Backyard foraging: Dandelions are everywhere

What do you eat when you are stuck at home, and don’t want to chance going to the store for fresh vegetables? In these times when many people are afraid to leave their homes there is one plant you can find across North America and many places in the world.

Dandelion boardering the yard.
Dandelion bordering the yard.

Spring is a season of renewal and new beginnings(and new dangers this year).  All of the trees break out in bright green growth as the leaves unfurl from their winter sleep.  Ahh the joys of spring, I can go on and on about it.  It is by far my favorite time of the year.  One of the great things about spring is if you like to forage, or try some of the bounty of nature you can get many delicious greens.

The easiest one for anyone to find is what many people consider an annoying weed.  The common dandelion is the easiest of all edibles to find.  The plant is native to Eurasia, but was brought by settlers as a hardy green to grow and eat.  Dandelions are found on all of the worlds continents and have been gathered since prehistory, but the varieties cultivated for consumption are mainly native to Eurasia. Dandelions are a perennial plant, its leaves will grow back if any part of the tap root is left intact. To make leaves more palatable later in the later parts of the year they are often blanched to remove bitterness.  The bitterness is mostly in the leaves late in the growing season when water starts getting in short supply.  In the spring it is only mildly bitter and makes a great addition to salads.  I am actually thinking of growing them on purpose. Every part of the plant can be used for something.

The flower petals, along with other ingredients, are used to make dandelion wine. This is very very strong, but also very good. I have seen where the flowers can also be used to make a dye, but I have not had a chance to try that. The ground, roasted roots can be used as a caffeine-free dandelion coffee. I add mine to roasted chicory root for a tasty coffee alternative.   Dandelion was also traditionally used to make the traditional British soft drink dandelion and burdock, and is one of the ingredients of root beer. Also, Dandelions were once delicacies eaten by the Victorian gentry mostly in salads and sandwiches. Dandelions leaves contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C and K, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese.

They grow everywhere.  Even in the cracks in the walkway
They grow everywhere. Even in the cracks in the walkway

Roasted dandelion root is a simple thing to make if you are interested in trying to do it yourself.  First gather up a dozen or so plants with as much of the root attached as you can get.  The two-year old plant will have a nice large root on it.  Remember to save the leaves and any flowers for a nice salad or to add to a sandwich. Cut the individual roots into 1-inch sections and cover with water. White sap will leach from the roots causing the water to cloud. Agitate the roots with your hands to remove any remaining soil and to remove the sap. Pour off the water and repeat the process until the water is clear. If you skip this step you will have a much more bitter tea.  Process the roots in a food processor until they are coarsely chopped.  Spread a 1/2-inch layer of chopped dandelion roots on a cookie sheet, and set the oven at 250 degrees, leaving the oven door open a crack to allow moisture to evaporate. Roast the dandelion roots for 2 hours or until the roots are the color of coffee grounds. Stir the dandelion roots every 15 to 20 minutes to allow them to dry evenly. Remove from the oven when the roots are the color of ground coffee. Allow to cool and store in glass jars. You can further grind them with a coffee grinder, but if you don’t have one, that’s okay too, as they can be used as is.

Below are some great resource guides if you are interested in more on foraging for weeds and other edibles.

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Compact DIY Emergency fishing kit

No one can predict when an emergency will happen. It can be anything from as simple as having your vehicle break down, to a natural disaster that effects the entire area you are living in. One thing that is good to keep in a vehicle just for an emergency is a small kit filled with basic fishing supplies. For this kit I use a small metal altoid can. But any container that is small enough to fit in a glove box will work. The nice thing about these little metal boxes is that they can be used for several purposes once you have removed the fishing supplies. This also makes a great 5 minute craft to put together with children

Simple kit with basics in it. I do recommend more hooks and weights then what is shown in the picture.

Possible list of what you can put into your box:

Still some room that more weight and hooks can be added and a small folding knife

This list is for a very basic kit and can easily be customized to whatever works for you. As you can see from the pictures there is still lots of space inside the tin to add some other things to the kit. One additional thing that would be good to have in this kit is a compact knife. I always carry a belt knife so it is not needed for my kit. this would be very useful for gutting any fish and cutting a pole to use as a fishing rod.

The best way to store the line is to wrap it around the box and then secure it with tape. For this kit I am using 100lb nylon braid. Very strong and can also be used as cordage for any needs.
Wrap multiple layers of tape around the kit to secure the line and also to use in an emergency.

If making your own mini kit is not something you would like to put together then there are several pre-built kits available on Amazon that can be purchased.

This is a good list of books that are fairly compact and can be carried in the glove box or in an emergency bag.

