Tag Archives: foraging for food

Further Adventures in Olive Curing Plus a Fig Experiment

My mom and her friend have been bringing me free food.  I don’t like fresh figs but I love them dried.  Fresh figs are really expensive and I haven’t had access to any free ones to experiment with until now.  So I was excited to haul my dehydrator out of the shed.  First thing I discovered is that whole figs don’t fit in my dehydrator so I had to cut them in half.  Second thing I discovered is that figs take a lot less time to dry than I thought.  I over-dried mine.  They are now as hard as tree bark.  Ooops.  I wish I could get my hands on more to do a second trial with but I may  have to wait until next year.

I plan to soak these before using them.   I think I’ll make some fig bars with them at some point.

I am still shamefully lagging on my olive project.  Between big transitions at work that are requiring a lot of extra attention and all the stuff going on around the house – and my kitchen always being dirty – I have yet to get my olives in their second (stronger) brine.  The top of the brine has some mold growing on it.  Having experimented a little with fermenting things and reading all about it – I’m not worried about it.  But I do want to get to the next step.

My friend Sharon who is learning to cure olives with me already has had hers in the second brined for two weeks with flavorings.  I got to try some at her house the other day and I’m pleased to report that they were really good!  I want mine to be saltier than hers are – but they had a really nice flavor and the texture was perfect.  So this method of curing can definitely get you good results.  We’ll see how mine come out in another few weeks I guess.

Walnut season is done.  DONE.  And I felt sad about it the way all you strange sun loving people get sad when summer is over and the air changes.  Two weeks is as long as walnuts were dropping.  I foraged a total of 15 lbs and 1 little oz of them.  I’m really happy to say that my mom’s friend who brought me figs also brought me a big bag of walnuts!  So now I have a more respectable haul.

Here’s the jar of pickled habanero peppers that I’ll be giving to my sister’s close friend Emily.  I’ve known Emily for a long time and now she’s a grown lady with a husband and two kids.  She and her husband like super hot peppers.  I don’t but I couldn’t resist pickling some of these because of their beauty.

I’m trying to menu plan now.  I’m not doing a very good job of it.  Here’s what I plan to make during the following week.

Menu “Plan” for the Week of 11/12/12:

  • Lentil soup  (done!)
  • Stuffed pasillo peppers – stuffed with seasoned tofu and baked in a cashew cream sauce served with Mexican brown rice.
  • Baked potatoes.  What?  You have to have something easy.
  • Salad(s) with apples and walnuts, feta, and dried cranberries.
  • Kashmiri-style eggplant in yogurt

I just got what might be the last three eggplants grown by Imwalle Gardens.  That means epplant is OVER.  I don’t buy them out of season so when you can’t get them locally grown any more it means no more for a long time.  I have wanted to make this eggplant dish for a long time but it requires you to shallow fry the eggplant – I’m not big on frying and I could probably broil them but I want my first time trying this dish to be as rich as the recipe is – because the last time you eat fresh eggplant for a year deserves to be special.

The stuffed peppers is a vegan dish I have been wanting to experiment with.  I haven’t ever tried such a thing and I don’t have any recipe for it.  I do have a recipe for the cashew cream sauce.  My friend Sid made the most amazing spaghetti squash dish that was like a lasagna with layers of squash, marinara sauce, tofu, and then topped with a cashew bechamel.  The bechamel was wonderful!  So it’s time to play with creamy vegan sauces.

What are you cooking this week?

Foraging for Walnuts Brings Me Back to the Beginning

I’ve been foraging for blackberries my whole life.  I also remember picking gooseberries on Mount Shasta when I was a small child.  I used to find and eat miner’s grass and also sour grass.  Things I learned from my mom.  But it wasn’t until I moved to the JC neighborhood in Santa Rosa that I really became a forager in earnest.  I rediscovered my love of picking wild blackberries and the first year in Santa Rosa my friend Sharon and I learned to make blackberry jam together which started my love of food preserving.  I was taking classes at the Junior College and walked to school from my house early in the morning for math class.  After the first storm that year I noticed walnuts on the ground.

I know a walnut when I see one.  Who doesn’t?  The Stemples had several walnut trees in their back yard and they always had huge bags of walnuts in their mud room.  The truth is – I never really liked walnuts.  They were “okay”.  I’d eat them if someone put them in baked goods but I always wished people would stop putting walnuts in their cookies because I thought it ruined them.  When I first saw the walnuts on the ground I wasn’t that excited about them but I was curious to know if all walnuts are edible and if you could eat them fresh out of the shell or did you have to do something to them?  I picked up a few and carried them around with me.  Eventually I ate one of them and didn’t get sick.

The walnuts were all over the ground and I started picking them up as I walked, filling my backpack with them.  I still didn’t really like them but I couldn’t resist collecting them.  Something clicked (I think it’s called OCD) and the repetitive activity of collecting nuts and hoarding them in my garage was soothing and fun and addictive.  So I ended up with an enormous quantity of them.  All picked up from my neighborhood streets.  It was free food.  Food I didn’t like, of course, but FREE.  And satisfying to collect.

Eventually I had to force myself to stop.  A person who doesn’t like walnuts doesn’t need a year’s supply of them.  I decided to try eating them in different ways to see if I really didn’t like them.  What I discovered is that I really dislike walnuts in baked goods.  Period.  I won’t shun your gift of banana bread with walnuts in it, but only because I’m used to my mom baking nuts in everything and I’m pretty polite about gifts.  But I’ll wish you hadn’t polluted your banana bread with walnuts.  I tried walnuts in other ways and discovered that I love them lightly roasted and put on salads.  When you do that they remain crisp.  To me – an uncrisp nut is an abomination.  I also discovered that I love candied walnuts – just to eat out of hand or on a pear salad.  Deborah Madison introduced me to walnut sauce and it is one of my favorite sauces in the world.  It’s creamy and rich and wonderful.  I make it very smooth – no grit.

