where the wild things are. the blue pearl.

One afternoon, a couple years ago, around a tiny fire outside their farmhouse in Southern Vermont, Les Hook and Nova Kim cooked up some wild mushrooms we had gathered that morning nearby. In a  large cast iron pan, they seasoned them with nothing more than a little butter or olive oil and some salt and pepper. It had just begun to snow steadily when we set out to gather. Large fat flakes  floated around us amd landed on our eyelashes.Les pulled over in his red Subaru, flashers glowing in the wild flurry of white. He deftly put up a twenty-foot ladder against a slippery maple tree and quickly climbed up. He pulled of the biggest Blue Pearl Oyster Mushrooms I have ever seen off that tree. We drove back to their place and lit the fire. It was then that Nova told us about her non-turkey, perfect for vegetarians on turkey day or for any feast any time of the year for that matter. You must start with a large fan of a mushroom, as you can see from the photo it kind of sweetly resembles a turkey's tail! Though I have roasted many a mushroom from them, it took me two years to get to this post. I asked Nova to save me a large Blue Pearl that I would pick up from the New Amsterdam Market. Luckily my snail mail reached her in time and I was able to get a beauty from them the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I kept in a paper bag on my fire escape until cooking day. Now I know I have sung their praises before but people, if you have not been to the market on a day when they are there then you are SERIOUSLY missing out. If you are interested in finding out when The Vermont Wild Food Gatherer's Guild will be in town go to The New Amsterdam Market website and check the vendor and calendar listings! They always have something special and if you have never been to the market then what are you waiting for? It is every Sunday from 11-4pm.

Back to the mushrooms...

The mushroom I got from Les and Nova was held together by a stretch of bark. I left the piece of bark on the mushroom while I roasted it.

I brushed the mushroom with a generous amount of olive oil and sprinkled it with French sea salt cracked black pepper and thyme.

I put in my largest Cast iron pan...this was a BIG mushroom 14 inches across at least. I threw it in the oven at 350 degrees for a slow roast and when it started to brown at the edges I put about a 1/4 cup of water in the pan and covered it with tin foil to add a little more moisture. Mushrooms are essentially like sponges so they soak up all that moisture. I may not have needed to do this if I had roasted it right away but since I had waited a few days I thought it might help to add the additional moisture.. I took the tin foil off for the last five minutes or so of cooking. I can't give you a specific cooking time because it depends on how big or small the mushrooms are that you are roasting. So use your intuition. You want it to be moist and almost meaty when you slice it.

We loved this so much that we could almost forego the turkey next year and just eat this!

It was really good with gravy... 

Thank you Nova for this brilliant idea!

Roasted Wild Blue Pearl Mushroom Tail

Set your oven to 350 degrees 

1 large Blue Pearl Mushroom fan approx 12-14 inches in length

1/4- 1/2 cup olive oil brushed and drizzled on the mushroom

Seas salt to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

Sprigs of Fresh Thyme

Gently brush any dirt or debris off the mushroom with a small mushroom brush or a small pastry brush

Place the mushroom upright in a large roasting pan or cast iron skillet

Brush and drizzle with olive oil. Mushrooms really soak it up so be generous with your application.

Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper

Add some fresh thyme leaves and a sprig or two for looks

Place in the preheated oven and roast for 15-20 minutes depending on the size of our mushroom.

Put about a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water in the pan and cover with tin foil

When the water is all evaporated the mushroom will be done. 

Uncover for the last five minutes or so.

The mushroom should be moist and easy to slice along the grain.

Cooking time really depends on the mushroom size so keep and eye on it!@ You don’t want it to be too tough!!!

As always, a word of caution where wild mushrooms are concerned. Leave the gathering to an expert!!

where the wild things are no.18. spruce tip honey and other bits.

A few years ago, an Austrian friend gave me a jar of spruce tip honey he had made in a big pot in his yard, over a fire, upstate. I was fascinated by the idea. He told me that it is easy to make a spruce pine or fir tip syrup from the young green tips of the spruce tree, fir or pine tree.

The spruce tip syrup strangely tastes of wild strawberries and citrus with just a hint of pine.  This is strange I know, but odd and beautiful at the same time!

I had planned to make it the following year but time slipped by and I found myself upstate at the wrong time to collect the young spruce tips. This year, however I was determined to make it! A forager friend and supplier, Evan Strusinksi, who collects for many well known chefs, sent me some spruce tips he collected in Southern Vermont. Simultaneously, we gathered a big batch of our own from upstate. So with a huge pile of spruce tips I set to work to make the mysteriously beautiful syrup! Spruce tips can also be used in various recipes; many chefs are using this wild ingredient on their spring menus. A little on line research came produced some quick shortbread, salts, pickled spruce tips and other interesting uses. So far, I have only had time to make the syrup but I have a big bag of tips in my refrigerator and they seem to keep quite well for a long time so perhaps I will get around to a bit more experimentation in the coming weeks.