All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Arora (smaller pocket guide that is excellent to use)

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Pacific Northwest Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Alaska Blueberries to Wild Hazelnuts (Regional Foraging Series)

SAS Survival Handbook, Third Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere This is the go to guide for most people looking into survival

And some good survival gear

There are also several E-books that can be found on Kindle unlimited

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Are Salal berries edible? Why yes they are!

As summer hits it’s midpoint it is time to get ready for late summer berries. One of my favorites to forage for locally is salal berries.  This native plant to the Pacific Northwest is usually seen in flower arrangements as decorating leaves. The leaves are thick and waxy and make a great color addition to flower arrangements everywhere.  This plant is also a relative of the blueberry and produces a delicious berry.  I eat it fresh and have used it to make wine and jam. The high pectine content of the berries does require some extra help to make a wine.  Otherwise it will almost gel like a jam.

Its dark blue “berries” (actually swollen sepals like a blueberry) and young leaves are both edible, and are an effective appetite suppressant. Salal berries were a significant food resource for native people, who both ate them fresh and dried them into cakes. They were also used as a sweetener, and the Haida used them to thicken salmon eggs. The leaves of the plant were also sometimes used to flavor fish soup. More recently, Salal berries are used locally in jams, preserves and pies.  They are often combined with Oregon-grape because the tartness of the latter is partially masked by the mild sweetness of Salal.  There is so much naturally occurring pectin in the berry that when you make jam you do not need to add any to make it jell up.  The jam is so dark that it is almost black in color.  

The berries grow in rows along a main stem.
The berries grow in rows along a main stem.

Salal occurs in such high numbers that the chance of seeing plants on a hike anywhere west of the Cascades in Oregon is almost guarantied. This year I intend to pick enough that I can try to make at least a gallon of wine out of them.  But even if I don’t they are a good addition to yogurt throughout the year if you freeze them.  Or a dark jam to add to yogurt.  Have I ever mentioned I love yogurt?  

The plants can be found from Northern California up into southeast Alaska.  If it is in the that area there is some around.  The flavor of the berry changes depending on the soil conditions.  If you find a spot where they taste great remember to go back year after year for them.  

Flowers and unripe berries
Flowers and a mix of ripe and unripe berries

The plant itself also has been used for medicinal purposes. Salal leaf has a long history as a medicine for wounds, coughs, colds and digestive problems.  The Klallam, Bella Coola and Quileute People have chewed salal leaves, and spit them on burns and sores.  The Samish and Swinomish People have used the leaves for coughs and tuberculosis, while the Quinault People have used them for diarrhea and flu-like symptoms.  Herbalist, Michael Moore mirrors Northwest Native People’s uses of salal in Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West when he says that, “The tea is astringent and anti-inflammatory, both locally to the throat and upper intestinal mucosa, and through the bloodstream, to the urinary tract, sinuses and lungs.” 

If you are ever in the mood to try a unique flavored berry I highly recommend salal as a delicious one.  As my normal word of warning if you are not 100% sure of what you are eating do not eat it!  

Some useful books on foraging and using medicinal herbs in the area:

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Fall kayak fishing at Hills Creek Reservoir

Fall in Oregon never disappoints for anyone that is a fan of the outdoors. Fishing picks up as the water temperature cools and the fall mushrooms come up. Instead of hunting this year I spent opening day out on the lake fishing with Jeremy in the kayaks. Since it was a normal fall day here it went from wet and windy to nice and sunny to back to a down pour.

Oregon Kayak fishing
Kayak fishing in Hills creek reservoir

When fall hits and the temperature drops in the local lakes it triggers a feeding frenzy as the fish work to fatten up for winter time. Everything was biting in the top 20 feet of water. When we dropped below the 20 foot mark the bite stopped for both of us. Two weeks ago the surface temp was sitting right at 70F, and most of the fish were down 10′-30′. Today it had dropped down to 64F. Since the fish had been so active I dropped down the trolling camera to catch some video’s of the aggressive fish hitting the lures.

