The book is written - YAY!
It's been an amazing year and, now that I'm done writing my book, I'm able to post new content in the news section. The upcoming book is presently with the editor (Chelsea Publishing) and set to be release early in 2016. No title yet, it's over 400 pages and probably around 800 photos. My goal is to show how much creativity can be done with wild plants and hopefully inspire people to explore the culinary possibilities with their local terroir. I could have written 1000 pages but 400 is a good start. It's not about plant identification or creating dishes with wild edibles but mostly about creating interesting condiments, preserves and various other interesting things. How to make wild beers, primitive fermentation, uses of native seeds, making wild sodas and cold infusions, wild food kimchi, spices, how to make most tree leaves edible, fancy infused salts, use of wild yeasts to make sourdough breads, creative wild canning, edible insects, uses of barks, stems, rocks and much, much more...
Here are a few pages showing some of the content. It's not designed yet but you get the idea. I hope it will do well, in some ways it will fill the gap between the books about plant identification and actual cooking books (Noma, Faviken, etc...).
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Deeper into Wild Beers and Brewing
Uses of tree barks
Writing this book has been very cathartic, I was able to put down on paper ingredients and recipes I've been working on for years and it really opened my mind to new possibilities. My biggest realization is that creativity can be truly endless when dealing with the bounty offered to us by our local wilderness.
Presently, although I still deal with regular wild ingredients, my focus is also on finding new exciting and rare ones such as barks, leaves, native seeds and who know what else. Through research, I keep discovering new uses. It keeps the excitement going. A good example is the use of barks for brewing. Going back to recipes for beers in middle age books, I found that it was not uncommon for barks to be used in brewing as a bittering agent or for their medicinal effects. A good example would be alder bark (left) for bitter flavors or willow bark (right) for medicinal beers (aspirin comes from willow).
As usual I'm doing all the possible mistakes and discovered early that alder bark is a super potent bitter which made my first beer pretty much undrinkable. But that's part of the learning process and rediscovering lost recipes.
2015 is the year I threw many "rules" away. My new motto is: There are no rules, just flavors. Well, sorta... there are a couple of rules which makes sense: The ingredients must be non-toxic first and you need to understand the basics of food safety and canning. Having canned for twenty years and done the Master Food Preserver program a few years ago has provided me with a good understanding of the subject. But really, after that, why not go wild?
If you add some roasted oak bark to a vinegar solution while pickling wild radish pods and the acidity level makes it safe to consume, who says you can't do it? The end result can be some delicious smoked pickled pods. Instead of the regular syrups, why not using an elderflower cordial as your syrup solution or heck, even a wild beer syrup. Forget the regular pickling spices, we have so many foraged ingredients that can add some flavor boost to your concoctions! Canning should also be about creativity, not just following "approved" recipes.
Wild currant preserved in elderflower cordial and fennel.
Golden currant preserved in mugwort beer syrup, mugwort leaf and lemon peel.
Wild radish pods preserved in vinegar with California juniper berries.
Examples of wild ingredients to add flavor to the vinegar solution while pickling nasturtium capers. Elderflowers, white fir, turkey tail mushrooms, CA juniper berries, roasted oak bark.
After Class Snacks
I like to make snacks with ingredients we find during my weekly wild food classes. It's a great way for students to actually experience and taste some of the edible things we encounter during the walk.
This is an example of snacks we made featuring some of the plants and other "things" we foraged last week.
Roasted cricket powder and regular hummus
Local lemony ants
Pickled yucca shoots
Wild radish pods
Fermented unripe elderberry capers.
Of course we enjoyed our snacks with homemade forest beer (yarrow, mugwort, turkey tail mushrooms, wild currants, lemons, alder bark) fermented with wild yeast and white sage tea.
Black sage infused yogurt with golden, red and black wild currant berries.
Preserved unripe wild figs and wild fennel.
Sugar lerps (insect honeydew)
Fermented cactus pear sauce (basically a reduced wild cactus pear soda)
White sage, black sage, clarkia, grass and native chia seeds.
Currant and black elderberries
Wild and regular oats infused with black sage for flavors, raw California buckwheat honey and lerps honeydew for sweetness.
Clay spoon by ceramic artist Melissa Brown Bidermann.
A True Southern California Cuisine.
Going Deep into Wild and Native Food
What are the real flavors of Southern California?
If you go outside the regular food chain and farmed products, can you create a new type of cuisine? I think so...
A couple of weeks I calculated how many edible "things" I was able to collect and came up with over 500. That's probably more than what is available at the local Santa Monica market.
I think my next big project will be to see how far and deep one could go into creating unique and delicious dishes that are composed mostly of locally foraged ingredients and flavors.
I think the key to pull it off successfully one has to gain a deeper understanding of our local flora and it's bounty but also use the appropriate methods of food preservation as you go along. If you think about it, the possibilities and flavor combinations are really endless. A wild soda can be reduced to make a delicious sauce, homemade vinegars from wild beers or wines infused with local aromatic plants can create very distinctive flavors which can not be found anywhere else than the wilderness (The original grocery store).