Spruce, pine and fir tips are all edible and can be used to make syrup. They are very high in vitamin c. I imagined the syrup would be good on with seltzer, or in a cocktail mixed with a little gin and soda, on pancakes or in tea or as some research shows, it makes for a great spoonful of vitamin c to ward off and alleviate colds and sore throats! It seems like the perfect all around staple for a  fall/winter pantry. In some parts of the country it is too late to pick the young tips but if you are lucky and you hurry you may be able to set a jar aside for winter use., You  will want to pick the tips young because the resin qualities increase as they mature.

I found that with most things there were various techniques out there for making this syrup or honey as some call it.

I ended up going my own way because the jar that my Austrian friend had given me was quite dark in color and quite thick as opposed to the clear syrups I was seeing on line.

This recipe is really simple. I went with equal parts sugar and spruce tips and added a little extra water.

I combined all three and brought the tips and the sugar water to a boil making sure not to burn it or over boil the pot. I stirred constantly for 5 minutes or so to make sure all the sugar was dissolved. I then reduced the heat to a simmer and let it cook down slowly for three hours until it was a beautiful rose color and a little bit syrupy. It thickens quite a bit when cooled.

I then strained the tips out through a sieve and discarded them. I jarred the syrup in a sterilized quart jar and refrigerated it for later use. From what i have read on line, this syrup will last up to 4 months or longer if refrigerated.

 

See the below links for some interesting recipes found on line or check out The Wild Table by Connie Green for a salt recipe and a great spruce tip vodka. As with any wild food make sure to properly identify it before cooking with it or consuming it!

I used a different method to make mine but there is some interesting inspiration here.

http://medcookingalaska.blogspot.com/2008/06/how-to-harvest-spruce-tips-with-recipes.html

http://honest-food.net/veggie-recipes/sweets-and-syrups/spruce-or-fir-tip-syrup/

 

 

SPRUCE TIP SYRUP/HONEY

5 cups spruce tips

6 cups water

5 cups sugar

 

 

Method

Coarsely chop spruce tips

Combine water, spruce tips and sugar in a large pot.

Bring to a boil stirring constantly for five minutes.

Reduce heat and simmer for an hour or so on low or until the syrup thickens to your liking.

The color will be a light a rose. 

Remember that the syrup will thicken as it cools, so you may want to test a spoonful by letting it cool to check desired consistency. If you over boil it and it becomes too thick, you can add some water to thin it down, but the color will end up be a darker honey color as opposed to the rose.

The longer you simmer it the thicker and darker it will become.

quince and medlars.

Medlars are a rather uncommon fruit one that most people have not heard of. They are native to the Mediterranean and are a close relative to the Hawthorne tree or pear tree.

A few weeks ago, Maggie Nesciur from Flying Fox had a few little boxes of Medlars at The New Amsterdam Market. They had been collected by Ezekiel Goodband of Scott Farm in Dummerston Vermont (whose name I just adore) where she had gone in search of heirloom apples. Though they are native to the Mediterranean, they somehow grow in Vermont where Goddband has some trees sprinkled throughout his orchard. Like the amazing fruitier that she is Maggie couldn't resist sharing some of these tiny gems at her stall at the market.

When I purchased the Medlars they were quite hard and very tart as they were not at all ripe. I kept them on my counter in a little bowl for a full two weeks until they began to soften. A Medlar is ripe when it is almost rotten and very soft and juicy quite like a persimmon and  when it is a beautiful orange red inside. I had a quince around and decided it was high time to make something of these uncommon beauties.

I decided since I had such a small amount to make a Medlar quince butter with a few apples thrown in for good measure.

I cut them up and threw them all in to a pot (seeds and all) with two cups of water, the juice of one whole lemon and let them cook down to a veritable mush. I put them through the Foley food mill; one my favorite kitchen tools and discarded the remaining solids. I ran it through a fine sieve after the food mill just to make sure the texture was very smooth and there were no remaining bits of pulp or seeds. 

I returned the mixture to the stove added one more cup of water and a cup of sugar and let it cook down until it was thickened.

The result is something akin to apple butter but with a subtle quince and pear flavor. The color is a beautiful pink and the three little Weck jars lined up on the counter were incredibly satisfying. I canned two of the jars in a water bath so I could save them for long-term storage.

So far we have been eating it on toast with a little slice of Harpersfield Tilsit cheese from Upstate New York that has been aged with a smoky Lapsang Souchong black tea. The smokiness of the cheese and the tart sweetness of the Medlar is the perfect combination.

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maltagliati. cut brooklyn.

