cooking with wild edibles
By Cynthia Martin*
Wild in the Kitchen: recipes for wild fruits, weeds and seeds
M. Evans and Company, $26.95
Growing up in the suburbs of Montreal, author Ronna Mogelon became interested
in collecting and preserving wildflowers, recording details in her field
guides. A graphic designer, food stylist, amateur naturalist and chef,
Mogelon became interested in edible plants when she moved to her parent's
farm and began to explore surrounding meadows and woodlands and began
The result is the cookbook, Wild in the Kitchen: recipes for wild fruits,
weeds and seeds, that includes 75 recipes, cooking with such edibles
as day lilies, milkweed and mushrooms. With more than two dozen reference
books listed, Mogelon repeatedly advises to be completely sure what
you're picking and to use a reference guide in addition to the descriptions
and illustrations in her book (a list of Latin names is included to
help cross-reference). She is most careful about foraging for mushrooms
and said that some reference books have conflicting advice, and she
only gathers the few types with which she is completely familiar. If
you go out to pick, she suggests going with an expert mycologist.
The book's editor, PJ Dempsey, was also appropriately intrigued enough
to try some recipes, including one for dandelions leaves and has some
elderberries stored in the freezer from last year. Since there's not
enough to make the jam, she's saving them for when she finds more this
"I wanted to make the dandelion marmalade," she said, "but the rain
has been so bad that I've been unable to harvest enough flowers to make
the recipe. I have lots of that stuff growing around our house; lambs
quarters, elderberries, wild grapes, wild strawberries, apples, gooseberries,
Yes, but does that translate into serving the recipes at the average
New York brunch?
"I plan to do lots of the recipes come summer and I've got plants already
staked out," she said. "Part of our horseback ride today in the woods
was marking the grapes, apples and wild strawberries so we could find
them again once everything comes into bloom and before the local wildlife,
deer and birds."
While a user doesn't have to live in the country to enjoy these recipes,
and since most can be bought in supermarket, it's only a matter of time
before Pan-fried Morels and Pink Clover Vinaigrette allow city-dwellers
to pretend they live in the country.
* * *
Shunpiking spoke with Wild in the Kitchen author, Ronna Mogelon:
In the creation of the book, did you have a lot of dinner parties
with willing friends?
Yes and no. I had tastings but never advertised them to friends as wild
dinner parties. People who would come over to the house -- even to drop
off a package -- would be roped into tasting whatever I was experimenting
with that day. On one occasion, for instance it was day lily buds. The
taste test included whether they tasted better steamed or pan-fried.
Butter? Lemon juice? More pepper?
Have you ever eaten anything you shouldn't have?
I have never eaten any mushroom that I was not 100 per cent sure of.
I have tried the odd fern that wasn't an ostrich fern. They were too
hard to clean and tasted like a brackish swamp. I wouldn't recommend
that! Other than that, I really make sure that the wild edible I am
eating or cooking is a real wild edible and not an imposter.
How do people living in cities find the stuff? What should they start
I noticed that many wild edibles are now available in stores. Dandelions
are common now. Of course, fiddleheads are around. As well, last year
I noticed ground cherries at a fancy market in Montreal. I read that
lamb's quarters are the new fancy green in New York City. So the markets
are the first place to look. For the more adventurous, drive to the
country. If you or a friend has a country place, that would be a great
place to start. Old hedgerows usually sport an old, escaped apple tree
and maybe chokecherries are hiding there. Just save some for the birds.
What is the one recipe you go back to time and again?
Absolutely, the one recipe I have made over and over again from the
book is the wild mushroom soup. My parents requested it often. I've
had many guests over and served it and absolutely everyone raves about
it. I just have to make sure I have enough wild mushrooms. One of the
reasons I make it so often, other than the fact it tastes great, is
that it uses dried mushrooms, so I make it year round and it seems to
taste best when there is at least a foot of snow on the ground.
How did your parents influence the book?
My mom was born in Saint John, NB, and I spent summers there as a child
so even though I grew up in Montreal, we always had fiddleheads in the
spring. They were never an unusual food, as I was familiar with them
since I was a kid. My parents were real go-getters and enthusiastic
people, so when I started working on this book, they were always around
to help; to taste, pick or make suggestions. My mom was a wonderful
cook and really influenced many of my recipes and was into making the
plate be visually appealing. Her pet peeve was the idea of serving chicken,
mashed potatoes and cauliflower. Just too much white on the plate! My
dad was funny. He was never a terribly adventurous eater, not liking
lamb, veal or chicken. For this book, he made an exception and tasted
everything. One day when he awoke from a nap, I had cooked up stuffed
day lily heads and had baked milkweed pod hors d'oeuvres. Most
things he liked. Some, well, they're not in the book!