I had fun with possible breakfast dishes last week and came up with some interesting combinations with what I had in my pantry and what I could forage that day.
It's been nearly three years since I've started working with Chef Ludo Lefebvre (Trois Mec restaurant). It's been a rewarding experience in terms of having to think creatively, mostly during these last two years and the terrible drought we've had. Beside providing wild edibles, I also have the freedom to create interesting condiments which the chef would use if he likes the flavors. It's a fun collaboration, I've made elderflower cordial, nocino with black walnuts, fermented walnuts, all kinds of infused salts and spice blends, various fermented products such as hot sauces, sauerkraut with wild plants and much more. My favorite has been the creation of non-alcoholic drinks, pretty much cold infusions or fermented sodas featuring local wild aromatic plants such as white fir, pine, various wild mints, sages, berries, fennel, elderflower, desert juniper and some previously unused and super healthy plants like yerba santa. I look forward to another year.
Did You Know?
West Coast natives used to harvest over 150 wild edible seeds for food. As far as I know, NONE of them are available at your local store. Even the chia that you buy at the store is not the wild chia (Golden chia - Salvia columbariae). That's an incredible amount of interesting items that are no longer part of our local cuisine.
So what are we missing in terms of flavors? What isn't this part of our local Southern California cuisine? How come you can buy it at the store?
To be honest, most of the knowledge has been lost. Of all the native edible seeds used 3 or 4 centuries ago, I've only been able to identify and find 50 of them. You have to re-learn identifying the plants and locate them too. Easier said than done.
The other main reason is also the time it takes to collect them. It's not unusual to spend a whole morning in the wilderness and come back with just one cup of wild seeds. For example, black sage seeds (photo right) are collected by shaking the seed pods and collect the falling seeds into a large bowl. It's very tedious in the hot sun and wind. Once home you still need to remove the shaft, little critters, etc...
Is it worth it? I think so. You can create unique condiments featuring the true flavors of your local terroir.
Pickled Wild Seeds
As we enter July and seeds season, this is the perfect time to make some very unique and tasty condiments. One of my favorite is pickled wild seeds. It's pretty much priceless if you take into consideration the amount of time it takes to forage local seeds, some seeds such as black sage can require a couple of hours of work for 1/4 cup of seeds.
There are an infinite amount of flavors you can create based on the seeds and vinegar you use. For example if you use a high percentage of black mustard seeds, you end up with a spicy mustard-like condiment. Adding wild fennel seeds works great with fish.
The jar I made this week contained 30 percent of black mustard seeds, 20 percent various other mustard seeds (field, yellow and Mediterranean mustard). The rest was an assortment of more obscure wild seeds such as clarkia, primerose, broadleaf plantain, white sage, black sage, etc...
There are no real rules as what vinegar you use, it's all about flavors. For my last pickled seeds concoction, I used my own homemade mugwort mead vinegar and a bit of salt and mountain raw honey. I sometimes add some of my primitive elderberry wine.
Primitive Carbonation and Native Brews
This is part of the research I did for my upcoming book. All the details will be in it but basically it was an experimentation on getting a somewhat decent amount of carbonation into a drink using the most primitive setup. Clay pots, sticks and plants to make the brew. In some cases I even used some wild sugar sources from insects (sugar lerps).
The concept worked quite beautifully, I worked with ceramic artist Melissa and pretty much recreated a flip-top bottle using a clay pot. I placed a stick on top, a bunch of grass to cushion the cup and using a string around the pot, I made a sort of bow. The pressure from the bow stopped the fermentation gas from escaping to some degree and created a natural carbonation inside the pot.
The brews were fermented native-style for a few days, pretty much boozy sodas-like concoctions with maybe 3 percent alcohol.
Clay pot by ceramic artist Melissa Brown Bidermann.
Time to Forage Elderberries.
I though it would be a great year for elderberries but it ended up being kind of "meh". The drought doesn't help and many of the unripe berries didn't make it to the mature stage.
That said, I collected enough to make a few gallons of elderberry wine and dehydrate some to use later on in my primitive beers and various dishes.
Quite a few of my students are still confused with the fact that we have white elderberries but yes, in Southern California the Mexican elder tree will either provide black or white elderberries. The flavors are pretty much the same although the white ones are usually more sugary.
The dehydrated berries are also very good to create elderberry vinegar, just place around 40% dry elderberries in a jar and 60% vinegar (I like apple cider vinegar) and voila! Instead of straining the vinegar afterwards you can even use your concoction as an interesting warm sauce. Sugar/honey/salt to taste.
Southern California Cuisine
Forest snails, sweet clover and garlic compound butter. Smoked with rabbit tobacco.
This was another one of my project about creating dishes that reflect the true Southern California terroir. It sounds simple but the ingredients are quite complex. Delicious though.
