Saturday, March 30, 2013

All That the Spring Brings: Shellfish, Mushrooms, and Wild Greens

“We are the billionaires of foraging!”-Alex Izzarelli----

I woke early and assembled the gear. I was presenting some of my research at a conference in a few days, and wanted to make sure it was well put together, so I had only one day left for an adventure and I wanted to make sure we had everything put together early so we would be prepared to do it right. Into the basket went all the essentials including a couple of strips of bacon, some rosemary, chives from my parents garden, and a couple of bottles of my Dad’s newest home brewed India Pale Ale (made with our home grown hops). I also brought about a third of the winter chantrelles, black trumpets and hedgehog mushrooms I had gathered the day before with my brother and his girlfriend.

Alex picked me up at about 10 am and we headed out to the coast for a little spring foraging. We carefully climbed down a crumbly sandstone cliff to the rocky beach below. Armed with a plastic bag, fishing license, and a water bottle, we scrambled along the algae encrusted boulders of the inner tidal zone gathering sea water, edible kelp, and filled the bag with fresh mussels in about 15 minutes time. Inner tidal foraging is very productive if you know your marine plants and shellfish, and today was certainly no exception.

From there we could see the boulder outcrop exposed at the top of Coyote Ridge nearly a mile up the canyon; our favorite cooking location. We climbed back up the cliff and made our way up the hill stopping to forage as we went. Along a small creek we gathered a few sprigs of wild fennel and a few leaves of nettle to add to our feast. We got a nice oak and coyote brush fire going at Coyote Ridge and laid down our mussels over a bed of fennel and dried bay leaves (locally foraged as well). We added a little sea water to the mix to impart a salty taste and help steam the shellfish, and placed the pot over the coals. Once the mussels were done we grilled a few strips of bacon kabob style on whittled coyote brush skewers, and sautéed the mushrooms and nettle in butter with the fresh chives and rosemary. We quickly carved a couple pairs of coyote brush chopsticks, cracked our home brewed IPA’s, sat back, relaxed and feasted like kings.

The herbs and salt water imparted great flavor to the mussels which we were thoroughly enjoying, but once tasting the mushroom-nettle medley I was really impressed with the meal. Something about the flavors in both dishes seemed to complement each other perfectly. We sat on the ridge overlooking the canyon and Pacific Ocean below, laughing at the prospect of buying shellfish. An hour’s work (if you can even call it that), and we had a meal that couldn't be found at the finest restaurant. Not only was it delicious, but as fresh as possible. And we had an intimate association with every ingredient, as we had selected each from the field and cooked each with joy. When all was said and done, we figured our total costs at around eighty cents, which comes out to forty cents each.

As always, a warning regarding shellfish and wild edibles- bivalves (clams, mussels, etc.) can only be safely eaten in the colder months as they filter-feed on toxic plankton in warmer months, so always check with the county department of health before gathering. Wildcrafting can be a fun and productive undertaking if conducted properly, however, ethical foragers must always respect private property, and in regards to health, never forage near power lines or roadsides as they are often the subject of pesticide spraying by power companies and public road maintenance organizations. Remember to forage seasonally as there is abundance out there every day, take the time to adventure even if it’s just outside your door, and always strive to keep the old ways alive!----Kevin Smith

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