Maltagliati or (badly cut pasta in italian) is my favorite kind of pasta to make. Its large irregular cuts speak to my rustic imperfect side and this knife from Cut Brooklyn the object of my current obsession, is just the knife to cut it! I am seriously obsessed with the knives of blade smith Joel Bukiewicz. I first spotted one of them at the stall of Brooklyn Butcher Blocks at the New Amsterdam Market. I have since used Joel’s knives in any editorial I can squeeze them into. I like to have them on set so I can pine over them! Last week while shooting a feature for a European editorial on Brooklyn Artisans the knives came up again when Joel appeared on the list. I had never been to his studio/shop in Gowanus and was excited to check it out. It happens to be just down the block from Hungry Ghost favorite Four and Twenty Blackbirds and not surprisingly, the  Brooklyn knife maker and pie making sisters are friends!

Joel started making knives about seven years ago when he was living in a small town outside Atlanta. He came to be a blade smith via a hiatus from writing in which he has a degree. Metal work and furniture building eventually led him to this pure precise craft. His knives feel alive, each one carefully crafted for precision, balance and control. They are both light and powerful in hand, each feels as though it has a story to tell.

The knives of his assistant Moriah Cowels, a former blacksmith from Northern Vermont are just as beautiful in their own right. Where his are dark and masculine hers are more feminine and whimsical, but no less powerful.

where the wild things are no.3. the lovely mushrooms.

Les Hook and Nova Kim of Wild Gourmet Food are at The New Amsterdam Market almost  every last weekend of the month, barring hurricanes and other obstacles. Look on the New Amsterdam site for a list of weekly market vendors.

I visited their stall last Sunday and picked up some gorgeous mushrooms that they collected in Vermont where they live and work.

What to do with these beauties? I think I will sauté some in a cast iron skillet with butter, parsley and salt. I might roast some or perhaps if I am feeling really ambitious I will make a fresh pasta and a mushroom ragout. These mushrooms are begging for a Sunday get together.

If you are interested in wild mushrooms, you can find many varieties at local farmers markets or through local wildcrafters. Les and Nova do a wild CSA and Wild Mushroom Of The Month Club. You can check it out here.

Hen of the Woods/Maitake/Grifola frondos

Props Kim Ficaro

sap for the soul

It seems there has been a lot buzz lately about the benefits of drinking maple sap. I have heard of a few companies in Canada starting to produce sap drinks and friends in Brooklyn are contemplating a company selling the stuff. We have some friends who live up in Northern Vermont. They are,  among other things, Wildcrafters and Plant Spirit Medicine experts. They really know how to use the land and thier surroundings with thought and care and with a truely sustainable spirit. You will see and hear more about them here over time, as we are currently working on a documentary about them; but more on that later. When I spoke to Nova Kim of wild gourmet food earlier this week she told me that they had given up water for a while and turned to drinking sap during the maple season,  (she said they are drinking about 80% sap to 20% water).  Anyone and everyone who has ever collected syrup has tasted the sweet nutrient, mineral rich sap. It is impossible to resist the taste. The liquid is clear like water and has a delicate sweetness that is so light and faint and almost mildly floral.

Sap has an enormous amount of calcium and iron and other minerals and has been used for it's health benefits for thousands of years in Korea, China , Japan and amongst Native Americans.. There is evidence that Native Americans drank sap for purification purposes. There is a very interesting  article in the New York Times that chronicles South Korean's love affair with maple sap. They drink Fifty gallons per person at a time. They believe they sweat out the toxins and replace the fluids with sap. They call thier maple the "tree for the good bones" as the sap is full of calcium and helps with osteoporosis.

Overall, Nova contends that it, basically, adds a touch of sweetness to everything, a completely natural sweetness. She obtains the health benefits of sap by drinking it straight and using it in her everyday cooking. In the morning she occaisionaly makes oatmeal with it, substituting it anywhere she would normally use water. She recently made a fifteen bean stew with a sap base. She used a smoked ham hock and the sap as the base flavor to her bean stew. She threw it all in a crockpot and let it rip. I love this kind of one pot cooking. I will see if I can  wrangle a recipie from her, but you get the basic idea. 

if you are not tapping your own trees, you can find a sugar house or a farmer near you and perhps buy some sap from them. ( go to your local farmers market and talk to the syrup guys) It does take roughly forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Syrup has commanded some pretty high prices in the past few years based on availability due to shorter sap seasons and climate change. The sap start to flow when the days are warm  (over 40 degrees and the nights are below freezing) the word is that this will be a long cool spring and that makes for an excellent syrup season. If you are lucky and persistent, you may find a farmer willing to part with some of the good stuff or...you can revert to some yankee ingenuity and go find a maple tree, get a drill then tap in a spout, and wait patiently for the plunk plunk plunk... not only will you and your family have a greater appreciation for where your food comes from, but it will be all that much sweeter for your efforts.

 

 NOTE: as with any kind of harvesting...it is important to do it with care and sustainability. Don't overtap your trees! You will bleed them to death!!

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