Your next book is a sequel?
Yes, it just seems to be happening. If I have too many dandelion flowers
left over from one recipe, I make another. For example, I made dandelion
flower jam and it's not in my book. So when people ask what page it's
on, I have to tell them it will be in my sequel. Once you get the wild
edible bug (so to speak), the possibilities are endless.
These two recipes are excerpted from Wild in the Kitchen. For further
descriptions on specific wild ingredients with which you may be unfamiliar,
refer to the book's illustrations, reference materials and field guides.
Milkweed is fairly common and grows on roadsides and in fields. Many
farmers consider it a noxious weed and have tried to eradicate it, but
it's the major food source for the monarch butterfly. For humans, nearly
every part of the milkweed is edible and tasty. The bitterness of the
milky-white juice (hence the name "milkweed") can be blanched away.
In the early spring, young shoots are edible and can be used like asparagus.
Later in the season, you can eat the unopened flower buds, which are
similar to broccoli. In summer, the pink flowers can be dipped in batter
and fried, and in midsummer, unripe seed pods can be eaten as a vegetable
or stuffed as hors d'oeuvres.
To blanch: Prepare a pot of boiling water and keep it boiling throughout.
Place a quantity of milkweed in a smaller pot on an element and pour
boiling water over, boiling the small pot for one minute. Drain and
fill the smaller pot again by pouring boiling water over the milkweed,
boiling in the small pot again for one minute. Repeat this step three
or four times. Do not use cold water or the bitterness will set into
Chinese-Style Stir-Fried Milkweed
1/2 - 3/4 lb. milkweed buds
1/4 lb. snow pea pods
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 tbsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. hoisin sauce
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tsp. sesame seeds
Blanch the milkweed buds as in the above procedure, draining in a colander.
Transfer to a clean tea towel and shake dry. Wash the snow peas. In
a small dish, mix the sesame seed oil, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, and
hoisin sauce, stirring well. Heat oil in frying pan or wok until hot
and add milkweed buds, stir-frying for two to three minutes. Add snow
peas and fry for another minute. Pour the sauce on top and stir quickly
until combined. Put into a serving bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish.
Variations: any of the following may be added and stir-fried; strips
of red pepper, cubed tofu, thinly sliced scallions, water chestnuts,
bamboo shoots and/or mung bean sprouts.
The origin of this name stems from a confusion of descriptive Italian,
Spanish, and Arabic languages, but it's a plant that has never seen
the Holy Land! It is an edible tuber from a sunflower plant that grows
up to six feet tall, but has a rather small bloom. It tastes like a
water chestnut when raw and cooked like a nutty, sweet-tasting potato.
It can be baked and used as a potato substitute or sliced and served
as a dipping veggie. Blooming in late summer, one plant can yield dozens
of underground treasures. Mogelen warns that if you plant them close
to home, be careful where you plant, since they are hard to eradicate.
Jerusalem Artichoke Fritters
4 cups Jerusalem artichokes, cleaned & shredded
1 small onion, grated
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
vegetable oil for frying
Peel the artichokes and shred in a food processor or by hand, and place
in a mixing bowl. Stir in the grated onion, eggs, salt, pepper, flour
and baking powder, mixing thoroughly. Heat oil in a frying pan on medium-high
heat. Put large spoonfuls of the mixture into the frying pan and fry
until brown around the edges, approximately 3 to 5 minutes, turn over
and cook another 3 to 5 minutes until golden and crispy. Place fritters
on a plate covered with paper towels and blot off excess oil. Repeat
until batter is used, heating oil first as needed. Serve with sour cream
or applesauce. Makes 12 to 15 fritters.
plants & pesticides
Given widespread use of pesticides, ensure that the plants you are using
are in an area that has not been sprayed. If you live in the area within
the Halifax Regional Municipality, become familiar with the new bylaw
on reducing and eliminating pesticide use. Signs must now be posted
in areas being sprayed for all residential and municipal properties,
and you can apply to have your property protected, which includes a
For more information on the Pesticide Bylaw (P-800) and property registration,
check the website at http://www.region.halifax.ns.ca or call 902-490-5640.
Another helpful website with articles and reference material is http://www.caps.20m.com
for the Canadians Against Pesticides.
*Cynthia Martin is a writer, publisher and publicist who resides in
Hubbards, Nova Scotia