BaltimOregon to Maine

Locavore Cooking with Southern Efficiency and Northern Charm

Posts Tagged ‘foraging

Myopic about Mushrooms

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It looked like a Bolete (porcini), it smelled like a Bolete, but I’m not expert enough to be certain so I won’t eat it. There’s too much potential for error given the 100-some Boletes out there. Black trumpets, however, I can confidently identify. NOTE to readers: I can’t identify this mushroom. CONSULT AN EXPERT BEFORE CONSUMING. Thought I found Chanterelles too, but they were smaller than ones from Pacific Northwest. I’ve lost my confidence.

I’ve decided wild mushroom foraging will be the new foodie thing I throw myself into here in Maine. Many species seem to thrive in the damp, pine needle-carpeted forests here, and I’m eager to learn more about them. I’ve got black trumpets down. They’re easy to identify as long as you keep looking down, as “Mushroom Maineiac” David Spahr advises. Here, they spring up next to green moss and bright pine seedings.

We just settled on truffled eggs with the few black trumpets I found. My Dad is a master in the kitchen! He swears by the more affordable white truffle oil from Micucci’s in Portland.

Now, I’m in hot pursuit on a hike. I understand how hunters and fisherman feel. Even if you have to throw your catch back, there’s still the thrill of that “aha!” moment of discovery. I had that in the woods yesterday, chancing upon what I thought were small Chanterelles and a big Bolete that sure looks like a Porcini. We consulted friends and David Spahr’s book. I had been inspired by a display at this weekend’s MOFGA Common Ground Fair. In some ways, the more I read, the more pictures I viewed, the more doubt crept in. It just isn’t worth the risk unless you’re sure. I’ll think about joining the Maine Mycological Association and going out in the company of experts soon. The nearby Long Branch School in Bowdoinham organizes monthly forays. Trouble is, you get the most bang for your wild mushroom buck if you go out on a secret mission, and lose yourself in the woods alone.

The harvest I’m abandoning due to lack of certainty. One is at least definitely a Chanterelle but the uncertainty about the lot has made me lose interest. Also found coral mushrooms we could eat, but they aren’t culinary gems and can have a laxative effect on some folks.

Black Trumpet Mushrooms in Maine and Oregon

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There’s nothing like a good Willamette Valley pinot to bring out the earthy flavor of mushrooms. These foraged black trumpets stand out in this slighty creamy, gorgonzola pasta.

Maine and Oregon have so much in common from a culinary perspective: an abundance of fresh seafood, blueberries, lots of freely ranging chickens, cattle and pigs. And mushrooms just begging to be foraged from wooded trails. Unfortunately, my foraging in Oregon was limited to easily identifiable golden Chanterelles. I hope to get more adventurous here in Maine and got a good start today with our first black trumpet harvest.

Two days of casual harvest on a hike near my parents’ place on a lake in Central Maine.

There’s nothing like the serendipity of chancing upon delicious mushrooms while on a hike. It makes the hike more of a hunt. It’s a simple thrill. We saw at least a dozen other mushroom varieties on the hike, but felt too amateur to pick others than the striking black trumpets. Consulting images on the web, I now suspect we saw Lobsters, Yellow-Foot Chanterelles, and Reishis growing on trunks. I’ll have to tag along with someone more senior soon.

Black trumpets are a simple thrill to discover on the damp forest floor.

If you get your hands on some black trumpets (in Oregon my source was The Mushroomery), you must make this pasta dish (assuming you aren’t dairy or gluten-intolerant. My sister did enjoy it with gluten-free pasta).

Black Trumpet Mushroom and Gorgonzola Pasta (recipe courtesy of Tree and Elaine)

1 oz. dried or fresh mushrooms,
minced shallots
1 cup heavy cream (use 1/2 and 1/2 cream; just as good)
1 oz. Gorgonzola dolce
1 lb. penne pasta (used wild mushroom linguine)
1 c. fresh parmesan
minced parsley, (tarragon-opt.)

Before using, soak mushrooms for 30 min. in warm water, drain and rinse
well to get rid of any remains.

Melt butter and add shallots. Saute 7 minutes,
Then add mushrooms, cream and stir in the Gorgonzola.
Simmer 10 minutes.
Cook the penne with salt till al dente and pour it in skillet with the sauce,
stirring well.
Fold in the parsley and the Parmigiano.

Written by baltimoregon

September 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Trashed Strawberries Are Our Treasure

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Salvaged berries from the Boones Ferry Berry Farm discards at the end of the Corvallis Farmers' Market Saturday.