Underwater camera

Sadly I did not get a picture of the largest fish I caught which was a nice 18″ native rainbow. Heavy rain and wind makes it a bit difficult to get good pictures. Hills Creek is a great lake to fish due to the large amount of stocked fish and the many different species of fish that can be caught. The lake contains Rainbow trout, Cutthroat trout, Crappie, Largemouth bass, Brown bullhead, and landlocked Chinook. Bank fishing is very productive on the entire lake. ODFW stocks this lake with thousands of Rainbow trout and Spring Chinook every year. As always when you go fishing please always check the fishing regulations and make sure you are fishing within the law. Currently for trout only fin clipped fish may be kept (including any Chinook under 24″)

Oregon Kayak fishing

If you would like to watch the video of us fishing for the day the link is below.

some useful things we use for fishing:

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Oregon’s invasive Purple Varnish clam

When camping for my birthday on the Oregon coast, I found a nice area that had a very large bed of Purple varnish clams.  What is a purple varnish clam you ask? It is a clam that was first found invading Oregon’s estuary’s in the 1990’s.  The assumption is that it came over in the ballast water of large ships from Asia.  While this clam is an invasive species it is also a very easy one to dig, and the current regulations allow for up to 72 per digger to be harvested. Some studies have shown that this clam able to produce densities exceeding 800 per square meter I don’t think that they are going to get over harvested. Since these clams are high in the inter-tidal zone and in soft sand my toddler was easily able to help me dig these up.  And surprisingly once we cooked them up she wanted to eat all of them.

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A quick limit of clams on a not very low tide

Kayla and I were able to get our limit in less than 30 minutes.  The deepest clam we found was only maybe 12 inches down in the sand.  The area we dug for them was a three foot by three foot section.  It seemed easiest to dig a small hole until you got to the depth they were at then just use your hands to start digging the hole wider.  The shells can be a little sharp so a pair of garden gloves help prevent any cut fingertips.  After the clams are dug you have to let them soak in seawater for 24 hours so the clams expel out the sand they have inside them.  We steamed some up before we realized that, and it was almost as much sand as clam inside them.  All you need to do is fill a bucket up with bay water and put the clams inside so the water is over all of them.  After the soak we steamed and dipped in garlic butter and they were delicious.  Just like steamer clams but a little bit sweeter.  They would probably make a great clam chowder. Which I will try at some point when I have time to make it.

My helper and her clam. They are not a very big clams, but are great eating.
My helper and her clam. They are not a very big clams, but are great eating.

One thing to note for anyone eating these is that many of them have pea crabs inside of them.  If you are allergic to crabs these would be a bad clam to harvest to eat.  A good book to read if you are interested in clamming in Oregon is this book of Clamming the Pacific Northwest or some recipes on how to cook them The Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook: Salmon, Crab, Oysters, and More  the cookbook doesn’t have anything specific to the Purple varnish clam but any steamer type recipe will work for them.

Quick little video digging in for purple varnish clams

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Slow cooker pacific mussels and sausage chowder

There are many types of chowder in the world and even more variations of chowder recipes. Over the centuries if it is from the ocean then some one has probably made chowder out of it. After my last trip to the coast to forage I didn’t get any clams but I did get a nice bucket of fresh mussels. Which make a perfect chowder. The only thing that tends to throw people off about using mussels is that instead of the normal white of clams these are an orange color. Using a slow cooker for this makes the mussels nice and tender and delicious.

Tasty bowl of chowder with mussels and sausage.
Tasty bowl of chowder with mussels and sausage.

ingredients:

  • 8 oz chopped mussels
  • 4 sliced chicken sausages
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 6 to 8 medium potatoes
  • 3 c. water
  • 3 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 4 c. half and half cream or milk
  • 3 to 4 tbsp. cornstarch or (instant potatoes)

If you are using fresh mussels like I am you will need to steam them open and then cut them up. Also be careful of the occasional pearl. All of the ones that I have found were small but they would still have chipped a tooth. Cut the mussels into bite-sized pieces after removing them from the shell if they are large. In a skillet, saute sausage and onion until golden brown; drain. Put into slow cooker with mussels. Add all remaining ingredients, except milk and cornstarch. Cover and cook on high 3 to 4 hours or until vegetables are tender. During the last hour of cooking, combine 1 cup of milk with the cornstarch. Add cornstarch mixture and the remaining milk and stir well; heat through.

A link to my handy slowcooker

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Garlic mussels with Yakisoba noodles

Tasty and healthy stir fry of mussels, bok choy, and noodles.
Tasty and healthy stir fry of mussels, bok choy, and noodles.

Once more I have a nice amount of wild harvested mussels to something with.  These are a different type than the bay mussels I harvested last time.  These are the California mussels that live along rocky outcrops all over any rocky habitat throughout the Oregon coast.  And I found a bonus in these mussels.  There were several small pearls that I found while cleaning them.

Lots of mini pearls that were embedded in the mussels.
Lots of mini pearls that were embedded in the mussels.

