Today, after the last of the snow in our backyard melted, it snowed again. It has been a long winter -- as it usually is in Minnesota (although I’ve only experienced two). This extended period of long-underwear, wool socks, and root vegetable stews is the reason why more people don’t live here. But as the snow melts and the temperature rises above 32 degrees, there is real joy. It’s not just a nice day for us… it’s excitement, anticipation and even a relaxation (of whatever muscles are used in shivering). And for me, most of all, it’s the search for wild foods that gets me out walking in the woods.
Over the course of the last year making episodes about food in Minnesota, of all the topics, foraging has been the most prominent. I suppose it is so with any subject, but the more you learn, the more wonderful and intriguing it becomes. A walk in the woods is not just beautiful, it is a shopping trip and a treasure hunt. So this time of year is the most exciting of all.
At this point in April when we (Minnesotans) have a few wild edibles popping out of the ground, you (Californians) have been eating them for months. But that doesn't make them any less special. So, this last Saturday we had a pizza party in celebration of Spring. It was quite ironic as the temperature dropped into the 30's that evening. Regardless, that morning we went foraging for the first of spring's offerings. A ritual that I wish was part of every cooking job: first go harvest, then go cook.
We found garlic mustard, nettles, ramps, daylilies and dandelion greens. The nettles were small and purple in color. They aren't woodsy or bitter at this point, more like spinach. We used these as a base for our pesto. The ramps were still a little young, so we didn't over pick them. If you haven't had a ramp yet, they are garlicky and delicious. I usually use the leaves for pesto while pickling the stems. The daylilies are shooting up all along the edge of my house, if you get them when they are young, they add a nice crunch with a very slight onion flavor. And dandelion greens -- they are bitter of course, but add a taste that connects you to the earth.