From the mouths of babes: Little George digs into the ones at the GTF stand.

I’m not shy. I have no trouble engaging complete strangers in conversation. Maybe that’s why I interview people and entertain in the front of the classroom for a living.

But still I felt awkward going from stand to stand at the farmers’ market Saturday, asking for donations for the cooking and canning classes EMO’s Interfaith Food and Farms program runs to help folks stretch their tight  budgets and learn to make delicious meals with food bank staples.

Then I happened to ask Boones Ferry Berry Farm (near Woodburn) if they had any mushed or overripe berries we could have to cook up into jam. They gave me their “trash” bag, chock fill of syrupy, slightly squishy berries that smelled and looked delish, though were perhaps not quite pretty enough for discriminating consumers. But no one would know the difference when they cooked down into jam.

Fellow master food preservers (and dear friend) Rebecka now heads this cooking class, working closely with Jamming for the Hungry’s Sara Power (who was also in our Master Food Preserver Program). Chef Intaba previously ran these classes when I first moved to Corvallis. These are my girls! That’s where I met Norma, my good friend from Texcoco, Mex., and the mother of three adorable children: Jerry, Michele and baby Dennis.

Sara demonstrates her jam recipe.

Jerry patiently waits to make jam.

We  made low-sugar strawberry  jam (and took jars home), strawberry smoothies with yogurt and silken tofu (a food bank staple that often befuddles folks) and a fresh strawberry vinegar for a vinaigrette I helped demonstrate. See the recipe below. I also mixed the vinegar with seltzer for a bracingly tart drink that might be good with simple syrup. Like those Asian drinking vinegars popular at Pok-Pok or old-fashioned shrub drinks. But buyer beware (of stomach ulcers apparently) with the “vinegar cure.”

Also, if your jam is starting to foam if you cook it, we learned that adding a pat of butter helps, and may keep the jam from turning gray. I still might go strawberry picking next weekend, perhaps at nearby Greengable Flower Farm, where they are $1 a pound.

Strawberry Vinegar
Yield: Makes About 2 cups
Active Time 15 minutes
Total time: 1 1/4 hours

1 pound strawberries, trimmed (3 cups)
2 cups white balsamic vinegar (or apple cider, rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar…anything but dark balsamic or plain distilled white vinegar)

Pulse berries in a food processor until finely chopped and very juicy. Transfer to a bowl and add vinegar. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a jar, discarding solids (don’t strain if you prefer a thicker, pulpy dressing). Keeps in the fridge covered and chilled for a week.

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Fresh strawberry vinegar.Strawberry Vinaigrette for Mixed Greens Salad
1 cup olive oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup strawberry vinegar (see recipe above)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup minced onion or shallot
A drizzle of honey to sweeten it up
salt and pepper to taste

Blend ingredients together in a blender, or just shake in a covered jar or beat until mixed and smooth.

Yield: About 1 3/4 cups

*Note: Traditional vinaigrettes have a ratio of 3 parts oil (or other fat, such as warm bacon fat) to one parts vinegar (or other acid, such as citrus juice)

Written by baltimoregon

June 21, 2010 at 1:24 am

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Stinging Nettles: Yes, You Can Eat Them

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These vivid green common nettles are easy to spot, with their two oppositional leaves.

What a difference it makes to actually forage for nettles at the start of the season, as opposed to last spring when they were starting to undesirably go to seed. Foraging with Chef Intaba by the river in Willamette Park last Saturday, I was also much more confident in identifying the green stalks and didn’t confuse them with young blackberry leaves. I also came prepared with my tough purple kitchen gloves and thick rubber boots, the better to wade into the brambles. We snapped off just the young top nettle leaves, so hopefully they will replenish themselves over the next month. The picked raw leaves, which when blanched or steamed are like a sweet, more fibrous spinach, smelled like chlorophyll-laden green pepper in my bag. And when you steam them up, you can drink the remaining detoxifying green-black tea, supposedly good for your complexion and urinary tract. It’s vegetal and slightly sweet.

A good nettle patch: the green really stands out against the backdrop of brown leaves.

With the blanched, chopped leaves, I made a quinoa and bulgur greek salad and a spanikopita-like lasagna, with feta, ricotta, chopped nettle and dill for the filling. See other nettle recipe suggestions here and on Culinate here. I hear they make a good soup, with potatoes. Deborah Madison has a recipe that looks nice. But I think I’ll only get the urge to forage for nettles about once a season. I still prefer domestically-cultivated greens, such as kale and spinach. But foraging is a lot easier, and in some ways more rewarding, than gardening. Here’s to next year, Intaba!