They are not very big, but it was fun to find them.  For this batch of mussels I am going to stir fry them with some veggies and Yakisoba noodles.  Stir frying is a very quick and easy way to make a quick meal.  The noodles are already cooked so they just need to be warmed up.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of yakisoba noodles
  • 2 cups fresh bok choy
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 8 oz cooked and shelled mussels
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or oil of choice
  1. Saute the garlic in the oil until it just starts to change color
  2. Add in the bok choy and bean sprouts and cook for 2-5 minutes at medium heat or until they are almost cooked
  3. Add in the yakisoba noodles and mussels, then cook until heated completely.  This usually only takes a couple minutes
  4. At this point you can add in any sauce that you like for flavoring.  I am just adding a light soy sauce to the mix.

Mussels with pesto

Mussels and pesto blending together
Mussels and pesto blending together

Yesterday day was a great day of fun and sun at the beach.  And the perfect low tide to pick a limit of bay mussels of the jetty.  The only thing about getting mussels off the jetty is that they tend to be on the small size.  The largest one that I found was about 4 inches.  The average was just over 2 inches.  With all these delicious mussels I decided that mixing them in with some pesto would make for a great dinner tonight.  That and it’s a very simple recipe.  This will make two servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb cooked and shelled mussels
  • 2 ounces pesto
  • 4 ounces dried pasta of choice

Cook up your pasta as per directions and drain.  While the pasta is cooking warm up the mussels with the pesto in a large saute pan.  add the cooked pasta to the pan and toss to coat the noodles evenly with the pesto.  pour into bowls and enjoy.

All blended into a bowl of delicious delights
All blended into a bowl of delicious delights

Bannock with acorn flour

Today is recipe day since it is cold, wet, and icy outside.  Bannock is a great easy flat bread to make at home or on a grill while camping.  The dry ingredients can be mixed up ahead of time then all you need to do is add the water and butter to it.  There are huge variations to recipes for making Bannock.  I decided to add in some of my acorn flour to see how this would turn out. I haven’t tried nearly enough recipes with all the flour I made in the fall.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour. ( a great variety is to add half as oat flour.)
  • 1 cup acorn flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cup water (adding whey instead of water makes it very soft and fluffy)

Measure flours, salt, and baking powder into a large bowl. Stir to mix. Pour melted butter and water over flour mixture. Stir with fork to make a ball.  Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface, and knead gently about 10 times. Pat into a flat circle 3/4 to 1 inch thick.  Cook in a greased frying pan over medium heat, allowing about 15 minutes for each side. Use two lifters for easy turning. May also be baked on a greased baking sheet at 350 degrees F  for 25 to 30 minutes.

I am baking it this time.  I rolled them into balls then flattened them out to about hamburger sized patties.
I am baking it this time. I rolled them into balls then flattened them out to about hamburger sized patties. These will be my bread for lunches for the week.

They don't cook up very thick but once they cool they are easy to slice for sandwiches
They don’t cook up very thick but once they cool they are easy to slice for sandwiches

 

If you want to give it a nice twist while camping you can form the dough into cigar shapes then twist them around a green branch and roast them over a campfire.  It makes for a nice change from marshmallows and hot dogs

Lobster mushrooms

Strange looking mushroom but very tasty.
Strange looking mushroom but very tasty.

While wandering around the woods for chanterelles we came across several Lobster mushrooms.  Why is it called a lobster mushroom you ask?  It is because it is the color of a cooked lobster with the faint taste of seafood when you eat it.  A lobster mushroom is not truly a mushroom, but is a parasitic ascomycete that grows on mushrooms, turning them a reddish-orange color that resembles the outer shell of a cooked lobster. It colonizes members of the genera Lactarius (Milk-caps) and Russula, such as Russula brevipes and Lactarius piperatus in North America. At maturity,it completely covers its host mushroom, rendering it unidentifiable. Lobster mushrooms are widely eaten and enjoyed; they are commercially marketed and are commonly found in some large grocery stores ( I have never seen them sold anywhere around here though). They have a seafood-like flavor and a firm, dense texture. According to some, they may taste somewhat spicy if the host mushroom is an acrid Lactarius.  Even though the outer part is red the interior is a dense hard white color.  unfortunately the ones that I found were too old to eat and had already started to have bugs eat them.  But it is nice to find them so I can go back to the same location and look for them again.

Lobster mushrooms have a velvety texture when sautéed, not unlike cooked lobster, and their succulent meat hints pleasantly at seafood. Processing one can be a chore: Lobster mushrooms collect more than their share of dirt on a cap riddled with nooks and crannies. Don’t be afraid to scrub them hard, and then dice them up and saute with a little butter, cream and cognac to make a colorful duxelles.

Lobster mushroom just breaking the surface of the forest floor
Lobster mushroom just breaking the surface of the forest floor