) garden bed – they are just too precious to share with wildlife.
The onion seedlings are growing too densely to leave alone, and I don’t have room for 100 onion plants in my already crowded garden. So, I pulled a bunch of them, washed them, cut off their roots, and added them to an apple-napa cabbage slaw. Micro greens!
Gardening gives me so much joy, I sometimes think it is the reason I do almost everything else: take photos, clean the house, blog. I was raised in a part of the world where everybody gardens. The west coast of Canada is so fertile, it’s easy to grow food. Vancouver is filled with yards given over to bean trellises and mammoth sunflowers, and when I was a girl on Vancouver Island, catching fish, digging for clams, and prying oysters off the rocks was a common past-time. We paired these with potatoes, peas, and herbs from the garden.
Now I live in the Hudson Valley, bordering the Catskills, and part time in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My favorite moments of the year are when I tend my edible garden. My brother built a deer-proof garden for me the month my daughter turned one, and she and I have been creating it together ever since. This weekend I added elderberry bushes – which I have been dreaming of all winter – purchased from the Catskill Native Nursery.
My own rhubarb plants are only 3 inches tall right now, although where I come from they are ready for harvest. To feel the spring groove of my homeland, I made a rhubarb crumble out of pre-New-York-season rhubarb and post-season blood oranges. It is always delicious, especially after a day in the garden.
This past week I shot a campaign for Andy Boy’s broccoli rabe. That’s right, an advertising campaign for a vegetable. It’s one of my favorite green vegetables, they are one of the best clients a food photographer could have, and we work hard and have a good time. I came home with bunches of the beautiful stuff, and set to work making broccoli rabe pesto, right from their recipe page. I was going to bring some to our first lakeside cookout of the season, but we ate the batch I made (although there is lots more in the freezer). It’s one step more complicated than traditional basil pesto, because you parboil the rabe, but then you reserve that green water and boil your pasta in it, and I love that.
Back at home, the week was filled with starting spring seeds – rabe seeds! a gift from Barb Fritz, a prop stylist I work with a lot – and flowers for the pollinators. Then we grilled, and found a tadpole at the lake.
When I’m not photographing food, I can often be found in my garden. This garden is only two years old, and half of it is terraced onto a south facing hillside recently overrun with barberry bushes and wisteria vines.
We grow: blueberries, black currants, raspberries, kiwi berry vine, gooseberry, tiny Alpine strawberries, and trees of pear, persimmon and native paw paw. We have flowers to attract pollinators.
I’m not serious about growing vegetables. We get more than we can eat from our local CSA, Hearty Roots, but we grow what is entertaining for a toddler to pick: pole beans, peas, and cherry tomatoes. An ornamental squash climbs a teepee.
This garden follows Lee Reich‘s weedless technique, and for about $200 I installed an automatic watering system. We turn the timer on in the spring, and off in the fall. I want my daughter to experience growing and picking food, as I did…minus the tedious hours of weeding & watering.