Every year for 5 years I collected a year’s supply of walnuts and ate them all.  I was lucky that when I lived in Oregon a dear friend of mine had access to free walnuts and gave me tons of them because there weren’t a lot to forage in McMinnville.  But I missed foraging for them myself.  I missed the yearly activity that signaled deep fall.  They nearly always start falling after the first real rainstorm.  Which we just had a few days ago.  While foraging for olives with my friend Sharon she mentioned that she was finding walnuts on the ground and I very nearly dropped the olive project to go collect nuts.

Instead I stuffed down the panicky feeling that I would miss my chance to gather nuts and hoard them in my tree trunk… and waited one whole day to go out looking for them.  Yesterday Chick and I walked to my old favorite walnut trees and I gathered a bag full.  Many of them are smaller than I like but will still be good.  Chick didn’t think much of the walnut collecting.  She would much rather forage for poop.  Still, she did her best imitation of a patient dog and I felt right again.  Like time is flowing in the right direction after being stopped for years.  I know I keep saying shit like this – but it’s true.  This is where it truly started for me and to walk the same path I’ve walked year after year to the same trees, trees that I’ve come to think of as quiet personal companions, it makes me feel like I just found something that’s been lost.  It feels wonderful.  It feels peaceful and makes me happy.

Once you get into the foraging mode it’s impossible not to see food all around you.  Or to wonder about things that MIGHT be edible.  To someone.  This old cactus in our neighborhood caught my eye yesterday as it has caught my eye every time I’ve walked by it in the last 12 years.  But this time I saw it differently.

Are those “prickly pears”?  Can you make jam out of those?  And is this the kind of cactus you can make nopalitos from?  CAN I EAT THIS CACTUS?

I wouldn’t dream of trying to take any part of it because it is a masterpiece in this yard – it is clearly not food hanging over the sidewalk waiting to be plucked at by strangers.  Taking any part of this plant would be grand and mean theft.  But it amuses me how you look at things differently after years of foraging.

Cheers to my fellow foragers out there!

Things I’ve foraged for so far:


gooseberries (only the once but it was memorable)

miner’s lettuce

sour grass






hazelnuts (for others, I hate hazelnuts)

Indian plum (my friend Nicole introduced me and Max to it – it’s a leaf that tastes like a cucumber)

mushrooms (not very successfully – I did find an old bolete, an old chanterelle, and Philip and Max found me a lobster mushroom)

Don’t Molest the Bees

There’s an alleyway the runs several blocks long in our neighborhood halfway between our street and the main street one block over.  Max and I like to walk this alley on our way home from the nearby diner.  It’s a place of much interest – assignations take place there, there’s an airstream trailer, creepy spidery garages, the backs of houses with tiny bathroom windows winking down at passers by, and this beehive located in someone’s shed.  The beehive is inside and this is the entrance.  When you pass by in the hot sunshine the bees are swarming around but if you pass by when it’s grown darker and cooler it’s very quiet.

The first time I saw this I was so riveted I just stood as bees flew around me and I thought “if I just stay very still they won’t be bothered” and immediately felt a sharp sting in my shoulder.  They don’t feel comfortable with me standing there like the village idiot watching them slack-jawed.

a) I love that right here in the city someone has found such a creative way to keep bees

b) Someone keeping bees so close to my own house means that when I plant an edible garden here I’m going to have good pollination

c) I love that Max pointed out the incorrect use of the apostrophe

Figs in the hood.  This tree hangs over someone’s fence into the alleyway.  They weren’t ripe when I took this picture and the last time I walked by they were gone – I’m glad someone is eating them!  I hate seeing food drop to the ground to be wasted.  I love dried mission figs but am not a fan of fresh figs.  My mom loves figs fresh so I would have nabbed a couple for her.

I’ve got my eye on the neighborhood walnut trees.  Usually they start dropping walnuts with the first storm of the season or early November, whichever comes first.  However, I’m starting to notice walnut debris under the trees and am hoping I don’t miss out this year on walnut foraging.  My friend Chelsea knows of a place I might be able to forage a bunch of them so if I don’t get much from the neighborhood – hopefully this place will pan out.

The neighbors across the street have an enormous persimmon tree covered in fruit just beginning to blush up orange.  We’ve been put on the neighborhood email list and have been invited to the neighborhood potluck next weekend.  This is the kind of thing I really missed while living in Oregon.  Maybe some neighborhoods have potlucks in McMinnville where everyone is invited – even the crotchety ones – but I sure never lived in such a neighborhood and I didn’t know anyone else getting invited to neighborhood-wide BBQs.  I saw a neighborhood email this morning in which the neighbors with the persimmon tree said they couldn’t make it to the pot luck but was wondering if anyone was interested in doing a neighborhood garden coop in which neighbors can share crops.

My first thought was: I’ll never grow enough in my little garden to have enough to share.

But then I thought: sharing even small amounts of food with people creates a lot of good will and the good will of neighbors is exactly what you want when shit goes down.

Reciprocity is one of the most effective tools to bind people together in a community.

As canning and preserving is winding down I’m starting to turn my thoughts to starting a garden here (herbs, fruit, and edibles).  Even if we didn’t build any beds or re-arrange any of the existing plantings there are a bunch of bare spots out front where it’s sunny that can be filled in with edibles.  But we do have a plan to do some small raised beds.

I can’t live anywhere without planting herbs and edibles and flowers.  It’s what I do.

What’s growing wild in your neighborhood that you’ve got your eye on?