Master forager Chef Intaba picked bagfuls.

Written by baltimoregon

February 24, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Weeds You Can Eat: Little Western Bittercress and Young Dandelions

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Spicy, watercress-like Little Western Bittercress, growing in clumps in the garden beds.

Eat 'Em and Weed: Young Dandelions.

I’ve developed this irrepressible urge to forage, though my horse chestnut encounter did leave me a bit chastened. I’m also craving garden-fresh greens in the gray of winter, which has been quite balmy of late here, with young weeds and early crocuses starting to blossom.

We’ve had clumps of this clover-like weed erupting in bare non-grassy areas all over the garden. They’re easy to pull, with shallow roots, never much bothering me before. But it turns out these clumps–Little Western Bittercress–are edible! Suddenly, those ubiquitous weeds become less pesky. Thanks to the writings of fellow food blogger (and Master Gardener) Culinaria Eugenius, I was finally able to identify this spicy-sweet greenery. This Oregon State site made me even more confident that I’d identified it correctly. Bittercress: what a marvelous little plant, a peppery, mustardy, watercress-like Brassica relative. Tiny micro-greens that look and taste just like ones chefs pay a fortune for, an otherwise nuisance growing for free.

I wonder to what degree our tastes can guide us in discerning what weeds are o.k. to eat. The bittercress felt right, radish crisp. Dandelion, on the other hand, is so bitter I would assume it poisonous if I didn’t know otherwise. But its tannic flavor mellows with fat and blander flavors, like potatoes or a mild cheese. The greens were stunning in this pizza with fontina cheese. And Mark Bittman recommends them in his Green Mashed Potatoes, which Culinaria Eugenius also recommended. I whipped up a batch, but didn’t use enough olive oil or have enough greens: they should match the potatoes in a 50-50 ratio. But I think I’ll save my little bittercress for salads. I want to enjoy this fresh from the garden foraged find raw.

Just a tease: first buds in bloom here.

Written by baltimoregon

January 26, 2010 at 1:22 am

Poisoning Myself with (Horse) Chestnuts

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Those foreboding spiky shells should have been a sign.

I guess I’ll be more cautious about foraging from now on. A few ago, I gathered these chestnuts from a downtown tree. They looked like the whole roasted chestnuts I had in China, they felt like chestnuts, a guy working on the house told me they were chestnuts. What else could they be? Their spiky shells were a bit foreboding: perhaps that was a sign.

Now weeks later, I just got around to roasting them tonight. I knifed “x’s” onto the shell and popped them in the oven at 400. When they came out, the flesh seems chalkier than I remembered. But I took a bite. And ick, was it bitter. Hmm, could there be a poisonous variety of chestnut, I thought? Sure enough: horse chestnuts were what I plucked. I hardly heard of them: just vaguely remember some homeopathic toner I bought with their bark listed as an ingredient. I washed my mouth out with soap and frantically dialed poison control. A kind nurse answered right away and put me at ease. I only ate enough to maybe hurt my stomach. I drank water and chased it down with Halloween candy, and so far, so good. But one things for sure: I’ll certainly be more cautious when foraging for mushrooms, or any other wild-crafted foods sometime. And now I’ve still got a hankering for chestnuts, real sweet American or European ones, that is.


An edible chestnut in the shell (By pizzodisevo /Flickr Creative Commons)


The horse chestnuts I found scattered around the tree.


Written by baltimoregon

October 31, 2009 at 8:49 pm

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Foraging Again, through Brambles of Blackberries

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Fresh from the woods.

Fresh from the woods.

Lots of treacherous thorns to dodge.

Lots of treacherous thorns to dodge.

Blackberries were about the last thing I should have bought upon my return to the Corvallis Farmer’s Market Saturday. Not because I don’t like them. Oregonians love to forage for and eat those wild blackberries so abundant here. But they loathe those same thorny canes that can become some of the most invasive plants, suffocating all other life out of your garden and yard with those looming, downward-seeking vines. Luckily, wild blackberry plants line the trails where I run, just minutes from our home. I didn’t realize they were already blackening (ripening) until I stumbled upon them in Bald Hill Park yesterday. Why buy blackberries when nature gives them up, generously, for free?