The snails were foraged in the local forest, fed with wild fennel for 10 days then simmered in mugwort beer for 2 hours. They were then roasted in the oven with a sweet white clover/garlic compound butter and I also added some rabbit tobacco to add some hints of curry.
The snails were served with local dandelion and pickled wild seeds. A yucca needle was provided to extract the snails from their shell.
Butter aside, it's pretty much a 100% foraged dish featuring over 20 different ingredients if you count the seeds. As simple as it looks, it's probably 20 hours of foraging, mostly due to the seeds.
Wild mustards in Southern California.
So far I've been able to forage over 8 different kinds of "wild" mustards locally. It's a good thing too as all of them are non-native and invasive. The flavor range is quite wide, going from broccoli to wasabi. You can use the green leaves and flowers during spring but at this time of the year we have another bounty.... mustard seeds.
It's really one of the easiest seeds to forage, quite plentiful and you do a good thing for the environment while doing so.
In the past few weeks I've probably collected 8 cups of various mustard seeds which I used in stews, to make actual mustard and in other condiments such as my pickled wild seeds.
Foraged and Stone Ground Dijon Mustard
My recipe to make mustard changes every year depending on what's available in my pantry. This year I decided to do it with purely wild ingredients. The end product is a very spicy condiment which, in my opinion, can not compare (in a good way) to what you could purchase at the store.
A traditional French Dijon mustard is very simple. It is made with mustard seeds, verjus (unripe grape juice) and salt. Sometimes white wine and honey is added.
I've made verjus with unripe wild currant berries but had none in my pantry this year so I decided to make my 2015 mustard with what I had available.
My basic recipe is super simple:
80% black mustard seeds (really hot)
20% various other mustard seeds (Mediterranean, field and yellow mustard)
I place the seeds in my stone grinder and add some raw mugwort mead vinegar and white elderberry wine. The ratio is usually 2 parts vinegar and one part wine. Start grinding and stop every 3 minutes and let the mustard rest for 5 minutes. The seeds will absorb the vinegar/wine. You may need to repeat the process (grinding and resting) 2 or 3 times and add more vinegar/wine to keep the mustard to the consistency you like.
It should not take more than 15 minutes. When done I add a pinch or two of homemade sea salt (dehydrated sea water), place the mustard into a jar and into the fridge. The mustard will be quite bitter to start with but the bitterness will go away in 2-3 days. I like to let it age for a week or so before enjoying it.
Seasonal Wild Beer
Every month I make a couple of gallons of wild beers with seasonal ingredients. Well, sorta...I also use what I have in the pantry but it mainly feature what I can find during my foraging hikes.
Here is a good example of a beer I made this June:
Mugwort and yarrow from the local mountains, wild currants juice, organic lemons, alder bark and turkey tail mushrooms.
Maples syrup and brown sugar. I used wild yeast from elderberries for the fermentation.
The end result taste a bit like a Belgium sour beer but has cider qualities as well.
Some July Forage
Wild cherries (Catalina cherries), Black mustard seeds and Olives. Just a few of the new wild ingredients coming in season
Experimental Brewing with Mesquite Pods and Wild Cherries.
Primitive brewing is super simple - you basically need a sugar source, plants for flavors and yeast.
Your sugar source can come from fruits, insects (lerps honeydew), tree saps, homemade molasses from figs, native dates and so on...
For this recipe, I used sweet mesquite pods and wild cherries as my source of sugar. Boiled the pods for 2 hrs and left them macerate overnight. I then added the cherries and yerba santa, a very aromatic and bitter medicinal plant.
So pretty much brewing with what nature is offering us this month. The yeast used was from our local Mexican elderberries. It's still brewing as I write this, can wait to taste it. Super foamy fermentation which is unusual with my wild brews but I've never played with mesquite pods before.
I'll write down the recipe once I have tasted it, probably in a month. May need some tweaking of the ingredients.
True Wild Cuisine of Southern California
If you go beyond what is grown by humans and go back to what nature has to offer us. What do you get?
A whole lot of unusual and delicious flavors.
I like to cook game such as quail, trouts, etc.. with ingredients that are found within their own environment. Interestingly enough, I've found that the flavors usually blend very nicely and the dish offer a true representation of a specific terroir such as desert, chaparral, forest, mountains, etc...
In Southern California, bullfrogs are terribly invasive! They eat native frogs and can destroy an eco-system. So as a forager, you can do your part on helping the environment by removing non-native species.
Recently, I found bullfrogs in a water stream while exploring the local chaparral. I thought it would be a perfect excuse for experimenting with the local flavors.
The frog legs were sautéed with plants near the water stream: Sweet white clover, CA sagebrush and willow leaves. I added some pickled seeds with seeds foraged nearby (Black mustard, field mustard, white sage, black sage, plantain, primerose, lambsquarter), unripe Mexican elderberry and manzanita capers. Some nice watercress picked up from the stream for plating as well.
The end result was truly delicious - smoky, spicy and unusual flavors from the sweet clover. This is a dish I can re-make for our private dinners for sure.