I set out to collect two cups more today for dessert. This time, I came prepared, pulling thick rubber boots over my jeans and bringing yard gloves to protect my hands from thorns. Blackberry gathering is like bee-keeping I suppose: the threat of pricks and stings somehow makes the fruit and honey gathered that much more sweet. I’m sure Novella Carpenter would agree. In 30 minutes (including my bike ride down the road and back), I had gathered what I needed.

Ivy Manning’s cookbook once again inspired me: this time, to make her uber-local Peach and Blackberry Hazelnut Crisp. Unfortunately, peaches are just barely in season here, but I still managed to snag some at the food co-op. Though ripe, the peaches sure didn’t seem freestone, clinging as they did to their pit. The blackberries: foraged. The ground hazelnuts, from nearby Hazelnut Hill farm. The Quaker rolled oats didn’t quite belong. Add chopped crystallized ginger to the fruit mixture if you have some lying around. Top with vanilla ice cream. I used vanilla coconut milk cream, because the pricey concoction was $2 off. Now if I could only forage for peaches.

Written by baltimoregon

August 11, 2009 at 12:48 am

Finally Foraged for Stinging Nettles

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Stinging Nettles (not to be confused with wild blackberry leaves) from Willamette Park

Stinging Nettles (not to be confused with wild blackberry leaves) from Willamette Park

Spaghetti carbonara with nettles

Spaghetti carbonara with nettles

Who would have thought that something potentially harmful would be edible? Yes, stinging nettles sting, like mild poison ivy, but when cooked, they have an herbacous, spinach-like taste and consistency. Spinach has a sweeter and more complex flavor, but when Mother Nature offers up such bounty for free, I’m always up for trying it. Foraging rules! Just don’t pick them when they’re going to seed, as I almost did today.

Also, don’t mistake them for wild blackberry vines. It’s easy to do. At least that’s not a lethal mistake. Chef Intaba pointed the nettles out to me in Willamette Park this afternoon. They have two opposition leaves (rather than the blackberry’s three and look very similar to lemon balm.

We cooked the soaked nettles into our spaghetti carbonara, made with house-cured bacon from a half a pig Intaba just butchered herself. Instead of parmesan, we dusted the pasta with the sharp aged and local Willamette Valley Cheese Co. Brindisi. We topped our salad with Intaba’s house-smoked pecans and frizzled leeks and edible pansies, redolent of wintergreen, that I didn’t even realize I had in my garden.

Intaba's bacon

Intaba's bacon

Pansy salad

Pansy salad

The meal provided nice closure to a Memorial Day of wine-tasting at Chateau Lorane just south of Eugene. The Willamette Valley’s big wine tasting weekends center around Memorial Day and Thanksgiving. I really fell for Lorrane’s Baco Noir, more rich than any pinot I’ve had. All the other wines seemed like water next to this voluptuous Baco, which painted the glass with deep purple. I only know the difference between good and bad with wine. But with this one, I could sense there was something special going on.

And be sure to stop at Our Daily Bread bakery and restaurant in Fern Ridge on Highway 99W between Corvallis and Eugene.They make a mean marionberry scone.


Written by baltimoregon

May 26, 2009 at 1:04 am

Digging Clams: From Sandy Spade to Chowder Bowl

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Bill Lackner, leading a clam clinic on Siletz Bay in Lincoln City Wednesday.

Bill Lackner, leading a clam clinic on Siletz Bay in Lincoln City Wednesday.

Our bountiful harvest of purple varnish and Eastern softshell (think Maine steamers) clams.

Our bountiful harvest of purple varnish and Eastern softshell (think Maine steamers) clams.

I am officially obsessed with foraging for food. And there are boundless opportunities to do it here. So when invited to try my hand at digging for clams on the nearby Oregon coast, of course I leapt at the opportunity. We went out at low tide Wednesday morning on the Siletz Bay just down the road from Mo’s Restaurant (famous for their chowder). Bill Lackner, who founded a local Clam-Diggers Association, was our generous guide. He offers free clinics up and down the coast to promote recreational clamming and ensure that the shellfish are harvested sustainably so all can enjoy them. He quickly demonstrated the technique and then we were off!


Let’s just say clam-digging is immensely easier than foraging for wild mushrooms. If you don’t mind coating yourself with cold, wet sand. You just use a spade or a clam gun to dig about a foot down and then feel your hand all around the perimeter of the whole. Almost every time I found a clam. Instant gratification. Of course, with the cold water, our fingers got numb, making it difficult to feel out the shells as the digging progressed. I also kept cracking the shells with the shovel or gun. It takes finesse not to do so.

Our Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shellfish license entitled us to each collect 36 clams per day. Let’s just say you shouldn’t have a problem meeting that target.

We found mostly hearty purple varnish clams (native to Japan, planted on the Oregon coast in the 1990s) and a few large Eastern softshell, I believe the same species as our beloved, chewy necked steamer clams in Maine. And when life gives you clams, you make chowder. Spicy tomato Manhattan-style is my chowder of choice, which I fondly remember my Bronx-born Nonny would make. The applewood-smoked bacon and the Spanish chorizo I added to the broth really gave this chowder bite. I first made this recipe (see more details below), from Arthur Schwartz’s New York City Food, for a review I penned for The Sun. I also threw in caraway seeds to make it like they did on Coney Island.

The chowder
The chowder
Barnacled-encrusted beardy mussels we also found
Barnacled-encrusted beardy mussels we also found

Manhattan Clam Chowder

  • Yield: Serves about 8

No one really knows who made the first clam chowder with tomatoes, the chowder known as Manhattan. New Englanders, mainly those from Massachusetts and Maine, whose chowder is enriched with cream (or evaporated milk in more modern recipes), laugh at the folly of a tomato-flavored chowder. Neighboring Connecticut and Rhode Island, however, states with New England coast credentials as valid as Cape Cod, make chowder without either cream or tomatoes. The traditional Rhode Island chowder is a gray clam broth with nothing more than salt pork, potato, and, interestingly, thyme as the seasoning, the same as New York City’s. Indeed, some Rhode Island chowderheads speculate that Manhattan chowder is really a variant of Rhode Island chowder, the chopped tomatoes a contribution of Rhode Island’s large Italian-American community, most of whom hail from the tomato-rich Italian south. But, there are other theories, too.

Whatever the origin, clam chowder made with tomatoes and thyme was popular in the Coney Island, Brighton Beach, and Manhattan Beach hotel restaurants of the 1880s to the turn of the century. When Coney Island became the beach resort of the people streaming off the new subway lines in 1921, Manhattan Clam Chowder really took off. (I have also read a few references to caraway being the seasoning in Coney Island Chowder.)

My grandfather, Bernard (Barney) Schwartz was a professional Manhattan Clam Chowder chef. During the Depression, after he had lost his restaurant business, he sold chowder, along with some other bar foods of the day, off a pushcart to bars and grills. I watched him make chowder many times, along with his other specialties—pickles, coleslaw, and potato salad. He always insisted on using really big chowder clams, never Littlenecks or Cherrystones, which he put through the meat grinder. I have tried making chowder with the smaller clams, but Barney was right. The result tastes more like vegetable soup than clam chowder. You need the strong flavor of big clams to make this work.


  • 2 dozen large chowder clams, well-washed
  • 4 ounces bacon or salt pork, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 large rib celery, cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 large green pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1½ pounds potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can peeled plum tomatoes, with their juice, the tomatoes coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste
Make a Clamato cocktail with the leftover clam juice!

Make a Clamato cocktail with the leftover clam juice!


In a 5-quart pot, combine the clams and 6 cups of cold water. Cover and place over high heat. When the water begins to boil, uncover the pot and boil the clams until they open, 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the clams from their shells. Set aside in a large bowl.

Strain the broth through a sieve lined with a few layers of cheesecloth or a tightly woven cloth napkin. Leave behind any sand that may have settled in the pot. You should have slightly less than 8 cups of liquid. Set aside.

Rinse out the 5-quart pot and dry it.

Put the bacon or salt pork in the pot and cook over medium-low heat until some of the fat has rendered and the meat has lost its raw color.

Add the diced onion, carrot, celery, and green pepper. Toss well, then cook over medium heat until the vegetables are well wilted, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the potatoes and the reserved and strained clam broth. Bring to a boil, then adjust heat so broth just simmers. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes, the thyme, and the bay leaf. Continue to simmer another 30 minutes or so, until the vegetables are very tender.

Meanwhile, push the clams through the medium blade of a meat grinder, or finely chop them in a food processor.

When the chowder has cooked for half an hour, add the clams, then shut off the heat.

Add freshly ground pepper to taste. Correct the salt—the chowder may not need any because clams are salty, and the tomatoes have salt, but usually it does.

The chowder is much better when it is allowed to stand for several hours, or refrigerated overnight, then gently reheated just to the simmering point.

Written by baltimoregon

May 18, 2009 at 1:40 am

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